IN 1956, when John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger was first staged, it scandalised audiences and critics and cemented the platform for a new wave of English drama, later dubbed Kitchen Sink and Angry Young Man.
Seeing it again in 2017, as international governments scratch their collective heads to fathom out WHY young men are flocking to join Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, and how to stop them, we realise just how prophetic Osborne was, through the mouth of Jimmy Porter.
In Patricia Richardson’s carefully detailed production for ImpAct, all the elements of this savagely difficult play are vividly underlined.
Porter, a very bright young man whose brains have taken him to a provincial university, but whose family background has not fitted him for either ambition or expectation, has married Alison, daughter of a Colonel straight out of the Raj.
They live in cramped squalor in one room of a Midlands guest house, across the corridor from Jimmy’s friend and work partner Cliff.
Jimmy’s radical ranting against church, state, authority and boredom is driving both his wife and his friend insane, but he has an animal magnetism that has them both in thrall.
When Alison’s privileged friend, Helena, comes to stay, the already fragile status quo turns toxic and electrified.
(It did seem extraordinary to me that the audience at Bournemouth Little Theatre found the inevitable outcome amusing, but then I am a dinosaur with an aversion to cheap laughs.)
It is now recognised that Osborne put a lot of himself into Jimmy Porter, who has become a talismanic figure in the development of theatre.
A successful production of this iconic play depends on intelligent acting from performers who can capture the relationships and interactions, and that’s just what ImpAct has.
Nathan Linsdell captures the charismatic fury and magnetism of the often odious Jimmy, a convincing “bit of rough” for both girls.
Hayden Ashurst gives a simply wonderful performance as Cliff, the shambolic Welsh friend whose loving warmth is the only dependable refuge for the exhausted Alison.
She is played with heartbreaking fervour by Bethany Harris, and Alicia Shore manages concern and scheming as the complex Helena.
The cast is completed by Steve Cox O’Rourke as Col Redfearn, the crusty old soldier (where were his brown shoes?) who detests Jimmy but still has a bit of male bonding going on.
It is a superb production of a play whose resonance echoes on. What have young men to fight for now, what causes can they espouse, asks Jimmy Porter. The horrifying answer is all around us.