REVIEW: Look Back in Anger The Alma Tavern Theatre 8/10
WHO could love Jimmy Porter? This bullying braggart, who first appeared on a London stage in this play in 1956, spends much of his time whingeing about the Sunday papers, sneering at his middle class doormat of a wife, Alison, who is ironing his shirts, and belittling his best friend Cliff, an amiable Welshman. When Alison finally leaves, goaded beyond endurance, he gets off with her friend, the coolly assertive Helena.
To the first audience in 1956, used to plays from the likes of Terence Rattigan and Noel Coward, this was dynamite.
Today's audience cannot avoid viewing the play through the prism of modern sensibilities. We can only marvel that, years before women's liberation hit British shores, the fact that both female characters are ironing almost continuously while the men give the Sunday newspapers a good bashing is not commented on.
Cliff is unashamedly working class – a term used derisively by Alison – while Jimmy purports to be. Until this time in English theatre, most "ordinary" people were depicted as servants, tradesmen, or as comic relief. What might rankle most with modern viewers – and the company does not flinch from this – is that the relationship between Jimmy and Alison is one of classic domestic abuse. We see him for the bully he is.
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Younger viewers will laugh at the boredom of the English Sunday before licensing laws were modernised in 2005, when pubs didn't open until 7pm; a fact regretted by Cliff.
Although more than 50 years old, the play retains its life and energy. It must be a hoot for the younger actors, and the Full Theatre Company certainly fills the bill.
Jonathan Levers as Jimmy can run from a standing start and portrays Jimmy as unpredictable and dangerous. His Midlands accent comes and goes, but there is great energy and commitment in his performance.
The stunning Kat Underwood manages to look glamorous even while ironing and invests Alison with great sympathy. Dave McCann, in the always unenviable role of the hero's best friend, portrays Cliff as a peacemaker, with intense integrity, which is why it is such a shock when he loses his affability in the second act.
The best casting comes when Helena (Eleanor Skinner), an old friend of Alison, enters. Tall, glamorous and blonde, she is the posh bird. She has a nice line in lip curling sneers, too.
Credit too, to Stephen Perry as Colonel Redfern, Alison's dad. Osborne avoids making him into a Colonel Blimp figure, but presents him as a kindly, somewhat confused father only concerned about his daughter's welfare, but still a "sturdy old plant left over from the Edwardian wilderness".
In the wrong hands this play could have come over as a relic of the English "kitchen sink" movement, but the Full Theatre Company has managed to breathe life into the artefact, making us ponder how many of the issues Jimmy and friends rail about are still relevant today.