Written in 1956 John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger is generally thought to have given birth to the literary model of the ‘angry young man’, depicting a generation left feeling cold in a post-war, post-hope England. The harsh realism of the play, set entirely in a sitting room, also came as a breath of fresh air after years of forced drawing-room comedies being the favored dramatic form. Bringing a play which is very much of its time to the Edinburgh Fringe stage in 2013 may seem a bit of a struggle, but it is what Macaroons, an Oxford company have attempted to do, and for the most part successfully.
The chosen tagline for the play, ‘Let’s pretend we’re human beings and we’re actually alive’ sums up the plot which sees Jimmy Porter, the angry young man in question played by Tom Hilton, embrace highly volatile relationships with all the other characters, particularly his wife, Alison, played by Artemis Fitzalan Howard. This volatility is captured well, largely down to an excellently visceral performance from Hilton. This is complemented by the stage set-up which convincingly recreates the claustrophobia of the 1950’s sitting room, making his performance all the more effective. However, there are flaws.
The directors’ decision to cut out the character of Colonel Redfern, Alison’s father, removes from the play the physical presence of the old order, standing for imperialism and class. While this choice may possibly have been made to lift the play from it’s 1950’s context, if so it is not clear, and the result is that it at times made Jimmy’s anger seem unfocused, and more irrational than it should have done. There were also moments in which the play’s realism was undermined by the actors’ timings coming onto the stage; an off-stage character would be called and then they would suddenly appear from the wings, with little to no time between the two events. Although this only happened a handful of times, it did make the production as a whole feel less slick.
Despite these problems the cast as a whole are strong; Fitzalan Howard plays Jimmy’s downtrodden wife with the quiet depth necessary to prevent Hilton from dominating the stage anymore than his character is meant to. Conor Kennedy should not go without mention either for his steadfast performance as Cliff.
All in all this production of Osborne’s classic is good and worth seeing for the actor’s performances, but for any fans of the play it may fall short of expectations.
Look Back in Anger will run at C-too, Edinburgh, till 26th August