Look Back In Anger
Things we loved
- British realism brought back to life
- Adam Tuominen wins hearts with an irritable character
- Set design and music work in harmony
- Some exquisite moments of ensemble work around both ironing board scenes
Things we would reconsider
- One wonders whether even important works need judicious trimming? A conversation for another time.
- Some patches in energy along the journey
Look Back In Anger indeed gives modern audiences every reason to look back in anger, especially at how our society accommodated so many broken models of domestic relationships that allowed flawed males to bully their households purely on the basis of them being male.
It would be easy to write off John Osborne’s lead character, Jimmy Porter, as a misogynistic bully not worthy of having fresh life breathed into him in 2019, if we were happy to ignore the many strands of themes giving rise to the agitation in this “angry young man”, or the influence of the other characters, or director Lesley Reed’s intention to create this production as an authentic window back into the play’s origins in the 1950s.
Look Back In Anger makes for challenging viewing in this era in which we are called upon to call out bullying, especially in domestic environments, and yet we must expose ourselves to this experience if only to inoculate ourselves against ever slipping back to a time when it is accepted that a disaffected husband can rightfully expect his wife to bear the brunt of his pent up frustrations, or vice versa.
The visceral reaction to Jimmy’s behaviour is surely due to Adam Tuominen’s solid and engaging performance, conveying the full range of his character’s frustrations; domestic, political, and philosophical. As we listen to Jimmy’s lament, we begin to understand his frustration born of disillusionment post World War Two. For Jimmy, it is a great injustice that many of his type, working class, sacrificed so much to defend the empire, only to be relegated back to their lowly stations at war’s end.
In the close quarters of their apartment, Jimmy’s wife, Alison, a woman of upper middle class background becomes the focus of his tirades. Leah Lowe’s performance opens strongly, as she captures the impassive nature of her character while betraying the deeper levels of intelligence and firebrand motivations that she dare not show fully.
Add into the mix a housemate, Cliff (played by James Edwards with an endearing Welsh accent), and Alison’s friend and husband-stealer, Helena (played by Jessica Carrol with austere deportment), and we have a cocktail of tensions, fireworks, insights, sorrow, and even love (albeit a beaten, battered and bruised version of itself).
From the opening moments of this production, with its partially transparent, gauze curtain creating a sepia view into the realistic set, there is a sense that some urbane gladiatorial contest is about to take place amid the dishes, lounge chairs, and ironing.
What ensues is a night that demands much endurance from its audience. The play runs shy of three hours including interval, and for contemporary audiences, this carousel of blemished characters offers very few moments of relief in which to endow any of them with our empathy.
In the end, the class struggle is writ small within the walls of the apartment. While much is spoken in anger, it takes the return of Alison yielding to Jimmy as an emotional wreck for him to soften for their to be any a promise of a new dawn for their love.
As much as this is an uncomfortable play to watch, this is an important piece of theatre by The Adelaide Rep, and one that will reward audiences with remembered moments to dwell upon for many years to come.