John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger is brought back to life by The Lincoln Company, proving that nearly sixty years on the play still has the power to perturb. Director Dan Arnold decides to sideline the political backdrop of Osborn’s play in order to concentrate on something which is accessible to the young contemporary audience: turbulent relationships.
You walk into the theatre and you feel like you are intruding on something. This may be due to the fact that the stage serves as the working class tenement of unhappily married Jimmy (Stewart Scott) and Alison Porter (Phoebe Hall-Palmer). While Alison diligently irons shirts, Jimmy sits on the couch with Cliff (Martyn Bignal), idly flicking through the Sunday papers. Even before the first line is uttered, a nauseating clash between intimacy and claustrophobia is established. As a testament to the good acting, this unnerving tension lingers throughout the performance, becoming increasingly explosive.
With the complexity of Osborne’s characters comes the difficult task of pinpointing what is at the heart of this crumbling marriage. Is it Jimmy’s misogynistic and cynical outlook of the world or Alison’s ineffectualness? Either way you decide. Stewart Scott plays Jimmy with such belligerence and conviction that you share the character’s sense of relief when he goes off stage to make the tea, or worse, to play the saxophone. It is in those moments of comparative stillness that you realise it’s not just Scott that is talented but the whole cast.
Hall-Palmer plays Alison with a mix of suppressed fury and heavy sobs that you can’t help but want to stand up and shake her out of her submissiveness. Likewise, Cliff (Bignal) the diplomatic Welsh flatmate brings some much needed relief to the stage. But his efforts are only effective to a point because when Helena (Rebecca Mann) arrives in the second act, with the intention to neutralize the situation, she gives the play quite the stir.
The Lincoln Company gives you access to a world of verisimilitude, where marriages are broken, secrets are kept, friendships betrayed, and tea is seen to be the solution of everything. There are no clear lines between hero and villain, winner or loser, so for those that don’t like to be spoon fed, this play is for you. The performance is delivered with such power and ferocity that the one hour and twenty-five minutes is more than enough time to have you in a sombre state leaving the theatre, Osborne would be proud.