When Look Back in Anger by John Osborne was first performed it sparked outrage. Its realism broke away from the convention of escapism; however, this was the realism of the 1950s; in a new century, can audiences still relate to the angry young man that is Jimmy Porter?
Four Walls Theatre Company certainly made a great attempt and this modern classic is well directed by Harry Mackrill. The New Wimbledon Studio is the perfect setting to convey the cramped apartment of young couple Jimmy and Ali Porter and their friend Cliff.
Jimmy, from a working-class background with a university education, runs a market sweet stall with Cliff. He is frustrated with life and is constantly provoking those around him, revelling in rage - a sign of life. He’s loud, brash and rude, and only 25.
In the 21st century, this would be an inflated case of ‘quarter-life crisis’; the shift from ambitious to realistic and accompanying confusion. Despite twenty-something’s being considered adults, often maturity has yet to develop. The opening scene where the boys are reading newspapers and Ali is ironing feels like children playing house.
The casting is perfect: James Morrison-Corley’s Jimmy is rude at worst but charismatic and spirited at best, making his attraction believable. Caroline Bartleet is a young looking Ali, smart but confused in what she wants from life. The physicality and calm character of Liam Lloyd-James’ Cliff makes him the steady rock, whose diffusing makes some of Jimmy’s aggravating prose palatable for the audience. Cecilia Gell as the confident, near-regal Helena contrasts beautifully with bewildered Ali.
Let’s give Ali’s vulnerability the benefit of the doubt as Bartleet does make me believe that she is a woman in love, the cracking and emotional end scene paying testimony. Being in love with a bad man is the only thing she can be accused of. Unsure and confused, she reverts to the only thing she knows in a 1950s context: housewifery.
Helena, however, has no such excuse. Her ironing doesn’t stroke with the character. It shows the play’s flaw: it is unbalanced (yet how can it be as Jimmy and Ali are moulded on Osborne’s own marriage?) and written from a 1950s male point of view. Even in his most tender moments, Jimmy calls his wife clumsy and incapable. Safe to say that Osborne’s view on men and women in society is an outdated one.
Despite this, Look Back in Anger describes the angsty early twenties that is still relevant, and the play makes us want to scream “Then DO something!”. Indeed, despite all Jimmy’s bravura for change and delight in provoking society, he does not once think of picking up the iron himself.