When John Osborne’s original Look Back in Anger was first premiered in London in May 1956, the writer Alan Sillitoe, author of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, commented that “Osborne didn’t contribute to British theatre, he set off a landmine and blew most of it up.”
Sillitoe joined Osborne as an ostensible member of the ‘angry young man’ movement of British theatre, and from then on anyone wishing to reproduce Look Back in Anger must have known exactly what a vituperative piece of social commentary they were taking on. So it is with Red Rope Theatre’s production at the Alma Tavern Theatre on Friday night; this was a harsh, gritty show, paradoxically both delightful and painful at the same time and brimming with snarling and maddening frustration at every turn.
The audience enter to three of the four cast members sitting and agitatedly reading the Sunday papers. Elliot Chapman as Jimmy, the furious and disillusioned post-graduate originally of a working-class background, continually looks up from his reading, tapping his feet impatiently and occasionally getting up to gaze out the window. His agitation is thereafter communicated wonderfully, rather imaginatively capturing Jimmy’s blues in the stifling life he leads in an attic with his upper-middle class wife Alison and friend Cliff. Chapman positively snaps about the space, jumping on chairs and fighting with an also very active Eoin Slattery as Cliff, and, together with Lauren Saunders as Alison, the three of them create a remarkable sense of movement in what is in fact an incredibly static and character-centric play. This is all the more remarkable given the intimate (but highly suitable) conditions of the Alma theatre. Slattery gives us an avuncular and endearing Cliff, and Saunders a slightly-Eeyorish figure as Alison, complaining about Jimmy with sad, characterful eyes and a powerful voice. Annette Chown as Alison’s friend Helena in the second act gives us an equally delightful dosage of prudish self-worth.
Matt Grinter’s production of Look Back in Anger is powerful and infuriating, if occasionally far too slow and static. The character portrayals are largely excellent, and Osborne’s spirit is firmly reinvigorated in this hour-long argument of a show.