Review: Look Back In Anger

Jenni Reid 25 April 2012

Look Back In Anger

Corpus Playroom Mainshow, 7pm, until Sat 28 April


John Osborne’s 1956 play ‘Look Back In Anger’ tells of the strange, and for the most part unhappy, marriage of Jimmy Porter (Anna Isaac) and his much-belittled wife Alison (Sarah Malcolm). Jimmy is intelligent, opinionated and fervently working-class, highly disdainful of upper and middle-class life. His wife Alison is young and beautiful, but stoical in the face of his tirades against the world, and we soon find that she hails from the wealthy English background Jimmy so despises. The play explores their life together and the influence of their Welsh lodger Cliff (Sian Docksey), and Alison’s best friend from home Helena (Ailis Creavin). All four principal actors gave confident and mature performances and, although the play was noticeably rather long, managed to keep up the energy throughout, at times creating moments that were electric with tension.

The most notable directorial decision of this production is clearly that of having an all-female cast in a play that relies heavily on the dynamic between men and women. On first appearance one couldn’t help but wonder if Anna Isaac was up to the job of playing a lead character who demands such a strong and overpowering presence. However, it did not take long for any concerns about gender to become the last thing on the audience’s minds, in the performances of both Isaac and Docksey. Whilst all the actors were strong, especially vocally, Isaac’s misogynistic and loquacious Jimmy verged on stealing the show. Her whole characterisation was underplayed with a mix of passion and sarcasm which was just right for the part. Director Stephen Bailey claims in the programme that his aim was not to make any sort of weighty feminist point in casting women, but to show that gender can simply be an attribute like any other played by an actor – and to this end he undoubtedly succeeded.

The play was polished for a first night performance despite some tiny set malfunctions, although some of the lighting changes seemed a little arbitrary. Some scenes (chiefly those without Isaac) could find themselves feeling a little slow at times, although Malcolm certainly did well at holding the audience’s attention during its quieter moments. All in all this was a highly successful production in which all of the risks and choices made by all those involved seem to have paid off.

Jenni Reid