It’s impossible to stage Look Back in Anger in 2018 without raising the question - why?
Haven’t we had enough of “angry” men? Haven’t we had enough of abusing and demeaning women?
The approach of director Annabelle Comyn is to preempt those questions.
She introduces a number of framing devices which place the action tentatively on the Gate stage, and distance us from the play’s grim domestic drama.
The setting for instance, a drab Victorian attic room in a drab middle England town, is placed, in Paul O’Mahony’s design, inside a recording studio booth.
The actors, meanwhile, break the fourth wall as they come and go, lurking in the wings where we see them drinking from water bottles or pacing about.
An Apple logo glows from a production desk, where from behind a microphone John Osborne’s copious stage directions are read.
The cast, meanwhile, heeds them or doesn’t, restoring autonomy to the put-upon female characters in particular as they defy their master’s voice. Tom Lane’s excellent sound design – bells, phone static, grainy trumpet – forms another assault on Osborne’s text.
As Jimmy Porter, Ian Toner starts out shrill, but softens somewhat into the role.
By the time, in one final subversion, he is on his knees before Alison (Clare Dunne) rather than, as Osborne would have it, clutching her weeping to his chest in a final reconciliation, we almost feel sorry for this man born too late.
But the chief drama here is that of Comyn and her team’s engagement with the play. They seem to share our qualms about its difficulties and anachronisms. It’s an exercise in looking back at Look Back in Anger, and an intelligent, sophisticated one, but it eclipses the domestic drama.
What is there in the play that might be worth salvaging? Can it be socially engaging now? Does it survive as a work on the timeless theme of domestic abuse? We do not find the answers here. Nonetheless, Comyn succeeds on her own terms.
Star Rating: 3/5