Wednesday, January 17, 2007

REVIEW: Look Back In Anger (Andrews Lane Studio, Dublin)

It is now 50 years, roughly, since John Osborne's proto-Victor Meldew figure, Jimmy Porter, took to the British stage. Jimmy just wasn't happy, and for the length of Osborne's Look Back In Anger he kicked against the pricks, covering everyone within spitting range with his bizarrely egomaniacal invective.

But for some reason, the character, along with his particularly grim English take on existentialism, chimed with enough people to cause all manner of social ripples in post-war Britain.

Now, director, Paul Brennan gives the play a new production, one that explores not so much its social impact, as its eternal qualities as drama. And not just any drama. Brennan's production is determined to style the play as a hyperventilating, psychologically-explorative naturalist classic.

With the approach come some tricky questions (can there be a safe design compromise for low-budget naturalism?); and some hard facts that need facing (most people on stage are clearly going to try to "do" an accent, and they quite possibly feel ideologically obliged to do so). All of which amounts to a production that makes life rather harder for itself than necessary.

Luckily enough, there is enough passion involved to ensure the piece gathers some momentum. As Jimmy Porter, Joseph-Paul Travers has a massive, physically-draining workload, keeping up a nearly non-stop stream of eloquent discontent for nearly two and a half hours.

Fiona Brennan digs ferociously for something real as Jimmy's squirrelly wife, Alison. Lynette Callaghan has a crisp nastiness as her treacherous mate, Helena, while Jason Alexander-lookalike, Dafydd O'Shea, as pal Cliffy, underlines just how Seinfeldish the whole ménage looks at times.

For all that, Look Back in Anger does not quite convince as a timeless classic. Some of the play's twist and turns seem awkward, and unjustified. More importantly, perhaps, it is harder than ever to understand – or worse still, want to understand – Jimmy Porter's irreducible sense of cosmic grievance.

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