Evaluation of John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger Essay.
On Thursday 8th November, I went with a group of drama students to see a production of Look Back in Anger by John Osborne, which was being performed at the Norden Farm Arts Centre in Maidenhead. This theatre is quite modern and has a spacious bar area, which has been upgraded to give the foyer of the theatre a contemporary look. The audience was seated either in the stalls, the raised back and sides, or on the balcony. The play, Look Back in Anger is set in post war London in the late 1950s, a time where the English society started slowly reforming itself to the new circumstances, after the war.
John Osborne used a very naturalistic style for this play and he uses various slang words, which gives the impression of real life and brings out the characters and a genre of realism. Overall, Look back In Anger is quite a disturbingly realistic drama which provided a turning point in the mid fifties and could be described as post war modernism.
The play features the characters of Jimmy, a frustrated sweet shop owner, Alison, Jimmy’s middle class wife, Cliff, their welsh friend, who also works in the shop, Helena, an actress friend of Alison and Alison’s Dad who only appears briefly.
The play is about Jimmy Porter, a very “angry young man” who feels that the world is against him and how he takes this out on his wife by making her life a misery and seducing her best friend; a woman he originally despised. This play is a realistic, social documentary which gives an insight into society of the late 1950s. The play is set in one room, the dingy bedsit where Jimmy and Alison live, which is situated above the sweet shop that they own. Their friend Cliff also works in the shop and lives above it but in a separate room in the house.
The room is very dark and drab; it is mainly coloured in brown and there is only one window. The furnishings and appliances are limited, there is a small kitchenette, a dining table with chairs, a double bed with a shelf holding books and a small old-fashioned wireless, one armchair, a dressing table and a small space for storing clothes, shoes, cleaning paraphernalia, etc. The bedsit is very dull and depressing; the old furniture and brown colouring of the room help create this atmosphere.
The layout of the room and the cramped living conditions indicate claustrophobia and how the characters are trapped in this life style -which could be a source of Jimmy’s frustration and bitterness. One gets the feeling that there is no possibility of change or improvement in their situation. The lighting was on full throughout the majority of the performance and there were no special effects other than a spotlight on Jimmy and Alison in the final scene of the play. There was no particular dramatic effect created by the lighting.
However, this does contribute to the idea of tedious normality and the lack change in their lives. The sound was also focused on the idea of everyday life; the only sound effects were from the outside world, emphasising their confinement. The lack of music in the play highlights the sense of documentary and demonstrates that the visual imagery was more important in creating the mood than the music. When the lights went down popular 50s tunes were played which indicated the period in which the play is set.
The way in which the characters present themselves can give us an insight into their state of mind. Alison, for example, is always dressed in drab, frumpy and poor quality clothing and this tells us that she is not wealthy, she doesn’t focus on her outward appearance and she is suffering from low self-esteem. Her choice of colours, such as grey and brown, enhances this picture of her miserable life because it is in direct contrast to the way Helena dresses in bright reds and more positive colours. Alison is rarely made up during the play and her hair is put plainly up in a bun.
This continues the theme of her drab and poor lifestyle and displays the normality of her character; when she is at home she doesn’t bother with make up, she wears casual clothing and slippers. The way the actor, who played Alison, used her voice is another way of identifying her character. The high pitched tone of her voice is irritating and nervous, she is not confidant and we can see this through her continued high pitched tone and the way she reacts in a submissive manner. However, her middle class background is shown through her accent and choice of vocabulary when she speaks.
Her body language is also a telling sign of her mental state. She moves with little conviction and when she approaches Jimmy she is extremely hesitant, whereas when she is approaching Cliff or Helena she is much more relaxed and there is less tension in her body. Her posture is also contrasting with Helena, she holds herself in an awkward and introverted manner, suggesting her level of self-esteem, yet Helena holds herself very well which puts across a confidant attitude. All the elements of Alison’s character are symbolic in the understanding of her relationships with other characters (especially Jimmy).
Helena is, on the other hand, quite opposite to Alison in her disposition. She wears very fashionable clothes of the period in bright positive colours, giving off an air of confidence. Her hair is always fashionably styled and she is always made up as if she is trying to impress. This shows that she takes pride in her appearance and is much more confident than Alison is, as she has the esteem to wear bright colours. This is not just as a visitor, when Helena is living with Jimmy indefinitely she still dresses up; this is shown pointedly when attending to household chores.
At the beginning of the play Alison is shown doing the ironing dressed in casual clothing and slippers, whereas towards the end of the play when the scene is almost copied, Helena is doing the same action but she is significantly dressed in her bright fashionable attire sporting high-heels. This is a direct way of communicating the differences between the two women. Helena’s voice is another contrast to Alison because her tone is much more controlled and strong also showing her confidence. When she argues with Jimmy she stands up to him and she doesn’t become a victim in the way that Alison does.
Helena is also very direct and she walks with conviction. Her body language tells us that she is confident and authoritative because she holds her head up high, she stands tall and her high-heels give the impression of authority because the other characters wear flat shoes. She also walks confidently and has conviction in her step; when approaching other characters she knows exactly where she is going and is in complete control of her body. This is shown when she slaps Jimmy because it was a bold action and an invasion of his personal space, which would require confidence and conviction.
Also when she kisses him, because this would also need confidence, if he hadn’t kissed her back it would have been extremely embarrassing and it is an action that requires a certain amount of self-confidence. Her voice is other proof of her confidence as her projection is loud and clear in comparison to Alison’s uncertain and feeble tone. She also uses her language to show her class as she is quite articulate and her accent is well pronounced and genteel. The mannerisms of Cliff, the loyal friend of both Jimmy and Alison, are quite significant throughout the play.
Although Cliff wasn’t one of the main speakers, the audience was given a number of clues to his character throughout his performance. I noticed from the very beginning of the play his infinite fondness of the character Alison and I was in fact unsure of the relationship between the three characters, wondering which two was the married couple. It was unclear because his body language towards her is very affectionate and when moving into her space or when addressing her he seems totally at ease, even natural, suggesting a very close relationship.
This affection for her is continued throughout the play; when Jimmy has a go at her Cliff picks up the pieces, when Helena moves in it is clear that his loyalties lie with Alison and he acts very reservedly towards her, and he generally treats Alison with total respect. But he is also loyal to Jimmy, we can see this because when Alison and Jimmy fight he remains impartial and when Alison moved out things were the same between Jimmy and Cliff; providing a significant balance in the household that only a third party can do.
His character seems thoughtful as a number of times I noticed his action to be listening to other characters and striking thoughtful poses. His voice is very gentle and kind, especially so towards Alison, and his accent tells us that he is welsh. His voice is also not particularly middle class and the language he uses isn’t complex, which perhaps tells us a little about his background and his schooling. In comparison to Jimmy he is extremely calm and his caring attitude tells me that he is a genuinely nice person.
The fact that he is living in a bedsit and working in a sweetshop says, I think, that he is not wealthy by any means and his clothes also suggest so. He doesn’t change his clothes during the play and they are quite tatty and plain. The only character in the play that shows wealth is the father of Alison. This character only makes a brief appearance but when he is on stage apparent differences are seen between him and the rest of the cast. His accent is unmistakably middle class and his choice of vocabulary also suggests his status.
He also acts in utter distaste to the state of his daughter and her ‘humble abode’. The realism of John Osborne’s writing is highlighted with the introduction of this character because contrary to the other characters he is a successful, older man and he is of the middle class status. The generation gap is important because it shows how the society at the time had changed from her father’s generation and the essence of change in the post war age. As the fifties were more enlightened times when children had grown tired of ‘turning into their parents’.
He is also dressed very smartly in a tweed suit complete with tie, waistcoat and polished shoes and his manner is quite reserved and formal, even towards his own daughter -which is a typical attribute of his class. The main character of the play, Jimmy, is described as a very angry young man. This opinion is very justified by the actions of his character. Throughout the play Jimmy expressly shows his anger by bullying his wife and seducing her best friend to strike out at her. The way he acts during the play also supports this point.
His dominance is apparent right from the beginning of the play; he is seated in the only armchair of the room, centre stage. This is significant because it immediately shows the status of the characters and their relationships. Jimmy is shown to be important because he is lounging right in the middle of the stage and the characters; Alison on his right and Cliff on his left. Alison is dutifully doing the ironing and Cliff is reading the newspaper while Jimmy yells and chatters.
Their relationships with each other are also suggested by the layout of this first scene, because Jimmy is in the middle it suggests that both Alison and Cliff are closer to Jimmy than they are to each other- like when people are seated at diner, it makes sense to be nearer to the person you know better. This first scene made me visualise Jimmy as being a King and Alison and Cliff being his servants because, he is sitting importantly on his worn throne and Alison is his maid, doing the ironing and Cliff is just his entertainer, making conversation now and again.
I also made this connection by the attitudes of Cliff and Alison towards Jimmy, they seemed a little afraid of him as if he was a bomb about to explode. This first impression was important because Jimmy’s dominance was a main theme throughout the play. The actor who played Jimmy used his body language to give the audience another hint to his character, he had a tense stature and his facial expression always suggested his sarcastic outlook of the world. The way he expressed his words, the tone of his voice, and the tension in his body suggested to me that he was forever mocking the world.
His disposition is somewhat tragic though because his actions seemed to be based on revenge rather than the pursuit of happiness. His movements also implied his anger because of the tension in his body but his movements were also very direct which told of his confidence in the security of his life and those around him. He also used his voice to good effect because his bitterness could be heard clearly and the ways in which he changed his tone indicated his mood precisely. The silences during the play helped to create the tension of his character because of the body language between the characters and the mood of the scene.
My overall impression of the play was that it was quite a dark, depressing yet naturalistic idea. The production was very well put together and the communication of ideas were clear within the plot. I found it enjoyable to watch and I particularly liked the second Act where the character of Helena was introduced and the plot thickened up. Although, I did find the final scene quite disappointing, because I had hoped that Alison was a stronger person and would have known better than to go crawling back to Jimmy. However, I thought that the ending was more realistic and more in keeping with Alison’s character and the time in which it was set.