The realist play Look Back in Anger is difficult to watch as it is so relentlessly depressing; it’s a tale of ennui, toxic masculinity and declining love. The plot is rather mundane: a failing marriage is predictably resurrected after a brief period of estrangement.
The busy set was particularly effective due to the cosiness of the theatre and the audience was seated amid the action, to the extent that a flying prop slid under my feet during the performance. Both the costumes and set were interesting and full of period detail which captured the 1950s ‘Fridge-Comedy’ flavour perfectly. These were highly impressive for an amateur production. Also, the lighting and sound immersed the audience in the grotty bedsit and I felt like a fly on the wall of a private drama rather than in a theatre.
None of the characters in the play are supposed to be likeable and the cast carried this well with Jimmy (Lorcan Cook) and Helena (Sian Lawrence) perfecting their roles as nasty but interesting characters. The chemistry on the set was largely lacking with many of the interactions feeling forced; this was particularly evident in the first scene when the characters seemed to be speaking to themselves rather than each other. However, Helena was played wonderfully and her cohesion with Jimmy really pulled the play together in the second scene. The second scene was by far the best largely due to Helena’s feisty behaviour and watching her stand up to Jimmy was refreshing after his outrageously obnoxious behaviour in the first scene.
The characters were rounded up with Alison (Fifi Zanabi), Jimmy’s wife, and Cliff (Tom Hamp) the couple’s Welsh lodger. Cliff seemed to substitute being Welsh for a personality and Alison was so quiet and timid it was impossible to believe that she had won over outrageous Jimmy. The characters were unlikable but more than that they were just plain unappealing, whilst Jimmy was charismatic there was no escaping his pretentious conceit and Helena was bold but treacherous. Alison and Cliff were similarly flawed although nice enough, but this was coupled with passivity and unpleasant undertones of slipperiness. The realist aspect of this play leads me to believe that this was intended by the actors, but the overt moralising made the play feel like a dose of medicine.
There were some scenes of humour dispersed throughout which brought welcome relief. The play was peppered, surprisingly, with ‘nut’ jokes which made the audience laugh every time and heightened the sense of degradation in the smutty atmosphere. Similarly, there were several physical comedy moments with mock fights breaking out between Jimmy and Cliff including a particularly funny dance fight where they somehow waltzed aggressively around the set. Whilst most of the humour tended to be of the slapstick and innuendo driven here was also some wordplay and puns with the whole play being very speech driven which rendered it unbelievable despite its realist credentials.
I enjoyed the mundanity of the set which never changed across the three scenes rendering it particularly effective when Helena takes the place of Alison as the household’s resident woman in a pathetically cyclical way. The treatment of women in the play was rather hard to stomach with both Alison and Helena spending the majority of their time behind the same ironing board.
Overall, Look Back in Anger is a hard play to pull off and this production struggled with the task. However, the portrayal of bleak realism was captured relatively well, and the cast all had obvious merit despite the struggle. In my opinion the play would have been improved if the focus had been on the second scene and the first and third condensed, however this is not a fault of the production.