Look Back in Anger was, and still is, a landmark of British theatre. John Osborne’s 1956 play doesn’t go anywhere except the filthy room in which it is set, but emotions run so deep and tensions so high you’d be forgiven for not noticing. Playing the original angry young man is Matthew Rhys as Jimmy Porter, who embodies those three little words as completely as Osborne intended.
A frustrated graduate from humble beginnings, Porter shares his own dissatisfaction with life whilst simultaneously condemning those around him for doing the same. His wife, Alison (Charlotte Parry), is tired of his lamentations, and lodger Cliff (Adam Driver) is constantly called upon to mediate their intense relationship. Add Alison’s haughty friend Stella into the mix, and the amount of dysfunction in that one tiny room is explosive.
Rhys is a superb lead, perfectly encompassing Porter’s split personality as a raging bull, tender husband and frustrated intellectual. He truly carries the piece, which is sadly hindered by Driver’s appalling ‘Welsh’ accent – a mixture of Irish, Scottish and Jamaican in equal measure. Rhys is also called upon to play the trumpet in the brief musical interludes throughout, setting the tone as one of deep sadness and regret.
In a play that characterised a generation of British writing, Look Back in Anger has lost none of its potency in the 56 years since its debut. With emotions so raw and palpable from start to finish, this snapshot into fractious family life reveals human weaknesses and the very real pain of love.