Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

Title: Look Back in Anger
Author: John Osborne
Genre: Plays / Literature
Publisher: Penguin
First performed: May 8, 1956
First published: 1957

Rating: 7 out of 10

Today is this thought-provoking play's 57th anniversary, and even though I read it years ago, it is one that I vividly remember as if I just finished the last page yesterday.

Look Back in Anger is a play centrally focused on Jimmy Porter, a spiteful, hateful man who seems intent on destroying everything that he loves. He lives with his wife, Alison, and his best friend, Cliff. Alison and Jimmy's relationship is one of hurt and abuse, as Jimmy does everything he can, night after night, to provoke Alison into rage. Cliff, the tired mediator, generally stands by and watches, making feeble attempts to calm everyone down whenever things get especially chaotic.
This is the routine that the three miserably go through, until a guest interrupts things. Helena, an old friend of Alison, comes to stay.
She is horrified at Jimmy's vindictive treatment of his wife, and rises to his every insult, defending her and dealing out quite a few insults of her own. Through an outsider's eyes, Alison realizes just how much of a let down her married life has become, and decides to go away for a few days.
In the first night of her absence, Jimmy and Helena, whose violent arguments have awoken a sexual desire in both of them, fall into each others arms.

This play never changed scenes, and there were a total of only five characters in the entire thing (one of which is only featured in a few pages).

However, it is not a simple story. The characters are without a doubt the strength of it, because they are complex and well drawn. Jimmy is the prominent one, which is probable because he is characterized by mad outbursts, angry speeches, and bewildering mood swings. He reminded me of Stanley in "A Streetcar Named Desire," which this play very closely resembles.
Alison was also quite well done - the sad, timid, and abused little wife who forces herself to believe that she still loves her husband.
Cliff seemed to be quite a dull man, but I couldn't help but wonder what he hid behind his blase personality.
Helena was also complex. She vehemently fights against Jimmy, for the sake of Alison's honor, it seems. She advises Alison against staying with Jimmy, and seems to be the strong voice of reason. However, as soon as her friend is out the door, she is in bed with Alison's husband. Did Helena just advise Alison to leave because she wanted Jimmy for herself?

The character study made the story, but beyond that, I would find it hard to think of something that actually happened, beyond ironing boards falling onto people.
Great characters.