When I was 21 and studied in London for a summer, I took two classes (I totally didn’t go to London to take classes – guilty as charged): Shakespeare and Contemporary British Theatre. My Contemporary British Theatre class was especially fun because it was a combination of a bunch of theatre and non-theatre people. The athletic jock was in this class as well as the aspiring Shakespearean scholar.
Anyways, one of the plays we discussed at one point or another was Look Back in Anger, by John Osborne, which was groundbreaking when it was written (in 1956) and first performed in England after the second World War. It was the first play that gave birth to the term “angry young men,” the term that was given to Osborne and his cohorts who expressed their anger through their writing. I came home after that summer and immediately bought and read the play, and I don’t remember my initial reaction except maybe that it was interesting. One of our non-theatre cohorts also said at one point, “Hey, I bet that play has something do with Oasis’ song ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger!’” I went home and downloaded the song immediately too.
When Roundabout announced that it was going to be apart of it’s season this year, I knew I wanted to see it. A friend of mine had comps she couldn’t use last week so although I knew I’d have other opportunities to see it and I was feeling lazy, I took advantage of the opportunity at hand and went. It was staged on the downstage edge (to heighten the claustrophobic feeling of the play, says the director) of the Laura Pels Theatre, Roundabout’s off-Broadway stage. Imagine a rundown, sparse, disgusting apartment in mid-20th century London and you’ll have a good idea what it looked like.
Telling the story of a less than happy love triangle, the center of the triangle Alison (played by Sarah Goldberg) is in what is more-or-less an verbally abusive relationship with her husband Jimmy (played by Matthew Rhys), and on the side she is in love with Jimmy’s best friend Cliff (played by Adam Driver) – who is also in love with her. This side affair is known to Jimmy and doesn’t seem to bother him. Their relationship is status quoi until one day when Alison’s college girlfriend Helena (played by Charlotte Parry) comes to stay for a night (which turns into a week).
The direction is interesting as no one really ever leaves the stage, save for a few scenes in the second act. The actors leave the stage, but sit on the stairs and watch the rest of the scene play out. It is unimaginable that anyone could ever stay in a relationship with someone like Jimmy but somehow he’s found two women who contemplate it. The four actors deliver fine performances that leave us rooting for them (well the non-heinous ones).
The ending is hopeful, though anything but uplifting. I’m glad I finally got to see this script played out with a great cast with even better direction. Roundabout has delivered yet another compelling production.