Sunday 1 May 2016

Look Back in Anger - Why?

John Osborne's Look Back in Anger was on Radio 4 yet again yesterday, supplemented by an Archive on 4 in which David Tennant, star of this latest version, explored the play's origins, its impact, its place in Osborne's life, etc, etc. Why? Isn't it about time someone pointed out that Look Back in Anger is and always has been a pile of tosh - toxic tosh at that - of interest only as a period piece and a case study in morbid psychology? Call me a rabid feminist, but I really can't see the fun in listening to a whingeing little sociopath (yes, that 'iconic' figure Jimmy Porter) sadistically bullying, hectoring, insulting and degrading his long-suffering wife at unendurable length (with a little sentimental drivel about bears and squirrels thrown in). Is it because she's upper-middle-class that she somehow deserves this - or is it simply because she's a woman? Very much more the latter, I'd say, especially as Porter treats the other woman in the play every bit as badly. Jimmy Porter is essentially a projection of his woman-hating, mother-hating, narcissistic creator.
 Why has this ghastly play not slipped into oblivion, like most stage plays that seemed 'important' at the time? Why hasn't it been booed from the public arena by feminists - or just self-respecting women? Why does it keep coming back, and why on Radio 4 of all places? Theatrical revivals are one thing (theatregoers being easily pleased), but you'd expect better of Radio 4. It's notable that there hasn't been a TV version in a long while - no TV audience would stand for it. It's also notable that the first reviews of Look Back in Anger were entirely hostile, one critic lamenting that the actress Mary Ure (the lucky woman who was soon to become the second of Osborne's five wives) should have wasted her talent on a role that consisted largely of ironing and making lunch. Indeed. But then along came Kenneth Tynan ('I could not love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger') and Harold Hobson ('a landmark of British theatre'), and the rest is history - the dismal history of a dismal play that just keeps coming back to torment us. Enough already.


  1. Thought to have been the light at the end of drama's austerity tunnel, spin-off movie with Burton, Ure and Bloom was a waste of luvvies, boring. Probably remembered more for his role as Cyril Kinnear, Get Carter's sinister villain, than his new-wave playwriting stuff.

  2. Yes indeed Malty - his finest hour. He was also in the 1980 Flash Gordon film, but I don't think anyone noticed...