Play Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

Recording Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

REVIEW :   Sunday 1 st August 2021: Look Back in Anger by John Osborne Presented by Prashant Sinha

  • Review by Mohini Khot

Prashant Sinha made a presentation on Osborne’s sensational (in 1956) play, giving us a very thorough road map to understand the play’s content, significance and impact. Having been given the honour of editing the play some years ago, he was absolutely the perfect person to be our guide to the play.

He started by giving us an idea of the background to the play: the political and economic situation in England during those difficult post War years and Osborne’s own personal situation and feelings. He mentioned other writers of that era who had voiced the sort of anger that came to be associated with Jimmy Porter. Lucky Jim (a novel by Kingsley Amis) particularly seems to have been a source of inspiration for the creation of the character of Jimmy Porter, the “angry young man” of Osborne’s play. Prashant also showed us how both the lead role and some of the events and other characters in the action reveal clearly autobiographical overtones. It would not be wrong to suggest that Jimmy is a self-portrait by Osborne.

The action of the play hinges upon the troubled relationship between Jimmy and his wife Alison and also his lack of success. Both are causes of his anger. Alison comes from the upper class while Jimmy belongs to the working class. He deeply resents the automatic advantages that class gives people like Alison’s family. He hates Alison’s mother for her opposition to their marriage and her brother Nigel for his effortless successes (albeit utterly undeserved, according to Jimmy) due only to his birth and class. Although there are lyrical passages where both Alison and Jimmy describe their falling in love, the reality of their present interaction is painful to watch. Jimmy constantly demeans Alison, making her the butt of his jokes and criticism, and also goading her by talking of her mother in coarse and scathing terms. Alison is quiet and stoic, resolutely ironing clothes and avoiding participation in the conversation between Jimmy and his friend and business partner, Cliff. But she has become fragile under the continuous onslaught.

Alison’s friend Helena, shocked at the state she finds Alison in (pregnant and broken in spirit) insists she leave Jimmy until she gets herself together. Thereafter there are surprising developments in the interaction between Helena and Jimmy. When Alison finally returns, she and Jimmy seem able to recreate their original lover-like relationship only through fantasy games.

There followed a discussion of the characterization, stage techniques, symbolism and the impact of the play. Jimmy, it was found, is both attractive in terms of his youthful energy, his “alive” curiosity, need for intellectual stimulation and touching vulnerability and also repulsive because of his sadism, misogyny, aggression and violence (in speech and action).

Prashant answered questions from the members present. Some of the aspects that came under discussion were the “battle of the sexes” kind of marital discord (Indu Kulkarni), the image of the angry young man, the appeal to the younger generation (Mohini Khot), the sensation created by the play, and its waning popularity. Satish Khot also compared the play to Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan:

in both plays the character from the lower class vents his anger and takes revenge on the woman he loves because she represents the class that has denied him a position of dignity.

Nityaasha Foundation