Review by Helen Karakulak
Adelaide Repertory Theatre’s “Look Back in Anger” is an abrasive portrayal of relationships, misogyny and classism. With its themes transcending generations, “Look Back in Anger” makes us do exactly that, instilling frustration at a domesticated dynamic that isn’t merely a reflection on the past, but a social commentary questioning how much we’ve really grown.
The Arts Theatre’s expansive stage is an asset to the production, with a detailed set by Brittany Daw. The cutaway walls forming corridors, along with the proximity of the furniture assists to convey the claustrophobic feel of the boarding house and the mundane nature of Sunday routine.
Sound is well-utilised to provide atmospheric insight to the Sunday’s of our protagonist, Jimmy, and his distaste for their idle nature. From simple background noises of rain, to the nearby church bells that provoke such an outraged response, sound by Ray Trowbridge was well-timed and effective. The emotive original jazz music composed by Kim Orchard is a compelling accompaniment without detracting from the tone of the production.
Adam Tuominen is electric as Jimmy. His physicality is disciplined and authentically aggressive, to the point of consistently confronting audiences throughout the performance.
However, the effectiveness of Jimmy’s rage grew tiresome by the end of the lengthy first act. Tuominen’s performance, while consistently aggressive and calculated in Jimmy’s mistreatment of others, failed to capture the complexity of the character.
Lacking a light contrast to the egotistical and abrasive dominant character traits throughout the first act detracted from the receptiveness of Jimmy’s chance at redemption. “Look Back in Anger” had immense potential to present a narrative transition through Jimmy’s character that captured the fleeting sensitivity that leads to so many women making the choice to stay in such situations as his spouse, Alison. However, while Tuominen’s talented physicality laid an appropriate foundation of aggression, his lack of range throughout made it difficult for audiences to sympathise with his fate.
Leah Lowe successfully conveyed a passive role that is easily mistaken as bland. However, her talented characterisation grew through the duration of the play, coming into the complexities of her character in the second act. Alison is the centrepiece of what makes “Look Back in Anger” a transferable social commentary. Her character, while seemingly one-dimensional on a surface level, serves as an elaborate exposé into the justifications one must convince themselves of to be able to love such a man as the blatantly misogynistic Jimmy.
James Edwards’ is energetic and entertaining as Cliff. Edwards’ shines presenting Cliff’s conflicting loyalty to Jimmy contrasted with his adoration towards Alison. While the unconventional bond he has formed with Alison is jarring, Edwards’ presents Cliff’s boyish positivity with a certain pathos that makes him a sympathetic accomplice.
Jessica Carroll commands the stage as Helena with assertive physicality. Sure of herself, her understanding of right and wrong never falters. Despite Helena’s devious nature, she never compromises her moral understanding to justify her actions, which makes the character a force to be reckoned with.
Jack Robins, as the unexpectedly sensitive Colonel Redfern, was a refreshing juxtaposition to how his character was described by Jimmy prior to his appearance. Robins’ compassionate portrayal of a fatherly figure was a highlight of the production, adding a layer of complexity undiscovered prior to his entrance, reflecting the impact the dominant relationship had on others.
“Look Back in Anger” is a thought-provoking, abrasive insight into complex domestic dynamics. Although its pace seemed turbulent at times, the talented cast, effective use of sound and versatile set made for an increasingly engaging performance.