Reviewed by Samela Harris
Almost from Adam Tuominen’s first breath as Jimmy, the tension comes alive from the stage and one’s attention is riveted.
John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger is a 1950s British classic. It symbolised the birth of “kitchen sink” drama and, judging from its revival at the hands of Lesley Reed and The Rep, it is alive and kicking with a vengeance.
Its uncompromising naturalism is refreshing.
The play depicts the grim and cloying domestic world of Jimmy and his wife Alison in a grimy walkup somewhere in the Midlands. Their Welsh friend Cliff shares life with them, acting as a buffer between passive Alison, to the constant contemptuous verbal assaults she endures from Jimmy. Osborne has created Jimmy not only as an angry young man railing against his failures in life but also as a well-read and erudite character, thus legitimising the rich and often beautiful language of the script. He wrote the play in semi-autobiographical mode.
In private moments, Jimmy indulges a quaint romantic role play with Alison and shows a lust as strong as his violent verbal onslaughts. It is pretty classic domestic violence, the aggressor and the supplicant victim. It’s also a mixed marriage. Alison comes from a British military bourgeoisie background.
Cliff’s presence adds interesting chemistry as the best friend who is also not-so-secretly in love with the hapless wife.
And then her friend Helena enters the fray.
All the action takes place in the nasty little upstairs bedsit, a wonderfully detailed and atmospheric set by Brittany Daw with cutaway walls showing corridors and filthy doors to other flats. The time is always Sundays, the idle days of meaty newspapers, galling church bells, and the weekly ironing. Sound is good, the bells, the rain and most especially the wonderfully evocative jazz music composed for the production by Kim Orchard.
Adam Tuominen pretty much eats the stage alive as Jimmy. He rants and rages, bullies and cajoles, artfully restraining the shouting to the craft of acting; no mean feat. He’s ever a class act. James Edwards has his Welsh accent down pat and gives a simply marvellous portrayal of Cliff, the role which lifted the great Alan Bates to stardom. Leah Lowe, albeit with an unusual accent, reflects succinctly the emotional exhaustion of the bullied spouse while Jessica Carroll steps it out with great style and cultural finesse as the actress friend, Helena. Jack Robins fares well in the cameo role as the country dad.
Director Lesley Reed has delivered a smooth and high quality production of this very demanding theatre work. Particularly admirable and effective is her use of stillness onstage as aesthetic and dramatic punctuation points which cleverly underscore while also counterpointing the emotional turmoil of the play.
It is a great play well revived – a significant play everyone should have seen at least once. Seize the day.