Look Back in Anger

Sun 4th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Kate Wilkinson

at 00:58 on 8th Aug 2013

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Macaroon Productions bring Osborne’s 1956 ‘Look Back in Anger’ to the Fringe. This is a play full of crackling dialogue, class boundaries, marital discord and simmering tension, and the cast delivered on each score. The scene is set in a squalid apartment and the production team have paid close attention to detail, including a believable level of disarray.

We follow a curious love triangle between the married couple Jimmy and Alison and their friendly lodger Cliff. Jimmy’s frustration dominates the play from the very start and Alison is constantly the passive recipient of his abuse. The already tense situation is exacerbated upon the arrival of Alison’s friend Helena.

Conor Kennedy as Cliff is endearingly sweet and appears as a paragon of gentleness opposed to Jimmy’s viciousness. Kennedy’s occasional outbursts of aggression were thus rendered more powerful. His accent was a little unclear to me at first but it didn’t take long for Kennedy to settle into a confident portrayal of the Welsh salesman. Artemis Fitzalan Howard played Alison with remarkable control. Glimpses of emotion were evident behind a fragile mask of passivity. Her performance was particularly powerful at the climax of the play.

‘Look Back in Anger’ is a play obsessed with the British class system. For the most part, these complexities were conveyed well. However, the casting posed a subtle underlying issue that bothered me, as I struggled to put my finger on exactly what I wasn’t convinced by. The dichotomy between upper-middle class Alison and working-class Jimmy is a large factor in their disconnection. Tom Hilton’s scintillating performance as Jimmy was perfection in all ways but one. I didn’t believe that he had working-class roots. Jimmy often mimics Alison’s posh relatives however the mimicry and his own argument were often indistinguishable. Hilton’s natural softness of voice gave Jimmy’s angry outbursts the impression of a middle-class rant which threatened to undermine the subject of his anger: social inequality. I needed him to be rougher at the edges. This may seem like a superficial criticism- and indeed it is. But the nature of class is superficial in many ways, and this is partly what the play was about. Despite this slight mismatch, Hilton did capture Jimmy’s disappointment and frustration well.

In all, this is a polished and well-timed production. The acting was overwhelmingly strong and the directors Ellie Keel and Isabel Marr have done a good job.

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James Cetkovski

at 10:06 on 8th Aug 2013

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The powerful magnetism of ‘Look Back in Anger’—which has been pretty consistent since the late-1950s - turns around a character with an overflowing spirit and an unbreakable determination to speak his mind, who gives dreadful voice to the tension, resentment, and rage that lay buried and unarticulated in British relationships of the mid-twentieth century. The casting of Jimmy makes or breaks a production.

Happily, Tom Hilton is a riveting concentration of vitriol and resentment; he sneers and spits Macaroon Productions’ interpretation of John Osborne’s disquieting classic to success. Jimmy, a sweet stall salesman whose intelligence is matched only by his irascibility, lives in a constant state of eloquent acrimony with his wife, Allison (Artemis Fitzalan Howard), whom he resents for her alleged docility and more privileged upbringing, and his colleague, Cliff (Conor Kennedy), whose affability sometimes has a calming influence on the situation. Then Helena (Lara McIvor) arrives for a visit, and everything changes.

Jimmy and Allison are mirror images in certain ways - Jimmy strides across the stage with aggressive contempt, scornful verbiage streaming from his mouth; in contrast Allison stands poised, static, beaten down but unsubmissive. Hilton’s and Howard’s strengths are well suited to their roles. In Hilton’s case I’m thinking of an early scene in which Jimmy asserts Allison is perfectly described by the word ‘pusillanimous’; he picks up a dictionary to read out the definition and punctuates his rant by banging the book down on Allison’s ironing board, after which he declares: ‘That’s. My. Wife.’ The timing and emphasis are just perfect. It’s one of those moments. It’s more difficult to pinpoint specific instances for Howard; her consistency is exemplary. Her speech has a wonderfully expressive falling cadence; her face is always a subtle mask of quiet desperation.

The moments in which they need to act against type are less successful - when Jimmy has to become quiet he doesn’t seem quite like the same character, and Allison is less convincing when she needs to be dramatic. But all and all, both performances are terrific; they’re well complimented by the restrained Kennedy and McIvor, whose sensitive pragmatism provides ideal contrast to the leading couple.

Direction, staging, costumes—all are tastefully and unintrusively executed; the acting and the language are allowed to enjoy the prominence they deserve. Even seasoned theatre-goers thoroughly familiar with ‘Look Back in Anger’ will find Macaroon Productions’ mesmerising take a decidedly worthwhile emotional experience.

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