Directed by Lizzie Schebesta and Damien Ryan
Red Line Productions
Old Fitz Theatre
129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Season: 16 August – 10 September (Extended season 13 – 17 September at Downstairs Belvoir)
Look Back in Anger was revolutionary in its debut in the 1950s. Sizzling working class frustration highlighted on stage was a rarity, and it continues to go under the radar in today’s theatre. As decades have passed since the play’s premiere, the combustible nature of the working class depicted doesn’t feel quite as controversial to a contemporary observer, or maybe this production just doesn’t quite hit the right pressure points.
A talented cast is collected in Lizzie Schebesta and Damien Ryan’s co-production, each presenting some peculiar personalities. They are intriguing and the circumstances are a little bizarre, as the audience meets them holed up in a crumbling apartment on a dozy Sunday. On first impressions, Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design is striking, and totally transformative of the Old Fitz theatre space. Moldy, peeling wallpaper and grimy windows paired with the puffing of cigarette smoke and Ross Graham’s hazy lighting design sets an excellent scene. Anna Gardiner’s costume design is on point, capturing each characterisation ideally within the era. The production design, on all fronts, is sublime.
However, for Osborne’s text, some of the gold is in the details, and this can be hard work for audiences. I did feel as if I had to work to appreciate the nuances in the piece, and while I did find it fascinating to think more deeply about the numerous ideas in the play, audiences are generally resistant to going to the theatre to ‘work’. The actors make interesting choices but scene dynamics fail to hit the right highs, settling the pace and feeling vaguely repetitive. So many aspects of the play seemed to be there, and yet it was just missing that extra oomph that captures your attention for good.
Andrew Henry is volatile as Jimmy, aptly personifying the frustration of a man with limited life prospects. In the tedious monotony of their week, a line rung very true to my ears: “Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings and that we’re actually alive.” His distrust and maltreatment of women is pertinent, and Melissa Bonne’s appearance of indifference and inaction I found to be highly engaging, if not rather frustrating – which I think is the intended effect. Bonne creates a bold development of character which I think shows great ability to be vulnerable as an actor, and her predicament best captures the sympathy of the audience. Robin Goldsworthy is described as a ‘mouse’ in the play as Cliff, and mousey he is – almost to the degree of being a curiously cartoonish personality. He fits the role perfectly.
This production of Look Back in Anger is simmering with fascinating ideas under its surface, however audience members have to dig to receive its gratification. The pivotal feeling of the play and its crucial relationships lack clarity for audiences, which is a shame since so much good work is there and has the potential to be scintillating. It is a testament to the enigmatic ‘magic’ of theatre that all artists are striving for, and yet so often slips through our fingers…so we continue to create, and strive for theatrical alchemy.