Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 3 18 March 1970
Drama Review — Look Back in Anger
Look Back in Anger
Look Back In Anger, the Orientation play directed by Matthew O'Sullivan, was fortunate from the start in having a striking set by Peter Coates. A dominating cold grey view of rooftops jutted beyond the proscenium into the audience. The cut-away garret which was the acting area was small, and looked even smaller, but surprisingly proved to be adequate.
The play's main strength lies in Jimmy Porter's embittered and ingenious metaphorical language. The whole responsibility of making the play convincing, therefore, falls on Jimmy. Alan Hinkley played the part with intelligence and dedication but without the spontaneous fiery nastiness that characterises Jimmy. He seemed to be trying hard to fill out the part, realising well enough what was needed but never convincingly getting to the gut of the man. This is hardly a question of fault, though—any more than his being rather tall unfortunately made him look more awkward than necessary. At times too there was the uneasy feeling that what natural ability he had brought to the part had been 'produced' into a rhythm which suited neither the character nor the situation. One could point to the grinding rallentando of his father's deathbed speech, dribbling self-pity, but overdone. Yet there were good moments of fine driving colloquial rhetoric. There was great relish, for example, in the speech about his mother-in-law and her acidic worms.
It seemed that Jimmy could free-associate his 'done rotten' gripings on any topic, but in fact he had a limited range of starting points: Alison, her family, her friends, the newspaper or Cliff. These characters never became very much more than starting points for Jimmy, although Osborne had given them all time and space in which to enlarge their appeal as individuals.
Helen McGrath as Alison stood like a rag doll and moved badly, particularly with Jimmy and especially in the scenes involving the bears and squirrels, which were acutely embarrassing in a way beyond the pathetic poignancy intended.
Cliff's dialect was a barely recognisable, uncertain Welsh, but he moved with tact and assurance in the tiny acting area. Even lighting Alison's cigarette (which could have been horribly bungled) was done with admirable skill. But Paul Holmes will have to watch that he does not get himself stuck with a number of tricks of the trade—particularly in his delivery—which will be awkward to unlearn.
Geraldine Whyte played Helena Charles in a plummy, elocuted fashion which one suspected was as much Miss Whyte as Helena when the plum remained after Act II—from which time it needed to be toned down far more than it was. Helena's turning to Jimmy was rather sudden in execution, despite all the graduated hints earlier (playing with the bear and squirrel, for example) so that as instant seduction it was more embarrassing than competent.
Colonel Redfern is an interesting case; one feels he was one of the most sympathetically conceived of the characters. He was played tactfully, but more as a literary exercise than a dramatic one, by Terry Baker.
If one were to wonder, before seeing the play, whether this 1956 kitchen-sink drama set in the Midlands had any relevance to 1970 New Zealand, then the answer would be one shared by all significant drama; it deais with recognisable people rather than an historical situation. The social situation has dated—but not so very much—and it will, hopefully, become increasingly remote. Yet the character of Jimmy, fierce in his condemnations, inconsistent in any positive loyalties, and secure only when he knows his rages to be fruitless and his happiness a teddy bear story continues to be a current dramatic force. The director. Matthew O'Sullivan, deserves a large measure of praise from all in the four full houses that this fine play has drawn.