Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Look Back in Anger
Venue: Greenside, Royal Terrace
Macaroon productions should be proud of the first Edinburgh production, a well acted adaptation of this piece of classic British kitchen-sink drama.
Look Back in Anger is now a stalwart of British Theatre. Ironically so, given it was written to overturn the fusty traditions of commercial productions which were the bread and butter of rep theatre companies in the 1950s, and most of the West End too. Macaroon Productions adaptation focuses more on the relationships between the four characters and is less about the visceral examination of class and establishment in post-war Britain that Osborne explored in his full-length play.
The action takes place in a dingy bedsit on a succession of Sunday afternoons, the only entertainment while waiting for the pub to open are the newspaper and a classical concert on the radio. Alison (Artemis Fitzalan Howarth) is ironing, Jimmy (Tom Hilton) is itching for a verbal fight, and Cliff (Conor Kennedy), their friend and co-lodger, is good humouredly keeping the peace. This, we are to understand, is the pattern of their Sundays. Jimmy is a working man obsessed by class, by his wife’s social standing of which he is completely disdainful, and of being top dog in this threesome. Into this bickering, snarling melee comes Helena (Lara McIvor) – confident, beautiful, from ‘good stock’ and representing everything Jimmy hates. Helena is the catalyst for change and we watch as Jimmy and Alison’s marriage disintegrates and Cliff is left out in the cold.
All four actors completely inhabit the characters. Hilton brings the required demonic energy to portray Jimmy’s dissatisfaction with his domestic situation but also wears Jimmy’s vulnerabilities on his sleeve so that we do sympathise with the angry young man despite his bullying and violent verbal assaults. Fitzalan Howarth is very effective in her weariness but brings genuine grief to Alison’s final scene. Kennedy creates a warm and lovable Cliff, and enables us to share his distress at the breakdown of his carefully constructed life. And McIvor is wonderfully haughty as Helena but then convincing in her complete abandon to her new dissolute life.
In their hands this is less a play about railing against an entrenched establishment and much more about four very rounded characters struggling to deal with a series of misfortunes, and earning our sympathies in the process.
The Greensides venue is an intimate space, helpfully the same dimensions as a bedsitter, and some care has gone into furniture and stage layout to create a believable set. What would have added to the performance was some sense of stage design – a carpet to mark out the floor space and focus the audience’s attention, a doorway and a window frame to give the sense of a room rather than an acting space. Costumes too needed much more attention to detail to get the period feel. Sound effects (such as drumming rain to highlight the grimness of their Sundays) and incidental music from the period would also have added to the claustrophobia of relationships, helped us put the play in historical context and smoothed over some of the bumps in this heavily cut adaptation.
However, the these production details did not take away from the four excellent performances and Macaroon Productions should be proud of their first Edinburgh Festival Fringe production.