Big Boots Theatre brings John Osborne’s 1956 classic Look Back in Anger to the London fringe with a fresh young cast from 25 February. Osborne biographer Peter Whitebrook explains why the play was so disruptive in post-war Britain and why, 60 years on, it has stood the test of time. Time to get booking!
The mid-1950s, a decade after the end of the war, was a time of unsettling social change. The first tower blocks altered the London skyline, providing isolating new homes for those whose houses were shattered by wartime bombing. At street level, communities were becoming more multi-cultural.
Within the family, young people soon stopped looking like second editions of their parents and started wearing fashions expressly designed for them. The first sounds of rock and roll thumped from jukeboxes in cafes. A reforming Labour government had laid the foundations of a new Welfare State that the succeeding Conservative administration wisely chose not to dismantle.
Meanwhile, whether you lived half-way to heaven or reassuringly on the ground, the living room suddenly became a window on the world. The wondrous new television parked in the corner made it possible to discover the cities and villages of Britain and explore faraway countries without leaving your armchair.
England was changing, but at a time that many craved stability. Horizons were expanding when many would have preferred them to contract to the simple, peace-time prize of a house, a garden and a family.
First performed in 1956, Look Back in Anger deals with four young people struggling to establish principles in a society in which politics, social and sexual attitudes seem disconcertingly unresolved and values impossible to pin down, even worthless. The play caught the atmosphere of its times and established John Osborne, its author, a twenty-six-year-old actor, as an ‘Angry Young Man’, the voice of a new, post-war generation, somebody with something to say if only one could work out quite what it was.
The play has survived over sixty years to become a modern classic. It resonates particularly at a time in which society seems almost irreconcilably divided and political integrity in short supply, its emotional honesty still shocks and surprises, while the raging vitality of its language remains an astonishing theatrical achievement.
Peter Whitebrook’s biography John Osborne: ‘Anger is not about…’, and Dearest Squirrel: The Intimate Letters of John Osborne and Pamela Lane, which Whitebrook edited, are both published by Oberon Books.
Look Back in Anger runs from 25 February to 14 March 2020 at the White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Rd, Prince’s, London SE11 4DJ, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are priced £13-16. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!