Thursday, 3 July 2014

Look Back In Anger (1989)

John Osborne, prime mover in 'the angry young man' movement and playwright of the original 1956 play, is on record as saying Kenneth Branagh is ''the best Jimmy Porter ever'' and who am I to disagree? It's true I revere Richard Burton, but the Welsh God was just too old and too established to play such a mercurial upstart in the 1959 film adaptation. It took a further thirty year to get the play truly right and to give voice to the real spirit of youthful anger and despair felt at the elusiveness of meaning or perceived good fortune in life.

Branagh's performance of Porter in this astonishing production from Judi Dench is a sublime study in aggression borne from stifled desperation. Set entirely within the claustrophobic confines of the grey dour room he shares with his wife Alison (Emma Thompson) and his friend Cliff (Gerard Horan) over endless Sundays, Branagh's Porter is akin to a buzzing fly panicking upon finding himself trapped, butting his head relentlessly upon the window.

Ken and Em were HUGE at the time and rightly so, and its to their credit that Osborne's characters truly come to life. In less assured hands Look Back In Anger could be a monologue, with audiences waiting for each of Porter's shocking rants against the stuffiness of '50s society, but here Thompson's Alison takes just as much of the spotlight when its required and we can see just how Osborne wanted her to be portrayed; a complex young woman who requires our sympathy but equally gives as good as she gets, using her seemingly cowed silence not as a martyrdom but actually as a weapon against Porter's vitriol. After three/four years of marriage, she truly knows how to push his buttons - she admits as much at one point - yet it takes this production to truly understand that. Meanwhile Horan is the embodiment of the no man's land that keeps them together, whilst Siobhan Redmond and Edward Jewesbury equally impress in supporting roles, both of which provide a 'twist' of sorts. 

My two key moments in this are Thompson's stunned and secret hurt just before the end of the first act when Branagh's Porter snaps about wishing she could have a baby only for it to die (she has of course found out she is pregnant at this stage, yet not told him) and later, during Branagh's monologue regarding the death of his father - both true acting masterclasses.

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