Introduction

Look Back in Anger (1956) is by far the most famous of John Osborne\'s plays. It was the foundational work of the genre for which the term "kitchen-sink drama" was coined. The gritty realism of its setting represented a revolution in the British theatre, one which gave to the play when it was first produced a political and cultural significance which it is hard to comprehend nearly 50 years later. The play was perceived as giving voice to a frustrated and politically and culturally disenfranchised constituency – the lower-middle-class, first-generation graduates whose literary heroes, including Osborne, became known as the Angry Young Men

The play describes 1950s life in an East Midlands bed-sitting room among the underemployed graduate classes. The extreme unglamorousness of the setting alone represented something of a break from theatrical tradition. The central character, Jimmy Porter, turns a sort of rancorous verbal machine-gun on all those around him, as well as anything and anyone that they hold dear. In Jimmy Porter, Osborne is engaging in the first of several exercises in self-portraiture which characterize his major plays. The portrayal is vivid, Jimmy Porter\'s language crackles with acid energy as he hurls grenades of invective. He also embodies the frustrations of a particular age and class, a generation of young men who had attempted to leave behind their working-class origins, using higher education as the means by which to do so. The problem was that, once these men arrived in the promised land of the educated middle classes, they found (or pretended to find) that the promise had been a hollow one, and that the real, worthwhile privileges had carefully been retained within the inaccessible citadels of a class-ridden Establishment. That, at least, is one version of the play\'s theme. An alternative point of view would condemn Jimmy, first for his sheer futility, and then for his general unpleasantness, finally for the nastiness of his attempts to dominate the women in his life.

This three-act, single-set play opens with Jimmy, his wife Alison and his friend Cliff. Jimmy spends Act I baiting Alison and Cliff in a tour de force of childlike egotism. Jimmy and Cliff spend most of the Act sitting around with the Sunday newspapers, while Alison, wearing one of Jimmy\'s shirts, irons clothes. In Act II, Alison\'s friend Helena arrives, and her presence rouses Jimmy to verbal excesses arguably even greater than those he had perpetrated in Act I. Helena persuades Alison to leave Jimmy, and then takes her place as his lover. Act III opens with Jimmy and Cliff sitting around with newspapers, while Helena, wearing one of Jimmy\'s shirts, irons clothes. Then Alison returns. It transpires that, unknown to Jimmy, she has been carrying his child which has then miscarried. In a less than convincing fit of conscientiously doing the right thing, Helena departs, leaving the field to Alison. Alison then

On May 8, 1956, Look Back in Anger opened at the Royal Court Theatre as the third production of the newly formed English Stage Company. The English Stage Company had been founded in 1955 to promote the production of new plays by contemporary authors that might not find production in the commercial West End theatre (London's equivalent of Broadway in New York City). West End theatre provided quality acting and high standards of production, but very little drama that related to life m contemporary England. Most plays of the time were generally innocuous light comedies, thrillers, and foreign imports—fourteen American shows in 1955 alone.

Osborne had submitted copies of Look Back in Anger to every agent in London and to many West End producers and had been rejected by all. When the script arrived at the Royal Court, the Artistic Director George Devine and his young assistant director Tony Richardson knew it was exactly what they were looking for. Look Back in Anger was viewed as a play that would, as Devine later put it, "blow a hole in the old theatre."

Critical reception was strongly mixed: some detested the play and the central character, but most recognized Osborne as an important new talent and the play as emotionally powerful. They also recognized the play as one that fervently spoke of the concerns of the young in post-war England. Although the first production of Look Back in Anger was not initially financially successful, after an excerpt was shown on BBC the box office was overwhelmed. Osbome was publicized as the "Angry Young Man" and the success of Look Back in Anger opened the doors to other young writers who dealt with contemporary problems.

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