Many will be familiar with John Osborne’s iconic 1956 play and its introduction to British theatre of a new wealth of material, told in brutal honesty as never before. The context out of which it sprung is a key moment in our recent history – post-war Britain in depression, the sudden move away from class and gender distinctions, and the disillusioned youth of this frustrated state.
James Lewis’ adaptation certainly captures the realism of Osborne’s play, contributed to both by the impressive and highly appropriate design and the consistent believability on the part of the cast, who are onstage and in character whilst the audience enter. However I am still trying to decide whether something really crucial is lost from Osborne’s original through the elimination of the brilliant final act, and the moments which tie the piece together. Despite a somewhat self-conscious beginning, David Nertherton successfully develops Jimmy into a really infuriating and unpleasant Angry Young Man – uncomfortable to watch and therefore a convincing portrayal. But had we had the chance to view the added depth given to his character by the ‘replaying’ of the first act in the third, with Helena replacing Alison, and Jimmy’s ultimate reconciliation with his wife, perhaps the production and its characters would have reached a fuller development, giving the audience more to take away from the experience. Admittedly, it is a long script and 52 years after the initial controversy surrounding the play, there is now perhaps less of the thrill and urgency intrinsic to the play that would allow the full script to maintain engagement.
As I have mentioned, the cast do not convey significant conviction until the scene in which Alison falls and hurts her arm. From this point on however they relax into the changes of pace and volume, and allow the silences to play out more confidently, engaging with each other, and the audience, with more dynamism. The directorial interpretation of Cliff, given an endearing portrayal by Douggie McMeekin, is enjoyable and apt: ineffectual yet well-meaning, soft, sensitive and bumbling; the classic underdog. Victoria Auckland gives a suitably flouncy depiction of Helena, with a comfortable stage presence that serves occasionally to tie the action together. Christey Nethercott’s Alison, although not persuasive at first, invokes in us appropriate levels of empathy and frustration through an increasingly confident involvement with her character. It is not an edge-of-your-seat evening, but a well-designed and eventually confidently and feelingly depicted production, demonstrating a thoughtful perception of the protagonists and the relationships between them.