Writer: John Osborne
Director: Annabelle Comyn
Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy
It is always a risk to tackle one of the great, and well-worn classics, but this is something that the Gate Theatre is renowned for. However, Selina Cartmell’s inaugural season is illustrating that she is willing to take the necessary steps to bring the Gate into the twenty-first century. Previously a venue that hung its hat on perfect reproductions of modern classics, Cartmell’s Gate appears to be more about pushing the canonical boundaries.
John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger might seem an unusual choice in the current social climate. In a moment where gender-based discrimination and violence is getting a thorough airing, what can this canonical, but ultimately patriarchal piece of theatre bring to contemporary Irish audiences? Annabelle Comyn’s clear direction of this piece offers its audience a wholly more satisfying version of Osbourne’s text, providing its women characters with an agency and power previously unseen and untapped.
The set, designed by Paul O’Mahony, is the first hint that this is a new way of staging Look Back in Anger. A vision of carpet tiles and domestic clutter sits in the middle of a utilitarian and deconstructed theatre background. O’Mahony’s set, as well as Comyn’s direction, illuminates the functions of theatre in this piece, allowing the audience to step back from Osborne’s realism. Tom Lane’s sound design also plays an important role. The regular aural intrusions of everyday life are made more ominous in a world where even the most mundane actions are competitive.
Ian Toner as Jimmy undoubtedly steals the show. Toner plays this seminal character with an overt aggression that is menacing and uncomfortable without being overdone. Clare Dunne’s Alison is ripe with subtlety, allowing the audience a brief glimpse at her inner life. Lloyd Cooney and Vanessa Emme are excellent in support and the entire ensemble produce a vivid and strong performance.
As Melissa Shirah states in her programme note “it is impossible now to view Look Back in Anger without the influence of feminism” and it is clear that this is the lens that Comyn has chosen to view this piece. The deconstruction of the theatrical event provides the women characters with a new form of agency that, for this reviewer at least, provides a more satisfying ending to this production.
This is Look Back in Anger as you’ve previously never seen it, but it is one you shouldn’t miss.
Runs until 24 March 2018 | Image: Luca Truffarelli