‘Look Back in Anger’ was John Osborne’s first play to be staged in London. The play was staged for the first time on 8th May 1956 This play was written when its author was only twenty-six years old. The play was written during a period of unemployment. John Osborne was an unknown actor and dramatist when the play was produced at the Royal Court Theatre, in London.
Besides favorable reception by the spectators and the drama critics, the play also received television attention. John Osborne was hailed as a new voice and the play was acclaimed as a turning point in the history of British Drama.
‘Look Back in Anger’, is a modern play. Its immediate success and acceptance were on account of its appeal to the theatre-going public. It has been pointed out and rightly too, that the play is traditional in form and modern and unconventional in content.
We now proceed to study and examine the play’s structure, which is undoubtedly a very well-made play. It has traditional exposition, elaboration, climax’ and denouement. ‘Look Back in Anger’ is a Three-Act Play.
The First Act
The main character, Jimmy Porter, his wife Alison Porter, and his childhood friend Cliff Lewis are introduced in the scene. Jimmy Porter is a person at odds with the world and in the opening scene, he is seen expressing his resentment, dissatisfaction, and impatience with persons and things around him.
Significantly, the dramatist has chosen Sunday to serve as the fitting background to the scene put before our eyes. There is not much action on Sundays in the Christian world. So we find Jimmy and Cliff reading newspapers and talking about matters reported in them.
Alison is at the ironing board. Jimmy is monopolizing most of the proceedings in this Act. The Act closes with the news of Helena Charles’s arrival, a friend of Alison, staying with Alison and Jimmy.
The Second Act, Scene I
Alison recounts to her friend Helena the possibilities leading to her marriage with Jimmy Porter, and her days at Hugh Tanner’s flat in Poplar, where Alison and Jimmy lived after their marriage. She tells about Jimmy and Hugh’s conduct which was savage and barbaric.
She tells about Hugh’s mother, who established Jimmy as the sweet-stall business. Hugh goes abroad for good leaving behind his old mother to find for herself. The news of the illness of Hugh’s mother upsets Jimmy. He asks Alison to accompany him to London. But she ignores his request and goes to Church with Helena. Helena sends a telegram to Alison’s father.
In Scene II, Alison’s father Col. Redfern comes in response to Helena’s telegram to take his daughter home. Col. Redfern and Alison discuss the situation. Alison leaves with her father. Helena stays behind.
She delivers Alison’s letter to Jimmy on his return from London where Hugh’s mother has died. Jimmy talks to Helena in a very offensive manner; she slaps him savagely and then draws him close and kisses him passionately.
The Third Act, Scene I
Helena lives happily with Jimmy as his mistress. But Alison, who has had an abortion, arrives unexpectedly when Jimmy and Helena are making plans for the future.
Scene II: Helena leaves Jimmy. Jimmy and Alison are reconciled with each other.
Thus we can say with justification that ‘Look Back in Anger’ is a very well-made play with a clear and logical plot construction and development.
The play is fascinating and it has its tensions, conflicts, surprise, suspense, and climax. The usual ingredients of a successful play are in their proper places in ‘Look Back in Anger’.
The news of Helena’s arrival creates tension at the close of Act I. The anticipation deepens when Heleną stays and Jimmy is compelled to accept her as a guest.
Alison’s refusal to accompany Jimmy to London to attend to Hugh’s mother, who has suffered a stroke and has been hospitalized in London, constitutes the conflict.”
Alison’s departure with her father in Jimmy’s absence marks the climax and Helena’s sudden kissing of Jimmy marks the big surprise at the end of Act II, Scene II.
Anti-climax comes to the end of Act III, Scene I, when ill and tired Alison arrives quite unexpectedly at a time when Jimmy and Helena are playing for a new life. Cliff having declared his intention to leave.
Another big surprise awaits us in Act III, Scene II when Helena abruptly declares her decision to leave Jimmy for good. The resolution comes when Jimmy and Alison are reconciled to each other close to the play.
The play is technically sound as we have already seen. The scene endings are also very skilfully contrived. A telephone call at the close of Act I creates tension with the prospect of Helena’s arrival. Besides the creation of tension, suspense is also created.
This technical point speaks volumes about the dramatist’s skillful handling. The dramatist once again employs telephone calls to create a significant situation – a telephone call for Jimmy tells him about the illness of Hugh’s mother and her hospitalization in a London hospital.
He wishes Alison to accompany him to London. She not only refuses to go but accompanies Helena to Church in defiance of his convictions and beliefs. This constitutes a great shock to Jimmy.
This was at the end of Act II. Again at the close of Act III, Scene I Alison arrives unexpectedly when Jimmy and Helena are planning a new life.
Thus we can safely affirm that John Osborne’s ‘Look Back in Anger’ is a masterly play both in conception and execution.