An introduction to a seminal play
Looking back at Look Back in Anger, we are likely to gauge and analyse John Osborne’s approach to masculinity and relationships differently from the way original theatregoers and critics did (such as Kenneth Tynan, who enthusiastically promoted the play). The play was the inspiration for not one but two important new phrases in the English language to describe British post-war theatre: the phrase ‘angry young men’ was coined to refer to a group of British writers of the 1950s who shared Osborne’s desire to rail against the Establishment, while the term ‘kitchen-sink drama’ also has its roots in Look Back in Anger. The play also inspired the title of an Oasis single ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. The play’s influence, it would seem, has spread all over the place. But why is it worth reviving, studying, analysing, discussing, and revisiting?
The circumstances surrounding the writing and staging of the play are as dramatic and interesting as the plot of the play itself. John Osborne wrote Look Back in Anger pretty quickly, in just 17 days, while sitting in a deckchair on Morecambe Pier. At this stage of his life, Osborne was living in a tiny flat in Derby with his wife, the actress Pamela Lane. The marriage was not especially happy by this point, and the home life of Jimmy and Alison Porter in Look Back in Anger sprang from Osborne’s own wedded misery. (Pamela was also having an affair with a dentist, getting more than her teeth seen to, one suspects. Ironically, Osborne, who was an actor as well as a playwright, had recently played a dentist in a production of a George Bernard Shaw play.) Osborne and Lane would later divorce, with Osborne starting a relationship with the actress who played Alison Porter in the original production of Look Back in Anger. Read the rest of this entry
Fun facts about Shakespeare’s play
1. Shakespeare is thought to have based his play The Tempest on a real-life shipwreck. William Strachey’s A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, an account of his experience during the wreck of the ship Sea Venture on the island of Bermuda, was written in 1609, and many scholars believe that the Bard read this account and used it as inspiration for The Tempest. Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to Eliot’s greatest play
The Cocktail Party (1949) was T. S. Eliot’s greatest success in the theatre. Loosely based (according to Eliot himself) on Euripides’ Alcestis, the play combines autobiographical aspects from Eliot’s own life with ideas derived from his Christian beliefs, as well as aspects of drawing-room comedy, family drama, and psychoanalysis and psychiatry.
In summary, The Cocktail Party focuses on the failing marriage between Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne. The play opens at the cocktail party which provides Eliot’s play with its title. Lavinia has walked out on Edward, leaving him to pursue a relationship with Celia. Chamberlayne, a lawyer, is present at the party, along with Celia; also in attendance are their friends Julia (a talkative older woman), Alex (a traveller who recounts a number of exotic tales of his adventures abroad), Peter (a screenwriter), and an Unidentified Guest (played by Alec Guinness in the original 1950 production). Edward and the mysterious stranger strike up a conversation, and Edward reveals that Lavinia has left him. The Unidentified Guest (who is later revealed to be Henry Harcourt-Reilly, a psychiatrist) says he can get her back for Edward, but on the condition that Edward doesn’t question Lavinia when she returns. Read the rest of this entry