Looking forward in delight

Clare Dunne and Ian Toner  , both photographed by Luca Truffarelli.

February sees The Gate Theatre liberating ground-breaking theatrical language from the explosive words of playwright John Osborne, and through the creative eyes of award-winning Irish theatre director Annabelle Comyn.

Look Back In Anger (1956) is widely considered to have changed the course of English drama in the 1950’s. NewsFour strongly recommends this thought-provoking production that captures complex emotions.

In the summer of 1955, The Stage Newspaper posted an advertisement asking for new play submissions. The ad had been placed by the English Stage Company (ESC), a new theatre production company setting up business at the then-unfashionable London Theatre, The Royal Court.

The response to the ad was astounding. They received a staggering seven hundred and fifty scripts submissions; however, most were rubbish: either bottom-drawer pieces by what was considered hack writers or in the words of Tony Richardson, who was to become the ESC’s associate director, “endless blank-verse shit.”

One interesting piece, however, leapt out of the pile: the curiously entitled Look Back in Anger by a totally unknown young actor called John Osborne. Founding father of the ESC, George Devine, after reading the play quickly saw its great potential and took it to Richardson, who was even more smitten by it. Together, they committed to produce it in their first season at the Royal Court in 1956.

Annabelle Comyn takes a fresh look at this world-renowned, blistering play, at a time when class and gender politics are once again brought to the fore. The show runs at The Gate Theatre for eight weeks, from February 1st until March 24th

This production of Look Back in Anger is artistic director, Selina Cartmell’s fourth production in her inaugural season, The Outsider. Considered a realist play of its time, the story focuses on the life and marital struggles of the play’s main character Jimmy Porter, an intelligent, educated but rebellious young man and his equally competent yet emotionless upper-middle class wife, Alison.

The play tackles themes of sex, class, religion, politics, the media, and the sense of a country stifled by an official establishment culture. It is still relevant and demanding our attention.

Osborne drew inspiration from his personal life and failing marriage with Pamela Lane while writing Look Back in Anger, which was his first successful outing as a playwright. In media and theatre circles, the play, spawned the term ‘angry young men’ to describe Osborne’s work and those of his generation who employed the harshness of realism in the theatre in contrast to the more escapist theatre that characterised the previous generation, offering a brand new wave of theatre for its time.

The play became an enormous commercial success, transferring to London’s West End and then New York’s Broadway, while also touring as far afield as Moscow. Its main personal advantage to Osborne was that it turned him from a struggling actor and playwright into a wealthy and famous personality, where he also won the Evening Standard Drama Award as the most promising playwright of 1956. Later, the play was adapted by Tony Richardson into a motion picture of the same name, released in 1959, starring Richard Burton and Mary Ure, .

Annabelle Comyn is a young Irish theatre director, who also heads Hatch Theatre Company as Artistic Director, and she is Director in Residence at The Lir, National Academy of Dramatic Arts, Ireland. As a freelance director, she most recently worked at The Lyric Theatre, Belfast, directing Dancing at Lughnasa for its 25th Anniversary.

This is her second Gate Theatre production, and she is joined by a stellar young cast of actors that includes Lloyd Cooney, noted for his film roles in Charlie (2014), a film about noted Irish Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, and also Shadowboxer (2011); Clare Dunne, who starred in Grounded, by George Brant, at Dublin Fringe Festival 2015.

Dunne’s film work includes Nice Night For It (2017) and The Cherishing (2016); Vanessa Emme, known for supernatural horror-film role, The Inside, by Eoin Mackin (2012); and Ian Toner better known for his TV roles in TG4’s Irish western An Klondike (2015) and RTÉ / BBC’s Redwater (2017).

This all-new cast for the Gate will make for a thrilling theatre experience in Osborne’s play.

In addition to performances throughout 2018, a new initiative called Late at the Gate will be launched, where mini productions, platforms and post-show discussions will run in parallel with productions on stage. Late at the Gate is where audiences and artists can respond to the programme in the context of what is happening in the world today.

The first in the series is a new Gate Studio commission for Emmet Kirwan to respond as a contemporary Jimmy Porter offering us fresh insights into the ‘angry young man’ today and his view of Ireland in 2018. Emmet Kirwan is one of the most provocative and innovative writers and performers in Ireland.

Previews: from Thurs 1st Feb. Opening Night: Wed 7th Feb. Saturday Matinees: 2.30pm

Shows: Mon to Sat – 7.30pm Tickets: €25 – €38 Box Office – 01 874 4045 / gatetheatre.ie