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Look Back in Anger review at Derby Theatre – ‘intense’

Augustina Seymour and Patrick Knowles in Look Back in Anger at Derby Theatre. Photo: Robert Day Augustina Seymour and Patrick Knowles in Look Back in Anger at Derby Theatre. Photo: Robert Day
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Derby Theatre and the Octagon Theatre Bolton present their 60th anniversary revival of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, foregrounding its history as a play written and set in the Midlands. This is an interesting addition to Derby Theatre’s recent history of programming plays with a working-class focus, providing an intense follow up to Brassed Off last autumn, also directed by Sarah Brigham.

Neil Irish’s design frames the Porters’ living room within a wall-less space of floating doorways – suspended coving to suggest a ceiling is reminiscent of a Francis Bacon frame. Entrances and exits are made down a long black tunnel upstage centre, where the cast fade in and out of darkness. Patrick Knowles is ever vulnerable as Jimmy Porter, ricocheting about the scene with alternately minimal and maximal concern for his cohabiters. His energy is ultimately more impotent than violent.

Brigham frames the naturalism of Osborne’s script with expressionistic scene changes which, combined with the design, create a reflective production in a constant acknowledgement of its history. We view a specimen in a display case. The curation of Derby Theatre’s programme makes this more apparent: Look Back in Anger is billed alongside Jane Wainwright’s new play Jinny, part of the theatre’s Retold series of work by women. This production gives home both to the preserved and that which still lives.

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Collaborative revival of Osborne classic makes a strong contribution to Derby Theatre’s programme