Award-winning theatre director Annabelle Comyn writes for Culture about her new production of Look Back In Anger, John Osbourne's groundbreaking tale of class, sex, religion and politics, which runs at The Gate Theatre, Dublin until March 24th.
Look Back in Anger was a play that I was aware of, and it was a play that I had considered. It was a text that was in my head but I knew if I were ever to do it, it would have to be given a very strong context. I knew if I was to do it, I would need to find another language within the production.
There were lots of different options about what I might do. One being; do I cut it right back, taking out all the controversial things and let it just live as a play about class? But the minute you do that, it kind of simplifies everything and takes away the complexities of it all. It was like trying to sanitize the characters and that felt very wrong and suddenly less interesting. The idea of sound was in my head - that Osborne uses sound as a form of warfare in the play. Set Designer Paul O’Mahony and I started thinking about how his voice (John Osborne's) would be a form of sound, and how we might take his voice on in the play in terms of challenging it.
So many people are feeling disenfranchised and feeling forgotten about. It has allowed a voice of anger and hate to become more acceptable. So the voice of the play is very much in that world, and is very relevant.
Although it feels like such a long time ago now, it was really off the back of living and training in London for ten years that I was so influenced by British writing. I had gone to college in London, so in a way felt at ease with British writing, and contemporary writing in particular. I had assisted at The Royal Court, so felt very at home with that kind of work. There wasn’t that much of it when I started so when I came back to Ireland, I founded HATCH Theatre Company.
I was very interested in the actor and the text being at the core of the work. Having very small budgets, we needed to find how to make the language sing and really feel muscular and alive, with everything pared back and minimalist. How to find the rigour in the play, or the muscle of the plays. I was quite interested in that, so I mostly chose playwrights who had really crafted their language brilliantly - kind of like of working off a score. The focus was on the text and the actor. In our new version of Look Back in Anger, there’s the play, there’s the cast, but then there’s the production. The production is much more self-conscious in this case.
I hope that this production of Look Back in Anger has also hit the right time. It’s a time for people to be engaged.
This is the first time really questioning the author’s voice, and really asking 'Does it have the authority to speak to us now?' It has really empowered us. Do we just adhere to what the author says, and what is he actually saying? Do we want to present that?
I hope too that this production of Look Back in Anger has also hit the right time. It’s a time for people to be engaged. I think I would need to be blind or deaf to everything that is going on, and not be aware that the work brings up issues of gender. I feel I couldn’t but not address it. I’d rather explore it and fall flat on my face with the attempt than ignore it. It is impossible to ignore. If you were doing the play in Britain, you might have a different angle on it just because of Brexit, or with Trump in America or Marie Le Pen in France. There is such a strong movement to the right. So many people are feeling disenfranchised and forgotten about. It has allowed a voice of anger and hate to become more acceptable. So the voice of the play is very much in that world, and is very relevant. But Osborne doesn’t necessarily explore the fallout of the verbal and physical violence and abuse. I think he takes it for granted that’s the way to change things, and that’s the only way to communicate with people. I think the play backs that up - and I think that’s quite problematic.
Look Back In Anger opens at The Gate Theatre on February 7 and runs until March 24 - more info here.