Look Back in Anger

Written by John Osborne

Wednesday 18th September to Saturday 21st September at 7:30pm, plus a matinee on Saturday 21st September at 2:30

Directed by Alan Ward

AuthorJohn Osborne

John Osborne

John James Osborne (12 December 1929 - 24 December 1994) was an English playwright, screenwriter, actor and critic of the Establishment. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre.

In a productive life of more than 40 years, Osborne explored many themes and genres, writing for stage, film and TV. His personal life was extravagant and iconoclastic. He was notorious for the ornate violence of his language, not only on behalf of the political causes he supported but also against his own family, including his wives and children.

Osborne was one of the first writers to address Britain's purpose in the post-imperial age. He was the first to question the point of the monarchy on a prominent public stage. During his peak (1956 - 1966), he helped make contempt an acceptable and now even cliched onstage emotion, argued for the cleansing wisdom of bad behaviour and bad taste, and combined unsparing truthfulness with devastating wit.


On 12 December 1950, John Osborne spent his 21st birthday in Havant Magistrate's Court.

Long before Jimmy Porter was conceived, and at a time when the huge success of his birth was still unimaginable, Osborne was a struggling actor with an eye to running his own theatre company. The dream had been realised earlier that year when he and some chums rented the Victoria Hall, a 300-seater auditorium attached to a hotel in Beach Road, Hayling Island - since demolished.

With a programme of potboilers and classics out of copyright the company had quite a good summer but with the end of the holiday season, the bank account soon emptied. A local grocer, one Mr. Cherry, took Osborne to court over an unpaid bill of 14 pounds. The actors lost the case and did a runner.

Vengeance on Mr. Cherry took the form of characterising him as the mean-minded killjoy, Percy Elliot in Osborne's early play, 'Epitaph for George Dillon'. But final retribution did not stop there. In 1950, Havant Magistrate's Court was a tiny structure behind Havant Police Station in West Street. Twenty years later both of these buildings stood empty when the borough built their current replacements. They mouldered away for a bit until the council took note of a new amateur theatre group in town called Theatre Union. This nomadic group needed a home and the old Magistrate's Court, at a peppercorn rent, was the answer.

In 1970, Theatre Union moved in. With a canny sense of history, they called their new base the Bench Theatre. In time, the company gave way to the inevitable and dropped the Theatre Union moniker in favour of the name of the building. For the young company, John Osborne and his generation of playwrights stood for everything they aspired to, so it was not long before they turned to his plays for a production. In December 1972, as Osborne celebrated his 42nd birthday, the Bench staged his 1957 play, 'The Entertainer'.

Archie Rice was played by Ray Osborne, a founder member. He was not related to the playwright, but that was not going to stop him writing to his famous namesake. Knowing the story of Mr. Cherry and the unpaid bill, Ray thought Osborne would like to know that the whirly-gig of time had brought in its revenges. The result was two happy Osborne. The famous one wrote back to our Osborne with a letter full of charm, only slightly tinged with malice. As the playwright's usual mix in writing letters was the other way we can only count this as a rare event.

The Bench moved out of the old building in 1977 when the Old Town Hall was developed as the arts centre it is today. The magistrate's court and the police station have since been demolished. Sadly, Ray Osborne died in 1985, leaving an enormous bundle of Bench stuff to me. Over the following months I converted 'stuff' into 'archive' and have been cataloguing the Bench's fortunes ever since. But though Ray had told me the story - okay, more than once - I never found Osborne's letter. I imagine that it was so precious to him that he put it in a special place - where perhaps it still is.

David Penrose

PlayLook Back in Anger

In a one room flat in the Midlands, this is a slice of life drama set in the 1950's representing post-war youth with the lead character, protagonist Jimmy Porter, an intelligent and educated but disaffected young man of working class origin living with his upper middle class wife, Alison. Cliff shares their lodging house and attempts to keep the peace during Jimmy's constant vitriolic verbal attacks on his wife, her family and their social standing. Their marriage is further threatened by the arrival of Alison's friend and aspiring actress Helena......

This play is considered to be autobiographical relating to John Osborne's relationship with the actress Pamela Lane, the adoration of his father and the vehement hatred of his mother.

The Merits of Look Back in Anger

When written, in the 1950's, this was the most original piece ever written which ultimately changed the face of British Theatre. As the first 'kitchen sink drama' featuring the foremost 'angry young man' in Jimmy Porter, it inspired a new wave of writers, directors and film makers who, as a direct result, produced classics such as 'Room at the Top', 'Saturday Night, Sunday Morning' and 'Love on the Dole'.

Of a 1989 revival of Look Back in Anger, Michael Billington, critic for the Guardian, asserted that "Good plays change their meaning with time; and it is a measure of the quality of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger that it now seems a very different work to the one staged at the Royal Court in 1956." Although to Billington the play "seemed less an incendiary social drama than an exploration of personal pain," he went on to note that "what is slightly chilling is to realise how topical many of Osborne's ideas remain."

The plain, drab setting of the play illustrates the contrast between the idealistic Jimmy and the dull reality of the world surrounding him.

The Bench Production

Look Back In Anger Poster Image

This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Jimmy PorterMark Woodhouse
Alison PorterRobin Hall
Cliff LewisSam Treharne
Helena CharlesLiz Donnelly
Colonel RedfernPete Woodward
Trumpet player (off stage)Jonathan Brocklehurst


Director Alan Ward
Producer Sharman Callam
Stage Manager Marion Gear
Assistant Stage Manager (Pete Woodward)
Sound Design Phil Hanley
Lighting Design Thomas Hall
Lighting Operation Derek Callam
Sound Operation Derek Callam
Costumes The Cast
Set Design Pete Woodward
Programme Editor Derek Callam
Photography Sharman Callam

About the Director

I am a new member to the Bench but I have wealth of experience both in acting and directing. I attended Drama School at Arts Educational in the 1980's. In 2002, I graduated from Rose Bruford College with a B.A. Hons. Degree in Theatre Directing. As a professional Director, my credits included 'Six Degrees of Separation' at the I.C.A. Pall Mall and 'Mooney and his Caravans' at the Greenwich Playhouse.

My most recent Amateur Directing credits include The Accrington Pals for the Chichester Players (NODA Accolade of Excellence 2010-11) and The Anniversary for the Regis Players.

Choice of play

The play is well known with powerful characterisation but is not widely performed in the amateur arena.

Performances should attract a wide audience including students for whom the script is often included in the syllabus as required study for drama/English/theatre courses.

This play heralded the way forward for the genre of gritty realism which the Bench often includes in its productions.

The play offers challenging roles for actors of the calibre of Bench members who can follow in the footsteps as such greats as Richard Burton, Clair Bloom and Alan Bates.

Look Back in Anger would be well placed in the Bench calendar for September following Absent Friends and Ladies Day.

There have been no John Osborne plays performed by the Bench since the 1970's.

On a personal note, I was lucky enough to play the part of Jimmy Porter in a production of Look Back in Anger in the early 1980's. You either love or hate Jimmy - I personally loved him and, at the time, was very sympathetic to his cause and I am relishing the opportunity to revisit the play as its Director.


The NewsJennie Rawling

Jimmy Porter, the lead character in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, is a character most audiences find difficult to like.

Showing this week at the Spring in Havant, Bench Theatre's production boasts a perfectly unlikeable Jimmy, played by Mark Woodhouse. His slightly hunched posture and threatening presence create an air of unease, with Jimmy's volatile nature played with gusto. In moments where he allows himself to really live in the character, the actor is capable of delivering a powerful performance.

Porter's long-suffering wife Alison is played with sensitivity and a very human subtleness by Robin Hall. Liz Donnelly as Alison's friend, Helena Charles, and Pete Woodward as Alison's father, Colonel Redfern, give distinct performances, with lovely work on the characters' physicality.

Live music from trumpet player Jonathan Brocklehurst is a treat, with a well-deserved bow at the end.

Sam Treharne as the Porters' neighbour, Cliff Lewis, gives a standout performance. The subtlest of facial expressions or body language tells the story of not only his character's feelings but the whole situation. His touching performance binds the show together.

A thoughtful and emotive performance that doesn't always hit the mark but is powerful when it does. Until Saturday.

The News, Jennie Rawling, 19th September 2013

Daily Echo, SouthamptonHam Quentin

JOHN OSBOURNE'S seminal 1956 drama is familiar, but Bench's production features five debuts!

Alan Ward directs, and asks us "Does Jimmy Porter... still have something to say?"

Of course that delightfully bilious and acerbically witty character does, though having a wife willing to iron his shirts, a steady job and command of the Sunday paper may seem luxuries today!

Mark Woodhouse plays Porter with a commanding, frightening presence. Liz Donelly, as the disruptive Helena, is also formidable, though Sam Tereharne as "faithful friend" Cliff sometimes almost seems to do more with less. Jimmy's trumpet playing is provided offstage by Jonathan Broklehurst and greatly appreciated by the audience.

Despite its misogynistic tone, Ward seems aware that it's the women who really drive the action, and so "veteran" Robin Hall as Jimmy's wife is brilliantly developed by director and actress to the climactic moment when she finally understands the source of her man's anger.

Ham Quentin, Southampton Daily Echo, 23rd September 2013

Remote GoatJill Lawrie

Brutal realism in 50s Britain

When John Osborne's powerful play "Look Back in Anger" first appeared at the Royal Court back in 1956 starring Alan Bates, it revolutionised British theatre. It was a blistering kitchen-sink drama exploding a vicious verbal attack of class rage on audiences brought up on the genteel manners of Coward and Rattigan. No surprise the term "angry young men" was first used for Osborne!

Large parts of Osborne's work are autobiographical and this play is no exception. Written in just 17 days, his own character comes through in the central figure of Jimmy Porter - a disaffected, intelligent, politically left young man. Porter lives in squalid conditions with his upper middle-class wife Alison and his relentless rebellious taunts and demeaning behaviour towards her are merciless.

This challenging drama is directed by a new member of Bench Theatre Alan Ward, who had himself been cast as Jimmy Porter back in an 80's production. Another newcomer Mark Woodhouse takes on the role of the protagonist Jimmy Porter. He commands the stage with his startling prowess and marathon dialogue and impresses with his vitriolic attacks and endless anti establishment rants. Committed company member Robin Hall plays the insulted stiff upper lipped Alison Porter, so cruelly treated by her husband, with Liz Donnelly (Helena Charles) skilfully developing her conflicted character. A fine performance from Sam Treharne (Cliff Lewis) again making his debut with this company, playing the meek Welsh lodger enamoured with the down-trodden Alison.

There was loyal support for this prolific Havant based company who produce a broad range of productions each year incorporating pantomime, comedy, new works, Shakespeare and gritty dramas as in this case. Their next production will be "Little Women" in mid November.

Jill Lawrie, Remotegoat, 21st September 2013

Production Photographs