Yesterday on the BBC 4 Arts Programme Front Row I heard a clip of Look Back in Anger of Jimmy Porter fulminating against his upper class wife. The play will be running at the same theatre in Derby where its writer John Osborne once acted. It seemed very dated. This is ironic as critic Kenneth Tynan slammed the traditional playwrights like Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan and lauded the angry young men. I say ironic as the latters’ works are now rarely performed whilst Noel Coward in particular still appeals to a contemporary audience.
To make Look Back in Anger more contemporary there is another play based on it in which the role of the character played as Jimmy Porter is a woman Jinny Porter. The arts director of the National Theatre Rufus Norris has pledged more space for female writers one of whom has produced a play so shocking in its depiction of violence that members of audience have fainted. Feminist dogma has never been so strong. Regardless of any intrinsic appeal or talent in the fields of sport of the arts female performance is to be promoted. What will we have next? Natalie rather than Othello where a jealous woman rails on social media? Roma and Juliet, the story of two star crossed gays? West She Story where Antonia falls for Maria though the families hate each other as they represent different political ideologies?
I sometimes wonder how in 100 years time this epoch will be judged. I like to think that’s like the MacArthy era it will seem absurd that a dogma that borders on witch-hunt if you dare criticise it should be so prevalent. Does giving Look Back in Anger a feminist makeover make it the more appealing? The theatre has lost its way: it matters not whether a play is feminist or otherwise, what does matter if it is any good.
One theatre director who understands this is Jonathan Church at Chichester. I booked my tickets for the Festival this week. This included a new play about World War One (First Light) a revival of the excellent political drama about the 1974 Labour Government (This House) a revival of Terence Rattigan’s Ross, Half a Sixpence and a musical version of Graham Greene’s Travels with my Aunt and a classic Ibsen. The box office was continually engaged. Those that advocate and espouse more female drama might learn the hard way that the public are not buying into it.