“I suppose people of our generation aren’t able to die for good causes any longer. We had all that done for us, in the thirties and the forties, when we were still kids. …There aren’t any good, brave causes left.” - Look Back In Anger
I was lucky enough to see the staged reading of Look Back In Anger by John Osborne this afternoon. It was directed by Polly Stenham at the Royal Court’s Duke of York’s Theatre and starred Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Matt Ryan, Anna Maxwell Martin, and Julian Wadham.
I had never read, seen, or frankly heard of this play before this afternoon. I now want nothing more to read it and see it performed again. What an extraordinary piece of playwriting. I’m not sure I can even properly describe the story other than a roller coaster of anger and bitterness with this deep sense of just wanting to make everything better. As the audience you’re, or at least I was, instantly drawn into these characters who are quite messed up. They’ve missed the mark, made wrong decisions, and are consumed by the darker things in life, but at the same time there is a playfulness there. It was strange, but I both reviled and adored these characters, all of them (except Cliff who was just all around adorable and lovely, even if a bit of a “loser.”)
Benedict played Jimmy, an erratic and emotional working class man who doesn’t seem to think life is worth living if you don’t do it in an extreme manner. One rather telling quote from the first act is: “Oh heavens, how I long for a little ordinary human enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm — that’s all. I want to hear a warm, thrilling voice cry out Hallelujah!…Hallelujah! I’m alive!” Rebecca Hall played Alison, Jimmy’s once-posh wife (who he “rescued”) who wasn’t quite sure how she went from a rich home and glamorous parties to a cramped flat with an emotionally violent husband.
Without giving anything else of the plot away, I just wanted to say how intense this play was. It had some very very funny bits, and it really goes to show that Benedict can do great comedy, which of course we know from Cabin Pressure, but he doesn’t really ever get to play comedic roles. Voices, accents, and exaggerated expressions and antics, he was just having so much fun. You could really tell too. Everyone was seated, yet he would flail around with his lines, nearly leap out of his chair. He wanted to play and I think we all wanted him to just go for it despite everyone else sitting down (which was fine by the way. Everyone had their own physicalities.. Benedict was just much more boisterous.) The way this play knocked you around though was because Jimmy expresses everything so severely that one minute you’d be laughing and the next you’d be more shell-shocked at the horrible things he was saying. Such an angry character and you wanted to slap him at times, but still you were endeared to him. Jimmy just pulls and pushes you along and you can’t help but follow and Benedict truly did a remarkable job with that.
The company of actors worked so well together despite only having minimal rehearsal time yesterday. All the emotion and relationships were there and even though it was only a reading, it wasn’t too far off from a full on performance. Rebecca Hall was stunning as Alison. You really felt for her and but even she didn’t escape your scrutiny. Their relationship was so caustic and it was electric. It shows that her and Benedict have worked together in the past, their chemistry is incredible and it makes me all the more excited for Parade’s End.
I want to say so much more, but I’m having a bit of trouble articulating. I get very affected by theatre and this was a very powerful play with extraordinary performances. Truly amazing and I’m so lucky to have spent my afternoon experiencing it. I was also very pleased to meet Cumberbuddy, whatareyouwearingbenedict, lubintodublin, and Cumberbatchweb!
In other amusing news… I had lunch at this cute salad place by the theatre. I randomly looked up and Rebecca Hall and Benedict were RIGHT THERE. Made brief eye contact with lettuce hanging out of my mouth before averting my eyes. I’m real fucking classy guys.
But yes, the reading was truly phenomenal. I’m having a bit of an emotional hangover at the moment.
Benedict also really needs to not play with his hair and stroke his thighs on stage. It’s… distracting.