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Look Back in Anger

 

Look Back in Anger holds a rather important place in theatre history. First produced in 1956, this drama created an uproar with its look into the cramped apartment of Jimmy Porter and his wife Alison, revealing the seething emotions simmering just below the surface of a new class of young British men and women. Osborne created the now-iconic “angry young man” with Jimmy, bringing to the stage a character who would never have appeared in the plays of writers like Noel Coward or Terence Rattigan. These playwrights and those like them were the leading lights of the British theatre for decades with their depictions of the upper class, full of bright wit and stiff upper lips. But Osborne shook everything up, leading a generation of playwrights who would bring the lower classes to the masses and set their plays not in posh drawing rooms but in messy, crowded kitchens. While Rattigan was called “a master of understatement,” Osborne exchanged reticence for voices raised in anger. It was truly a revolution.

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2011-2012 Season, Look Back in Anger


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Look Back at Society: Social Structure of Britain in the 50s

Posted on: January 12th, 2012 by Education @ Roundabout

 

An angry young man like John Osborne’s Jimmy Porter was the product of the times.  Following the end of World War II, all of British society was agitated by international events and national policies.

Citizens had to adjust to Britain’s new place in the changing world order. Before the war, the British Empire still enjoyed enormous influence around the world; now its power began to decline. In 1945, the United Nations was established to bring world countries together to work in peace and cooperation; though Britain was a leader in the U.N., it no longer dominated world affairs. Britain gave up control of India and Pakistan in 1947. The Suez Crisis of 1956 resulted in a U.N. ruling that forced withdrawal from Egypt—an embarrassing blow to Britain’s international status.  Meanwhile, the United States and the U.S.S.R. were emerging as the world’s superpowers, and their escalating Cold War meant that people everywhere lived with the daily threat of nuclear annihilation.

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Related Categories:
2011-2012 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Look Back in Anger, Upstage


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Look Back at Gender: Gender Roles in 1950s England

Posted on: January 12th, 2012 by Education @ Roundabout

 

In Look Back in Anger, housewife Alison Porter must choose between remaining in a difficult marriage or leaving her husband and returning to her parents’ home.  Faced with the same situation today, many British women would consider a third option: become an independent, working woman.  In the 1950s, however, it would have been both economically challenging and socially unconventional for Alison to build a life on her own.

As in much of the western world at the time, a woman’s primary role was seen as wife, mother, and homemaker. Prior to the industrialization of Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, the country was agricultural; women worked in tandem with their husbands and families to grow crops, raise animals, and run small businesses. The advent of textile factories, steam engines, and the mining industry began the economic shift towards wage-earning men and homemaking wives.  This would remain the ideal (unattainable by poor families) throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century.

Although British women won the right to vote in 1928 and many worked outside the home during the First and Second World Wars, a typical working class woman would have had much the same life as her mother. She left school at 15, took some career-training classes, worked in a low-paying profession dominated by young women, and quit the working world when she married in her late teens or early twenties.  In the 1950s, women married so young that educators worried about having time to adequately educate them for the workforce.

Cartoon from The New Yorker during the original run of 'Look Back in Anger'

A woman from a wealthier home would stay in school longer, study more academic subjects, and forego working altogether. She would likely move straight from her parents’ house into her husband’s home.  Married women—even well-off, educated women—were barred from employment in the civil service and teaching professions.

Many of the postwar social reforms were designed to encourage the traditional model of male breadwinner and female homemaker. Family allowances—weekly cash benefits to families with children—encouraged childbearing. Education continued to segregate students by gender: an official 1959 report by the Central Advisory Council on Education advised that girls be taught differently during their last two years in secondary school, with an emphasis on “her direct interest in dress, personal appearance and in problems of human relations.”  Popular magazines such as Girl and Woman’s Own reinforced the image of women as wives, mothers, and homemakers, surrounded by domestic comforts.

Alison Porter, educated daughter of the middle class, finds herself in living in a dingy flat, in a troubled marriage—far from the ideal woman’s life.

More from this series:
- Look Back at Society: Social Structure of Britain in the 1950s
- Look Back at Mass Culture: Language and Culture of Britain in the 1950s

Look Back in Anger plays at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Laura Pels Theatre January 13, 2012 through April 8, 2012. For more information, click here.


Related Categories:
2011-2012 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Look Back in Anger, Upstage


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