John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956) is a harshly real story about love triangles and the differences between social classes. It was the play that was the first one of its generation termed under a play by “the angry young men.” These young men included Osborne and his contemporaries who decided to bring a great deal of realism to the theatre in order to combat the escapist theatre trends of the generation before them. They felt that theatre was not about escaping into a fantasy world, rather it should confront real-world problems and force audiences to come to terms with them.
The play itself was a very autobiographical piece, reflecting on Osborne’s own marriage. The couple lived in a cramped setting, and Osborne always dreamed of a career in the theatre, whereas his wife was of a more materialistic nature. She often dismissed Osborne’s ambitions, all while cheating on him with a local dentist. Many of the plays speeches are tirades against the female characters, which echoed Osborne’s uneasiness with women. This very personal nature of the play caused it to have numerous bad reviews when it originally opened. Many critics believed Osborne to be wallowing in self-pity, and thought that he was just using the theatre as an outlet to whine about his life problems.
The Angry Young Men were not a positively viewed group. Even the members of the group did not want to identify with each other. They were all combatting their issues with the world with harsh realism, and they did not all like each other. Their political views were very leftist, and often considered anarchistic. They spent their time criticizing society as a whole and promoted social alienation. The group also included many lower-class men who wrote about their social and political aspirations (Osborne was one of this subcategory).
Even though the movement was frowned upon by almost everyone, it survived to bring a new realism to the theatre that had not been seen since Ibsen. Playwrights were now writing in an effort to wake audiences up and question the banality of their lives, rather than escape from it. They wanted the world to examine itself, and their attitudes have survived in a lot of writing today. Realism is what a lot of people want to see in the theatre. They go to see people struggling with similar problems to them, and as a consequence, the actors aid audiences in working out their lives.