Above is a vintage ironing board, perhaps similar to the one seen in the opening scene of Look Back in Anger. This board’s symbolism went missed by general audience members. A woman of Alison’s status would never be ironing as she is seen in the background of scene one.
Look Back in Anger is a dramatic piece that tells the story of a twisted love triangle. The play evoked the term “Angry young men” which described the new generation of story tellers; playwrights that would showcase the harsh realism in theatre. Before this era, theatre was mainly used as an escape from the un- pleasantries of life. What people may not realize is that this dark, ominous play is based off John Osborne’s real life. It is based off his relationship with Pamela Lane and her affair with a local dentist. The play itself was met with mixed reviews, and it was these reviews that ultimately launched Osborne into the legend he is.
Most of the critics who attended the first night felt it was a failure. The Evening Standard (the London newspaper) called the play “a failure” and “a self-pitying snivel”. However only a few days later, Kenneth Tynan (the most influential critic of the age) praised it to no end. He said, “I could not love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger.” He wrote, “It is the best young play of its decade.” Harold Hobson (Writer for the Sunday Times) called Osborne, “a writer of outstanding promise.”
A few months later Arthur Miller saw the piece with his wife Marilyn and decided it was one the most incredible pieces he had ever seen. Praise from Arthur Miller means that the show couldn’t have been completely horrendous. That is not the case however in modern reviews. According to Broadwaybox.com most viewers expressed general distaste for the show. Some claimed the music gave them a migraine and others claimed the play assumed the audience understood more than they did. For example, the first reviewer claims, “The more you know, the better, like studying for an exam its best to learn as much as you can before seeing this show.” She goes on to explain that she did not get key concepts until she attended a talk – back with the actors. Perhaps this is true. Would a general audience member know that an “upper class” (as determined by her accent) woman ironing in the opening scene would be completely shocking? They most likely would not think about it. Thus the show is somewhat dated.
The general overall critique of Look Back in Anger was that the audience left feeling worn down. Yes, certain men praised it, but perhaps that is because they could relate to the plot. Look Back in Anger is not a bad show, but perhaps audiences were looking for that “escape” mentioned before. Watching a play that was based off a gentleman’s reality offered no such pleasantry. The “angry young men” may have been on to something, but Osborne’s play didn’t cut it at the time. The show did, however, pave the way for a new genre of theatre; it introduced styles and events that exist still today. So even though Osborne’s Look Back in Anger was met with mixed reviews when it premiered; it made it to Broadway and was made into a movie. That movie has since been redone. So all in all, John Osborne certainly did something correct.