Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:00 pm

^

Replicated below in the event of link expiry:

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Eddie wrote:


Original Royal Court production of "Look Back in Anger" with Jimmy Porter (left), his more docile friend Cliff (centre) and his wife Alison (right) at the ironing board.

English actor-turned-playwright John Osborne's mid-50's theatrical sensation "Look Back in Anger" is generally held to have been a ground-breaking event in British theatre, the beginning of the new "kitchen sink" drama and the age of the "Angry Young Man".

The post-WWII embarrassment of the Suez Crisis ushered in a post-Imperial age in which the play's garrulous anti-hero Jimmy Porter maintained that, "There are no good causes left to fight for".

This new drama was not to everybody's taste.

Star of the previous generation Noel Coward, for example, gave the play close attention but he was not at all impressed. He recorded in his diary that the source of Jimmy Porter's anger was baffling. Moreover, Jimmy Porter earns a living in the play by running a sweet (US trans: candy) shop and Mr Coward couldn't understand how a man that angry ever managed to sell any sweets.
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:02 pm

Eddie wrote:

Here's the influential theatre critic Kenneth Tynan's review of the original 1956 Royal Court Theatre production Look Back in Anger:

The voice of the young

The Observer, Sunday 13 May 1956

'They are scum', was Mr Maugham's famous verdict on the class of State-aided university students to which Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim belongs; and since Mr Maugham seldom says anything controversial or uncertain of wise acceptance, his opinion must clearly be that of many. Those who share it had better stay well away from John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (Royal Court) which is all scum and a mile wide.

Its hero, a provincial graduate who runs a sweet-stall, has already been summed-up in print as 'a young pup' and it is not hard to see why. What with his flair for introspection, his gift for ribald parody, his excoriating candour, his contempt for 'phoneyness', his weakness for soliloquy and his desperate conviction that the time is out of joint, Jimmy Porter is the completest young pup in our literature since Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His wife, whose Anglo-Indian parents resent him, is persuaded by an actress friend to leave him; Jimmy's prompt response is to go to bed with the actress. Mr Osborne's picture of a certain kind of modern marriage is hilariously accurate; he shows us two attractive young animals engaged in competitive martyrdom, each with its teeth sunk deep in the other's neck, and each reluctant to break the clinch for fear of bleeding to death.

The fact that he writes with charity has led many critics into the trap of supposing that Mr Osborne's sympathies are wholly with Jimmy. Nothing could be more false. Jimmy is simply and abundantly alive; that rarest of dramatic phenomena, the act of original creation, has taken place; and those who carp were better silent. Is Jimmy's anger justified? Why doesn't he do something? These questions might be relevant if the character had failed to come to life in the presence of such evident and blazing vitality. I marvel at the pedantry that could ask them. There will be time enough to debate Mr Osborne's moral position when he has written a few more plays. In the present one he certainly goes off the deep end, but I cannot regard this as a vice in a theatre that seldom ventures more than a toe into the water.

Look Back in Anger presents post-war youth as it really is, with special emphasis on the non-U intelligentisia who live in bed-sitters and divide the Sunday papers into two groups, 'posh' and 'wet'. To have done this at all would be a signal achievement; to have done it in a first play is a minor miracle. All the qualities are there, qualities one had despaired of ever seeing on the stage - the drift towards anarchy, the instinctive leftishness, the automatic rejection of 'official' attitudes, the surrealist sense of humour (Jimmy describes a pansy friend as 'a female Emily Bronte'), the casual promiscuity, the sense of lacking a crusade worth fighting for and, underlying all these, the determination that no one who does shall go unmourned.

One cannot imagine Jimmy Porter listening with a straight face to speeches about our inalienable right to flog Cypriot schoolboys. You could never mobilise him and his kind into a lynching mob, since the art he lives for, jazz, was invented by Negroes; and if you gave him a razor, he would no nothing with it but shave. The Porters of our time deplore the tyranny of 'good taste' and refuse to accept 'emotional' as a term of abuse; they are classless, and they are also leaderless. Mr Osborne is their first spokesman in the London theatre. He has been lucky in his sponsors (the English Stage Company), his director (Tony Richardson), and his interpreters: Mary Ure, Helena Hughes and Alan Bates give fresh and unforced performances, and in the taxing central role Kenneth Haigh never puts a foot wrong.

That the play needs changes I do not deny; it is 20 minutes too long, and not even Mr Haigh's bravura could blind me to the painful whimsey of the final reconciliation scene. I agree that Look Back in Anger is likely to remain a minority taste. What matters, however, is the size of the minority. I estimate it as roughly 6,733,000, which is the number of people in this country between the ages of 20 and 30. And this figure will doubtless be swelled by refugees from other age-groups who are curious to know precisely what the contemporary young pup is thinking and feeling. I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger. It is the best young play of its decade.
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:04 pm

Eddie wrote:

...and, by way of comparison. here's Kenneth Tynan's almost contemporaneous review of Noel Coward's 1956 play "Nude With Violin":

A walking umbrella: On Noel Coward's Nude With Violin

When Sir John Gielgud appears in modern dress on the London stage for only the second time since 1940, selecting as his vehicle Noel Coward's Nude With Violin, one's expectations are naturally low. Sir John never acts seriously in modern dress; it is the lounging attire in which he relaxes between classical bookings: and his present performance as a simpering valet is an act of boyish mischief, carried out with extreme elegance and the general aspect of a tight, smart, walking umbrella.

The play of his choice is at once brief and interminable. The target is modern art; the conclusion recalls those triumphant letters to the editor which end: "What has this so-called 'Picasso' got that my six-year-old daughter hasn't?"

Mr Coward's career can be divided into three periods. The first began in the 1920s: it introduced his revolutionary technique of "persiflage", the pasting of thin strips of banter onto cardboard. In the early 1930s, we encounter his second or "Kiplingesque" period, in which he obtained startling effects by the method now known as "Kipling" - the pasting of patriotic posters on to strips of banter pasted on cardboard. (The masterpieces of this period, Cavalcade and In Which We Serve, have been lost. The damp got at the cardboard.)

In the third and final phase, a new hand is discernible. Is it Mr Coward's? An American student of the last three "Coward" plays has declared that they must have been written by Rip Van Winkle. The new work, on the other hand, with its jocular references to at least 30 place names, both homely and exotic, tends to support the theory that the new crypto-Coward is in reality a departures announcer at London airport. (November 11, 1956)
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:06 pm

Eddie wrote:

do like Noel Coward's work but you can understand the poor man's bafflement. He doesn't look as though he'd know what a kitchen sink was if it leaped out of a dark corner and bit him on the nose:




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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:17 pm


Same period. Same genre. Angry Young Woman.
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:18 pm

Question for US posters:

Has there been anything in American drama to match the vitriolic class-hatred of Jimmy Porter? I think not, but I could be wrong.

Eugene O'Neill might have depicted losers, flophouses etc but he doesn't seem to have had quite John Osborne's chip-on-both-shoulders agenda.

I think there are two reasons for this:

1. The British (mostly the English) class system generates either supine docility or burning resentment in the 'lower orders'.

2. The US is an aspirational society. They don't want to give the rich a kicking; they want to be rich themselves.
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:19 pm

Eddie wrote:

^

While we've got quite a few US posters online, I'd appreciate your comments/observations.

Was there ever such a thing as US "kitchen sink" drama?



Last edited by eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:29 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:21 pm

Dharma Wheel wrote:

what is meant by "kitchen sink" drama? do you mean something that is basic or ordinary in the american experience, as basic as a kitchen sink?


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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:22 pm

Pinhedz wrote:

Tennessee seems very kitchen sinkish to me, but I suppose characters like Tom Wingfield and Maggie's Brick are only mildly testy compared to a testy Brit. Do people get frustrated stewing about no longer being a super power?
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:24 pm

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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:26 pm

Pinhedz wrote:

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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:27 pm

Eddie wrote:

^

What's this, Pinz?

I'm guessing that it's the US TV adaptation of the UK TV series "Till Death Us Do Part".
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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:28 pm

Pinhedz wrote:

Vintage American prime-time TV.

Lots of Kitchens, lots of sinks, but it's the old men that tend to be angriest.

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Re: Noel Coward couldn't understand what the "Angry Young Men" were so angry about

Post  eddie on Tue Oct 25, 2011 11:14 pm

Inadmissible Evidence – John Osborne's most personal play

The playwright's rocky future was written into the fictional alchemy of his play

John Heilpern
guardian.co.uk, Friday 21 October 2011 22.55 BST


'In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart' … Douglas Hodge in Inadmissible Evidence at the Donmar Warehouse. Photograph: Johan Persson

John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, based on the story of his first failed marriage, is his most autobiographical play (as early plays often are). But Inadmissible Evidence, staged eight years later, in 1964, is his most personal play, written from the depths of a tortured soul.

It wasn't until after Osborne's death in 1994 that his confessional and disturbing private notebooks were discovered. Whatever the circumstances of his life – outwardly happy or not, blessed with acclaim or not – they reveal a man in agony. Even after life had turned sweet for Osborne after Look Back in Anger, he made this startling entry in a notebook dated July 1959: "I am governed by fear every day of my life. Sometimes it is the first sensation I have on waking … Fear in love. Fear of being deserted, fear of being involved … I am afraid of the dark hole and the pain that grips me every day. It is fear and I cannot rid myself of it. It numbs me, it sterilises me, and I am empty, dumb, ignorant and afraid."

Written by the former apostle of disaffected youth, Inadmissible Evidence is about a seedy lawyer in middle-aged meltdown. Bill Maitland, its beleaguered hero, is, like Saul Below's Herzog, trying desperately to figure out his place in the world amid the failure of radical hopes. With his thudding, neurotic headaches and the pills he can never find, Maitland is Osborne's Everyman unravelling in the age of technological revolution, who is sunk by the reflexive terror of being judged and found wanting. "His own accuser, his own jailor, his own judge," as the perceptive New York critic, Walter Kerr, pointed out, Bill Maitland will be found guilty on all counts as his mind confusedly grasps for mercy.

"I never wished to have anything more than the good fortune of friendship and the excitement and comfort of love and the love of women in particular," Osborne has Maitland say. "I made a set at both of them in my own way. With the first, with friendship, I hardly succeeded at all. Not really. No … Not at all. With the second, with love, I succeeded. I succeeded in inflicting, quite certainly inflicting, more pain than pleasure. I am not equal to any of it. But I can't escape it, I can't forget it. And I can't begin again. You see?"

For Anthony Page, the original director of Inadmissible Evidence, Osborne joined writers such as Eugene O'Neill and Franz Kafka in finding something universal out of an unsparing exploration of themselves. "The play creates its own rules," Page believes. "It's a dramatic poem about a man's measure – the 'quintessence of dust', the heroic aspiration, passion and fierce irony, and the guilt, weakness and shabby reality."

Maitland – it's clear – isn't a nice man. He's ignominious and he's desperate. Life is too much; he longs in his surly defiance for some respite or saving grace in the chaos. He has been deserted by everyone – the secretaries he screws, his weasily clerk, his loyal mistress, his teenage daughter, his forbearing wife, even his needy clients who come to him for help but in whom he sees only his own pathetic reflection.

Inadmissible Evidence stuns and it disgusts – compelling us to become witnesses to a man tearing up his life. Though feminists have seen its tormented anti-hero as a typical Osborne misogynist, at its centre is love – pure and not so simple. It is about love's ruination.

Theatre critics rarely agree about anything, but on balance, Inadmissible Evidence was well received when it premiered at the Royal Court. Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times and Bernard Levin of the Daily Mail were among its early admirers, while the Guardian's Michael Billington, reviewing the 1978 revival – which Osborne directed – pointed out the flaws in the play, including the limited breathing space that confines its subsidiary characters. He nevertheless concluded that "seeing the play again at the Court for the first time in 14 years, I found it an overwhelming experience in which the sense of private pain, paranoia and anguish is deeply moving."

Both the original production and the revival starred that great, ruined actor, Nicol Williamson, who became identified with the colossal role of Maitland from when he first played him at the surprisingly young age of 28. "He is old within," said Osborne. Terror was Williamson's keynote and his astonishing performance has cast such a long shadow that the new Donmar Warehouse production, starring Douglas Hodge, is only the third major revival of the play in 47 years.

Its dissenting critics have included two big guns in America: Richard Gilman of Yale University claimed that the play handicaps itself by starting at the centre of Maitland's decline and fall: "There is no ground from which to mark his descent." Robert Brustein, also of Yale, regretted that a play couldn't make it on eloquence and character alone, and dismissed Osborne's effort as a muddled monodrama lacking "discernable structure" and "coherent progression". (Rhetoric – good; plot – see teacher.)

But Inadmissible Evidence rejects the conventional rules of dramaturgy, and anguished men like Maitland are not "coherent", nor are howls of pain and bewilderment "structured". The dramatist who rejects the sweet geometry of the "well-made play" is not bound by rules if he believes with Yeats that all art begins "in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart". Osborne makes plain the experience of solitude. "He is strongest who is most alone," is Ibsen's renowned line in Enemy of the People. But for Osborne, aloneness was a curse, and Maitland is another of his isolated heroes who can find no place in the system – like Jimmy Porter, Archie Rice and Luther.

Maitland was suggested by an unlikely source, however. Osborne had read a letter to a newspaper's Agony Aunt from a distraught woman who said that her husband, a man she loved and admired, was being slowly isolated by the suspicion and dislike he aroused in other people. They seemed to recoil from his presence, and now it was happening to his children and even to her, his wife: everyone seemed to be turning away from him. "Bill Maitland was born," Osborne said. "It was an overpowering image of desolation."

According to the accounts of numerous people who knew Osborne, he was a surprisingly sweet ogre, a gentle, self-effacing man, except when he had a pen in his hand. But he identified with desolation, with the random hostility and self-loathing of the stranger he read about. "I was born with a sense of loss," he confided in an entry in a private notebook of 1985, "a feeling of things withheld and banished …" The playwright who said mockingly of his own paranoia that he saw treachery everywhere was on intimate terms with Maitland.

So were others. John Betjeman, a friend of Osborne's, and a dark depressive when no one was looking, was so struck by the play when he saw its premiere at the Royal Court that he declared himself to be Maitland personified, and signed his congratulatory letter to Osborne "Bill Maitland-Betjeman".

Another fan, unlikely perhaps, was Terence Rattigan. It is a stubbornly lingering myth that Osborne loathed Rattigan's plays (and vice versa). He admired the best of them – particularly The Deep Blue Sea – in spite of his own preference for a more radical politics than Rattigan espoused. In fact, the two men corresponded amiably, with the newly unfashionable Rattigan frequently writing warm fan letters from tax exile in France to his supposed enemy.

One of these letters was written in 1969 after Rattigan had seen Inadmissible Evidence and then read it deep into the night. As if to confirm his spellbound response, it concluded: "I think it not only your fullest and most moving work, but the best play of the century."

Inadmissible Evidence would become an extraordinary act of prophecy for Osborne. Two years after its premiere, he cracked up like Bill Maitland, ended his apparently idyllic marriage to film critic Penelope Gilliatt, and was hospitalised with a nervous breakdown. His rocky future was written into the fictional alchemy of his own play.

John Heilpern is the author of John Osborne: A Patriot For Us (Vintage).

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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