This classic play was the rallying cry of the Angry Young Men, the playwrights who headed the avant garde as the old Britain of the 1940s gave agonising birth to the new world of the 1960s.
It is written in Three Acts, each set on a Sunday evening. In Act One Jimmy Porter, a brilliantly articulate young working class man with a degree, is reading the papers with his friend, Cliff, whilst Jimmy's wife, Alison irons. Jimmy is lost and angry and he spends his time tearing the others to shreds, being particularly savage with his wife. Cliff is the peacemaker who tries to hard to keep the violence civilized. Cliff obviously loves Alison, they cuddle and kiss in front of Jimmy, but Alison tells us that she has never had sex with anyone but Jimmy. She is pregnant but she hasn't told Jimmy, only Cliff.
In Act Two, Alison's friend Helena, an actress, has arrived. Jimmy is on even more savage form this Sunday evening, viciously abusing both Helena and Alison. Helena has persuaded Alison to go to church with her (Jimmy is astonished) and, unbeknown to Jimmy, she has also telegraphed Alison's father to take her away. This is made easier by the fact that Jimmy is called away to the death bed of a friend so that when Alison's father, retired Indian Colonel, comes to collect her he is out. They get away just before Jimmy returns; when he does Helena kisses him.
The third act starts exactly like the first, Cliff and Jimmy reading the Sunday papers while Helena irons. She has become Jimmy's mistress. But Alison returns and Helena realises that what she has been doing is wrong, so she goes. Cliff has also decided to leave. As the play finishes, Alison and Jimmy are renewing their love for one another.
In some ways this is similar to Pinter's The Homecoming. There is violence and abuse from the men, the women are exploited to cook and clean and be sexual objects. But in style the plays are light years apart. Pinter's dialogue is sparse and halting, Osborne's is drunk on words. I prefer the latter. I think I can understand the characters more from what they say than from what they don't say. But that is from reading. Maybe if I watched both plays I would feel differently.
Jimmy Porter is a lost soul who can do nothing but savage those he loves. He is a brilliant character.
I listened to this on BBC Radio 4 UK on Saturday 30th April 2014 starring David Tennant as Jimmy Porter. Jimmy is savage but bleeding: I'm not sure whether he is angry or just suffering. Helena is manipulative, getting the pregnant Alison out of the way so she can shack up with her husband, a man she hates but desires despite herself, as presumably Alison did when she married him. Alison loves him but suffers; Cliff loves Alison (and Jimmy too perhaps) but tries to keep the peace. And Alison's dad is wonderful as suffering nobility, the only one who has dignity, admitting that the world of empire that was his life is over. This was a wonderful production.
April 2016; 96 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57