Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Review: You can’t help but love this monster

JIMMY PORTER has to be the most obnoxious man ever invented in world literature — a simpering, self-pitying, selfish monster.

JIMMY PORTER has to be the most obnoxious man ever invented in world literature — a simpering, self-pitying, selfish monster. Yet you can’t help but love him, and this latest incarnation, brought to life by Jack Wharrier, simply sizzles and fizzes with life.

This groundbreaking play burst on the scene at the Royal Court Theatre back in 1956, but this production showed it can still be fresh because the writing is so slick and the characters so brilliantly drawn.

Porter, the original angry young man, provokes and insults. He is rude and nasty, with a chip on his shoulder so cumbersome it’s a wonder he can stand up straight. He despises everyone — his in-laws, anyone vaguely posh or well-educated — even his gentle, well-bred wife, Alison, whom he nicknames Lady Pusillanimous.

This play makes for uncomfortable watching, and yet the glory of it is that master playwright John Osborne makes us empathise with this utter wretch.

Wharrier really gets under the skin of his character. He struts about the stage with the ungainliness of an overgrown schoolboy, letting loose tirades of pyrotechnic language, with facial expressions at times so twisted you want to hit him — or at least will his wife to do so. Yet he also makes us laugh. He is witty and intelligent and sometimes playful. Most importantly of all, he makes us feel his pain. He aches with adoration for Alison but he just does not know what to do with it.

Harriet Hare makes a convincing and beautiful Alison (though at times she could have projected her voice to better effect). Rick Romero as stoical flatemate Cliff and Kate Tydman as haughty friend Helena are excellent.

There are times when attempts to bring the action up-to-date with mobile phones and rock music seem disingenuous: the set still looks like a grim Sixties bedsit, and Alison’s housewifey wimpiness (she spends most of her time behind an ironing board) does not ring true for the 21st century. This is a play very much of its time but it doesn’t matter if it’s dated because it’s such compelling theatre.

This is a dazzling production that draws you in, twists your guts with the poignancy of it all, and spits you back out again a different person.

lContinues to Saturday, August 3. For tickets go to www.readingarts.com

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