"You could write a play about me, you could" – yes, but not two. I sat behind Pete Townshend, appositely thinking, "Hope I die before I get old, eh?" While I could say that John Osborne's sequel to Look Back In Anger is the most charmless evening I can recall spending in a theatre (Moby Dick not excluded), the author would doubtless retort (while damning me for a milksop middle-class mollusc) that it isn't meant to be "charming". All right, then, some other things it isn't: dramatic, entertaining, reasoned in its premises.
Jimmy Porter – now "J.P." – has picked up an inheritance somewhere along the way (where?), but still spends his Sunday afternoons with Cliff and the posh papers harking back 36 years (why 36, precisely? What was so inescapably seismic about his life in that particular year? Nothing, except that there was a play about it). Wife Alison and her friend Helena have metamorphosed into daughter Alison and her friend Helena. From these anally self-referential foundations, the plot bids for tragedy of a kind – as if J.P., by the sheer centripetal force of his self-loathing and self-pity, deserves any of our time or energies. This is, of course, patent horseshit.
Peter Egan and his fellows strive valiantly to persuade us that there may be more to it than simply that J.P.=J.O., but director Tony Palmer doesn't believe it and Osborne sure as hell doesn't. The feeling is of one long, unrepentant gallows speech, without the nobility; or of a six-year-old boy who has found he can shock the grown-ups by chanting, "Cocksucker!" but hasn't yet grasped the concept of a boredom threshold. The relentless gush of J.O.'s bile is Edwardian in its archaism and unsubtlety. And, as J.P. remarks at one point, "Who needs it?" When Helena notes, "You've really fucked up your life, haven't you?", he replies, "Yes – but it's not over yet"; well, that's all we need – a bleeding trilogy. I do not think I could love anyone who believed their time would more profitably be spent watching Déjàvu than lying in a darkened room masturbating.
P.S.: It's not true about it only being two and a half hours long, either.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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