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Akingbola Plays Black Jimmy Porter Back in Anger

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The prototypical “angry young man”, working class anti-hero Jimmy Porter, will be played by black actor Jimmy Akingbola in a new revival of John Osborne’s seminal modern classic Look Back in Anger, which will have a four-week run at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre from 2 to 26 July 2008 (previews from 30 June).

In an urban bedsit in the Midlands in the 1950s, Jimmy Porter lives with his upper-crust wife Alison and his best friend Cliff Lewis. Sexual tensions rise as the frustrations of daily life and a dead-end job mount, compounded by the arrival of Alison’s actress friend Helena Charles.

Osborne’s kitchen-sink drama was credited with changing the course of British drama when it premiered at the Royal Court in May 1956, at the vanguard of a generation of “angry young man” playwrights who brought the lives of working-class people centre stage.

Alexander Gilmour, director of the new Jermyn Street revival, explained to Whatsonstage.com why he cast Jimmy Akingbola as Jimmy: “The kind of frisson that was generated in 1956 of seeing a white working-class graduate abusing a posh wife and the Establishment, this has been diluted 50 years later. I believe by casting a black actor in this role somehow it will get closer to the spirit of Osborne’s play as it was originally received.”

He continued: “Look Back in Anger often seems dated because a lot of recent productions have paid too much homage to the 1950s, and the audience has been able to sit too comfortably and almost laugh at these funny people 50 years ago.” Gilmour hopes that his casting will make people reassess the play and their reactions to it.

Jimmy Akingbola’s many other stage credits include The Cut, Baby Doll, Henry VIII, After the End, Behzti, The People Next Door, The Ramayana and Blue/Orange, for which he won a TMA Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Akingbola is joined in the Osborne revival by Laura Dos Santos (as Alison), Simon Harrison (Cliff), Sally Leonard (Helena) and Gary Raymond. Raymond played Cliff in the 1958 film of the play, which starred Richard Burton and Claire Bloom. He now takes the role of Colonel Redfarn. Look Back in Anger is designed by Marialena Kapotopoulou, with lighting by Matthew Eagland and sound by Richard Hammarton. It’s presented by Lone Wolf Productions.

- by Terri Paddock


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