Sharing a one-bedroom apartment with four emotional young Brits for two and a half hours as they push through the most difficult part of their lives does not sound like an ideal night out, but the fluid direction and engrossing emotion of TNC’s Look Back in Anger make it a soirée you will not want to walk out of.For people who feel squeamish watching The Office, Nathan for You, or other shows which capitalize on placing their cast in the most awkward situation imaginable, this play will be too much for your nerves. But if you comfortably absorb vicarious feelings, then look no further.
Opening to the quick, staccato tapping of Jimmy (Harrison Collett)’s foot during a routine, humdrum Sunday evening with his wife Alison (Jane*) and his friend Cliff (Alex Bankier) in their shared flat, the audience is immersed in the state of life for these three characters. The first hour of the play is one extended scene between shifting combinations of these three characters as the complexity of their simultaneous interdependency and contempt creeps in and grows. Even without any “action,” this hour passes easily thanks to the constant motion blocked by director Shanti Gonzales. Although nobody stays completely still for a full minute, the movement around the room never feels forced, but in fact adds to the realism of their agitation.
And agitation is the central theme of the play, embodied perfectly by the constant nervous energy of Collett, who either would not or could not ever stop fidgeting. Whether running his tongue across his teeth, rubbing his palm across his chest, or tapping his foot, Collett fills every word and movement with beautiful unease. Bankier provides a brilliant foil, maintaining a calm outlook to Collett’s extreme neuroticism and equalizing the stage energy for the first half of the show. Playing a Welsh man, Bankier assumes a grumbly speech pattern which feels a bit unnatural, particularly since none of the other characters make any inclination towards adopting a British accent, but he never falters, and after the first 10 minutes, it’s hard to imagine him with any other voice. Meanwhile Min plays her role of the stubbornly dispassionate Alison a bit too well, delivering her lines stiffly between long bouts of silence for the majority of the play. When one character leaves, however, and she has to hold a one-on-one conversation, her dryness dissipates and she engages well with the other’s emotion. Still, her character does not contribute any individual energy to the room, creating starkly sweet or uncomfortable scenes while the characters unveil their powerful emotions.
The second scene introduces Alison’s aristocratic friend Helena (Kate Hamilton). She delivers—in exact accordance with her character—the apathy of Alison without the learned helplessness; she stands fully erect and straight-faced throughout Collett’s absurd, abusive rants and retaliates without losing any dignity. Hamilton’s posture and mannerisms as the sophisticated princess skillfully suggest years of etiquette training and pampered living without uttering a word.
The first act culminates with a rapturous, perfectly executed monologue by Collett, who manages to balance comfortably on the border of derangement and deliver every word as a surprising gift both from and to himself. The only negative from this magnificent performance is that the second act never reaches this high water mark. Min delivers the climax well, effectively using a wide range of volume, but she does not possess the mesmerizing energy Collett exhibits.
A long, slow play of words and emotions, Look Back in Anger exemplifies the phrase displayed front and centre on TNC’s website, “Let’s Get Intimate.”
Look Back In Anger runs from Wednesday, Nov. 26 to Saturday, Nov. 29 in Morrice Hall. Performances at 7:30 pm, doors at 7:20. Student tickets are $6, general admission is $10.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.