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John Osborne - The Author of Himself by Stephen Wakelam

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British New Wave season on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 2 September 2013
 
In the eyes of the theatre (and latterly) filmgoing public of the late Fifties, John Osborne was the quintessential "Angry Young Man" - an educated person railing against everything he considered stultifying about contemporary Britain, its class-consciousness, its determination to live in the past, and its na´ve trust in symbols such as the monarchy or the church.
 
Stephen Wakelam's play offered a very different portrait of the dramatist.  Osborne (Samuel Barnett) came across as a jobbing actor looking for some kind of role for himself.  Living on a house-boat in Chiswick with fellow-actor Anthony Creighton (Harry Livingstone), he consciously chose the kind of clothes and/or lifestyles that he thought might get him noticed: living off nettles and cheese, wearing a blue blazer and tight jeans.
 
It was only when he encountered George Devine (Jonathan Coy) that Osborne found the confidence to let his true personality emerge.  Although privately educated, he never considered himself privileged.  At ten years old, Osborne had watched his father die of TB; the trauma of that experience never left him.  His mother (Joanna Brookes) worked as a barmaid; Osborne simultaneously despised yet looked after her.
 
All of these contradictory aspects of Osborne's character found their way into Look Back in Anger, a polemical as well as autobiographical piece that summed up the author's frustrations with life.  
 
Wakelam's play began with Osborne and Devine communicating their opinions about one another to listeners in aside; they were obviously wary of one another, even though Devine had resolved to produce Look Back in Anger.  It was only when they discovered some common ground - a mutual frustration with the contemporary West End theatre - that they started to communicate directly with one another.  Through this device, Wakelam revealed Osborne's sensitivities; far from being an "Angry Young Man," he was actually very wary of showing his true nature to anyone, for fear of being emotionally hurt.
 
Samuel Barnett's performance vividly established this side of Osborne's character - sometimes aggressive, sometimes almost childishly enthusiastic - this was a person worth listening to.  Devine made sure that he was given as much work as possible at the Royal Court (including play-reading), in spite of a chronic shortage of money. 
 
A touching piece, sensitively directed by David Hunter, John Osborne - The Author of Himself offered a nuanced portrait of the dramatist as he embarked on the road to fame and fortune.