In response to:
Howling from the Sidelines from the May 10, 2007 issue
To the Editors:
Here’s my John Osborne problem [Fintan O’Toole, “Howling from the Sidelines,” NYR, May 10]. Yes, he was a young, then aging, Colonel Blimp who apparently loathed women, including his wives and daughter, and was probably conventionally racist in the way Piccadilly clubmen were. He was angry—and had much to be angry about. I lived in Britain at this spectacularly labile time, from the late Fifties on. There was no playwright—none—who could arouse, even inspire, an audience quite like Osborne, especially in Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer. Both were political plays down to the bone. For me, as a theater critic and as a participant in the same antinuclear marches that Osborne attended, it is almost impossible to separate the angry times from the plays. Essentially, Osborne was a monologist—but what speeches! He fed his actors supremely eloquent lines (Archie’s bitter farewell to the seaside audience in The Entertainer, Jimmy’s self-pitying lament about no more good causes in Look Back in Anger) that were blasts of blind rage at an establishment that refused (and still refuses) to surrender power after it lost legitimacy. Okay, Osborne turned out to be, or was at the time, a prime bastard personally. But his work struck our hearts as clearly as the church bells I’m sure he despised. What speeches! What hearts!
Annenberg School of Journalism
University of Southern California
June 14, 2007