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Snippet contributions I've read so far on the renaissance of the theatre in the 1950s mention Joan Littlewood, Shelagh Delaney and Stratford East, but seem to have forgotten the gentleman who really started it all. Anyone remember John Osborne?
As a young man in my early twenties, I accompanied my father on frequent forays to Stratford East to see plays by Delaney, Brendan Behan, Arnold Wesker and others of that ilk. Theatre critics raved about the productions and West End theatre-goers filled the seats of the Central Line tube trains to a destination not normally on their list of places to go. These were exciting times and many productions found their way to West End theatres.
Way before "Look Back in Anger" had its premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in 1956, John Osborne had written two other plays. (Three, actually - 'Epitaph for George Dillon" also preceded LBiA.) The first, "The Devil Inside Him", co-written with his mistress at the time, Stella Linden, was put on at the Theatre Royal, Huddersfield in May, 1950. It told the story of a disturbed young man growing up in a small Welsh village. Stella Linden directed and acted in the play and it ran for a week as part of a season of plays put on by her husband, Patrick Desmond. The local theatre critic and theatre-goers were not overly impressed with the play and it disappeared into that black hole where also-rans disappear and was never published.
John Osborne tried again, co-authoring with his friend Anthony Creighton the play "Personal Enemy". It covered the goings-on in America of the McCarthy era and had an undercurrent of homosexuality which the censors in the Lord Chamberlain's office heartily disapproved of. It was cut to ribbons and made little sense when it was premiered in Harrogate in 1955. Another play down the proverbial black hole which went unpublished. Then came "Look Back in Anger", which was turned down by many producers before The English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre agreed to put it on. There is no doubt this play did turn the theatre world upside down and there was no looking back. The Delaneys and Weskers were no doubt heartened by this mini-revolution and Stratford East benefitted from what the cynics dubbed 'kitchen-sink drama'.
In the autumn of 2008, the British Library put on an exhibition called "The Golden Generation: British Theatre History fron 1945 to 1968". When the Lord Chamberlain's censor's office was closed in 1968, its files were transferred to the British Library for safe-keeping. A copy of a script for "The Devil Inside Him" was found and displayed. This generated quite a lot of interest in what John Osborne was doing during his early days, and the British Library, having also found a copy of "Personal Enemy", decided these two plays ought to be published. Jamie Andrews, Head of Modern Literary Manuscripts, spearheaded this project and wrote introductions to the two plays, and the resulting book "Before Anger" was published by Oberon Books (ISBN 978-1-84002-903-1).
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