John Osborne: Development of Dramatic Art

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The Angry Young Man

      With the staging of Look Back in Anger in 1956 Osborne was heralded as a potential dramatist with a bright future. With the publication of this play, he came to be labeled as the “angry young man”. The play marked the beginning of a new kind of drama. The phrase “an angry young man”, became a movement because more and more younger playwrights followed the pattern set by him.

His Earlier Plays

      Osborne got the recognition as a dramatist with the success of Look Back In Anger but he started his career as a dramatist much earlier. His first play The Devil Inside Him written in collaboration with Stella Linder, is a strange melodrama about a Welsh youth whom the villagers think to be an idiot and his relations think to be a sex maniac because he writes poetry. Personal Energy, written in collaboration with Anthony Creighton concerns the reactions of a soldier’s relatives and friends when he refuses to be repatriated from his capacity in Korea. This play suffered from wholesale deletions demanded by the Lord Chamberlain.

The Success of Look Back In Anger

      Osborne was just twenty-six years old when Look Back In Anger was produced. The new generation found the play to be fresh, completely different. The British theatre discovered that the play had broken away from the dramatic tradition of the immediate past and marks the beginning of a new chapter. The play received mixed reviewers, but on the whole critical opinion was favorable. The reviewers agreed on one point that Osborne’s was one distinctive voice. The hero of the play became a kind of folk hero for the younger generation disillusioned by the general apathy, unhappy about Britain’s last imperialistic flings at Suez and determined to protest against the hydrogen bomb and about all sorts of political and social questions. Osborne seems to have summed up with remarkable effectiveness, the case of the youths of his time who were having a sort of marginal existence, economic as well as spiritual, in an affluent society cage to advertise its progress and high sense of justice.

      The immediacy of the subject matter appealed to the masses and the play was huge success, the youths of the time identified themselves with Jimmy, the hero of the play.

Osborne’s Approach to Drama

      Epitaph for George Dillon written by Osborne in collaboration with Anthony Creighton, was technically similar to Look Back In Anger with The Entertainer, Osborne broke away from realism to narrate the story of a run-down comedian’s relations with his family, told very convincingly and realistically. This play places a realistically treated story of a failed comedian in a non-realistic context.

      In his A Subject of Scandal and Concern, he gives an indication of his ability to use past events for present concerns.

      Luther is a commentary upon and an interpretation of the life of the German reformer and demands from the playwright not only the creation of a convincing hero but also an ability to bring to the stage a historical panorama that is both coherent and accurate.

      Despite the success of all these plays Osborne still looked for a style which would enable him to move beyond the subjective outpouring of Look Back In Anger towards a broader, more objective statement. His subjective approach to drama brought his next major successful play. In the opinion of majority of his critics, his best play is Inadmissible Evidence. The main character, Bill Maitland, is a drinker lawyer of disrepute of about forty who finds that the world has ceased to listen to him. He complains that his tirade in spite of its brilliance move none and changes nothing. This play is written as a monologue and other characters presented as the projections of Maitland guilt-ridden mind.

A Successful Phase in Osborne Career

      Inadmissible Evidence produced in 1969 paved the way for a period of great fertility in Osborne’s work. The very next another major play, A Patriot for Me, was produced. This play is as much a spy-story as a study of decadence in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. It attempts to place Redi, a spy and his problems in a larger social and moral context, but the overall balance is unsatisfactory, and finally, Redi’s character and motivation become obscured rather than illuminated by the collaboration of context. In 1966, Osborne adapted a play by Lope deVega and gave a new title A Bond Honoured but to his dismay, it flopped. In 1968 he produced two more plays, Time Present and The Hotel in Amsterdam. Time Present is a landmark in the sense that for the first time in Osborne's play a woman is given the central character. In The Hotel in Amsterdamy Osborne attempts to broaden his talent and increase his technical resources by presenting a balanced collection of six major characters rather than a domineering figure surrounded by an attentive Chorus.

His Later Works

      Osborne’s writing continued on similar lines as his earlier plays in the subsequent years. They were predictable in contents and attitudes, yet often unexpected in the precise form it took. Though he had reservations against televisions earlier, he began to write a series of major television plays, including The Right Prospectus, a wild comic story of school life, and Very Like a Whale and The Gifts of Friendship. West of Suez (1969), perhaps the most substantial of Osborne’s later plays, is a muddled panorama of family life in the backdrop of the collapsing British Empire. The older characters seem to have earned the authors sympathy. A Sense of Detachment (1972) and The End of Me Old Cigar (1975) are satire which are claimed to be significant works of Osborne by some while others claim them to be messy. A Place Calling Itself Rome produced in 1973, a modern reproduction of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is a sober political drama. The treatment of this play suggests the adoption of a new practical interest in his craft by Osborne.

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