Like every new play produced in Britain until 1968, Look Back in Anger was submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office to obtain a licence for performance. The Examiner of Plays, C D Heriot, recognised the significance of Look Back in Anger, declaring in his report that ‘this impressive and depressing play breaks new psychological ground’ (f. 1r).
Heriot describes the play as ‘dealing with a type of young man I believed had vanished twenty years ago’, ‘… that kind of intellectual that threshed about passionately looking for a cause’. He sums up his report by concluding that ‘the play’s interest, in fact, lies in its careful observation of an anteroom of hell’ (ff. 1r–1v).
Was Look Back in Anger licensed for performance?
The play was recommended for licence provided a small number of cuts and changes were made. The handwritten annotations show that several members of the Lord Chamberlain’s staff were consulted before a final decision was made.
What was the most significant change demanded by the Lord Chamberlain?
A letter from the play’s director, Tony Richardson, to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office reveals that he was concerned by the instruction to tone down the ‘python speech’ on pages 43–44:
What, however, is absolutely vital to the play, and I would ask you most urgently to try and help us over this, is for the ‘python image’ – which is central to the whole thought of the play, should be retained, though of course I appreciate the necessity for softening it a little. (f. 11r)
The python is a metaphor for Alison, or rather Jimmy’s view of Alison, as a creature who is devouring him. The amendment suggested by Richardson ensures that the power of the image is not weakened. The handwritten annotations show that the suggestion was accepted.
In fact, Osborne later slipped an extra python reference into the script. Though not present in the draft submitted to the Lord Chamberlain in 1956, published versions of the play contain an extra lyric in the song that Jimmy sings in Act 2, Scene 1: ‘So avoid that old python coil / And pass me the celibate oil’.