Look Back in Anger & Jinny, Derby Theatre

It was like having your dessert (or should I say pudding) ahead of your Sunday roast. By the time I had finished savouring every last morsel of the sensational new play Jinny at Derby Theatre last night I wasn’t sure I needed anything else.

But being a bit of a glutton I got stuck in to the main course, Look Back in Anger, and at once found I had a bigger appetite than I thought – although I confess I was struggling towards the end.

On reflection I think I would have preferred to have watched the John Osborne classic, first and then been treated to Jane Wainwright’s feisty female version of Jimmy Porter, who unlike the 1950s character, emerges ready to fight  – giving us all hope that in another 60 years things might actually have changed.

Jinny is a sharp, sassy and intuitive play well-crafted by a woman born in Chesterfield and who, alongside Derby Theatre’s artistic director Sarah Brigham, researched the character by talking to the young women of Derby.

As a 25-year-old singer-songwriter Jinny has a head full of dreams but is going nowhere. She’s talented, witty, strong and knows her own mind. She has done all the things she should do, but it turns out that might not be enough in a world where opportunity is not guaranteed for all.

She really is a 21st-century female Jimmy Porter, struggling against all the odds to find her working-class voice and make it heard.

Joanna Simpkins was perfectly cast to play the challenging part and produced a remarkable tour de force on stage. She didn’t falter once throughout the fast-paced, hour-long play and her passion for the character – flaws and all – was clearly evident.

The new play, giving a voice to the working class woman, was commissioned by Brigham as a curtain-raiser  for Look Back in Anger, which burst on to the stage 60 years ago and supposedly changed the face of British theatre by giving a voice to the working man.

Osborne’s play could have premiered in Derby, the unnamed small Midlands town in which it is set and where he and his then wife, the actress Pamela Lane, worked at Derby Playhouse.

The playwright sent the management the script but they rejected it for fear of upsetting their leading actress when they recognised the obvious autobiographical nature of the play.

It is for this reason that Brigham felt it was important to stage the 1950s play in the city during this anniversary year, despite the fact that she accepts it is a now considered a period piece and that Jimmy’s misogynist attitudes are at the very least challenging.

She is right, of course, few other theatres will probably mark the anniversary – so Derby needed to do it and do Osborne proud. His play couldn’t have been in better hands and they gave us a slick production true to the original.

The creative team, headed by Neil Irish, did a fantastic job in designing one set for two plays and produced a realistic looking tatty, cluttered flat which needed minimal changes to take it from one century to another. The now iconic ironing board even took a leading role in Jinny.

The sound designer and composer, Ivan Stott, gave Jinny a contemporary fresh sound of her own and later helped us sink back to the 50s with a fitting newsreel and Jimmy’s jazz music.

Patrick Knowles played the loudmouth, self-pitying, angry young man and gave a spirited performance; Augustina Seymour played Alison, the daughter of a colonel and his abused wife; Jimmy Fairhurst was their flatmate and friend Cliff; Daisy Badger played Helena, the posh friend of Alison and Ivan Stott took on the role of Colonel Redfern.

The lighting designer was Arnim Friess; casting director Kay Magson; fight director Ian Stapleton; resident assistant director Lekan Lawal; Dramaturg for Jinny was Nic Wass; company stage manager Moby Renshaw; deputy stage manager Beth Williams and assistant stage manager Bethany Coles.

The plays can be seen at Derby Theatre until March 26. For exact timings and tickets go to http://www.derbytheatre.co.uk