“Nothing ever comes that easy”
As if proof were needed about how much interesting work is being generated outside of London, Derby Theatre’s RETOLD series continues in full force, offering immediate responses to the classic plays in the main programme. So accompanying The Odyssey in 2014 was Caroline Horton’s modern-day Penelope RETOLD, putting Odysseus’ wife at the heart of the action, and partnering their newest production Look Back in Anger is Jane Wainwright’s Jinny, similarly relocated to a contemporary setting and giving us a gender-swapped Jimmy Porter.
Jinny is a 25 year old aspiring singer-songwriter, who has been aspiring for over a decade now. After graduating from university, she returned to Derby but her friends who remained have moved on with their lives and finding opportunities few and far between, she’s trapped in a dead-end retail job and sharing a poky flat with a pregnant pal. And over the course of just under an hour, we hear all about it, all the minutiae of a hard-working working-class life and the realisation that this might indeed be it. With songs on the guitar added.
Wainwright hails from Derbyshire and her writing is flecked with all sorts of local detail (the backwards-walking man!) that brings colour to the whirl of Greggs, zero hour contracts, Wetherspoons and landlord-dodging that makes up Jinny’s life. And performed by the highly engaging Joanna Simpkins, it is fierce and funny (the netball quip is still making me giggle), full of piercing insight into the casual sexism experienced by many young women whether walking down the street or sitting in a meeting with a record exec who thinks that feminism is a fashionable trend.
And where Sarah Brigham’s direction really succeeds is in balancing out the Jimmy Porter-isms – the frustration at a universe that hasn’t quite panned out as planned and the violence that erupts as a result – with Jinny’s singular worldview and all its independence of spirit, a determination not to let disappointment define her. A bracing and worthy companion to Look Back in Anger.