For our class on naturalism, our teacher assigned us with the task of rewriting the ending to John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956).
This is my attempt, picking up where Osborne leaves off in Act III scene i (to replace Act III, scene ii).
The title of this paper has been inspired by the Oasis song.
It is several minutes later. Cliff is in his room with Jimmy, packing up to leave. At the rise of the curtain, Helena is standing at the table laying out cucumber sandwiches, cut into fourths. Alison bends to examine a pile of ash on the floor, reaches to clean it up, but restrains herself. She sits down, leaning back in Jimmy’s chair R., his pipe on its arm. The teddy bear, broken, lies behind the chair to the L, outside of Alison’s line of sight.
Alison (picking up Jimmy’s pipe): He still smokes this stuff. I used to hate it.
Helena (absently): Hm? Oh. Yes.
Alison: I hated it. But you get used to it. Just last week, some man at the pictures was smoking it. I actually went and sat right behind him.
Helena: Did you?
Alison (lost in thought): Comforting, almost. Father didn’t smoke. Quit when I was— oh, twelve, probably.
Helena (bringing her a plate of sandwiches): Here, have these. Are you sure you feel alright now?
Alison (nods slowly, and then several times in quick succession, as if she cannot stop herself): Of course; yes, I’m just fine. I just— I’ve been thinking. I tried to make it work there. I really did. I wanted to get out of… this. Whatever this is, and go back to my roots, you know? Reconnect with who I am.
Helena: Reconnect? That’s healthy. That’s good.
Alison (lifts a sandwich towards her mouth, stares at it for a few moments, and replaces it on the plate): I thought so, too. But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. Something inside me kept screaming about how wrong it all was. I had to come back. It’s funny, when I was leaving here, I had my mind all made up and I couldn’t see why I’d ever stayed. But now I see there’s no way I can do anything but stay. You understand, don’t you Helena? You, of all people, can see it from where I’m standing.
Helena: Yes, yes, I understand what you mean. But you weren’t ever made for this life. You don’t fit here exactly—
Alison: But I think I was. I think my life back home, that’s what I’m not made for.
Helena: Alison, you’re not seeing strai—
Alison: Helena, I— I lost the child.
Helena: You lost the child!?
Alison: It’s gone. The one thing I had of my own, that I thought I could do by myself with no Jimmy, no nothing. I’ve lost it.
Helena: Oh, Alison, dear, I’m so sorry.
Alison: You must hate me for coming back, don’t you? You must be wondering why on earth I’m here.
Helena: You’ve more right here than me anyway.
Alison: I’m not sure what right I have over whom anymore. Being here for as long as I was has made me lose myself somehow. Lose my sense…
Helena: Yes, it’s like— it’s like this house was a space away from everything else. One little home was an everywhere to me. But I lost what I knew. I used to have a sense of right and wrong, you know. I can’t see straight any longer. Jimmy has this way about him that just—
Alison: Yes, I know.
Helena: I see clearly now though. I have no right to be here. You’re his wife for Christ’s sake! I don’t know if I ever did love Jimmy at all, but I sure believed I did, and that made me blind to what I was doing. What I was doing here was wrong and evil.
Alison (crossing the cramped room in three strides): Helena. You’re not going to leave him?
Helena: I’ve got to. I see it now. I can’t throw away all the rules; it’s all I’ve lived by and known.
Alison (confused, reaching a hand towards her): But you— I thought—
Helena (shaking her head with conviction): No.
Helena: Oh. I’m glad you came in here. I was just about to come speak to you. I’m about to go down and pack my things, I’m— I have to go.
(Helena and Alison both look at him to gauge his response, but he is silent.)
This is just wrong, it’s far too wrong. To be with another woman’s husband, to hurt people this way, I can’t be a part of this. I do love you, Jimmy, but I can’t go on like this.
Helena: Don’t be angry Jimmy, please. I really do think this is the right thing to do, and— well, we wouldn’t have worked anyway.
Jimmy: I knew something like this would happen. I knew it’d become too much for you. You know your problem? You want everything just right, but you don’t want to get your hands dirty. You don’t want a stain on your clean soul. Everyone wants to escape from the pain of being alive.
(Helena gathers her make-up things from the dressing table and a dress from the wardrobe, and goes out quickly. The Church bells begin to ring.)
Cliff (entering, with his bags in tow): I’m leaving
Alison (not looking up from her teacup): I’m going to miss you, Cliff.
Cliff: I’ve got something to tell you, all of you. (He takes in a shaky breath) I’m gay. There’s no need to look so shocked. I— Yes, I’m gay. It feels so strange to finally say it out loud. I just— I have to leave; I couldn’t take all the claustrophobia anymore. I felt so suffocated here all the time, between the city and the inertia, and all the bickering—no offence, I love you both to death, I do, but it just got too much for me—that I have to leave.
Jimmy (after a pause): Our doors will always be open for you.
Cliff (nodding and turning away): Thank you; thanks for everything.
(Jimmy throws the sandwich plate to the ground.)
Alison: I’m sorry, I’ll leave. (She begins to rise.)
Jimmy (with a heavy voice): No. Wait.
(Alison sits back down.)
You lost the child?
Alison: I lost the child.
Jimmy (slowly, as if still processing the words): I— I didn’t mean— I never—
Alison (cutting him off): No, you did. You meant those things, and that’s fine. I understand.
Jimmy: No, no you don’t understand. It wasn’t like that, I needed you to understand. You, with your know-it-all superiority and your silences, you gave up the money when you married me, but you didn’t really gave up everything it came up. (A cry escapes him.) You didn’t leave behind your daddy’s thinking.
Alison: Jimmy, I—
Jimmy: No, let me finish. (He is crying silently.) You came with me, but you were still higher than me, up on your horse. And Alison, I just wanted you to be at the place I am. I wanted you to know loss and dismay, and to see how things affect people like me. I didn’t want to see you taking for granted that you could go back to daddy as soon as you tire of me, like I was some option to you that could be easily done away with. Like you had a back-up. (He slides down to the floor, on his knees, and grabs onto her legs.) That was why I said those things, about you losing the child, but— But now I’m grovelling. It’s me who’s still in the mud, because no matter what I said I didn’t want to see you this broken, a right lost cause like me.
(Alison stands and the teacup clatters to the ground. He collapses at her feet but she grabs hold of his shoulders and lifts him up.)
Alison: I didn’t have a back-up, Jimmy. I don’t know if I knew it the entire time, but I do now. This mess that we are, you and me, it’s all I understand. I can’t function without this. That’s why I had to come back, you’re all I’ve ever known. Yes, it’s trapped and claustrophobic in this mess, but I only know mess. My parents’ life isn’t for me; that was never an option for me to go back to. I can’t live that way anymore. I need you, your yelling and my fighting back with my silence turned up as loud as it can go.
Jimmy (sobbing in her arms): I thought it’d make me feel good to see you like this, to see you broken, but it breaks me. I feel crushed, but rejuvenated at the same time. I haven’t rebelled or changed society but I’ve reached one person. (He pulls her close and kisses her, kicking the broken teddy under the chair as he does so.) Oh, Alison, I feel young again, with you.
Alison (laughing): I haven’t felt this happy in years. Oh, bring out our squirrel and bear why don’t you? Let’s relive our old days again.
Jimmy: Oh. Sure, yes, I’ll be right back.
(Jimmy pales, but Alison doesn’t notice. He exits into his bedroom.)
A few moments later, Alison goes off-stage after him. We hear her scream, “Jimmy! Oh, Jimmy, what have you done?” The screaming continues, and she starts to sob. Lights go out, and the curtain falls.