Theatre Royal Brighton,
until Saturday 26th October 2019
The Entertainer | Review
This John Osborne work The Entertainer is a play which is relentlessly bleak, offering a dark snapshot of failure and its effect on family dynamics. The first production of the play famously starred Laurence Olivier. It was written in 1956 when Britain was in the depth of the Suez crisis and the Government was at odds leaving the country divided and restless. This political unrest coincided with a move in popular culture where the audiences for comedians from the music halls were shifting to more modern forms of entertainment from other mediums like cinema and tv. Traditional theatres and venues were finding it increasingly difficult to attract audiences.
Switch to this version of the play is set in the 1980s during the Falklands War when patriotism was at its height, yet Thatcherism was causing a nation to divide. The traditional stand-up misogynistic comics, think the likes of Bernard Manning, faced extinction as a new generation of comedians turned the genre on its head with sharp, political, foul-mouthed, observational gags, think Ben Elton. Again the play is still so relevant to today’s 21st century entertainment industry with theatres once again struggling to put bums on seats, particularly for plays, even with popular, big-name stars, with the public preferring to stay at home and watch Netflix and TV box sets.
Archie Rice, played excellently by Shane Richie, is one of the last breed of music hall comedians churning out cringeworthy sexual innuendos and mother-in-law gags, trying every trick in the book to interact with his dead audiences whilst he, in turn, delivers his own dead-eyes routine performance. The Northern entertainment club struggle and experience Richie must have gained in his own varied career was evident and made the character more believable.
His homelife is unsatisfying: he lives with his bigoted father, his depressed, vunerable alcoholic wife Phoebe and two grown up kids, while a third is away serving his country in the Falklands war. Archie copes with his depressing, trapped homelife by acting at home the way as he does on stage, playing the Jack the Lad figure not even caring about the heroics of his son at war. The Inland Revenue are on his case and adding to his pressure for tax avoidance for over twenty years. To escape though he plans to walk away into the arms of a busty blonde 20-year-old local barmaid absolving all responsibilities. He feels no shame from the way he has treated his family or his countless affairs and one-night stands. Archie just cares about himself. The family crowded set-up results in constantly sniping at each other and drowning their sorrows in gin.
To remind us of how life was in the 80’s , the red tops’ headlines, like The Sun’s ‘Gotcha’ in-between scenes reminds us of the on-going battle with Argentina over The Falklands and the loss of young men in a far-off land. Plus victorious images of Mrs Thatcher in her battles with the miners and other key events of the period
Sara Crowe’s marvellous portrayal of his sad, down-trodden wife Phoebe, really brings sympathy to the character and amazing tolerance of Archie’s behaviour.
Pip Donaghy, as grandfather Billy, reminded me of Alf Garnett’s bigotry and racist intolerance of others. There are some tender moments between him and Archie’s daughter Jean, played with great passion by Diana Vickers, to warm the heart though.
Richie’s portrayal of Archie is as a nasty, selfish, twisted and very unpleasant man but by the end of the play he succumbs to fate and successfully makes you feel pathos for his future altered path in life.
Reviewer: Sandra Jenkins
The Entertainer plays at the Theatre Royal Brighton until Saturday 26 October, for tickets and information visit https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-entertainer/theatre-royal-brighton/