Richie “perfect fit” to play Archie Rice in The Entertainer

Published: 23 August 2019
Reporter: Steve Orme

Shane Richie in rehearsal Credit: Helen Murray
Sara Crowe who plays Archie’s wife Phoebe Credit: Helen Murray
Diana Vickers who takes the role of Archie’s daughter Jean Credit: Helen Murray

Shane Richie is the “perfect fit” to play the role of Archie Rice in The Entertainer, according to director Sean O’Connor.

Richie will tackle one of the most challenging roles in 20th century theatre when he appears in a new production of John Osborne’s play which begins a UK tour at Leicester’s Curve.

O’Connor said, “in 2009 in a car park somewhere in Essex, Shane and I were waiting for the rain to stop while shooting a remake of Minder where he was playing Arthur Daley’s nephew, Archie Daley. What you must do before you die, I suggested, is play Archie Rice in The Entertainer.

“Shane wasn’t sure. He said ‘Lord-bleedin’ Olivier created the role!’ Yes, I said, but Osborne felt that the actor who really got the part was the comedian Max Wall whose Archie Rice in 1974 made Olivier ‘look like an amateur’.”

Richie has worked his way up through the entertainment business from Pontins Bluecoat to game show host, from the West End to TV stardom in EastEnders.

“He worked with the great comics of the 1970s and ‘80s at the start of his career and the end of theirs—entertainers just like Archie Rice,” said O’Connor. “Excited and daunted at the prospect, Shane felt that this could be the role of a lifetime; the role he was born to play.”

O’Connor talked to the estate of John Osborne about the possibility of Richie playing Archie Rice and whether the action could be brought closer to the present day to give the audience a better sense of the context of the story.

“Thinking of the comedians Shane worked with as a young performer, I started to think about the rise of the Comedy Store in the early 1980s which ushered in a whole new style of ‘alternative’ comedy. At a stroke, comedians like Archie who’d relied on sexist, racist jokes as the core of their act were out of fashion and very soon out of work.

“At the same time, Britain went to war with Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. The political context, the change in entertainment fashions—the 1982 setting seemed to fit very neatly. And with the UK’s current uncertain future and the cultural context following Me Too, Osborne’s drama speaks to us directly across the years with wisdom, insight and a touch of prophecy.”

The cast of The Entertainer also includes Oliver-award winning Sara Crowe as Archie’s wife Phoebe and Diana Vickers as Archie’s daughter Jean.

The Entertainer opens at Curve, Leicester from Tuesday until Saturday, 27 until 31 August. It will then tour to Milton Keynes, Malvern, Plymouth, Woking, Eastbourne, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Brighton, Manchester, Bromley, Cheltenham and Shrewsbury until 23 November.