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The Entertainer

John Osborne
Classics for Pleasure
£10.99
(2007)

Classics for Pleasure will make a lot of friends amongst theatre lovers with the release of a series of legendary performances on CD. The Entertainer, directed by Tony Richardson who represented the radical on stage and screen, marked Laurence Olivier's step into the unknown. This was a radical Royal Court play rather than yet another selection from the traditional repertoire, with which he felt absolutely comfortable.

This was also a chance to work with his future wife, Joan Plowright, which makes the line "What would you say to a man of my age marrying a girl of your age?" deliciously ironic.

Osborne's play, recorded before an appreciative live (and sadly very unhealthy) audience in 1957 at the Palace Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue, where it had just transferred from the Court, is an allegory about loss of Empire, see through the medium of the collapse of the music hall comedy acts.

These are personified by Olivier's Archie Rice, a performer of the old school and a man riddled with weaknesses but also with a sense of honour and tradition.

We observe the problems of the Rice family in front of the backdrop of the Suez crisis, which sends one son East, while another goes to prison for his refusal to serve.

Archie himself is at a crossroads. His act is bombing in the English sense, the taxman seems eager to collect his dues for the previous twenty years and he has woman problems in at least triplicate.

His latest wife, Brenda de Banzie's Phoebe, is both belly-aching about his womanising and demanding that he accepts an offer to emigrate to Canada. His young blonde is having second thoughts and daughter Jean (Miss Plowright) is making far too much sense about his life and her own, trying to duck out of what seems like an advantageous engagement.

Osborne gives us extracts from the act and family traumas, which are caused by the war, economics and the ill-health of Archie's father, Billy, George Relph.

Ultimately there is no way out for Archie, the music halls or the country, none of which survived too well post his era.

This is another landmark recording, which should whet the appetite for the Old Vic's impending production with Robert Lindsay playing Archie. He has a lot to live up to.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher