The Entertainer

John Osborne
The Nuffield, Southampton
(2004)

Drabness! It's what I remember about 1950's Britain - the hangover of post-war austerity manifest in grim lounges, threadbare clothing and empty theatres. The only escape was Saturday afternoon football or into the gloom of the cinema!

All of it is encapsulated in John Osborne's keen observation and much of it is to be found in Robin Belfield's new production for The Nuffield, Southampton.

It is even to be found in some of the performances, which I am tempted to describe as 1950s acting. John Woodvine, doyen of TV as the sharp-eyed cop or shrewd businessman, hardly conjures here, as old Billy, the image of an old stage buff, not even a fading buff. Perhaps he has too much to say and it's not his forte.

Lisa McNaught, as Jean, is pretty and appealing but gives the impression of being in another age, which is certainly not the '50s. She might learn something from Lynn Farleigh who as Phoebe is so '50's, it's almost depressing!

Adam Farr as Frank has less opportunity to impress his form of drabness on proceedings - little more, in fact than the two supernumeries who sit in as the "Gorgeous Gladys" image of Britannia. (Now, the old Century Theatre production had a lovely idea of this role!)

Enter left Granville Saxton as Archie Rice and the 1950s are alive (or should that read "dying"?) once more. In my time it was Max Wall: "It's nice to be playing in Chester - it's nice to be playing anywhere!" Or Norman Evans as postman: "Eee, I wish I could pass this card round the audience - I think I could, too!"

Saxton's fading star owes almost nothing to Olivier's definitive account but any amount to those old stage hams who took to variety in the evening of their careers. And his Archie, moving easily between the dual stages of private and public platform, is a truly disturbing figure.

Agnes Treplin's settings conjure all the dust and shabbiness of the period, though I worry about the consumption of so much gin without even a dash of tonic or other amelioration. Strictly, the entire family ought to be blotto by the first interval.

No such luck.

The production continues until 13 November.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole