Anthology Theatre, Simon Friend Entertainment, Curve
Considering the current political climate, the setting of The Entertainer certainly seems apt as ever. Originally set during the Suez War in the 1950s, director Sean O’Connor’s adaptation takes place during Thatcher’s reign and the Falklands War in the 1980s, the country divided between patriotic war enthusiasts and peace-seeking protestors.
Archie Rice (Shane Richie) is an entertainer of the old school, telling quick-fire mother-in-law jokes and singing British classics, but what with satire gaining popularity, there isn’t much demand for his Del Boy brand of pier-side entertainment and his audiences are dwindling by the day. Meanwhile, his daughter Jean (Diana Vickers) has been rubbing shoulders with London liberals and finds herself politically at odds with her whole family who spend half the time telling her how proud they are of her and the other half telling her she should go back to London.
Archie is difficult to like, cheating on his past wife with his present wife (Sara Crowe) and his present wife with his future wife, making everything a bawdy or cruel joke, comfortably throwing out racial slurs left, right and centre and seemingly caring for no-one but himself. That said, his life is small and sad and, having spent decades “having a go” as he puts it, he finds that he’s got nothing to show for it.
Imagine if Arthur Miller went on holiday in Blackpool, got drunk on Newkie Brown in an old sticky pub and wrote a play and you’d have The Entertainer. The difference, though between say Death of a Salesman, which also tells the story of an often-unlikable sad case, and this play is that you understand how Willy Loman got to be where he is, whereas it seems Archie was always unlikeable and selfish. Writer John Osborne barely allows the audience a minute of real sympathy, so really we’re just watching the fizzling out of a man no-one would miss. The dialogue is snappy and believable but the whole play feels like it’s missing a first half, where we might learn more about the characters’ strengths as well as their flaws, and because of that, it’s also about twenty minutes too long.
The performances are all well done: Shane Richie is fast-talking and irritatingly high-energy throughout and Diana Vickers is wonderfully understated as his disillusioned and dissatisfied daughter. Her relationship with her grandpa, as played by Pip Donaghy, shows the kind of affection that transcends politics, even as he spouts all manner of offensive and antiquated opinions, and she proudly announces her involvement in anti-government protests, much to his horror. It’s the kind of care missing from all of Archie’s relationships.
The accents in general are a bit all over the place. I imagine the casting call asked for ‘generic regional accent’ and, whilst I don’t think the exact location of the play is ever mentioned, I just feel like it’s unlikely that the daughter and grandfather are from Manchester, the son is from Willesden and the parents are from Brixton.
Archie is a relic from a not too distant past and the speed with which the world changed during twentieth century is something to be noted. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t quite pull it off and I was left feeling mostly indifferent.
Reviewer: Miriam Sallon