The Entertainer – Cheltenham Everyman REVIEW

John Osbourne’s The Entertainer has seen some stars take on the main role of Archie Rice. First of all, it was originally written for the legendary Laurence Olivier, as well as being played on stage by Kenneth Branagh and Robert Lindsay, with Bill Nighy starring in the radio version and Michael Gambon taking it to film. Rather big shoes to fill…

Shane Richie is next up to take on the role of slimey, scheming Archie Rice as he fails over and over to stay relevant in an ever changing world of entertainment in the 80s. Against these giants of actors you’d expect Shane to stay in the shadows, but far from it. Shane sculpts his interpretation of Archie to be the easily detestable character of the failing showman. Thanks to his spot on comedy timing, unnerving tone and off-putting mannerisms, he quickly gets the audience right where he wants them, building tension perfectly to induce awkward laugher and regular seat-shuffling.

Archie’s sketches are as bigoted, sexist and chauvinistic as he is and do well as the main method in making the audience incredibly uncomfortable. The outdated showman desperately grasps at inappropriate jokes in a shamelessly helpless manner. He hides behind his painful patter hoping to avoid real life that meets him when he walks in his front door. Team this with excessive alcohol and Archie has a good combination to protect him from reality until later in the play when he is brought back down to earth with a hard bump.

Archie comes home on an evening to be met with his frustrated daughter Jean (Diana Vickers), neglected wife Phoebe (Sara Crowe), father Billy who is expected to sit quietly in the corner (Pip Donaghy) and obedient son Frank (Christopher Bonwell). He changes very little from stage to sitting room, maintaining the same front. He joins them with the excessive drinking and endless bickering.

I’ve raved plenty about Richie’s role in this piece but the cast all stand strong as their own characters. Tender moments between Jean and grandfather Billy, bring brief moments of joy amongst the gin-fuelled arguments in which emotions run high.

This revival has been set against the backdrop of the Falklands war in the 80s making for a more modern setting than the 1950s original but still perfectly in keeping with the themes of social deprivation, blind patriotism and ongoing war.

These themes are brilliantly portrayed both in the speech and attitudes of the characters but also in the scenery with union jacks cropping up occasionally and newspaper headlines of the war in the Falklands and Thatcher’s actions.

Shane Richie and the rest of the cast do justice to this updated adaptation of the dark John Osbourne play. Director Sean O’Connor has done a sterling job at keeping the story bound within times of uncertainty yet also giving a blank canvas for a fresh take on the well-loved story. The Entertainer may not be as happy as the title suggests but it is undeniably entertaining.

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