Shane Richie as Archie Rice, a stand-up with an act and a career that time has left behind

The Entertainer

Belgrade Theatre Coventry


After writing Look Back in Anger John Osborne was dubbed an angry playwright, and in response to Lawrence Olivier’s request, Osborne wrote The Entertainer to prove that he could do comedy as well.

The play follows the entertainer himself, Archie Rice, and his family through a time of both political and personal uncertainty – a theme that once again feels relevant. Originally written in 1956, the play was set in the time of the Suez Crisis, and has been updated in this version to the year of 1982, focusing on the Falklands conflict. Unfortunately, the politics of this play are shoe-horned in somewhat, and offer little except a contextual backdrop.

The performance is separated by episodes of the Rice family home which wouldn’t be out of place on tea-time telly, and Archie Rice’s variety hall comedy gigs, in an attempt to mix up the flavour.

Shane Richie bounces on to the stage as Archie Rice, a late-career variety comedian who it’s easy to believe was once loved. Despite it being the first time any of us are seeing Archie’s routine, it’s well-rehearsed, and all of the jokes are typical of a comedy era that has sailed its ship many years ago. Richie’s performance is full of heart, and the audience ends up laughing at his punchlines whether they want to or not.

As we realise that Archie is simply going through the motions and is looking dead behind the eyes, Richie is never that. He chuckles hesitantly and delivers punchlines apologetically, and it becomes the silences in which Richie really communicates the tragedy of Archie Rice.

In the authentic 1980’s living room, we are introduced to the Rice family. Pip Donaghy plays Archie’s Father, Billy Rice, who is a retired performer himself. Donaghy plays him tenderly and lovingly, despite the fact that he is extremely set in his ways and won’t budge for anybody. He might say a few things that make the audience cringe with politically correct gasps, but he means well and will always put his family first.

Archie’s daughter, Jean is the voice of the younger generation in this piece. Diana Vickers creates Jean’s character as the voice of hope and reason which is a relief considering the character is the synergy of political advocate meets stroppy adolescence.

Alice Osmanski steps in as Phoebe Rice, Archie’s second wife, but not Jean’s mother – as she likes to point out. Osmanski brings a quick energy to Phoebe, who is full of neurotic fixations and obsessions, never letting anybody else have a word in edgeways. Having Phoebe played as closer to Jean’s age than Archie’s makes fine plausible sense, but didn’t quite sit right amidst the action of the play.

Then we have Christopher Bonwell as Archie’s son Frank, who clung loyally to his father’s side. Bonwell showed us that as meek as Frank may seem, he can be bold and brash when given the chance.

Tim Mitchell’s lighting design took us seamlessly between the colourfulness of the vibrant variety halls, to the yellowing every day living room.

The sound design by Chris James was right at home in the walls of a comedy club, with well known jingles and melodies playing throughout.

The box set of the living room was decorated meticulously, and used the illusion of depth to create a full-scale living room which was busy but never cluttered. The fourth wall and curtains that came in separated Rice’s home life from his career quite simply.

Director Sean O’Connor had good intentions with this piece as he kept the comedy routines full of life, and the homelife gritty and real. It was a shame that the actors didn’t get the chance to explore the softer, more tender moments – of which the script didn’t allow for many – because there was some heart amongst this dysfunctional family. Instead, these scenes seemed to be a race to get to the slanging match that wouldn’t be out of place on a TV soap, as quickly as possible. Without the comic interludes, which inevitably decline with Archie’s career, the play was rife with anger and angst, and it wasn’t always clear why.

Richie and co. do manage to breathe life into this play, and between the heated rows, there are many moments of comedy, and some interesting relationships between characters. They will certainly be entertaining until 19-10.

Richard Scott


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