ANDREW Hall managed a remarkable theatrical feat earlier this year starring as Bill in Mamma Mia in one West End production and directing a second when he took the Lichfield Garrick Rep production of Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? to the Trafalgar Studios.

Hall, probably best known by the public as Russell in the TV sitcom Butterflies, had brought the Edward Albee classic to the Garrick Studio last October with Matthew Kelly as George and Tracey Childs as Martha.

Now he has returned with another classic, John Osborne's The Entertainer which starts a 21 performance run on October 8.

It was a bit of a learning curve for the West End star. He said: “It is a play I saw about a year and a half ago but it is not a play I knew well at all. Then I read it and it is a wonderful play. It is also very timely in terms of the subject matter set around the Middle East, the collapse of Empire, Suez and all those references and what  is happening now. For the Middle East and Suez read Iraq and Afghanistan and what is happening with demonstrations – I marched against Iraq along with everybody else.


"So it has suddenly become a very timely piece and very much a piece of the moment. So when the play is talking about gallant 19 year-olds dying to defend all of us, the planes are landing at RAF Lyneham, so from that point of view it has a lot of contemporary resonance. Then you also have the reality of the story which is the decline of Archie Rice, the decline of the music hall and the desperation of a man who is clinging on with his fingertips to a way of life that is disappearing under him.

"So I think it is a great piece of writing and a great piece of entertainment. It is also very interesting in the way it was originally conceived as a piece. It is quite abstract in nature in the way the original stage direction and the way Osborne describes the original stage. Which means that  to take a piece into a studio setting which is in some ways a resolutely proscenium arch piece means you can investigate and pose the artificial and abstract concepts much more  – it was a challenge you could not say no to.”

 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a marathon which ran at more than three hours? The Entertainer is shorter but is still a substantial work.


Hall said: “It is going to come in at about two-and-a-half hours with interval so it is not overlong and that is without any huge amounts of cutting. What you do get within the studio, which also compresses it, is you don't have the necessity for complex scene changes. When you get the soundtrack with it you realise half the original soundtrack we don't need because we have the luxury of being able to move from the house to the stage to the house to the stage just by changing focus of where we are. So it won't be a long evening – time will fly by.”

Hall is a fan of the Garrick Studio which he describes as “a special space”.

“I think it is the height. There are plenty of studio spaces but what makes it unusual is you get the height of the ceiling which means you get much more flexibility with your setting.

“The way the audience rakes up means that instead of blocking sight lines you can actually put people in the room with the characters which is enormously effective. So when you go to the lodging house you are actually there in the room with the people, which is always a very powerful thing to experience. And the people in this play are people in extremis so sitting there, being a part of that is gripping and compelling. I love this play.” 

Roger Clarke

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