The Entertainer

Previewed 20 August 2016, Opened 30 August 2016, Closed 12 November 2016 at the Garrick Theatre in London

A major revival of John Osborne's The Entertainer in London starring Kenneth Branagh as Archie Rice and directed by Rob Ashford.

Archie Rice is a struggling comedian, a music-hall performer in an age when music halls had all but disappeared. Driven by dreams of stardom and a desperation to equal his father's success, Archie finds himself a man out of his time - a selfish, deceitful has-been, headlining a tacky revue in a rundown seaside town. Family tensions rise to a boil as he shamelessly cheats on his wife and tricks his dying father into financing one last revue. But throughout it all, Archie jigs and jabbers before his ever-diminishing audience and does whatever it takes to keep the show going. Set against the backdrop of post-war Britain, John Osborne's modern classic conjures the seedy glamour of the old music halls for an explosive examination of public masks and private torment.

The cast features Kenneth Branagh as 'Archie Rice' with Gawn Grainger as 'Billy Rice', Greta Scacchi as 'Phoebe Rice', Jonah Hauer-King as 'Frank Rice', Sophie McShera as 'Jean Rice', Phil Dunster as 'Graham' and Crispin Letts as 'Brother Bill'. Please note casting subject to change without notice. Unfortunately, John Hurt, who was originally scheduled to co-star, had to withdraw prior to the first preview performance following medical advice. Directed by Rob Ashford with choreography by Chris Bailey, designs by Christopher Oram, lighting by Neil Austin, sound by Christopher Shutt and and music by Patrick Doyle.

When this production opened here at the Garrick Theatre in August 2016, Paul Taylor in The i Newspaper thought that "Kenneth Branagh rises to the occasion with a performance that is never less than thoroughly arresting, while Rob Ashford’s revival rounds off the company’s year-long residency at the Garrick with panache, " adding that "Branagh’s performance, which is a bit too fundamentally genial at the moment, is bound to deepen and darken during the run." Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail wrote that "Sir Ken Branagh, so palpably healthy, wearing a natty haircut and spitting out his lines with artistry, has cast himself as ageing desperado Archie Rice... It is unconvincing, and not just because, in Archie's eyeliner and stage lipstick, Sir Ken looks worryingly like Eddie Izzard... The Entertainer tends to be hailed as a 'state of the nation play'. The trouble with state of the nation plays is that the state of the nation can change, sometimes for the better. Then the play feels glum and negative and a bit so-what-ish." Michael Billington in The Guardian commented that "while Kenneth Branagh is never less than fascinating to watch and the play makes a fitting climax to his year-long tenure at the Garrick Theatre, there is something seriously amiss about Rob Ashford’s production... It remains a fine play. But Ashford captures neither the glorified tat of 1950s music hall nor the way Suez split families much as Brexit does today. He gives us a razzle-dazzle show but, for all Branagh’s skill, it is not quite the one Osborne intended." Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph held that "Laurence Olivier's - to judge by the 1960 film - is the superior performance, blessed with a mercurial vitality and dangerous mischief that the benign Branagh can't match. Yet Sir Ken goes some considerable and impressive way to stamping his own authority and personality on the part... But Ashford's production could do with a more spirited tempo to compensate for the dialogue's dated, often schematic quality, while there's no getting around the abundant (to many ears today, offensive) prejudice." Ian Shuttleworth in The Financial Times highlighted that "the central role of no-hope music-hall man Archie Rice was the cornerstone of Laurence Olivier's reinvention of himself for a new generation; Kenneth Branagh does not pull off the same radical re-evaluation, but he and his now-regular stage director Rob Ashford do the play full justice and more." Neil Norman in The Daily Express said "John Osborne's state-of-the-nation play may have been written in 1957 but, set against the background of the Suez Crisis, its themes are easily applicable to modern Britain. The UK's wobbly international standing wrought by Brexit is similar to the uncertainty created by Suez so it is a good choice for Kenneth Branagh's final production in his season at The Garrick. Strange that the result is so listless and uninspired... A real disappointment." Dominic Maxwell in The Times explained that "Rob Ashford's artfully presented but curiously stiff production doesn't quite deliver... despite the political parallels between then and now, despite some flashes of inspiration, Osborne's pointed play too rarely feels like a play for today." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard held that "sharp timing is the hallmark of Branagh's performance - but with his agile movement and calf muscles like cannon balls, he isn't exactly the epitome of a clapped-out vaudevillian. On the one hand he's too slick, tap-dancing suavely, and on the other he makes Archie seem too contemptuous of his own routine... The strongest supporting performance comes from Gawn Grainger as Archie's father Billy... As for Osborne's play, it hasn't aged all that well, with flashes of misogyny now pretty hard to stomach." Matt Wolf in The New York Times said that "the hoped-for grand finale turns out to be an anti-climax: That's the dispiriting truth about the new West End revival of The Entertainer ... What ought to have been a match made in theatrical heaven seems oddly tentative, as if performer and part have yet to fully align."

Kenneth Branagh has most recently appeared on the West End stage in Michael Grandage's staging of Tom Stoppard's new English translation of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2008. Here at the Garrick Theatre he will be starring opposite Judi Dench in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale from October 2015 to January 2016, in Terrance Rattigan's Harlequinade from October 2015 to January 2016 and in Sean Foley's adaptation of Francis Veber's The Painkiller from March to April 2016. Rob Ashford West End credits include co-directing (with Jason Moore) Shrek The Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2011. Greta Scacchi's West End credits include Edward Hall's revival of Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2008 and Janet Suzman's revival of Ferenc Molnar's The Guardsman at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2000.

"John Osborne's drama is out simultaneously to prop up and dismantle nostalgia for empire. With its mixture of personal and public heartbreak and nausea, it's a cold-comfort work. It should be alive with real-world political resonance. It even has one character asking: 'Can you think of any good reason for staying in this cosy little corner of Europe?' Yet this revival lacks the atmospheric exactitude and emotional authority to place us in period. Even the play's love affair with booze, which requires (and doesn't get) flawless pissed acting from the cast, doesn't quite convince. The rhythms of drunkenness and hangover seem beyond Ashford.... And while music hall supposedly equals metaphor for the declining British empire here, Rob Ashford's vaudeville routines look flatly glitzy, rather than tatty... Gawn Grainger gives the most convincing performance of the evening as Billy Rice, finding the gentleness and gentlemanliness in a cantankerous, misogynist Edwardian coot, hung up on the 'bloody Poles and Irish'... Kenneth Branagh is an actor-manager who may need to stop casting himself if he is to rediscover his talents as a stage performer. These days, when it comes to his theatre work, it's hard not to conclude that he's mining the shallows." The Sunday Times

"Kenneth Branagh play the eponymous Archie Rice, a chap whose touring vaudeville act is well past its sell-by date. Archie's tragedy is not that he doesn't know himself but that he knows himself only too well and as Branagh's grubby ittle entertainer camps it up in a northern theatre spouting cringe-worthy gags his performance becomes an exercise in belligerent self-loathing. Branagh is often very good indeed, yet you rarely get past his Entertainer carapace to the frightened little man within... Rob Ashford's production aims for poetry (lots of moody shadows and silhouettes) but overdoes the symbolism and the pace is often ponderous. The play's sour mood of national disenchantment is modern but the dialogue often isn't and Ashford can't prevent it at times from feeling unnecessarily like a dusty period piece. But there is great support from Grete Scacchi as Archie's pathologically anxious wife Phoebe. Thanks to her, those agonishing family scenes feel powerfully reminiscent of Eugene O'Neill's contemporaneous Long Day's Journey Into Night." The Metro

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen - Archie Rice is the name. Archie Rice. Mrs. Rice's favourite boy. We're going to entertain you for the next two and a half hours and you've really had it now. All the exit doors locked. Talking about being locked in, some of these people ought to be locked up. Locked up. They did, honest - I know what you're waiting for. I know what you're waiting for and who isn't? Just keep your peckers up - they'll be on in a minute. You've got to put up with me first. And now - now, to open the show. I'm going to sing a little song I wrote myself. I hope you like it..."

Set in the mid-1950s, The Entertainer takes place in a large coastal resort. The house where the Rice family live is one of those tall ugly monuments built by a prosperous business man at the beginning of the century. Only twenty-five minutes drive to the sea front. Now, trolley buses hum past the front drive, full of workers from the small factories that have grown up round about. This is a part of the town the holiday makers never see - or, if they do, they decide to turn back to the pleasure gardens. This is what they have spent two or three hours in a train to escape. They don't even have to pass it on their way in from the central station, for this is a town on its own, and it has its own station, quite a large one, with acres of goods sheds and shunting yards. However, the main line trains don't stop there. It is not residential, it is hardly industrial. It is full of dirty blank spaces, high black walls, a gas holder, a tall chimney, a main road that shakes with dust and lorries. The shops are scattered at the corners of narrow streets. A newsagent's, a general grocer's, a fish-and-chip shop - this is the setting for The Entertainer...

"Why should I care? Why should I let it touch me! Why shouldn't I, sit down and try to let it pass over me? Why should they stare. Why should I let it get me? What's the use of despair, if they call you a square? You're a long time dead - Like my pal Fred, So why, oh why should I bother to care?..."

The Entertainer in London at the Garrick Theatre previewed from 20 August 2016, opened on 30 August 2016 and closed on 12 November 2016.

The Entertainer with Robert Lindsay and Pam Ferris Old Vic Theatre 2007

Previewed 23 February 2007, Opened 7 March 2007, Closed 26 May 2007 at the Old Vic Theatre in London

A major revival of John Osborne's classic play The Entertainer in London starring Robert Lindsay and Pam Ferris and directed by Sean Holmes, presented to mark the play's 50th anniversary.

The cast for The Entertainer in London features Robert Lindsay as 'Archie Rice' and Pam Ferris as his wife along with Jim Creighton, Emma Cunniffe, David Dawson, Lyndsey Lennon, Andrew McDonald and David Baron. John Normington had to withdraw from this production in April on his doctor's advice due to ill health. It is directed by Sean Holmes with choreography by Paul Harris, designs by Anthony Lambis, lighting by Peter Mumford, music by John Addison and sound by Fergus O'Hare.

"Soldiers are dying in the Middle East; people have lost confidence in the Prime Minister and are wondering what they're fighting for. That's the world in which John Osborne's remarkable state-of-the-nation play The Entertainer is set. Fifty years on, its resonance startles... Sean Holmes's intense, authentic revival brilliantly captures the spirit - or lack of it - of the time, and revelas it to be more than a star vehicle (first made famous by Laurence Olivier); there are several richly written characters, all whom are brought to vivid and desperate life... You won't find finer acting anywhere on the London stage." The Mail on Sunday

"From the moment Robert Lindsay walks on to do Archie Rice's terrible shtick, you can see it is a role that is utterly his. He doesn't so much bury Olivier's performance as praise it, using his ghost as a prop... The bleak truth of Rice is that he is irredeemable - a cheap Faust who has frittered his soul away on draught Bass and grim rutting on the sofa. There is no glimmer of a moral here. And Lindsay nails it with a dead eye... The writing is spat across the stage in great gobbets, spews of bile, indignation and brilliant observation. The play is too long, lumpy and awkward, but it's vital and real and profound." The Sunday Times

"Of course, John Osborne's The Entertainer has always been a strongly structured play about a performer falling apart on and off stage, dying on his feet as a funnyman and simultaneously serving as a symbol of the jaded British Empire. But Sean Holmes's superb production startlingly reminds you just how fine a modern classic this is. Not only has it stood the test of half a century as a period piece, it also seems painfully timely all over again." The Independent on Sunday

"Robert Lindsay [as Archie Rice] actually had the audience guffawing at his vaudeville routines and his jokes... Osborne had, however, intended the jokes to be as tired as Rice himself. This was a man who 'doesn't give a damn about anything' and who was 'dead behind the eyes', and yet Lindsay's eyes glowed brightly throughout the performance... This throws the production somewhat off balance, but for fans of Osborne there is still much to savour in Sean Holmes's earnest and conscientious three-hour-long production." The Sunday Telegraph

John Osborne was one of the 20th century's most celebrated playwrights and the original 'angry young man'. Following the success of Look Back in Anger, he continued to examine the state of the country in The Entertainer, this time using three generations of a family of entertainers to symbolise the decline of post-war Britain.

The Entertainer in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 23 February 2007, opened on 7 March 2007 and closed on 26 May 2007.