Director: Sean O’Connor
Writer: John Osborne
Reviewer: Andrea Allen
Performed to rave reviews on its opening night in 1957, Sean O’Connor’s 21st Century revival of ‘angry young man’ John Osborne’s play, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to the same acclaim. In the correct hands, The Entertainer might be a timely choice for 2019, a year marred with political uncertainty, economic turbulence and a surge of hate crimes documented in the UK. However, it misses the mark, instead of becoming an unsettling shrine pandering to a bygone era and seemingly reduced to an excuse to play Adam Ant and regurgitate headlines from The Sun of the early 1980s.
A surge of melodrama from the opening curtain renders denouement and character development completely impossible. Shane Richie’s Archie is unlikeable and unfunny from the off – an equal number of audience members still laughing at his misogynistic gags at the end of the show as at the beginning is a clear indication that his performance doesn’t accurately depict the plight of an out of touch man whose career is in tatters and decline. There is also no definition between Archie’s ‘onstage’ and ‘offstage’ persona, if this was a directorial decision, it was unwise. While there’s an argument that you only ever see Archie as he’s fading from glory, it would have been nice to believe that there was at least some glory to begin with. Diana Vickers is flat and preachy as Archie’s daughter Jean, while Sara Crowe as Archie’s wife Phoebe is shaky, hysterical and inconsolable the minute she steps onstage, rendering her subsequent alcohol-infused breakdowns largely ineffectual. Pip Donaghy provides an acceptable performance as Archie’s ageing father Billy, but the family chemistry fizzles out long before it even begins to ignite.
Reframed in a 1982 setting, the show’s background is that of Thatcherite Britain amid the Falklands War. This historical context is hammered home with an ear-splitting soundtrack of early 80s pop music, the odd powerpoint display of various photos and a bizarrely jarring audio of a ‘Not the 9 O’Clock News’ sketch. With themes of disconnection, civil unrest, political turmoil and rife bigotry, Osborne’s play could be relevant today, however, O’Connors direction lacks the subtleties and nuances required to trace these parallels. If you’re looking to be entertained, this probably isn’t a production to go for.
Runs until 2 Nov 2019 | Image: Helen Murray