A masterful rework of the original 1950’s play, The Entertainer is a poignant and thought-provoking look at family life in the ’80s.
The Falklands War is in full swing, as we follow a failing comedian and his family as they struggle against personal vices, each other, and the poverty experienced by the working class under Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.
A large, dirty brick wall marks the first set, as a piercing voiceover proclaims war with Argentina has broken out. As the noise subsides, a jaunty tune rises, and our “hero” is introduced.
Archie Rice, played by Shane Richie, is a loudmouthed, cocky but likeable (although certainly racist) showman who’s not afraid to take a pop at anyone and everyone. His cynical view of the world fuels his comedy and his personal life, with the line between the two becoming rather blurred as the show progresses.
As the first scene ends we are cast into a small living room with Billie Rice, a retired music-hall star (and Archie’s father), sat quietly reading the newspaper. A stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of Archie’s stage performance. It is in the living room we progressively meet members of Archie’s family and begin to understand the relationships between them.
As the show continues, we see how Archie has a deep influence on his family, and how he is prone to project his inner demons onto them under the guise of ‘comedy’. When the family are together sans Archie, the atmosphere is calm, although slightly solemn, and it is his arrival that brings with it constant chaos.
The stage will freeze, and the lights will dim, as occasional monologues give us an insight into the inherent nihilism of our lead, and how he truly feels about his family and their situation.
The show does not rely on flashy visuals, extravagant sets or big musical numbers to captivate the audience (though we do get a few catchy tunes). Simply the gravity of the dialogue and the tension between characters is enough to have you on the edge of your seat.
A story of a troubled man and his fractured, yet supportive family, The Entertainer finds interesting ground somewhere between a comedy and a tragedy. A believable portrayal of a struggling family, but with occasional comic relief and warming moments.
It’s certainly not the show to see if you’re looking for a lighthearted evening and a happy ending, but if you’re after a thought-provoking journey back to a time when the humour was controversial and the curtains were floral – this is the show for you. A nostalgic trip for the older generations and an informative look at “life back then” for the young.
Overall, The Entertainer was an enjoyable show with a brilliant cast, capable of putting on a captivating show without the need for excessive sets, costumes or special effects. We would highly recommend this show to anyone looking for a gritty night of dark humour, or anyone intrigued by the contrast between modern life and recent history (or lack thereof).
The Entertainer will finish its tour at the Richmond Theatre in London this November, get tickets here.
Review written by Sam Holden.