BWW Review: THE ENTERTAINER, Theatre Royal Brighton
Roll up, roll up, it's a revival of John Osbourne's The Entertainer. Shane Ritchie takes the mic as washed-up entertainer, Archie Rice. Osbourne's play shows the drama of his life - both on- and off-stage back home.
The first production of The Entertainer opened in 1957 against the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, starring Laurence Olivier. This reimagined production, directed by Sean O'Conner, brings the setting of the play forward to the middle of the rule of Thatcher and the Falklands War.
Ritchie is suitably repulsive as the gin-loving, insult-throwing MC. His talkative wife, Phoebe, is performed with sincerity by Sara Crowe. Diane Vickers is fiery as his frustrated activist daughter, Jean.
The grandfather of the family unit, Freddie Rice, is played in an endearingly charming manner by Pip Donaghy. Christopher Bonwell is sadly underused as Archie's other son, Frank, who, at times, seems to be a relatively redundant character in the story.
Audience members enter the auditorium to an appropriately garish summer club soundtrack. Scenes are linked with timely newspaper headlines and music to ground the story in 1982.
The set frames the story in a "cosy" flowery-wallpaper clad living room, typical of the time and simple use of a tattered curtain transports the audience to whatever auditorium Archie is playing that night.
Suitable costumes fit every character well - from Archie's sparkly suit to Vickers' corduroy dungarees decorated with patches.
Tim Mitchell's lighting design helps define when Archie is on and off-stage, particularly during fourth-wall-breaking moments in the show where Archie steps out of the alcohol-fuelled antics going on in his living room, to make remarks to the audience about his family.
While this is an interesting plot device, the show overall is a rather sad and seemingly pointless state of affairs. Any humour in the opening scenes quickly disappears but the actors work hard to deliver the rather sombre story.
The show rightly so highlights the hardship of the era, especially with one of the Rice family fighting on the front line, but it doesn't add up to its title - whether that is deliberate or not.
While it is interesting to see the story framed in the slightly more recent context of the Falklands War, and it roughly works, the need for this revival in 2019 feels rather superfluous. The outdated and predominantly sexist jokes uttered by Ritchie on stage draw more gasps than laughter from the Brighton audience.
Disappointingly, The Entertainer is not as entertaining as one might think for a night out at the Theatre Royal but the cast fills the tiny living room of the Rice household with their larger than life characters.
The Entertainer at Theatre Royal Brighton until 26 October
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks