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TRCH - Caitlin Moran

The Entertainer

17 September 13 words: Adrian Bhagat
The decline of the British Empire is compared to the death of the music hall

The Entertainer at the Lace Market Theatre. Photos by Mark James

Photos: Mark James

In 1956, John Osborne wrote his most famous work, Look Back in Anger, which kicked off the 'Angry Young Men' literary movement and gained Osbourne both respect and notoriety. The Entertainer was written a year later, against a backdrop of the events of the Suez Crisis in which the perfidiousness of British Imperial rule was made plain. The play compares the end of the British Empire, threatened by the emergence of American superpower status, with the decline of music hall theatre, itself in the process of being elbowed out by rock and roll music.

The main character is Archie, a music hall host and promoter who struggles to make a living and yet fails to recognise that times are changing. He is a louche individual, a woman-chaser, dishonest in character and treading a thin line between legality and crime. We see him with his family in a series of kitchen sink domestic scenes in their small flat, where this is a lot of smoking and drinking but a constant struggle with poverty. Archie is cruel and bullying to his family and casually bigoted. The family is caught up in the Suez crisis when Archie's son Mick, a soldier, is captured by the Egyptians.

The Entertainer at the Lace Market Theatre. Photo by Mark JamesThese domestic scenes are interspersed with glimpses of Archie's performance on stage as a compere, making cheesy jokes and cheeky banter with his ever diminishing audience. It's here that Archie's philosophy of life is revealed and it's a bleak business - he believes in nothing and cares for nothing at all, having no moral system.

This is a a difficult play both to stage and to watch. The music hall interludes seem incongruous next to the domestic scenes and despite stretching over three acts, there is little in the way of plot development. It seems very dated now as the end of empire and the decline of the music halls are probably not concerns for many people and the portrayal of working class life is no longer ground breaking. Director Max Bromley makes a decent stab at this production though it doesn't ignite on stage. However, an excellent performance by Daniel Bryant as Archie helps the evening along. Richard Fife also gives a good performance as Archie's grumpy but proud father, Billy, looking not unlike Father Jack from the Father Ted TV series.
 

The Entertainer runs at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 21 September 2013

 

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