Heartbreaking, funny, humiliating - Shane Richie stars in The Entertainer

PUBLISHED: 07:00 02 October 2019

Shane Richie as Archie. Picture: Helen Murray

Shane Richie as Archie. Picture: Helen Murray

Copyright Helen Murray 2019

A night of mixed emotion is promised as John Osborne’s funny and heartbreaking play The Entertainer, starring Shane Richie as Archie Rice, arrives at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley next month.

The Entertainer is a dark moody comedy. Picture: Helen MurrayThe Entertainer is a dark moody comedy. Picture: Helen Murray

The popular production also stars Sara Crowe as Archie's wife, Phoebe, and Diana Vickers as his daughter Jean.

Along for the emotional rollercoaster is Pip Donaghy as his father Billy and Christopher Bonwell as his son Frank Rice.

Archie, the snarling protagonist, is a washed-up, old-school comedian and second-rate stand-up still stepping out, well past his prime, to deliver out-of-date gags.

Shane Richie cut his teeth on the comedy circuit in the late 80s before finding TV fame.

Shane Richie as Archie. Picture: Helen MurrayShane Richie as Archie. Picture: Helen Murray

Others have made the part a success, like Laurence Olivier, Michael Gambon and Kenneth Branagh.

Shane said: "None of those guys played the pubs and clubs. None of them knew what it's like to stand there doing stand-up, dodging beer mats and pint glasses."

The Entertainer is one of the great post-war plays, set during the Suez crisis.

Written on the quick in 1957, less than a year after Look Back in Anger launched Osborne's career at the Royal Court, it is a wildly ambitious state-of-the-nation play.

The Entertainer is a dark moody comedy. Picture: Helen MurrayThe Entertainer is a dark moody comedy. Picture: Helen Murray

It's not just Britain crumbling, Archie has to keep smiling while the cracks open - debts mount, jokes die, family feuds fester.

Director Sean O'Connor said: "I've always loved the extraordinary ambition of that vision.

"People might think Osborne only wrote kitchen sink plays, but it's absolutely not that. It's part music hall, part family drama and part nowhere-land. It's a very ambitious, powerful play, but I've always felt that something stops the audience getting to it."

He added: "The original is set so specifically in 1956 that you need to know all about Suez and the music hall.

"It's become a slightly holy grail set text when, in actual fact, Osborne always said he really wanted to move people."

Making it all accessible again, O'Connor moved the scene to 1982 as there are remarkable parallels.

The director said: "Britain is again trying to establish its status as an international power."

Margaret Thatcher was on manoeuvres in the Falklands as Britain was changing fast, including comedy. Old-school club comics like Bernard Manning were on the way out, shown up and supplanted by a new wave of alternative comedians and satirical TV shows like Not the Nine O'Clock News and Spitting Image.

Re-enter a new Archie Rice, fallen from fame and deeply bitter about it. Shane said: "So bitter and he brings all that to the stage.

"I've done stand-up, I've done game shows. The thing you do is, 'Come on, I know you love me, course you do.' Now I've got to fight against that. I'm going to play a comic who's fallen from grace and hates - loathes - the people in front of him."

Shane knows the sort all too well. His dad ran comedy clubs when sexist, racist jokes were "the staple diet of comics" and he supported his share of "summer season acts" starting out. The challenge, Shane reckons is finding the moment the mask drops: When do we see the real Archie, not just the act?

Shane wanted to find out and said: "I made a decision two years ago: I wanted to play some characters that would give me my fear back. I wanted to stand in the wings and go, 'Oh my god. I don't know if I can pull this off.' Fight or flight."

The director said; "Osborne was a real democrat with theatre. He wanted his plays to be entertaining, so you get the gags, the music and a bit of smut.

"You don't have to press very far to see its relevance."

And the star of the show went on: "It's like it's no longer going to be the best kept secret. Everyone will get to see John Osborne's masterpiece."

The Entertainer will be at the Churchill between November 4 and 9.

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