The Entertainer – May 2007

5/10

By: John Osborne

Directed by: Sean Holmes

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 23rd May 2007

I would have loved to have given this production a higher rating, but unfortunately this performance was marred by the one thing which I never thought would affect a performance adversely – an appreciative audience. Listen and learn.

I was in a better position to appreciate this play this time, as I’m more aware of the Suez crisis, and other events around that time. I could see how the play was reflecting some aspects of British society at that time, though it still feels very distant to me. As we were much further back than usual, I had more difficulty hearing the lines – I think I’ll check out the induction loop facilities for the future. The afternoon was also warm, and the auditorium very stuffy, with the beginnings of crowded room aroma starting to percolate, so I did find myself nodding off a little before the first interval.

However, I also found the performances very good, especially those of Pam Ferris and Robert Lindsay, in the title role. The structure of the play is interesting, with domestic scenes interspersed with Archie’s increasingly ragged performances on stage. The final scene, with all the backdrops lifted, and the bare, empty stage echoing to Archie’s departure, can be very moving, with a variety of emotions surfacing. Here, however, we had the problem that the audience, instead of stony silence as he disintegrates in front of them, roared with laughter at his final “joke”, and applauded loudly as he walked back to Phoebe to put on his coat and head out the stage door. Not the usual send-off for a failed entertainer. In fact, if this audience had been around in 1956, Archie would probably have had his own TV show!

It’s a tough balance to strike, putting across that this guy isn’t very good, and is deteriorating fast, while casting top-class actors in the part, as it needs a lot of skill to pull it off. Robert Lindsay did a very good job, though as I know how good he is at song and dance, my own “baggage” saw him as a better performer than he was meant to be. The audience just couldn’t get enough of him, and I don’t know what he would have to do to put them off. I’ve looked at the possibility that this is a perfectly acceptable way to stage it, but I keep coming up against the text – music hall was on its last, tottery, leg and no audience would have reacted that way to this guy. Ah well, at least the Old Vic is doing good business out of it.

Pam Ferris gave us an excellent portrait of an alcoholic air-head who will just not stop talking. I often find with Osborne’s characters that his observation is pretty sharp, but there isn’t the compassion to go with it. Someone like Alan Bennett, for example, can have me howling with laughter at a character, while also recognising their humanity and feeling warmth, respect and a greater understanding for their plight. These characters were unpleasant, and the case for the defence never really got going, in my view, so I left the theatre feeling a little “underdone” – cheated by the audience and to a certain extent by the play.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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