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The Entertainer at The Old Vic

Leigh Hatts

The Old Vic's 50th anniversary production of The Entertainer is both nostalgic and filled with modern resonance.

Robert Lindsay as Archie Rice
Robert Lindsay as Archie Rice

Robert Lindsay does well as a convincing Archie Rice performing in a fading music hall. It is set in a seaside resort – the 2007 scenery suggests Scarborough – but in the Fifties such a show could still be seen in London's East End.

The Old Vic has taken on its old music hall persona for the Entertainer. This time the stage is not extended, a piano rises from the orchestra pit and even the boxes have real paying audience members.

Best of all are the black and white interval advertisements projected on to the safety curtain. Diana Dors endorses Gardenia shampoo followed by reminders of Golden Shed and Bassett's Allsorts. "it's a lovely day for Guinness" and "Double Diamond works wonders".

As in an old musical hall show, the star is not on stage at once and indeed he is often the turn in front of the curtain during a scene change.

John Osborne's play had its premiere at the Royal Court in 1957 with Laurence Olivier in the lead. Then the audience had in mind the Suez crisis. Today it is Iraq. The play opens in a house of rented apartments where everyone is aware that Archie Rice's son is seeing action abroad during his national service.

John Normington gives a wonderful performance as the grandfather and a Fifties' grumpy old man who believes the country has gone to the dogs. He complains bitterly about Polish immigrants.
Emma Cunniffe is the post-war daughter fearful of being trapped in a constricting marriage.

David Dawson plays Frank Rice, the son, who seems trapped in his father's failing show. Pam Ferris, like Robert Lindsay, is so good that she throws off any association with television fame and here she is the highly strung wife bringing in better money from her job in Woolworth's than Archie can on stage.

The characters burn with an inner anger as convincing today as they were intended to be fifty years ago.

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