THEATRE: The Entertainer; Hampstead, London

Buoyed up by the success of Look Back in Anger, the first of his plays to be produced, John Osborne widened his canvas considerably with his next offering. The Entertainer, a state-of-the-nation play viewed through the prism of a down-at-heel vaudevillian, induced nervousness at the Royal Court in 1957, but they needn't have worried. Laurence Olivier's central performance as Archie Rice was cracking in every sense of the word and the play was a monster hit.

Exactly 40 years after the Suez crisis, which forms its political backdrop, the play is back in favour. David Ross recently played it at Birmingham and now Michael Pennington gives us a turn in Stephen Rayne's production, first seen at Newbury's Watermill Theatre. Quite what the good burghers of Berkshire made of Osborne's caustic assessment of the class of '56 is open to conjecture, but certainly the first-night audience at the Hampstead theatre seemed a little muted in their response.

The problem is that Osborne's ambition outstrips his achievement. He spent his writing career articulating a scream of frustration at the constrictions of the lower-middle class and the unresolved anger and self- loathing that fuelled him flowers to dramatic effect in the character of Archie, particularly in the powerful musichall sequences. The domestic scenes, however, cannot sustain the political import he ascribes to them. A strong production can go a long way to papering over the cracks, but that's not what it gets here. There's an awful lot of "acting" going on, with as many styles as there are characters. Julian Curry follows Osborne's stage direction that granddad Billy should speak with dignified Edwardian diction, but he lacks the weight to flesh out the underwritten role and ends up with the accent leading the character. Siri O'Neal takes refuge in stoicism as the daughter Jean, while Sam Newman can do nothing with the cypher that is Frank. It's left to Jane Wood as the worn-out wife Phoebe to pull everything together, which she does with gusto, picking up her character and running with it as if her life depended upon it. Her exaggerated comic brio is winning but Stephen Rayne's inert direction never shapes the play into a dramatic whole and although watching Phoebe's life spiral down into despair is undeniably upsetting, hers should not be the most moving performance. Nor does Rayne help Michael Pennington as Archie enough. Archie must be seen to be failing, not something an actor wants to be seen doing. Pennington bravely goes to the other extreme, making Archie look desperate and inept, robbing the play of its pathos and rendering it pointless. Archie is not a lousy performer, it's just that time has passed him by.

At the end of the performance, it was announced that Jack Tinker, the Daily Mail theatre critic had died. His passion and boundless enthusiasm for theatre will be greatly missed. Sadly, Osborne's quite different passion is almost entirely absent from this productionn

To 23 Nov. Booking: 0171-722 9301

David Benedict

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate