Laurence Olivier's wish is finally granted as Robert Lindsay takes lead in 'The Entertainer'

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The Independent Culture

Laurence Olivier's performance as the struggling comedian Archie Rice in John Osborne's The Entertainer was acclaimed as one of his greatest.

Now half a century after Olivier first brought Osborne's music-hall star to life, the actor Robert Lindsay is to step into his shoes - just as the famous thespian told him he should.

A 50th anniversary production of the play next year will be a highlight of the 2006/2007 season at the Old Vic in London, its artistic director Kevin Spacey announced yesterday.

The American has owned the rights to do the play for several years but dismissed speculation that he might have taken the role himself. "The truth is I can't take all the good parts. It's just not fair," he said.

However, Lindsay, 56, whose last stage run was at the National five years ago, admitted that he had been desperate to do it. He became "seriously hooked" on playing Archie Rice after doing a reading of the play earlier this year as part of the Royal Court theatre's own golden jubilee celebrations.

Olivier himself had already told Lindsay - with whom he had performed in King Lear in 1983 - that the younger actor should play the part. "He came to see Me and My Girl [in which Lindsay starred with Emma Thompson] three times. He was quite ill, but on one of the occasions we had dinner afterwards and he did say, 'You must do The Entertainer'. I've kept one of his letters that actually states that," Lindsay said.

"I can't tell you how excited I am to be back on stage, which is where my heart is, after so many years on telly. I get tingles."

To be performing at the Old Vic, where Olivier ran the National Theatre until it secured its permanent South Bank home, was particularly special, he added. "This building changed my life. I was at Rada [drama school] and I would come down here. It was the most exciting space - and gradually Kevin is beginning to get that back."

The Entertainer, which will co-star Pam Ferris, will run in the autumn of next year. The season begins this September, with Spacey himself starring in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten which may transfer to New York.

That will be followed by two Shakespeare comedies, Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew, performed by the all-male company directed by Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter.

Stephen Fry is writing a new version of Cinderella for the Christmas of 2007. And future work also includes the first production of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests trilogy in London since its 1974 premiere starring Tom Courtenay. The plays will be directed by Matthew Warchus.

Warchus, Hall and the veteran director Anthony Page were yesterday named Old Vic associates "to help us learn and grow," Spacey said. The actor-director who has faced much flak for the choice of plays in his first two seasons said: "We seek as much advice as we can from those we have great confidence in." The Old Vic's last play, Resurrection Blues by Arthur Miller, directed by Robert Altman, closed a week early after dreadful reviews and the theatre will be closed for the next few months after plans for a production fell through. Spacey said this was "not ideal" and would not happen again, but they had never planned to be open all-year round.