Mon | Sep 25, 2017

'The Entertainer' at Cineplex on Sunday

Published:Friday | November 25, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Kenneth Branagh plays music hall veteran Archie Rice in John Osborne’s ‘The Entertainer’.

Branagh's The Entertainer, a three-act play, was produced by John Osborne in 1957. His first play, Look Back in Anger, about an angry young man, had attracted a lot of publicity but received mixed reviews. At the request of the renowned actor, Laurence Olivier, Osborne wrote another play, this time about an angry middle-aged man, The Entertainer.

Its main character is Archie Rice, a failing music hall performer. The play opened on April 10, 1957, at the Royal Court Theatre, London, known for its commitment to new and innovative works. The inclusion of a West End star such as Olivier in the cast was a wow factor.

Theatre critics have said that actor, director, producer and screenwriter Kenneth Branagh has "so artfully shadowed" the career of Laurence Olivier that it was predictable that he would eventually reprise the role of Archie Rice in The Entertainer.

In the final production of his 2016 West End season, Kenneth Branagh takes on the role of the failing comic Archie Rice and he explains how this production was approached. "The play is being directed by Rob Ashford, with whom I've now collaborated three times, and he comes from a choreographic background," Branagh said.

"He wanted me to very much concentrate on Archie as a hoofer, not to feel that he was someone who regarded himself as being on the skids. The problem for Archie is not, in Rob's view, so much that he is troubled about the possibility that his career and talent are second-rate, but he is terrified that his soul might be. What Rob wanted to see was a sort of theatrical grafter, a hoofer, so we maybe see more of the sacrifices Archie has to go through in order just to get on - or even be as good as he hopes will keep an audience's attention."

 

More dancing

 

Branagh continued: "I think there may be just a little more dancing, more of that backstage graft and a sense of the sweat on the guy than people may be expecting."

He also emphasised the freshness of the new approach, which seeks to move away from the established bowler hat and bow tie worn by Olivier.

"We're trying to get away from very strong images like that. What goes with that image is this sense of the play as a certain kind of classic with maybe a few cobwebs around it ... But you could argue that this is perhaps a more revolutionary play than, say Look Back in Anger. And I think it gives voice to what you might call the angry young woman in (Archie's daughter) Jean Rice," Branagh said.

"I'm trying to come at it from a different kind of place. Despite Archie being at the centre of things, there's a youthful fire in the play. It gives the greatest kind of pragmatism and idealism and intelligence to the women of the play, not just Jean Rice - who is in many ways the voice of the call to arms in the play for political engagement."

 

Very contemporary

 

"It feels very contemporary. She is someone who is articulating this questioning of the idea that one does follow state and government without question. She encourages participation and demonstration and agitation. ... The play is sometimes thought of as a lament, a minor-key wind down, end-of empire, with an elegiac quality that is in line with Archie's decline. But what it feels like to us is much more of the usual and youthful Osborne theatrical grenades going off," Branagh said.

Cast members joining Branagh are Phil Dunster, Gawn Grainger, Jonah Hauer-King, Crispin Letts, Greta Scacchi and Sophie McShera, best known in Jamaica for her screen work, which includes roles as stepsister Drisella Tremaine in Kenneth Branagh's acclaimed film Cinderella, as well as kitchen maid Daisy Robinson in ITV's Downton Abbey.

The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's presentation of The Entertainer plays this Sunday, November 27, at 11:30 a.m. at Palace Cineplex. Tickets are on sale at the box office and via the web at www.palaceamusement.com with a Palace Card or any major credit card.