Reviewed by Matt Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
It’s often said that role of Archie Rice is a dream role for any actor; it’s an actor’s role, a role filled with pathos, a real rollercoaster of emotions. The likes of Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Lindsey and Michael Gambon have all played this iconic character, either on stage or screen, and now it’s the turn of one of the nation’s favourite song-and-dance men, Shane Richie.
The original production was set during the 1950’s in the shadow of the Suez crisis, however director Sean O’ Connor has shifted the action to 1982: Britain has just gone to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands and comic Archie Rice is working the club scene, with diminishing success. His act is a string of sexist gags and mother-in-law jokes, think a cross between Bernard Manning and David Brent and you’re on the right track. Rice is struggling to adapt to a changing world of alternative comedy and so-called political correctness.
As Rice’s routine is in the gutter, his home life isn’t fairing much better: he is unhappily married to his second wife, Phoebe (played tonight by Alice Osmanski), his father Billy (Pip Donaghy) holds some pretty extreme views about their neighbours and the state of the country, his daughter, Jean (Diana Vickers) has come back home after splitting with her fiancé, and finally his son Mick, has been captured whilst serving in the Falklands.
The majority of the action takes place in the Rice’s flat as the family bicker about the current state of the country, argue about Archie’s womanising, Phoebe’s desire to move Canada, and Jean’s moralistic view of the world, which strongly differs from that of her family. This is all done with the support of copious amounts of gin, as all of the family struggle with their own alcoholism. This is punctured with brief snapshots of Archie’s faltering act, some 1980’s bangers, and some genuine/fictious tabloid headlines of the day. As the Rice’s situation becomes more desperate, the already fractured family begins to come apart at the seams.
This is a challenging, gritty piece of work, there is a great deal to admire about the production. Despite being well over 60 years old, the themes Osbourne was addressing back then are just as relevant today. The setting of Thatcher’s Britain gives the production a gritty realism: the club spots and the scenes at the flat are quite grimy, so much so that you want to jump in the shower as soon as you get home.
The excellent performances are what make this production that little bit special. All five actors do a solid job throughout and it’s the dynamic between Shane Richie and Diana Vickers that is the real heartbeat of this production. Richie does a fantastic of job making you care about Archie. He knows his best days are behind him, he knows he’s made mistakes yet despite his many flaws, you cannot but help but want him to succeed, and it’s purely down to the strength of Richie’s performance: if you don’t have that connection then it doesn’t work.
In Diana Vickers you have the moral compass of the family, someone that has yet to be tainted by her environment, and someone who has a chance of making a difference, it’s the conflict between the two of them that drives the narrative along and it’s a credit to both actors that this works so well.
It is a tough watch and one that is short on laughter, unless you like your comedy uncomfortable and cringy, however this is a production that is certainly worth a watch and one that will split audiences and more importantly spark debate and that is always good in my book.
The Entertainer is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 2nd November. Tickets available here.