Theatre review - The Entertainer, Manchester Opera House

Shane Richie as Archie Rice in The Entertainer at Manchester Opera House. Picture: Helen Murray

Shane Richie as Archie Rice in The Entertainer at Manchester Opera House. Picture: Helen Murray - Credit: Archant

One of the great plays of the 20th century gets a wash and brush-up in what it would be fair to call an adaptation by director Sean O’Connor.

The production shifts the original setting of John Osborne's play 30 years forward in time, from events around the Suez Crisis of the 1950s, to the remarkably similar ones concerning the Falklands War of the 1980s.

As the programme notes, The Entertainer deals "with political crisis, cultural change and decay, and personal failure" so it might not be too long before someone overlays it all on even more contemporary times.

Archie Rice, played here with the preternatural Cheeky Chappie skills of Shane Richie, is the faded variety theatre comedian whose tattered stage act is reflected in his dismal domestic life. The play veers between his tortured on-stage performances and his troubled homecomings - one where the Rice family apparently enjoy an almost Hogarthian dependence on gin . . .

Richie is especially adept at playing the scenes front of curtain and the production also points up how comic sensibilities changed in that same 30-year period. Archie's act after all is one about to be swept away on the tide of 'alternative comedy'. His gags provoke genuinely uncomfortable laughter; some make you grit your teeth. Adopting a Billy Dainty-style physicality, as well as an apparent addiction to Double Diamond, draw recognition from an audience whose average age suggests familiarity with the original play.

But the Rice family's rigours are a metaphor for the State of the Nation and this rather gets lost amidst a hurried delivery, especially in the sitting room scenes. Some of the updates to Archie's on-stage musical interludes are also not quite as effective as the originals.

John Osborne, who gave the world Angry Young Men in his earlier work Look Back In Anger, also created an Angry Young Woman - almost in passing - for the role of Archie's daughter Jean. Diana Vickers' performance is equal to the task and it is her duelling with dad that enlivens the second act.

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The Entertainer is here until Saturday 2nd November