The Entertainer (play)

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Cover of 1957 edition of script, showing Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice Entertainer-olivier.jpg
Cover of 1957 edition of script, showing Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice

The Entertainer is a three-act play by John Osborne, first produced in 1957. His first play, Look Back in Anger , had attracted mixed notices but a great deal of publicity. [1] Having depicted an "angry young man" in the earlier play, Osborne wrote at Laurence Olivier's request [2] about an angry middle-aged man in The Entertainer. Its main character is Archie Rice, a failing music-hall performer. Years later, Richardson described Archie as "the embodiment of a national mood ... Archie was the future, the decline, the sourness, the ashes of old glory, where Britain was heading." [3] The first performance was given on 10 April 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre, London. That theatre was known for its commitment to new and nontraditional drama, and the inclusion of a West End star such as Olivier in the cast caused much interest. [4]



The play is in three acts, sub-divided into thirteen scenes. Some are set in the Rice family's house, and others show Archie Rice on stage at the music hall.

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3


Years later, in The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography, Richardson reflected on the role the play played in his life: “I couldn't have articulated it, having never been introspective...(but) The Entertainer was a key moment in my development, because all the ideas and convictions I was to work with afterward were crystallized in its making.” [3]

Writing for TCM, Felicia Feaster reports Richardson's memories of creating the play as well as the film: "The character of Archie Rice, which tapped into aspects of Larry's personality that he'd never used before, immediately obsessed him. He accepted the play before it was even finished." After rehearsals began, Richardson recalled, “His understanding of Archie was so complete that he could make anything work. He infected everyone with his enthusiasm.“

The original music for the play was composed by John Addison. [18] Melodies by Thomas Hastings ("Rock of Ages"), Arthur Sullivan ("Onward Christian Soldiers" and "The Absent-Minded Beggar"), and George Ware ("The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery") are also incorporated. [19]

Stage Productions

The original production at the Royal Court was directed by Tony Richardson, with décor by Alan Tagg. [20]

Original cast

The show transferred in September to the Palace Theatre in the West End, toured and returned to the Palace. [21] During the run Joan Plowright left the cast and was replaced by Geraldine McEwan. [21] Plowright rejoined the cast when the production opened in New York in February 1958. [22] In the same year, a touring production was presented in the British provinces, starring John Slater as Archie and Bobby Howes as Billy. [23]

London revivals have starred Max Wall (Greenwich Theatre, 1974); [24] Peter Bowles (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1986); [25] Robert Lindsay (Old Vic, 2007); [26] and Kenneth Branagh (Garrick Theatre, 2016). [27]

In August 2019, a new UK tour began at the Curve, Leicester, starring Shane Richie as Archie and directed by Sean O'Connor. In this production. the play was set in 1982, during the Falklands war. [28] The final performance took place at Richmond Theatre in London on 30 November 2019.


A 1960 film version was adapted by Nigel Kneale and John Osborne. It was directed by Tony Richardson and starred Laurence Olivier, Brenda De Banzie, Roger Livesey, Joan Plowright, Alan Bates, Daniel Massey, Thora Hird and Albert Finney. Olivier was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

On 10 March 1976, NBC broadcast a two-hour semi-musical version of the play, starring Jack Lemmon as Archie. The setting was changed to a seaside resort in the United States; Marvin Hamlisch wrote the music, Tim Rice (Sir Timothy, since 1994) provided the lyrics. [29] [30]

Michael Gambon starred in a production for the BBC broadcast on 4 December 1993. [31]

In November 2008, BBC Radio 7 broadcast a radio version, adapted by John Foley, featuring Bill Nighy as Archie, Cheryl Campbell as Phoebe, David Bradley as Billy, Sarah Jane Holm as Jean and Bertie Carvel as Frank.

Critical reception

Olivier played Archie to sellout crowds in London and New York, but as critic Janet Feaster observes, when it came to the film, critics were divided, and.”despite a remarkable performance, Olivier ultimately never achieved the stunning success and adoration with the cinematic version that he had enjoyed with the play.“ [3]

In The Observer , Kenneth Tynan wrote, "Mr Osborne has had the big and brilliant notion of putting the whole of contemporary England onto one and the same stage ... He chooses, as his national microcosm, a family of run-down vaudevillians. Grandad, stately and retired, represents Edwardian graciousness, for which Mr Osborne has a deeply submerged nostalgia. But the key figure is Dad, a fiftyish song-and-dance man reduced to appearing in twice-nightly nude revue." [32]

In April 1957, The Manchester Guardian was lukewarm, finding the climax of the play "banal" but added, "Sir Laurence brings to the wretched hero a wonderful sniggering pathos now and then and ultimately gives the little figure some tragic size. It is no great play but no bad evening either." [33]

The Times made no connection between the play and the condition of post-Imperial Britain, in its April 1957 review, regarding the play as almost "the sombre, modern equivalent of Pinero's Trelawny of the Wells ." [34] By the time of the 1974 revival, The Times was agreeing with Tynan: "Everyone remembers The Entertainer for its brilliant equation between Britain and a dilapidated old music hall", but added that the play is also "one of the best family plays in our repertory". [35]

In his August 2016 review of the production starring Branagh, Henry Hitchings observed: “As for Osborne’s play, it hasn’t aged all that well, with its flashes of misogyny now pretty hard to stomach. Yet it still has unsettling resonance as a portrait of Britain in decline.” [36]

See also


  1. Tynan pp. 41–42
  2. "Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain". 29 January 2010. 23 minutes in. BBC. BBC2.Missing or empty |series= (help)
  3. 1 2 3 "The Entertainer (1960) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  4. e.g. The Daily Express , 10 April 1957, p. 4
  5. Osborne, pp. 11–23
  6. Osborne, pp. 23–25
  7. Osborne, pp. 25–31
  8. Osborne, pp. 31–33
  9. Osborne, pp. 33–42
  10. Osborne, pp. 43–59
  11. Osborne, pp. 59–61
  12. Osborne, pp. 61–73
  13. Osborne, p. 74
  14. Osborne, pp. 74–82
  15. Osborne, p. 83
  16. Osborne, pp. 83–85
  17. Osborne, pp. 86–89
  18. Tynan, p. 50
  19. Osborne, pp. 13, 41, and 64–65
  20. Osborne, p. 10
  21. 1 2 "Mr. Ian Carmichael in New Play", The Times 25 November 1957, p. 3
  22. Atkinson, Brooks. "Theatre: Olivier in 'The Entertainer'; John Osborne Play Opens at Royale", The New York Times , 13 February 1958, p. 22
  23. "The Entertainer without Olivier", The Manchester Guardian, 29 July 1958, p. 5
  24. Ellis, Samantha, The Guardian, 5 November 2003;
  25. The Guardian, 7 June 1986, p. 12
  26. Koenig, Rhoda: "Osborne's 'The Entertainer' gets West End revival", The Independent , 1 March 2007
  27. The Entertainer, London Theatre Direct. Accessed: 20 April 2015
  28. "Shane Richie to star in John Osborne's The Entertainer | WhatsOnStage". Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  29. "Entertainer, The (1976) - Misc Notes -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  30. "Entertainer, The (1976) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  31. "Performance: The Entertainer". The Radio Times (3648). 2 December 1993. p. 64. ISSN   0033-8060 . Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  32. Tynan, p. 49
  33. Hope-Wallace, Philip, The Manchester Guardian, 11 April 1957, p. 5
  34. The Times, 11 April 1957; p. 3
  35. Wardle, Irving, "Classic reading of Archie Rice", The Times, 3 December 1974
  36. "The Entertainer: Kenneth Branagh gives Archie Rice dandyish confidence". Evening Standard. 31 August 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2020.

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