Play review: The Entertainer - Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company

The Entertainer - Kenneth BranaghI am fortunate to live close to a Cineplex movie theatre which allows me to go to pretty much every special event or theatre play broadcast they do. I try to go to all of them (or 99% of them), regardless of whether I have heard of them or have seen them before. Most of the time I luck out and come home thoroughly impressed by acting, production, etc. I very rarely leave disappointed. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get this "meh" feeling, and, unfortunately, The Entertainer falls into this category. To to put it shortly, The Entertainer failed to entertain me. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun!) The Entertainer is a John Osborne play about a middle-aged man, Archie Rice, who is a musical-hall performer, but his career is a failure. He was married twice, had numerous affairs, and at the beginning of the play he lives in the house with his second wife Phoebe, his father Billy, and his younger son Frank. His daughter Jean comes to visit unexpectedly, following her quarrel with her fiancΓ© Graham who breaks an engagement with her because she went to a Trafalgar Square to join a protest. This family's get together and their quarrels are quickly overshadowed by the news of Mick, Archie's elder son, taken prisoner of war in Middle East. The play is set in 1960s in Britain, and is full of various references to "the old days". The broadcast opened with a short film about a young John Osborne (not the playwright) who was talking about THE John Osbourne (the playwright), which was somewhat funny but also confusing. The Entertainer is a production of Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, in which Kenneth stars as Archie Rice but doesn't direct it. The play is on stage at London's Garrick Theatre. The Entertainer is a three act play, however, this production split into two acts with one intermission. The scenes in the play switch between Rice's family living room and their bickering and the stage of a theatre where Archie performs. The transformation is quick and fluid with the characters often freezing after a punchline and the limelight suddenly illuminating Archie (and once Frank) who talks or sings or tap dances on the stage, surrounded by dancing girls. I found the transitions to be quite fascinating. However, when Archie was on the stage of an imaginary music-hall and was looking straight at the audience of Garrick Theatre, it felt as if Kenneth was basically breaking the fourth wall, while still being in character, and I found quite curious but also a bit annoying. He would react to laughs or comments from an imaginary audience and the discrepancy of the reaction of the actual audience at Garrick didn't seem funny at all. (I was in the audience of a cinema hall watching Kenneth as Archie on the stage of Garrick Theatre pretending to be on stage of a music-hall. It was a bit weird. Kenneth, undoubtedly, is an extremely skilled actor as he managed to bore me out of my wits by Archie's performance. Archie is mediocre, grumpy, angry at life. He had an affair with Phoebe when Jean was just born. He continues to have affairs with other girls while being married to Phoebe, and even plans to marry a young girl but his own father prevents it. He has been avoiding to pay taxes for 20 years and he consistently hides from creditors. He is dismissive of Phoebe, his father, not cordial with his daughter. He is a disappointment and acts like one. His character left me confused: are we supposed to sympathize with him, or despise him, or what? Throughout the play, I just wanted to shake him and tell him to get a grip. He was offered a very good option by Phoebe's brother's daughter to come to Canada (Toronto no less!) but he refuses to take it even though there is nothing for him in England. I loved the actor who played his father, Billy Rice. He was really on point, old and grumpy and grumbling about "old times". He had the funniest silences and face expressions. Jean and Phoebe were plain, boring, and predictable. Frank was nice too, however, I feel that I liked him only because he had a nice voice and reminded me of the lead actor in War Horse (National Theatre). Unfortunately, the plot of the play was overall way too predictable. I could tell where it was going miles off. And the ending was anti-climatic. The stage design and light were great. I loved how easily the stage transitioned between the house and the music hall. You can see how the stage incorporates the items of both. The music was great too, but the plot was just way too boring. I sat through the whole thing but to be honest I would not recommend it unless you are a fan of Kenneth Branagh or John Osborne's work or both. For me it was curious but nothing beyond that.

Personal rating: 3 stars

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