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Sean O’Connor, Director of our Made at Curve production of The Entertainer, discusses the show’s title role and the enduring relevance of Osborne’s play.
Curve’s production of The Entertainer was a long time coming.
Shane Richie and I discussed it about 15 years ago when we were working on a TV show together. Shane is a very inventive clown – a legacy of his early days as a Bluecoat at a Pontin’s Holiday Camp. He knows – from painful experience – what it’s like to perform to an audience that is completely indifferent. He’s one of the very last of the old school. So Archie Rice seemed like the perfect fit for him as a character. But it’s only in rehearsal that it became evident just how authentic Shane’s performance would become. Shane’s dad, it turned out, used to run working men’s social clubs in London. Shane had even opened the bill for the likes of Bernard Manning. So lots of Shane’s memories about him witnessing from the wings as a boy the long, slow death of once famous comedians became part of our show. We even added some of their old gags to Archie’s act. And they still got laughs from some – and exasperated sighs from others. Such are the changing politics of comedy in an era when language itself is a battle ground.
At the same time, the setting for our production- the Falklands War of 1982, rather than the Suez Crisis of 1956, enabled us to explore what Britain was and what it had been. All of this, with extraordinary timing, took place in the wake of Brexit. What was being discussed on stage in the play was riddled with extra relevance as the various debates continued in the daily papers around us.
It’s a difficult, challenging play, The Entertainer. But it was amazing to feel that audiences were still appalled as well as moved by Archie Rice – a character they’d probably never buy a drink for – and that Osborne’s perceptive genius still glows. And ultimately that the title role still offers an extraordinary opportunity for an actor who has real guts to shine.