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Theatre / The Entertainer

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"You see this face? This face can split open with warmth and humanity. It can sing, tell the worst, un-funniest stories in the world to a great mob of dead, drab irks. And it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because look, look in my eyes. I'm dead behind these eyes. I'm dead, just like the whole, dumb, shoddy lot out there"
Archie Rice

The Entertainer is a play by John Osborne, first produced in London in 1957.

The play follows Archie Rice, a middle-aged British music hall performer whose life and career seem to be falling apart. With his youngest son fighting in Egypt, his daughter visiting from London, and his aging father (himself a retired song-and-dance man) overshadowing him, Rice struggles in increasing desperation to revive his career in a word that appears to be passing him by.

The original run of the show starred Laurence Olivier, for whom the show was written. It was a triumph for the actor, gaining him a new generation of fans and proving he was still relevant as an actor in more modern drama as opposed to the classics that had made him a star. Later revivals of the show have starred such actors as Max Wall, Peter Bowles, Robert Lindsay, and Kenneth Branagh.


The play has been adapted into film twice: first in 1960 with Olivier reprising his role as Rice (gaining an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the process) and again in 1974 in an American-set TV movie starring Jack Lemmon as Archie.

Tropes Associated With this Play Include

  • The Alcoholic: Archie is rarely seen without a drink in his hand, and it's implied that this is one of the reasons his career is flailing.
  • Giftedly Bad: Particularly in the 1960 film, Olivier plays Archie as a subpar jokester who is openly heckled by his audiences.
  • Gold Digger: Archie starts sleeping with his latest girlfriend in part because he wants her rich family to finance his newest show.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: Archie brags that he hasn't paid income tax in 20 years, partly because all of his shows are financed in his wife's name. However when he starts paying for his newest show himself and loses his financial backing the tax collectors catch up with him and he risks being sent to debtor's jail.
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  • Small Name, Big Ego: Archie, again. It's implied he was never as big a star as he made himself out to be, and has largely existed in the shadow of his father, who was a beloved performer before his retirement.
  • Spanner in the Works: Archie's father ruins his chance of financing a new show by revealing to his girlfriend's family that he is already married.
  • Stepford Smiler: See the page quote. On some level, Archie knows his material is awful but keeps at it because there's nothing else for him to do.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The use of the fall of the British vaudeville scene in parallel to the British empire's fracture through the Suez Canal incident was a novel dramatic device in the 1950s, but as neither element is as relevant to modern audiences it can be difficult to stage a new production of the show.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Archie is a rare male example; a self-centered vaudevillian who desperately wants to reclaim the fame he may or may not have ever really had.


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