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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 to the screen twice: as a 1960 feature film directed by Tony Richardson, with Olivier reprising his role as Rice (gaining an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the process), and again as a 1976 Made-for-TV Movie that changes the setting to America and features Jack Lemmon in the lead.

Tropes Associated With this Play Include

  • Adaptational Sympathy: Archie's father is one of the more sympathetic characters in both the play and film, but the movie version removes the character's penchant for racial slurs and reactionary politics which, in the play, mark him as very much a product of his time.
  • The Alcoholic: Archie is rarely seen without a drink in his hand, and it's implied that this is one of the many reasons his career is flailing. His wife Phoebe is also an alcoholic.
  • The Determinator: Despite his dwindling audiences and the fact that every show he puts on not only fails to make a profit but puts him deeper in debt, Archie is absolutely driven to continue performing at any personal or financial cost (though he's particularly keen to make others bear the burden of those costs).
  • Downer Ending: Mick and Billy are dead, Phoebe and Frank are planning to emigrate to Canada at the invitation of Phoebe's brother, and Archie has run out of options to keep his professional career going and is almost certainly going to prison for tax evasion.
  • Foreshadowing: At first, it was thought that Mick was released after being taken by the Egyptian Army. The fact that he didn't come home when he was supposed to suggested that this wasn't the case and not all was well.
  • 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.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Archie's stage career is going nowhere fast. He seems to have a chance to put on a big show with the backing of his mistress's banker father, but that falls through when Billy (his father) informs the banker that Archie is married. Billy tries to make it right by using his name and connections to stage his own comeback show with Archie as a co-star, but winds up dying of a heart attack or stroke on stage from the stress and excitement.
    • Archie and the rest of the family are lead to believe (based on false reports) that Mick survived his capture by the Egyptian Army and was released to come home. We find out later that Mick was killed.
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Billy makes crude racial slurs, but he's a kind man who cares about his family and is often the voice of reason in his household.
    • Played with and partly averted in the case of Archie. He's selfish, venal, and irresponsible, and has few redeeming qualities. On the other hand, his bad qualities are due to immaturity rather than active malice.
  • Loser Protagonist: Archie in spades.
  • Manchild: Archie comes across as a middle aged man with the emotional maturity of a teenager.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Billy has the best intentions when he informs the family of the girl from the beauty pageant that Archie is married. He does so to try to save Archie and Phoebe's marriage. He winds up costing Archie financial backing for his next show.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Archie, again. It's implied he was never as big a star as he made himself out to be (established in the opening of the film, in which several holidaymakers walk past the theatre where he is performing and mutter that they have no idea who he is), 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.
  • Stylistic Suck: Archie's stage performances. There's a reason why his career is going nowhere.
  • 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.