Archie’s daughter Jean (Sophie McShera), a London-based art teacher, travels up to the seaside town to get respite from her fiance and the political unrest in London. Greeted by her grandfather Billy (Gawn Grainger) and Archie’s wife Phoebe (Greta Scacchi), Jean re-enters the tumultuous and tired lives of her family: Archie is seeking to marry a younger woman and her half-brother Frank (Jonah Hauer-King) is now out of jail after refusing conscription. As news of Jean’s step-brother Mick casts an increasingly dark shadow on the family, Archie plays his final role as the epitome of the middle-aged angry man of an ever-waning British empire.
Archie’s Music Hall routine is interspersed throughout the drama and set against the backdrop of Christopher Oram’s evocative but underused design: a once-brilliant theatre now tattered and weary. Branagh shines in the song and dance numbers, tapping away and tinting everything with irony, comedy, and even tragedy. Director Rob Ashford is obviously most comfortable in crisp choreography, adorning the stage with dynamic dancers and strong British imagery.
But by contrast the dramatic scenes are left static and slightly dulled. Only by the second act is the rhythm of the family drama found, and even Branagh almost has a hard time powering the long, dialogue-heavy scenes. The rest of the cast are commendable, but as Archie Rice dominates the family conversation, so too does Branagh dominate the stage.
A revival of Osborne’s The Entertainer feels timely, with questions of Britain’s national identity looming in the background: ‘Can you think of any reason for staying in this cosy corner of Europe?’ However, even with a formidable performance in Branagh’s return to the stage, The Entertainer ends up feeling like a thing of the past.
|What||The Entertainer, Garrick Theatre review|
|Where||Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0HH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
20 Aug 16 – 12 Nov 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £95|
|Website||Click here to book via Branagh Theatre|