Thursday, April 26, 2007

Decline and Fall (The Entertainer - The Old Vic)

Following Friday night's trip to see Zoe Wanermaker at the National last night the Girl and I ventured down the road to the Old Vic to see her My Family co-star Robert Lindsay at the Old Vic. Lindsay is currently giving his version of Archie Rice, the fading music hall 'star' made famous by Lawrence Olivier, in the Old Vic's 50th anniversary revival of The Entertainer, Joe Orton's follow up to the mould breaking Look Back in Anger.

This production left me with very mixed feelings. One the hand after a slow first act it builds to an almost heartbreaking conclusion as Archie after years of raging against the dying of the (spot)light finally finds himself washed up and forced to leave the stage. Robert Lindsay is very strong as the showman who despite his smile and constant banter is dead inside. He makes you care about man who it would be easy to hate by showing that underneath the forced smile he hates himself more then you ever could.

But despite Lindsay's performance, and some competent if not sparkling support from the rest of the company, I feel an opportunity has been missed. If ever a play was worthy of an updating this is it. The parallels between its backdrop of the disaster in Suez and its attendant rise in political cynicism and the modern day are striking. But the music hall which in the late 50s was still on its last legs is now only a distant memory, making it difficult for the modern audience (like myself) to relate to one of the key themes of the play. And some of Orton's text although mould braking in its style and targets back then, now sounds rather clunky and tame. Jean's attack on the Monarchy, which so shocked Olivier he insisted it be cut when the original production transferred onto the West End, hardly causes a ripple these days.

So I wouldn't kill your granny to get tickets but you could do worse.


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