Review: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's THE ENTERTAINER at the Garrick (Live Screening)

I love a play that simply looks at the inner workings of the human condition through normal human conversation and that's why I love John Osborne so much; Look Back in Anger is undeniably one of the greatest and most iconic plays ever written and The Entertainer's legacy isn't far behind, but there was something about this new production starring Kenneth Branagh that I simply didn't fall for.

I don't know if it's because the piece itself doesn't support it, but I just didn't find myself feeling for any of the characters. Perhaps that is the point: a lot of plays do tend to portray characters that you're not meant to like. But I'm sure we can all agree that it's very hard to sustain interest in a play when you literally feel nothing for any of the characters whatsoever, not even hatred. Not once did Archie Rice leave me feeling like I should give him sympathy for being a complete idiot, nor did I even feel like I should be rooting for Jean Rice to find some sort of happiness. These characters didn't do anything for me whatsoever and it left me feeling slightly empty throughout and - at times - totally bored.

Kenneth Branagh, Greta Scacchi and Gawn Grainger in The Entertainer

I'm not sure if that's at fault with John Osborne's masterpiece though because I actually do feel like it's a very well written and enjoyable piece of theatre. When you listen to the language, you can hear how well constructed it is as a piece, despite the fact that it does feel dated as opposed to vintage. I think one thing that's at fault in this production is Lucy Bevan's casting decisions in some of the roles. In all honesty, I did not find Kenneth Branagh enjoyable as Archie Rice, but it's a feeling that I had with him through a few of the shows he's put on and starred in this year. I think it was a bad move to put himself at the forefront of almost all of the plays in his own season, because a few of the performances (in my opinion) have completely lacked the wow-factor that he usually provides. His portrayal of Archie Rice feels bland and spontaneous at times and despite his best efforts to make the character seem natural with his frequent stumbling over his lines, it just left me feeling bored.

I also felt the same way for Jonah Hauer-King's performance as Frank Rice. His character had the ability to really mix up the vibe on stage a bit, but the direction of his performance was so underwhelming that I totally forget he was even on stage when he wasn't talking. The piece is very static and these massive half-an-hour-long scenes are in real time so there has to be change of pace at some point throughout the play and the performances seriously lacked that. Perhaps the only person who managed to master that enough for me was Greta Scacchi as Phoebe Rice. Her character's spiral in and out of control over the situation kept me fixated on her throughout and despite the fact I didn't like her as a character, I still loved it every time Scacchi had something new to say.

Kenneth Branagh as Archie Rice in John Osborne's The Entertainer

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on the actors though as of course, their performances aren't entirely their fault because they aren't bad actors by any stretch of the imagination. Rob Ashford's direction is perhaps more to blame: he fails to turn this intimate and stagnant piece into the full-scale grand revival that he seemingly promised to deliver and it's clear in most elements of the show. Christopher Oram - as per usual - does a fantastic job in designing the retired music hall and the gorgeous costumes that everyone wears, providing a vision that I constantly wished the show could match. The performances that Ashford directed were shrunk down massively in juxtaposition to the set and when it's a play being performed in such a big West End house, it's obvious and disappointing.

Look: The Entertainer isn't terrible by any degree, but it most certainly isn't on par with the likes of Red Velvet and Romeo and Juliet from earlier on in the season. It does a good job in giving Branagh a farewell send off after his very successful year at the Garrick, but it's not worth writing home about when it comes to the play's overall presentation.

The Entertainer plays at the Garrick Theatre through November 12th. Tickets available here.

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