Sun, 15th March

The Entertainer: A Review

Text by: 

Timo Marchant

Photo by: 
Mermaids Performing Arts Fund

Constantly vacillating between comedy and drama, laughter, anger, and tears, Harry Ledgerwood’s production of The Entertainer successfully captured the dysfunctional nature of the Rice family within the broader context of a Britain in decline. The audience enters to the sound of retro jazz music and looks down on the weathered wooden furniture adorning the stage – a useful indicator of the historicised setting of the play.

After a shouty altercation between old Billy Rice and his foreign neighbours (immediately introducing themes of conflict and discrimination), the story properly gets going with Jean Rice’s visit to the family home. The rest of the play alternates between domestic scenes, involving ungodly alcohol consumption, frequent mood swings and more than a little misogyny, and the music hall stage, where Archie Rice delivers his monologues, atrocious jokes and charismatic musical numbers. Despite not appearing in person, a key figure in the play is Mike Rice, Archie’s son, who is at the core of many of the family’s conversations, and whose death in the second act makes the mood turn sour and darkens the play’s tone.

The links between the domestic microcosm and the British context are heavily referenced by the jingoistic content of Archie’s lyrics (“Salt of Our Dear Old Country”), as well as by the clever costuming choice of giving Seth Faber a Union Jack patterned bowtie. In terms of pacing, the play flowed relatively smoothly, though some of the domestic scenes could have done with slightly snappier dialogue. This was remedied to a certain extent by the burst of energy supplied by Archie’s music hall interludes, beautifully accompanied by Andrew Cowie on the keyboard, which served to sharpen the audience’s attention. Georgia Davidson must be given great credit for her creative and humoristic choreographies which contributed to making these interludes stand out.

The performances were generally very strong. Nanda Saravanan’ s portrayal of Billy Rice managed to convey the right amount of gruffness, his deep shouty bursts tempered by stretches of morose silence. Jean Rice was given an effective character arc by Ellie McKay. She skilfully evoked Jean’s gathering disillusionment culminating in an explosion of outrage in the face of her father’s behaviour. Fiona McNevin played Phoebe Rice’s long-suffering devotion to her husband to perfection, while Corby’s wide-eyed, youthful portrayal of Frank Rice brought a freshness to the second act.

The most impressive performance, however, was delivered by Elliot Seth Faber as Archie Rice. His playful use of accents and mimicry, whether on stage in the music hall or in the family home, were highly entertaining and skilfully executed. Charismatic in his manner and energetic in his delivery, he managed to convey his many rambling monologues with clarity and just the right amount of self-deprecating irony. Seth Faber’s confident vocals and dance moves during the musical numbers were crucial contributors to his convincing performance. If one criticism had to be made, it would be that the nihilistic, dead-behind-the-eyes man he reveals himself to be at the end of the play could have been foregrounded a little more effectively.

Overall, The Entertainer was a powerful performance, with skilful acting, entertaining musical numbers (delivering on the promise of the title), and troubling themes of casual misogyny and jingoism giving plenty of food for thought.

'The Entertainer' was performed at The Barron Theatre, St Andrews from the 12-13th March 2020.