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article imageReview: Kenneth Branagh shines in The Entertainer Special

By Tim Sandle     Aug 27, 2016 in Entertainment
London - The first season of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company at the Garrick Theatre is closing with John Osborne’s modern classic 'The Entertainer.' It is a powerful piece of theatre.
Over the past year, working in collaboration with various artistic associates, actor-director Sir Kenneth Branagh has been presenting five plays that bring together a remarkable group of actors, including Rob Brydon, Judi Dench, Lily James and Richard Madden. The season is drawing to a close and the final production is the poignant play The Entertainer.
Theatre ticket for  The Entertainer.
Theatre ticket for 'The Entertainer.'
The Entertainer was written by the actor-turned-playwright John Osborne in 1957, with the drama being set a year earlier. The play is set against the backdrop of post-war Britain and it conjures the seedy glamour of the old music halls, and set this against the backdrop of the decline of the British Empire, to examine public masks and private torment within a tormented family. Branagh superbly plays the lead role of Archie Rice.
The new version of the play is performed at the Garrick Theatre, one of London's best playhouses. The theatre opened in 1889. The interior retains many of its original features, and was Grade II listed by English Heritage in September 1960 (meaning that the building cannot be demolished).
A photograph of Kenneth Branagh in  The Entertainer   taken from the theatre bill.
A photograph of Kenneth Branagh in 'The Entertainer', taken from the theatre bill.
Brangah's part is that of a pathetic middle-aged vaudevillian clinging to the dying tradition of music hall which is failing to compete with cinema and television (and carries a pre-war dated feel). The character Archie spurns help from his rich brother and fails to see the signals indicating the future direction of society from his daughter. The character Jean Rice questions the idea that one does follow state and government without questioning motives at all.
The play takes place at the time of the Suez crisis, a pivotal point when the U.K. lost the backing of the U.S. over its claims to the Middle East and this accelerated the loss of British colonies and the ultimate decline of the British Empire. A strong parallel is drawn with the fall of the music fall.
The audience at the Garrick Theatre taking their seat prior to  The Entertainer  beginning.
The audience at the Garrick Theatre taking their seat prior to 'The Entertainer' beginning.
The play is mostly straight acting, although there are musical interludes as Branagah's character leaves the tense family home and performs his music and comedy act to dwindling audiences. The performances become more erratic and increasingly pathetic as the play progresses.
The cast of the August 2016 staging of  The Entertainer.
The cast of the August 2016 staging of 'The Entertainer.'
In addition, the personal struggles of each of the family members - grandfather, put-upon-wife, son, daughter, brother and other son missing in action personifies the turmoil of a weakened British society fighting for its place in a rapidly changing world. There are, of course, parts that resonate today in post-Brexit U.K., a country with a proud past, a wobbling present, and an uncertain future.
Throughout the play Branagh shines. He is undoubtedly one of British theatre's (and film's) greatest exports. He is a five time Oscar nominee and Shakespearean stalwart. These skills are brought to the fore.
A picture of the bar in the stalls area of the Garrick Theatre in London.
A picture of the bar in the stalls area of the Garrick Theatre in London.
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