Q&A with Shane Richie & Shane O'Connor, The Entertainer

2 August 2019

For the first time since its original premiere in 1957, John Osborne's classic has been given both a vibrant new setting and a exciting new direction thanks to Sean O'Connor holding the reigns. John Osborne 'proved to a generation of writers that it was possible to put contemporary Britain on stage' (The Guardian) and was known for his excoriating composition and intense stance towards established social and political norms. 

The Entertainer 'projects a vision of a contemporary Britain diminished from its days of self-confidence'(Britannica). At the forefront is a failing comedian, Archie Rice, played by Shane Richie. Osborne uses the decline of music-hall traditions as an analogy for the decline of a nation's vitality to have fun. 

The Entertainer is back on the stage with an exciting UK Tour kicking off at Curve Theatre, Leicester on the 27 August. I had the opportunity to catch up Shane Richie to find out more about his iconic character and from Sean O'Connor about recreating this classic play. 

Tell us a little bit about your character..
Shane: Archie Rice is a man whose just out of time. He's in his mid-50s and in the 60s he was a name to be recognised, he was on the verge of greatness. He would be doing all of those big shows alongside Forsythe at The Palladium. He also starred in his own show up in Blackpool in the 60s, he worked with Matt Monro, he could have gone to Vegas. 

But he had a child and through the 70s you know he was still there and then in the early 80s comedy changed overnight with the introduction of alternative comedy like French and Saunders. And for Archie Rice, a man still in his 50s is out of date and he is still holding on by his fingertips.

And that's what Archie Rice is. He's still doing his homophobic racist, sexist material. 


Have any of the characters you've played before got any similarities to Archie Rice?
Shane: No but funnily enough me and Shaun worked together, we did a reboot of Minder and I played a character called Archie Daley and there's definitely traces of characteristics there. 

Shaun: Yeah I think so. I mean he's always on the hoof and making things up. 

Shane: But apart from that no. I mean I played Scrooge a few years ago. He's a character who was loathed and detested, who hates everybody and actually Archie is very similar to that and you know at the end there is a redemption for Scrooge's character. I'm not sure there is redemption for Achie but certainly in The Entertainer you know there's a character that at the beginning the audience are not going to like but by the end they may still not like you but you'll understand who he is. I think that's what is so great about his character.

Shaun: I don't think it's about the characters you've played but rather who you've played with which is probably the most useful thing. Shane as a young performer worked with all of these old-style comedians who are now no longer with us and I think that's probably been very fruitful. 

Shane: My dad used to run working men's clubs in London and I'd see a lot of these comics. A lot of them that I saw were Archie Rice and he's that comic. Those who remember the early days of variety will certainly recognise Archie and there will be a whole audience that weren't even born then that will say oh my god did you really see performers like this?

What process did you have for creating this play?
Shane: Well we have this amazing classic from John Osborne and all we've done really is to reshape it from mid-50s to the early 80s. The 50s was a time when Britain was questioning its status on the international stage, which was happening in the early 80s and its happening now. You don't have to work very hard to see The Entertainer now as a metaphor for what's happening around us. Not that we have to mention it because it's sort of built into the DNA of the show.

With this show ours is a two-act play where as the original play was a three-act play. It's a shorter evening, we've moved some scenes around so that it feels more accessible. When you go to a show you should want more of it when it ends rather than less of it. They'll get fun, comedy, entertainment, tragedy and some cheesy 80s songs. 

The cast of The Entertainer (L-R Shane Richie, Pip Donaghy, Sara Crowe & Diana Vickers)
The Entertainer has a small cast, what are the challenges of this as both a performer and a director?
Shaun: I don't think it's a challenge - I think it's a delight that you've got a concentrated period with a small number of people. It's a drama about the future of this country, who we are and where we're going. It's always been about that, it's still about that, so that's great. But it's still a family drama. Most of it is set in a real sitting room in a rented flat. So I think there are huge advantages in trying to exploring that family dynamic which as a microcosm expresses the international situation we are in.

Shane: I mean as a actor having five people in the show is a delight because we all get to shine. We all have a voice. I mean although it is predominately about Archie Rice, it wouldn't work without the family and the family are the backbone to his story, we see through their relationship between one another. The audience will follow Archie's journey emotionally, spiritually and we'll come on that journey with him from the opening. You'll see why Archie is the way he is by the family dynamics. 

How long is it taking you to learn the lengthy script for Archie Rice?
Shane: This is possibly one of the toughest. It's a different process, you know something like a TV drama you remember your lines because they're disposable. Once you've said them, they're gone. In theatre you have to learn those lines and make them stick and it's a different part of the brain. I am struggling i'll admit it but we're in rehearsal. Shaun is always changing it but he's adapting it to a modern audience and so it's a case of keeping up with  him. 

We are still in the rehearsal period so we have time on our side and you know I've been busy until a couple of days ago so now I'm fully dedicated to Archie Rice. I'm digging out my tap shoes, i'm learning to balloon model again, I'm learning ventriloquism and I'm ticking all of those boxes that all of these old entertainers used to do back in the day. But I am really enjoying the entire process.  

Could this be one of your favourite roles to play and if so, why?
Shane: Yeah it's something I wanted to do for a long time myself and we spoke about this when we were working on Minder around 10 years ago! Fortunately I was too young at the time but we all said I would do it one day and now it's here. It's funny how a lot of actors have shyed away from it and I know why when you've got big shoes to fill, you know, Laurence Olivier, Bob Lindsey, Kenneth Branagh and Michael Gambon. There are some wonderful actors that have all put their spin on it but this is the first time that we are taking it out of it's original context from the 50s into the 80s. 

So it's an honour and a privilege to be putting my stamp on a brand-new Archie Rice for modern day. 

Have you seen any of those portrayals and do you think that's been beneficial in recreating Archie Rice in your way? 
Shane: I mean there's a part of me that wishes I have seen but I'm not sure why I would benefit from it because my Archie Rice is going to be nothing like Laurence Olivier because they were set in the 50s. It's a different style of this character. The only ones I can base it on are the comics and entertainers I've actually worked with so personal experiences are very much what have inspired me.

What is the best part of The Entertainer and why?
Shane: The journey, it's interesting and I look forward to bringing the audience with me because from the first moment we see and hear Archie it starts with that performance. It leaves you asking questions about him from that initial moment. I enjoy showing the relationship with my wife, my children, my father but the biggest and most damming relationship, the one with Archie and how the audiences will feel about me at the end. 

Shaun: It's having the privilege of reintroducing a genuine copper bottom classic to the audience as an accessible work of art rather than a set text. We have this genuinely appealing classic play which we are able to brand in our own way, it doesn't happen very often. If you're a fan of comedy you'll see how and why comedy changed quickly in 82. I think younger people who don't know the play and won't remember this era will learn a lot of things culturally by what their parents may have watched and laughed at. 

Why should people come and see The Entertainer?
Shane: It's really entertaining! 

Don't forget to see The Entertainer for yourself during the UK Tour. You can find out more about the play and where it'll be at a theatre near you here

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