BBC Radio 7, 5 December 2009
Let's get the preliminaries out of the way first: Bill Nighy seemed to
me an ideal Archie Rice - a washed-up comic with a sardonic outlook on life and a voice redolent of displeasure and lost opportunity.
Even his jokes seemed half-hearted: although desperately trying to keep uncomfortable reality at bay by inventing stories
for his family, he eventually gave up the unequal task. The play's famous final line ("Let me know and I'll come and see you!")
addressed directly to listeners, chiding them for their indifference and complacency, represnted the outcome: Nighy's Archie
eventually gave up on everything - his life and his trade.
Marian Nancarrow's production also captured the seedy atmosphere of the late 1950s
music-hall - a dying world of bad jokes, funny turns and static nudes designed to titillate audiences more accustomed to the
world of television. Archie's jokes were greeted with nary a titter from the few who could be bothered to come to his seaside
show; some voiced their frustrations by shouting back at him, which only served to increase Archie's cynicism.
Having listened to this production, however, I am not sure whether The
Entertainer is a very good play. Archie is basically misogynist - someone who can neither stand his wife Phoebe (Cheryl
Campbell) nor communicate with his daughter Jean (Sarah Jane Holm). He is much more at home in the aggressively masculine
world of the Dress Circle bar, where he can tell dirty jokes and enjoy the occasional casual pick-up, His father Billy (David
Bradley) is much the same, perpetually complaining that late 1950s Britain is "not what is used to be" yet still expecting
the women in his family to wait on him hand and foot. Archie's criticisms of contemporary life seem like self-pity
- the outpourings of a has-been (or a never-was) with no clue as to how to improve himself. He comes across as a thoroughly
dislikeable character, acting in a ramshackle play which wastes no opportunity to reinforce the laboured (and
rather obvious) connection between the dying music-hall and Britain's political decline in the post-Suez period. By the
end of the play, I wished that the author (through Jimmy) would just shut up.