The Entertainer Background

The Entertainer Background

The Entertainer is a stage play by John James Osborne. An actor and playwright, he attracted relatively little wealth or fame for his stage skills but became famous almost overnight for his 1956 play Look Back in Anger, which accurately captured the sentiments of post-war Britons. The play is credited for transforming British theater by introducing edgy, realistic material. This gritty "realist" approach, with its intense emotional appeal, helped create new interest in live performance, which was gradually dying out with the fading popularity of the music-halls and the increasing emphasis on radio and television. British theater needed a boost: people had already seen everything Shakespeare and the other classical writers had produced that was worth seeing, and bedroom farces, while amusing, really weren't holding the public interest. Look Back in Anger tapped into the barely suppressed British hostilities surrounding the economy, class, changing social roles, and other trends that had left a generation of people feeling increasingly disenfranchised. The play therefore made John Osborne a wealthy and influential playwright, and created a lot of interest in The Entertainer, first performed in 1957.

The Entertainer focuses on the Rice family, particularly the middle-aged Archie Rice who is experiencing the gradual decline of music-hall entertainment along with his fading personal fortunes. Unable to adapt to the new rock-and-roll way of doing things, Rice is a tragic character who adopts increasingly dishonest tactics in order for his productions to survive. The decline of the music-hall and the rise of other forms of entertainment are an allegory for the waning British global influence as experienced in the Suez Canal crisis.

Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the most famous stage and film actors, initially wanted to play the aging Billy Rice but changed his mind and decided to play Archie instead: instead of the angry young man of Look Back in Anger, this play features an angry middle-aged man. Olivier also appears in the 1960 film version.

The play is in three acts comprising a total of thirteen scenes. Most take place in the Rice family home or on stage at Archie Rice's struggling music-hall, however there is one scene containing a funeral procession. Stage directions are very basic and focus chiefly on the setting and the character descriptions. Of the seven speaking parts, all but one character is a member of the Rice family. Archie Rice has an elderly father named Billy, and wife named Phoebe, and three children: Jean, Frank, and Mick (who does not appear onstage). Frank and Mick are Phoebe's children but Jean is not. Archie's brother Bill appears near the end of the play, as does Jean's former fiance Graham. Stage directions call for other performers, chiefly female, but they are not in speaking roles.

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