Interview by Chris Wiegand
9 May, 2016
You’re playing music-hall performer Archie Rice in a revival of John Osborne’s The Entertainer. Can you talk through the look for your character (seen, below, for the first time)?
The play is being directed by Rob Ashford, with whom I’ve now collaborated three times, and he comes from a choreographic background. He wanted me to very much concentrate on Archie as a hoofer, not to feel that he was someone who regarded himself as being on the skids. The problem for Archie is not, in Rob’s view, so much that he is troubled about the possibility that his career and talent are second-rate, but he is terrified that his soul might be. What Rob wanted to see was a sort of theatrical grafter, a hoofer, so we maybe see more of the sacrifices Archie has to go through in order just to get on – or even be as good as he hopes will keep an audience’s attention. I think there may be just a little more dancing, more of that backstage graft and a sense of the sweat on the guy than people may be expecting.
The role was first played by Laurence Olivier, who famously sported a bowler hat and a bow tie and so on …
We’re trying to get away from very strong images like that. What goes with that image is this sense of the play as a certain kind of classic with maybe a few cobwebs around it … But you could argue that this is perhaps a more revolutionary play than, say, Look Back in Anger. And I think it gives voice to what you might call the angry young woman in [Archie’s daughter] Jean Rice. I’m trying to come at it from a different kind of place. Despite Archie being at the centre of things, there’s a youthful fire in the play. It gives the greatest kind of pragmatism and idealism and intelligence to the women of the play, not just Jean Rice – who is in many ways the voice of the call to arms in the play for political engagement. It feels very contemporary. She is someone who is articulating this questioning of the idea that one does follow state and government without question. She encourages participation and demonstration and agitation. … The play is sometimes thought of as a lament, a minor-key wind-down, end-of empire, with an elegiac quality that is in line with Archie’s decline. But what it feels like to us is much more of the usual and youthful Osborne theatrical grenades going off.
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The Entertainer is at the Garrick theatre, London, from 20 August to 12 November, with a worldwide cinema broadcast on 27 October. Romeo and Juliet is at the Garrick theatre from 12 May to 13 August, with a cinema broadcast on 7 July