You can expect a new section here on the blog from now on called “Starperformances”. It will be a more focused review of, in my opinion, the star of each performance I see.
If I was to sum up Robert Lindsay with one sentence it would be that he executes a perfectly elegant balance between comedy and drama. In “The Entertainer” he’s playing a third-rate music-hall entertainer, and even though singing and dancing is something Robert isn’t a stranger to, he has said that “The problem with playing Archie Rice is that he’s rather third-rate and I always hoped I was better than that.” He also added that once someone in the audience had got rather involved in the forever descending quality of his act, shouting at him, “Oh, say something funny, please!”
When I saw him in “The Entertainer” I found myself giggling guiltily at his rather bad jokes and convulsive chattering that were seemingly endless without any kind of punctuation or breaks. It’s rather clear that he’s dying on the stage – and he knows it. However, it appears that he does-not-care. Robert has the look of desperation on his face, like he’s dying to say something that’s actually funny – though there are some good one-liners thrown in – and you can practically see the ghost of his successful father poking fun at him all the while he’s performing.
Robert Lindsay does bad comedy very well, it has to be said. You can tell that the man can move better than what he does in Archie’s entertainment act in “The Entertainer”. Archie does know how to move his little bowler hat and swing his cane, but as soon as he opens his mouth and endless sentences with not-that-funny stuff rolls out you can’t help but wonder why it’s so important to him to be an entertainer. Maybe it is to show his father that he can do it. Maybe he can’t do anything else. Maybe he doesn’t care.
His family life is rather depressing, though Archie is amusing himself by picking on his wife. He doesn’t care that he cheats on her in the same house, that he upsets her, that he gives her more of a hard time than she deserves. Even though Archie could have been a highly unlikeable character, there’s something in Robert Lindsay’s portrayal of this man – that appears to fancy himself as a bit of a sadist – that makes you want to know why. It also makes you feel for him.
“I do try and care about the characters I play,” Robert has said. “With Archie I had trouble caring about him and Pam Ferris said I had to find something I liked about him, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to play him so long.” When asked if he had succeeded in finding something likeable about him, he said yes. What that was remains unsaid, but whatever it is, it comes out in the way Robert Lindsay plays this battered, non-caring, selfish Entertainer that is scarred by his past and almost appears to want to go downhill – maybe because he thinks that’s all he deserves.