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Category Archives: Pam Ferris

"The Entertainer" Q&A with Robert Lindsay, Pam Ferris and Sean Holmes

10th of April, 50 years to the day when “The Entertainer” opened at the Royal Court, starring Lawrence Olivier. The Old Vic marked this anniversary by inviting the audience to participate in a Q&A with Robert Lindsay, Pam Ferris and director Sean Holmes. It was chaired by Michael Coveney.

One complimentary glass of red Mouton Cadet wine later, we all swarmed into the theatre, scattering ourselves around the – mainly – front of the stage, everyone pretty much wondering who would sit down in the “RESERVED” seat to the left of the stage, halfway back. Your mind is bending. Who could it be? Kevin Spacey making a surprise visit back from NY to be there for the anniversary of this John Osborne play? Peter O’Toole looking for a way to deliver constructive criticism to the cast? A journalist whose arse needs special greasing before the next production?

Mind you, it was none of the above. Maybe it was reserved for the spirit of Osborne himself. Whether it was someone getting a seat and deciding not to show up or being occupied by the spirit of a great American playwright, the chair remained empty.

Of course, my decision to not sit up front and rest my feet on the stage proved to be a bad idea. I was hoping to be able to use my voice-recorder and report back from the hour-long session, but as it turns out there was slight trouble with projecting voices beyond the first few rows. (At this point you’re probably thinking I have a hearing problem for mentioning projecting before when I was practically hanging from the chandelier at the National Theatre – but if I have trouble hearing, so does my ultra-sensitive voice-recorder.)

As a result of this, I got nothing. Well, except what I remember 18 hours later.

They started off asking Robert Lindsay if he felt intimidated by the fact that he would, as far as many are concerned, be filling Lawrence Olivier’s shoes. Also, the old story about Larry giving Robert Lindsay his blessing to do this role. Robert said he had “certainly not given his blessing” but that he said it was a fantastic part to play. Robert said Olivier had come to see his play (“Me and my Girl”?) twice, at a point where he was very ill and had a nurse with him, but that he had very much enjoyed the performance and given Robert a piece of advice; “Try flipping a sugar cube with a spoon into your hat.” He had tried and had gotten a standing ovation. 😉

Pam Ferris went onto talking about her first acting experience at the age of 13 in New Zealand, the move down under caused by her sister starting a family there and driving their mother nuts by not bringing the grandchildren to the UK, and forty years later she’s still doing it. Though she obviously, at some point, made the move back. She said – when asked if they compared themselves to the ‘original cast’ – that she was against doing it. She reads reviews, and wants to know what people think, but she won’t base her performance on what someone else thinks or someone else did before.

Sean Holmes was asked later if he had considered “updating” the play, as far as 1956 war references were concerned. He was adamant that the play was still current considering a son was taken capture in “The Entertainer” – drawing a parallel to the recent situation with British soldiers being held in Iran. He mentioned an example of another play this had happened with during the outbreak of the Iraq war. They had decided to put the play on a year in advance, and suddenly it was current again with a recent incident.

The biggest laugh of the evening came when Robert Lindsay was asked about who he enjoyed playing the most, Archie Rice or Tony Blair. Especially when he said, when asked who he liked the most, “Oh, Archie Rice, definitely!” Robert was telling us about how he’s terrified of doing the music-hall sequences every night, because every time something new happens in the audience. He has to reply in character (“or not as the case may be”) and again I’m sure he was referring to comments like, “I know where you live!” that was freaking him out on the first preview night. He said that he had been lucky enough to have a bunch of non-theatre-goers from where he grew up come see the play. Some of the younger members had been very moved by the play, obviously connecting to the mental abuse that’s going on, and added dryly, “Oh, and we got a 50-people standing ovation at the end.”

Someone from the audience rounded off by saying he saw the original “The Entertainer” at the Royal Court 50 years ago and had never forgotten how Lawrence Olivier had been such a prominent character that made everyone else fade. It made me excessively curious how this production would compare, a question that Robert Lindsay had already answered in part when he said one of Osborne’s friends had come see the play, and said it was a production he would have loved.

Well, after hearing that, nothing else matters.

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The Entertainer, Old Vic – Review

THE PLAY
You know that sometimes you notice in the programme that a play is going to last nearly three hours, and it makes you worry if you’ll survive – because a lot of plays don’t get going until the second half? Well, “The Entertainer” at the Old Vic Theatre is not one of those plays. In fact, as soon as Billy Rice (John Normington) entered the stage, singing and talking to himself in a hilariously sarcastic manner, I got the feeling I was really going to enjoy myself over the next few hours. I wasn’t wrong.

I’ve watched “My Family” on and off for years. I remember watching “The Darling Buds of May” every Saturday for the longest time when I was a kid. Seeing Robert Lindsay and Pam Ferris playing Archie and Phoebe Rice was a delight. Pam Ferris as Archie’s alcoholic wife Phoebe, dealing with her husband’s shameless cheating and her father-in-law’s constant sarcastic discontent makes you feel for her over and over. She’s always the centre of Archie’s (bad) jokes when he’s dying on the stage in front of forever decreasing audiences – as well as having not-so-subtle digs at her at home.

Archie practically lives off his father’s reputation – for being the last great musichall entertainers – and hasn’t had any major success in all the years he’s been an entertainer. The only thing he’s achieved is debt, sarcasm, deep-rooted cynicism and being self-proclaimed “dead behind these eyes”. He appears to behave the way he does with his wife because he still feels guilty after his first wife caught him in bed with Phoebe and died shortly after.

Doing a bad comedy act in a convincing manner with zero irony takes a man confident in his own ability. Robert Lindsay had us all in stitches as he did one bad and inappropriate joke after another, following a number of dodgy self-penned songs with added dance-routines and juggling Laurence Olivier’s cane. Yet, even though he claimed to feel nothing and care about nothing – it’s clear that he does. There’s something in his eyes, something that comes out towards the end of the play, that gives you the idea that maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

John Normington as Archie’s father made me giggle from his perfect sarcastic timing alone. He delivered his spewing, understated lines in such a delightful manner that I looked forward to every single one. David Dawson as Archie and Phoebe’s son Frank was trying to make peace when things got out of hand, lending his singing voice to distract the others from the burning issues, but not even he manages to keep his frustration under wraps when it all boils down to it.

Emma Cunniffe as Archie’s daughter Jean, by his first wife, started out telling her family that she was just taking a weekend out of the city to visit them. It soon enough became clear that she had been suffering for having a brain and wanting to have a career on her own instead of accepting her man’s offer to be a housewife and wallflower. Throughout the play she was told again and again that she’s different from the rest of the Rices, the only one with a hope for the future they said. Emma has got a great way of conveying Jean’s growing frustration as she learns more and more secrets about her – to be fair – screwed up family.

Keeping in mind this was the first preview night, I thought they did remarkably well. This truly has all the makings of an amazing production. There were only a couple of minor glitches – Pam and Robert forgot their lines once each, and needed the aid of the prompter. Sometimes this kind of thing can ruin a play, but not tonight. Both actors recovered smoothly, and acknowledged their little mistakes with such charm, the audience warmed to them even more.

All that taken into consideration, I was incredibly impressed. The ending was just spectacularly understated and a perfect wrap of a fantastic production. Give these guys a couple of days, and it will be flawless. I would be surprised if this doesn’t extend beyond the end of May – as scheduled – and into the summer.

AFTER
It’s not every day you get to hang around the same space as Robert Lindsay, Pam Ferris and Kevin Spacey. Simultaneously. It’s like being a kid in a chocolatefactory. Or a journalist in a celebrityfactory. I thought long and hard whether I should go up to Robert Lindsay and say something. He stood right behind me for the longest time, yet I couldn’t bring myself to bother him. After being on the stage for practically three hours, he could probably use at least a break and a drink first.

Eventually – when he was on his own – I made my way, wearily, in his direction. He willingly made eyecontact, I decided to go for it and told him I thought his performance was fantastic – which was nothing short of the truth. He said it was always nerve wrenching to do the first performance in front of an audience, and added that this had been ‘an odd one’. I can only guess he was referring to a certain someone in the audience shouting out – during his comedyshow – “I know where you live!” I found Robert to be very approachable, humble and genuine. We parted as he blew me a quick kiss.

Later I caught up with David Dawson as he passed me on the stairs, and he was equally sweet when I informed him that I was indeed impressed with his performance. I was going to add that I remembered him from “Richard II” (Old Vic – 2005), but didn’t want to hold him up unnecessarily.

I hadn’t expected to see Kevin Spacey – again – as he’s supposed to be in America filming “21”/getting ready for “A Moon For The Misbegotten” on Broadway, but it was nonetheless a pleasant surprise. I found myself wanting to wish him luck on the transfer of the critically acclaimed play – but figured he would probably survive without my well-wishing. After all, a Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Actor In A Play for his role in “Moon” speaks for itself. 😉

Catch “The Entertainer” at the Old Vic from 23rd February until 19th May.

Star Performance: Robert Lindsay – review