Sheringham Little Theatre
John Osborne said he wanted to make people “feel” in the theatre and “let them think afterwards”. Thank you, Sheringham Players, for bringing to us his brilliantly uncomfortable play.
Archie Rice, music hall entertainer and family man, embodies the play's theme of a debased popular culture that mirrors social and family disintegration.
Set and first performed against the backdrop of a dubious war over Suez, and a seeping disillusionment with ideals of patriotism, religion and government, it has lost over time its topical immediacy, but echoes our own dubious war and growing disenchantment with political and religious leaders.
Its portrayal of music hall as once a vital grassroots theatrical form dying because of public appetite for nudes and rock 'n' roll, bingo and television, also resonates today.
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It's a challenging play, for both actors and spectators. Constructed like a music hall variety programme, the action alternates between Archie trotting out his tired old jokes and flat songs at the theatre and the Rice family's front room.
In the theatre, Archie's performance raises only half-hearted applause; at home – fuelled by alcohol – family members, barely connecting with each other, reveal their anger, sadness and despair, but the audience is not encouraged to empathise.
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At times, the actors in Derek Bull's production struggled to maintain the play's momentum, but there was a memorable performance from Peter Thrower as the “real pro” Billy Rice and a moving final scene as Archie gives his last music hall performance.