Review Round-Ups

Were critics entertained by Kenneth Branagh's Entertainer?

The final play in Branagh’s season at the Garrick has opened to mixed reviews

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage


"There couldn't be a better moment for a revival of John Osborne's The Entertainer – that great, smouldering cry of anguish at Britain's changing face and its loss of identity in a post-imperial world."

"Those of us with long memories recall that Branagh himself has a hidden song and dance man lurking inside him… Yet somehow, in Rob Ashford's heavy-handed production, the play and the performance fail to ignite."

"The inner fire of this lament for a lost England has been extinguished."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"Laurence Olivier created the part. Now, almost 60 years on, it’s the turn of Kenneth Branagh… The blunt truth? Olivier’s – to judge by the 1960 film – is the superior performance, blessed with a mercurial vitality and dangerous mischief that the benign Branagh can’t match."

"The action switches to the Rice's draughty, down-at-heel digs, though designer Christopher Oram keeps everything within a decayed stage milieu: there are props and costumes ranged to one side; we’re in a replica proscenium-arch theatre, rafters poking through plasterwork."

"There’s fine support from Greta Scacchi as Archie’s care-worn, cheated-on wife Phoebe, and Gawn Grainger as his intemperate ex-showman father Billy."

"Those seeking a night of laugh-out-loud entertainment, though, be warned: if they do, the joke’s on them."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Kenneth Branagh has so artfully shadowed the career of Laurence Olivier that it was inevitable he would some day play Archie Rice in John Osborne’s 1957 play."

"But, while Branagh is never less than fascinating to watch and the play makes a fitting climax to his year-long tenure at the Garrick, there is something seriously amiss about Rob Ashford’s production."

"Branagh is very good at the song-and-dance routines: almost too good, since at one point we see him executing a tap number with Cagneyesque skill… but while it’s a highly watchable performance, it deserves a better production."

"The best performance comes from Gawn Grainger as Archie’s dad: he captures perfectly Billy’s mix of Edwardian nostalgia and grumbling disillusion, and even suggests the old man is experiencing the first signs of dementia."

"It remains a fine play. But Ashford captures neither the glorified tat of 1950s music hall… nor the way Suez split families much as Brexit does today."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out


"Did Branagh predict Brexit?… the final piece of programming in the season… seems to all-too-vividly capture the unpleasantness of the last few months."

"Osborne was so acutely keyed into a certain type of futile, provincial British nastiness that The Entertainer will probably always seems somewhat relevant."

"Especially when you’ve got such a cracking turn from Branagh himself, giving easily his best performance of the season."

"A notable absentee is John Hurt… It's hard to shake a wistfulness at what might have been, but his replacement Gawn Grainger is excellent as a semi-decent relic from the Edwardian era unsettled by the younger generation. And Greta Scacci is great as Archie’s outwardly vapid, inwardly terrified wife Phoebe."

"If it doesn’t quite channel the full force of Osborne’s bile, it’s probably the strongest production of a slightly shaky season, finally giving us the Branagh acting tour de force we’ve been holding out for."

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail


"It is unconvincing, and not just because, in Archie’s eyeliner and stage lipstick, Sir Ken looks worryingly like Eddie Izzard."

"Maybe Sir Ken was miscast and maybe a couple of the other actors are wrong but I suspect it goes deeper than that."

"This play does not chime with the national mood. After a lovely August day, in a summer when we have escaped the clammy grip of a foreign empire (the EU) and our economy is going gangbusters, who wants this sort of moaning?"

"The Entertainer tends to be hailed as a ‘state of the nation play’. The trouble with state of the nation plays is that the state of the nation can change, sometimes for the better. Then the play feels glum and negative and a bit so-what-ish."

The Entertainer runs at the Garrick until 12 November.