The Entertainer concludes Branagh’s 13-month residency.
Sir Laurence Olivier was a leading man of the West End who became a major Hollywood actor, and then returned to found and run the National Theatre. His mantle has been very much assumed by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who has followed in his footsteps in many major roles (including starring in and making his own film version of Henry V, a double-duty that Olivier also did), and playing Olivier himself in the film My Weekend with Marilyn.
Last year Branagh launched a theatre company named after himself. Just as Olivier once headed up Laurence Olivier Productions in the 1950s to produce plays and films, so Branagh has headed up up a 13-month West End residency of plays at the Garrick, being presented under the umbrella of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company. He starred in four of those shows himself and directed or co-directed (with Rob Ashford) another three.
As he told me in an interview for The Stage last year, “For anyone of my generation, Olivier’s been a big part of everyone’s career. He almost single-handedly carved out the pre-eminent position as actor with positions of prominence in theatre and stage and film, and the space he occupied was massive in the lives of every generation that came after him.”
Now for the final production in the theatre season, he has stepped most consciously into Olivier’s shoes to play the part of Archie Rice in John Oborne’s The Entertainer, which Olivier originated in the original 1957 Royal Court production of the play.
So how has he fared? For the Daily Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish, “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. Yet Sir Ken goes some considerable and impressive way to stamping his own authority and personality on the part.” And he concludes, “The evening is bookended by beautiful, solitary silhouettes of Archie and, for all the shadow cast by Olivier, Branagh triumphs in style.”
In my own review for The Stage, I wrote, “Branagh brings a sprightly physical agility to the role. There’s also a remorseless sadness to the character who knows that he’s dead behind the eyes. Branagh conveys this defeat of spirit with a profound pathos.”
In Michael Billington’s review for The Guardian, he admires Branagh, but less so Rob Ashford’s production: “Branagh captures well Archie’s calculated sexual ambiguity, as he poses with hand on hip or flaps the limpest of wrists. He also hints at the self-loathing of a man aware of his own hollowness, but while it’s a highly watchable performance, it deserves a better production.” He complains, “Ashford captures neither the glorified tat of 1950s music hall—where you would never have found such a svelte quartet of dancers as you have here—nor the way Suez split families much as Brexit does today. He gives us a razzle-dazzle show but, for all Branagh’s skill, it is not quite the one Osborne intended.”
Live cinema broadcasts announced, including an edited Miss Saigon.
The Entertainer will have a live broadcast into cinemas in Britain and around the world October 27. The RSC’s new production of King Lear, which opened officially September 1 at Stratford-upon-Avon with Antony Sher in the title role, is to have also have a live cinema broadcast on October 12 ahead of its transfer to London’s Barbican Theatre.
NT Live has added two productions from outside the National to its live broadcast plans: No Man’s Land starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (reprising roles they’ve previously played on Broadway) will be broadcast from Wyndham’s Theatre December 15; Josie Rourke’s production of Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, with Gemma Arterton in the title role, will be broadcast from the Donmar February 16. The National's own production of Hedda Gabler, starring Ruth Wilson in the title role under the direction of Ivo van Hove, will be broadcast from March 9.
On October 16, a one-off screening will take place in cinemas of a filmed version of the now Broadway-bound 25th anniversary production of Miss Saigon, ahead of a DVD release, as reported here. As the show’s producer Cameron Mackintosh has commented, “The results were so astonishingly cinematic that it was decided that in order to create a unique cinematic/theatrical experience we would film some additional covering shots filmed in January 2016. As this was a filmed live performance, the orchestra and vocals were taken directly from the show’s sound system—one take and no overdubs! It was decided not to digitally remove the stage microphones to remind viewers this was a stage event rather than a film. Remarkably, the emotional performances of this wonderful cast in close-up seems entirely natural as if they were being shot for the cinema rather than being performed in a 1,700-seat theatre.”
As well as Broadway, the production will also take to the U.K. touring road in 2017, launching in Leicester from July 3 and going on to dates in Birmingham, Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Southampton, with further dates to be announced.
Production and casting news
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is West End-bound and plans to open at the Victoria Palace next October. His first Broadway musical In the Heights has been a London hit, too: after transferring from Southwark Playhouse to a new venue near King’s Cross, it has just announced a third and final extension. It will shutter there January 8 after a 15-month run.
Another iconic musical which first launched Off-Broadway, Adam Guettel’s Floyd Collins, is to have another London outing, at the historic Wilton’s Music Hall from September 21. Ashley Robinson and Rebecca Trehearn lead the cast.
The current hit Chichester production of Half a Sixpence, a reworked version of the 1960s musical that originally starred Tommy Steele, is to transfer to the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre, from October 26. Producer Cameron Mackintosh has stated, “The show’s amazing cast is headed by the sensational new young star Charlie Stemp, who has put his own brilliantly original stamp on a part that fifty years ago launched Tommy Steele’s international theatre and film career. Everyone seems to agree that history is about to repeat itself with Charlie, whose performance is sending audiences into raptures nightly.”
She Loves Me is returning to London, but not in the recent Roundabout Broadway production. The show is a new staging at the Menier Chocolate Factory from November 25, starring Scarlett Strallen as Alamia Balish.
Ed Harris is to make his London stage debut opposite his wife, Amy Madigan, in a transfer of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child that they first did Off-Broadway for the New Group earlier this year. It begins performances at Trafalgar Studios from November 14.
For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com—and follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.