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Compton Players - The Entertainer

11th to 13th May 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Challenge well met

Compton Players: The Entertainer, at The Coronation Hall, Compton, from Thursday May 11 to Saturday May 13

The Entertainer is set in 1956 at the time of the Suez crisis.

Osborne focuses on three generations of a family to symbolise the decline of Britain's imperial power and morals - in parallel with the degeneration of music hall into a stale, tacky, outmoded entertainment form playing to half-empty theatres.

The action alternated between realistic scenes (the Rices' grim and grimy lodgings) and music hall/variety performances played in front of a brightly lit, well-painted and effective gauze, bedecked with nudes.

Eric Saxton, as Archie Rice, was impressive. In the music hall he was the archetypal cheeky chappie, but left us in no doubt why this form of entertainment was on the wane. The dog-eared routines contained well-trotted-out gags, (Well I 'ave a go, don't I? I do - I 'ave a go), embarrassing put-downs enough to make us cringe and camp song and dance numbers.

When with his family, he slipped in and out of his 'act' to convey what a monster he really was. It is a large role and occasionally the delivery was hesitant, but Eric Saxton is a gifted actor and gave an excellent portrayal.

As Phoebe, Archie's long-suffering wife, whose conversation consisted of almost pointless chatter, Liz Saxton was outstanding. Sipping Dubonnet and gin, knitting, prattling on and on - and an outburst scene full of pent-up bitterness - perfect.

Michael Long was all too convincing as Billy Rice, Archie's father, grumbling endlessly about just about everything and who could blame him. Ruth Brown as Jean Rice gave an understated but thoughtful performance and Jack Trewhella as Frank Rice, Paul Shave as Brother Bill and Mark Bailey as Graham supported the main characters well.

The first act was a little slow, but things got better in the second, when Osborne's script livened up. In her debut as director, Helen Saxton had taken on a huge task, but she tackled it extremely well and it was a stylish and enjoyable production capturing the 'showbiz' aspect and a sense of sadness, drabness and defeat.

Compton Players had chosen a challenging play, and it is good to see an amateur society trying something out of the ordinary. Good stuff.