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Entertainer, The

archie play osborne woman

a play by John Osborne, first performed in 1957. It involves Archie Rice, a seedy musichall comic who regards himself as ‘dead behind the eyes … I don't feel a thing’. His plan to leave his long-suffering wife, Phoebe, for a much younger woman is aborted after her parents are informed of the affair by his father Billy, a comedian whom Osborne sees as representing the lost decencies of an older generation. Archie's son Mick, a soldier serving in Cyprus, is captured and killed by terrorists. This news brings Archie briefly back to emotional life, and he sings the same heartfelt blues he once heard an old black woman sing in a Canadian bar; but for most of the play he expresses a weary cynicism, whether with his family or when performing to audiences he thinks as dead as himself. His mock-patriotic songs, his advice to the audience not to clap too loud (‘it's a very old building’), and a nude Britannia that materializes during his act, indicate that the decline of the music hall is to be identified with a national decline.

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