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The incredible Kenneth Branagh Season at the Garrick Theatre is nearing its conclusion as The Entertainer enters its final weeks of performances. With seven sold out productions being enjoyed by thousands of theatre goers, The Entertainer has proved to be one of the most popular and well received productions in the entire season, and will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide on 27 October 2016.
Greta Scacchi plays the role of Phoebe Rice opposite Kenneth Branagh's Archie, in what critics called "a fitting vehicle for Branagh" in "a constantly riveting production, full of texture and grace". The cast, which also includes Gawn Grainger, Sophie McShera and Jonah Hauer-King, were universally praised for their commitment to the text alongside Rob Ashford's impressionistic production which drew grave political and social parallels to Great Britain in 2016.
We spoke to Scacchi to find out how the production has evolved since opening and how the company are preparing for the live cinema broadcast.
Dom O'Hanlon: Greta, what has been the highlight of working with The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company on The Entertainer?
Greta Scacchi: It's a terrific company – they're all very happy. Ken has a brilliant record of appreciating actors, looking after us all and making sure everyone feels included and happy. It's the most joyous company I've been in and it's great playing to full houses, that's always a pleasure. The audiences are more and more enthusiastic as the run continues. It's grown a lot since press night, the Rice family has become very settled with each other since then. We keep getting told what a believable and fluid family atmosphere there is, even though everybody is arguing or brushing up against each other, it feels very settled.
DOH: What has been the biggest challenge playing the demanding role of Phoebe?
GS: Osborne has people doing acrobatic turns, in a rather lifelike way. When you think of how if someone in a family is going to have a crazy outburst it often happens before anyone else in the room is prepared for it. But it's quite hard to understand how to get there on the page, Osborne doesn't fill in very much, suddenly they're ranting and it seems quite artificial. You have to learn to have it simmering before it boils over, even though Osborne isn't giving you any indication of it. It's actually full of theatrical muscle and devices – it's quite unusual material to be working with to find that truth when it's full of device. Phoebe is full of anxiety for everyone and everything – she's really sick and tired of the down and out living circumstance and she's very anxious about imminent bankruptcy. That anxiety feeds into everything else in her life. She's worried about her sons, the old man, she's worried about everyone’s future and it's overwhelming. It's when she remains silent and that's when it boils over.
DOH: The revival comes at such an important political time with so many modern comparisons – what are you noticing about audience's reactions to the piece?
GS: People are amazed, and it's not something that Ken could have planned, it was a fortuitous coincidence really. The line “what is the point of staying in this little corner of Europe” gets a gasp of recognition from the audience. In some ways it's a dated play and of its time. For anyone who is interested in theatre history as actors are, we can identify why it caused such a huge stir at the time – it was shocking. There were even lines that the authorities had wanted to censor, like a stab at the queen, some lines pass today without much of a ripple but at the time it was considered to be quite treacherous. It's an interesting play for the context of the time but with Brexit it's really brought it into three dimensions again and brought in a resonance that great writing can have with different times.
DOH: Rob Ashford has created a very distinct style with the production – how did that develop throughout rehearsals?
GS: A lot of that was decided before I was involved, he had invented this idea of the dancing girls and the way that they come into the living room spread their legs across the table – that's all a great idea and there's resonance for those of us who have lives in the business where the business creeps into our own dining room. When you're an actor your family life is permeated by what's going on in your work and visa versa, sometimes you walk into work and that family row, the children upset because you're going to work, that sort of thing, that's very much accentuated. It's in Osborne's writing and it has been very much extended from there, we're in a family scene and then suddenly there comes a beam of light and Ken's in front of the curtain. The beautiful Chris Oram set with the living room sort of backstage, it's sort of inside out with us being backstage but also on the stage.
DOH: You're preparing for the cinema screening of The Entertainer – how important do you think it is that London theatre can be enjoyed all over the world?
GS: I think its' fantastic. First of all because it takes the theatre and the work to people who wouldn't be able to travel to London, even in this country. When parents are able to take their kids to see teenagers to see David Tennant doing Richard II at the local cinema after school, the trip to London can be impractical for the lives of school kids, so it's not just around the world but also this country. Getting into the West End and getting a ticket is prohibitive for most people, getting to the cinema is much easier. What I've noticed is that we're now filming these things so well, not like the early days when we could see the live screenings from the Met in New York, now the camera goes in, it gives you angles and close ups that you couldn't get that variety and quality of viewing if you were in the theatre itself in the best seats. Of course you lose something about not being in the theatre at that exact time. I had the excitement of seeing Rob Ashford's production of Ken in Macbeth in Manchester; there were huge lines around the block and cheering from people as though we were an extension of that audience. I also saw Ken's The Winter's Tale at The Ritzy in Brixton, and what was lost by not being there you got all the extra things that really added something to the experience. They used the interval to interview actors and give us extra content, so the pros and cons cancel each other out. It's bringing a love and awareness of what's going on in the West End to all corners of the world.
The Entertainer runs until Saturday 12 November 2016. The live cinema broadcast will take place on Thursday 27 October 2016.