Archie Rice, the title character. He is an actor, singer, and comedian in an archaic and dying institution, the English music hall. He is known as the “professor” by his fellow artists. His career has never afforded more than a meager livelihood and a shabby sort of gentility, a remnant from the better times when his father, Billy Rice, was a very successful showman. At fifty, he is dapper, friendly, and superficially a gentleman. Despite his self-deprecating claim of being selfish and unfeeling, he is affectionate toward his family, especially his daughter, Jean, and his father. He brings the gag man’s enthusiastic buoyancy into his domestic conversation to mask an entrenched cynicism and self-pity. At times, he is inattentive and unresponsive, even evasive. Seeking solace for his failure, he drinks excessively and womanizes openly, tormenting his long-suffering wife, whom he both pities and resents. His plan to divorce her and marry a much younger woman is thwarted, and his emotional string runs out with the deaths first of his son Mick, and then of his father. He is unable to accept a proffered chance for a new life in Canada. As the play’s ending makes clear, he will end his days either in jail for tax fraud or in poverty, soullessly repeating his music-hall routines before progressively smaller and less appreciative audiences.
Billy Rice, the family patriarch, a retired music-hall showman. He is a dignified man in his seventies, fastidious in manner and dress and both slim and sprightly. Although at times grouchy and stubborn, he inspires fondness in Archie and love in his granddaughter, Jean. Despite his nostalgic ramblings about past glories and his mistrust of contemporary trends, he knows that the music hall is doomed and thinks Archie is a fool for following in his footsteps. He is also mindful of his familial responsibilities. It is Billy who quashes Archie’s plans to divorce Phoebe...
(The entire section is 807 words.)