The Entertainer is set in an English coastal town. Its action centers on the Rice family, and specifically on Archie Rice, the “entertainer” of the title. In scene 1, though, the audience is introduced to the family through Billy Rice, Archie’s father, and Jean, Archie’s daughter. In a sense these two characters represent a saner past and a more hopeful future: The present, for the Rices, is a run-down, noisy, postwar slum.
Scene 2 (like scenes 4, 7, and 13) consists of a short monologue by Archie, delivered onstage just as it would be in one of his performances: He is a comedian in a music hall, or what Americans might call a burlesque theater, and these scenes represent samples of his professional humor. They are deliberately coarse, cheap, and unattractive; they represent the poor, defiant, and selfish attitudes John Osborne thinks typical of the England of his time.
In scene 3, further characters assemble. Phoebe Rice returns from the cinema, where she spends her spare time watching films that make no impression on her. Jean reveals that she has been to a rally in Trafalgar Square which sparked off a row with her conservative-minded boyfriend, Graham. He shares Billy’s view—that women should be kept on a tight rein—and wants Jean to marry him; she, however, is budding into something other than the perfect wife. The talk turns to Frank and Mick (Frank’s brother), the former having been imprisoned for refusing the draft, the latter having willingly joined up. Jean, representative of the new generation, admires Frank for saying no and going to jail. Billy and Phoebe seem to think Mick has made the better choice.
This issue is not as casual as it might at first appear. All through scene 5 (after another music-hall monologue by Archie) a telegram waits for Archie to open it. It is bound to be bad news, and in the end the audience discovers that it says Mick has been taken prisoner. Archie avoids this knowledge until the very end, in the same way that he has avoided any commitments or intellectual honesty throughout his life. He is a womanizer; he despises and maltreats his family; he makes a joke of everything—including his father’s pride and his daughter’s passion....
(The entire section is 911 words.)