Archie Rice is a troubled music hall performer and the head of a dysfunctional family. He performs twice nightly in a revue that relies heavily upon its nude tableaus to bring in the punters. The traditional music hall is dying out and Archie’s world is crumbling with it. Set against the backdrop of the Suez Crisis, the decline of the music hall becomes a metaphor for the decline of Britain as a world power. Osborne alternates fraught and drink-fuelled domestic scenes of the Rice family with Archie’s “turns” on stage, consisting of coarse comic patter and sexist gags.
As a father, Archie does not connect emotionally with any of his children and proves himself completely self-centered. He ridicules his own father, Billy, and taunts his wife, Phoebe, with his sexual infidelity and insults. His daughter, Jean, has escaped the family unit and now lives in London, but she is drawn back into their dysfunctional world when she returns after the breakdown of her engagement. The family bicker and squabble throughout the play, but rarely actually communicate with each other. Following the loss of his eldest son and his father, Archie enters the spotlight for his final performance.
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