Warner Music

Shane Richie: Stage Presence

Shane Richie plays a down and out comic in a re-imagined version of John Osborne’s The Entertainer. The Reigate local tells Ting Dalton more

I wouldn’t dare to even put myself in the same category as those greats,” actor Shane Richie tells me as we chat about his new stage role. He’s following in the footsteps of Laurence Olivier, Jack Lemmon, Robert Lindsay and Kenneth Branagh who have all portrayed the washed-up Archie Rice in Jack Osborne’s classic play, The Entertainer.

Although the original is set in the 1950s, amidst the Suez crisis, this adaptation is based in the 1980s, and sees Shane playing Archie as a heavy-drinking stand-up comic as the Falklands War rages. As Archie’s son sails to liberate the Islands, his daughter Jean returns from campaigning against the fighting – and his personal and professional lives implode. The effects show a Britain in decline and although it was written decades ago, Shane knows all too well how the questions the play raises are relevant today.

“Ah Brexit… as much as I don’t want to talk about it, The Entertainer really is still so relevant with our political climate in such turmoil. You’ve got this rebellion happening amongst our political parties, and once again the Tories are rearing their ugly heads and spouting venom,” says Shane. “I mean I don’t believe Boris Johnson is actually a homophobic racist, but he is of that oldschool philosophy of: ‘If you don’t like it, get over it,’ and that’s kind of who my Archie Rice is. Actually, I never thought I would base him on Boris Johnson. But there is a little of Bo Jo about him!”

Archie Rice, by Shane’s admission, is not a pleasant man. But are there any traits Shane can identify with in his character? “He’s spiraling out of control, he’s a womaniser and he likes to drink, so in some ways, yes!” he laughs. “I understand Archie’s relationships with his family. My dad used to run clubs in London, so I’d see these comics that would come on stage and do this kind of material. I recognise their weaknesses and their strengths. So I can relate to him in the sense that I’ve also been a stand-up comedian and absolutely know what it’s like to go on stage and die a death.

“But Archie doesn’t care whether people like him or not. And as a performer, whether you’re a singer, actor, comedian or dancer – it’s in your DNA to want to be liked. Archie doesn’t give two hoots, so to play that is really tough.”

Shane, who was also recently touring in the award-winning musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and also about to start panto rehearsals for Dick Whittington in Bristol, has been on the road a lot this year. And with his character Alfie Moon still on the run from Phil Mitchell and no imminent return to EastEnders, is it fair to say that Shane is loving being on stage?

“At the moment I’m really enjoying it as I’ve spent so long in a TV studio,” he smiles. “I still enjoy the thrill of going to the theatre and just before the show, hearing the audience come in. And you might get it right or you might get it wrong on the night. Unlike TV or film, if you get it wrong you got a chance to rectify it straight away. With theatre, it’s the thrill of walking a tightrope without a safety net.”

Meanwhile, the star also has a new TV show coming out later this year which sees him travelling the UK with friends and family and staying in caravans, but as he happily admits home is where the heart is.

“I love living in Reigate because it’s still got that village mentality – and my favourite place is still Priory Park where we always take the family,” he says. Shane, who has helped instigate several local events including Reigate on Ice, is well known for his outspoken thoughts on his hometown, much to the chagrin of the council.

“I call myself the self-elected Mayor of Reigate,” he laughs. “The Reigatians hate it and I like to keep them on their toes! I tell them: ’I will not have pound shops in Reigate!” and it causes uproar!”

Catch Shane Richie in The Entertainer at Richmond Theatre 25-30 November