Based on Ronald Harwood’s own experiences as dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit, this bracing, heartbreaking drama is an elegy to a past era. Backstage at a theatre in the English provinces during World War II, Sir, an ageing traditional actor is in a bad way tonight. His dresser, Norman, who appears to have devoted his life to taking care of virtually every aspect of Sir’s life, valiantly tries to prepare him to go on stage as King Lear.
Set predominantly inside the semi-tidy dressing room of Sir, complete with mini kitchen, a chaise long, fireplace and dressing table, the stage also revolved to become the backstage of a theatre with a step down to the ‘stage’ in the play so audience saw production of King Lear and backstage workings simultaneously. As the stage turned, we watched the actors walk down corridors, disappear and appear from doors.
Ronald Harwood’s script is never quite as deep or profound about either the stage or the human condition as it clearly thinks itself to be. Yet Sean Foley’s revival is slick, witty and incredibly poignant. and whilst the overall feel of “The Dresser” may be somewhat lacking in sparks, it more than makes up for that with the undeniably fiery and entertaining turns from Reece Shearsmith as Norman, and Ken Stott as Sir.
Scott gives a bittersweet portrayal of an old man slowly wasting away yet soldiering on for his arts sake. The women of the play all varied and carried off vigorous support; Harriet Thorpe was a picture of grace and fragility as she attempted to care for Sir. Selina Cadell as strict and proper yet vulnerable woman stuck in unrequited love. The ambitious young actress Irene, played by Phoebe Sparrow, is also prepared to go considerable grey areas to climb within the business. There are also some lovely performances by Simon Rouse, as an older actor happy with small roles, and Adam Jackson-Smith as an actor trying to get Sir to read his original play.
Reece Shearsmith shone in this production. Gradually becoming drunker, he snarled and quipped and teased and addressed sombrely and fearfully when was required and was a masterful story teller, holding the audiences attention as he sped talked his way through pages of dialogue.
Playwright: Ronald Harwood
Director: Sean Foley
Associate Director: Michael Gyngell
Set & Costume Designer: Michael Taylor
Lighting Designer: James Farncombe
Music & Sound Designers: Ben & Max Ringham
Cast: Ken Stott, Reece Shearsmith, Selina Cadell, Harriet Thorpe, Phoebe Sparrow, Simon Rouse, Adam Jackson-Smith, Anthony Hoggard, Simon Markey, Sarah Lambie, Rhys Jennings, Pamela Hardman
Photo: Hugo Glendinning