A PACKED house greeted the first night of ‘The Dresser’ and quite rightly, as it is one of the most important pieces of modern theatre from the genius pen of the highly celebrated Ronald Harwood.
Set in 1942, in a crumbling provincial theatre where a touring production of King Lear is set to play to an equally full house, The Dresser is a play treasured as much by thespians of all ages as it is by audiences.
‘Sir’ – an actor-manager of way past pensionable age – is flitting between bouts of dementia and panic attacks. Norman, his devoted dresser of 16 years, acts as everything from masseur to cheerleader as he tries to get Sir ready to give his 227th performance.
Many huge names have trod the boards in the roles of Sir and Norman, including of course the mighty Albert Finney and Tom Courtney both on stage and screen – a daunting task then, for Matthew Kelly and Julian Clary to follow.
Happily both Kelly and Clary cross that bridge with true aplomb and simply stellar performances. They take us through the full gambit of emotions on a journey that is both draining and joyous.
In addition to the two leads there are some noteworthy performances from Emma Amos who paints an aura of dignified acceptance coupled with frustration as ‘Her Ladyship’ – Sirs partner on stage and wife in real life – Rebecca Charles as a fearsome stage manager Madge and Pip Donaghy as the amusing ancient wannabe Geoffrey Thornton.
Anything directed by Terry Johnson is for me a must–see and his take on The Dresser is no exception – It is intelligent and engaging on every level.
Tim Shortall’s magnificent set perfectly captures the theatre – from the seedy, damp dressing room through to the backstage waiting to go on areas and onto the stage itself. We are totally immersed in this fictitious theatre-within-a-theatre. So much so that when the interval came, I was momentarily disoriented as to which theatre I was actually in.
This is truly a satisfying night’s theatre and certainly one not to be missed.
The Dresser at Malvern Theatres runs until Saturday, January 22. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews