Ronald Harwood’s 1980 play THE DRESSER is based on his real life past, working as a dresser on tour with Sir Donald Wolfit during the war. The play was well received in both the West End and on Broadway and is now back in London starring Reece Shearsmith and Ken Stott.
Simply referred to as ‘Sir’, we see an aged actor fading away and in the middle of a mental breakdown. He discharges himself from hospital and refuses to miss a show on the tour. Despite his refusal to cancel the show he is inconsolable and it is the job of Norman, his dresser to pull him together and get him ready to go on stage to play King Lear. The show explores the ups and downs of life on tour and how when the going gets tough, cast and crew pulls together (mostly). As they say, the show must go on!
The staging of this show is great, with a backstage dressing room which revolves for act 2 to create the front of the stage. Not being familiar with the show, I was hoping its farcical nature would really let rip in act 2 and create a Noises Off type of on stage catastrophe. It didn’t quite get to that level but there are certainly a lot of laughs to be had.
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Reece Shearsmith plays Norman, the always eager to please dresser who manages to turn every negative conversation into a positive one by beginning his sentences with ‘I had a friend…’ and then spinning the negative situation into a positive one. Reece is brilliant in the role and maintains a deer in the headlights persona. Ken Stott takes the character of Sir on an emotional roller coaster ride, crying one minute and then suddenly perking up when he hears the audience is sold out and then back to being a bumbling mess again. The always gorgeous and entertaining Harriet Thorpe plays Sir’s wife ‘Her Ladyship’ with class and oozes wealth and charisma. Simon Rouse is also note worthy as understudy Geoffrey Thornton who craves praise for his performance from Sir.
The very topical subject of abuse in the work place is touched on in this play, with the character of Sir using his fame and power to grope the younger members of staff who oblige because of his fame and don’t want to say no. Whilst this isn’t a huge part of the plays story, it does seem more relevant that is perhaps was forty years ago with the likes of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
THE DRESSER is an impressive play with a brilliant cast and great design. Well worth going to see whilst its on in the West End.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photos: Hugo Glendinning
THE DRESSER plays at the Duke of Yorks Theatre until 14 January 2016. Tickets