Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser
Production: The Stables, Director: Peter Mould Reviewed by Colin Gibson
Anyone familiar with the 1983 film of the same name starring Albert Finney as “Sir” and Tom Courtenay as Norman, (the dresser of the title), will be aware of what a fine piece of work it is. It was adapted by the author Ronald Harwood from his 1980 play, set in the dressing room of a theatre in an unnamed, blitz- torn provincial town in the 1940s. Harwood was himself dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit, one of the last of the great touring Shakespearean actor-managers, upon whom the character of “Sir” is loosely based, (although Harwood has stated that the play itself was not meant to be a reflection of he and Wolfit’s relationship). The play is narrated by the slightly camp Norman, who slowly reveals to us the degree of co-dependence shared by the two very different men. The other characters, notably Her Ladyship and Madge, played respectively in this production by Maxine Roach and Susannah Mayor, (who, along with the other supporting actors are superb throughout), make their entrances and exits first to the banshee howl of air raid sirens, and later to the performance of King Lear taking place on the unseen stage. The two main characters, Bill Allender as Norman and Ian Kleman as “Sir” are totally accomplished and absolutely riveting, making nonsense of the ill-used phrase “amateur dramatics”. Klemen’s hammy actor-manager, his memory failing, bumbles along, with Norman having to prompt him as to which play he is doing that night (sometimes hilariously, as when “Sir” begins to apply black-face makeup, thinking he is about to perform Othello).
The comic-tragic denouement during which Norman is forced to confront the reality of his dependence on “Sir”, was handled beautifully, and the company was rewarded with a well-deserved ovation from the packed house. The staging and set design by the Stables Workshop, combined with Peter Mould’s sensitive direction were exemplary. In my opinion this production was worthy of a West End theatre, and I am only sorry I am unable to encourage you to see it, as this performance at The Stables Theatre was the last in a week-long run and was too close to deadline to include a review in the last issue. I’m looking forward to the next one!