The Dresser ★★★★ Richmond Theatre | October 26 - 30, 2021


Julian Clary's performance as Norman, the titular Dresser in Ronald Harwood's 1980 play, might come as a revelation to those who only know him as a camp comic on screen. Subtly nuanced and never scene-stealing, this is a very clever portrayal helping us to understand Norman's devotion to "Sir," the over-the-top leading Shakespearean actor of 'the old school,' who is his boss. Harwood served for five years as dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit and the character of "Sir" has many of Wolfit's characteristics. Matthew Kelly imbues the ageing actor with wit as well as a wonderfully booming bass voice. He seems to draw on his experience in Samuel Beckett's work and occasionally has a vague and 'other-worldly' air about him. This is a performance to cherish. Terry Johnson's direction, within Tim Shortall's extremely clever and atmospheric set, creates an excellent feeling of the period,1942, and the scenes in the wings of the theatre have just the right touch. The rest of the company perform serviceably, but this is very much a vehicle for the two stars. For us, the play dips slightly towards the end when the actor playing the Fool has a scene which interrupts the flow of the narrative, and there is a scene in which "Sir" makes unwelcome advances towards a young assistant stage manager. Realistic as the latter may be, it takes away much of our sympathy for the elderly man; we felt the audience squirm. Such cavils aside, this is an excellent revival with some stellar performances.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.

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