The west end, it lives and breathes art from Juke Box musicals to Shakespeare to glittering feats of wonder and magic. There's also a plethora of talent just waiting to be discovered. Through seatplan.com our review team were on hand to witness The Dresser directed by Sean Foley at The Duke of York Theatre.
Focussing on the reluctant relationship between the aging actor ‘Sir’ and his personal assistant Norman, as he struggles to keep his charge’s life and career on track, this is a highly anticipated revival of a greatly affectionate and intelligent play about the theatre.
As World War II ominously looms in the background, the two men wind up rather grudgingly being co-dependent on each other in the backstage of a provincial English Theatre. The troubled Sir, a once-famous classical actor who is now reaching the end of his career, refuses to perform in his renowned role as King Lear.
It is down to the resolute dresser Norman to get one last great performance out of the man who feels like the last of a dying breed of fine English Shakespearean actors. But will he succeed?
This one is a difficult one to chart, to trek as without a knowledge of Shakespeare or even a rusty knowledge you may be lost throughout the first act of this wordy wonderment of theatrical amusements.
Reece Shearsmith plays Norman, the flavourful mix of bitchiness, sarcasm and heart one would expect from a fashionista of the stage. Norman's role is to ensure Sir (Ken Stott) makes it to the stage on time in the right garments but what the job description doesn't entail is the emotional support this one man brings to this veteran of the stage.
Sir is ill and has never once missed a performance, with ailing health Norman out of selfishness or care (you decide) pushes his idol towards the stage, helping him to remember the lines which brings the audience one step closer to a completely dramatised version of what goes on backstage, the community, the struggles, the love.
Reece has no easy task, act one is a vocabulary filled performance which needs conviction and a bloody good memory to deliver. Alongside the likes of Stott and Harriet Thrope, Reece shines as does the support cast.
Thorpe as Her Ladyship is funny, charming and unforgettably spirited. She's a glue that brings more comedy through into this subject that has a very severe line of drama, it's masked in its comic delivery but to be aware of it is to see The Dresser in a new light.
Ultimately this is a play of relationships and passion for ones work, the need to please and be there even though when the curtain goes up the people are slowly ebbing away from the glory that was once your career. What does happen when the audiences vanish? Well, there's always The Dresser and the family formed back stage.
The Dresser is truly a wonderment with set design that shifts and turns to suit the scene. The second act holds a lot more than the first so be aware that while Shakespeare may not be your thing, the references lighten up in the second act.
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