PLYMOUTH – THEATRE ROYAL
THE DRESSER till 23 October 2021 and touring
Theatre Royal Plymouth – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 19 OCTOBER 2021
I will admit it from the off, ‘The Dresser’ is one of my favourite plays; that said, I haven’t seen it on stage many times, but the storyline, the humour, the pathos, the insight it offers about the theatre, the roles….all conjoin to create a play of great depth and humanity.
Writer, Ronald Harwood, was dresser to the great actor/manager Sir Donald Wolfit, and, although he denies that the play is a chronicle of that time, it is undoubtedly influenced by it. The relationship between the great actor, Sir, and his long-suffering dresser Norman, is one of mutual tolerance and mutual need. The one cannot exist without the other, however much they bicker and bite one another.
The central roles overshadow those of the others in the play and the relationship forged between them creates the humour and tension of the story. Sadly, Matthew Kelly was taken unwell with Covid – hopefully he will recover soon and continue in the role of Sir – in the meantime, the highly experienced actor Peter Yapp is performing. It is a wonderful performance; from his entrance as a shambling, bedraggled little man, to the confidence of a fully formed Lear, he straddles the emotions and idiosyncracies of the character with skill and guile. The twinkle in the eye, the dismissive gesture, the panic when having to deal with certain actors – all are there and Yapp delivers majestically. His voice has such range, deep and fruity one moment and feint and timid the next, his modulation skills are to be admired.
In casting an actor who is known as being camp in a camp role, there is a definite risk, especially when that actor is not known for playing dramatic roles. Julian Clary has had a career of considerable diversity and ‘The Dresser’ offers him another direction, but one which he and the director have been careful not to overegg. This is the least mannered Norman I have seen and felt it is all the better for it, but Clary can deliver the biting sideswipe and the catty retort with the best of them. It is as an unshowy performance and maybe a more realistic one for all that. Though Clary’s emotional range is somewhat limited, Norman has lead a life of repression and his own feelings have been trampled on throughout and I think the actor displays this well. It is a performance of accomplishment and confidence; this is not the same man who burst onto the scene as the ‘Joan Collins Fan Club’ 40 years ago.
Emma Amos is excellent as the brusque and detached ‘Her Ladyship’ who has given up with her husband and Rebecca Charles ideal as the thoroughly professional, but utterly disappointed stage manager, Madge. That great character actor, Pip Donaghy delivers a gem as the veteran bit-part player Geoffrey – his costume as ‘Fool’ and his song and dance routine are sublime.
The dingy stage setting is well crafted – this is no glamorous theatre life – and the scenes in the wings of the stage are lit with atmosphere and precision.
Terry Johnson directs with due care and without trying anything fancy – thank goodness – that said, I would have liked the storm scene to have been more frenetic to further counterpoint the moment when ‘Sir’ bellows ‘Where was the storm?”; it was just a little too safe.
This is a very worthy production of a super play and with Peter Yapp and Julian Clary, performances which work very well together. If you wish to see a play which very effectively captures the essence of British theatre during a pivotal period of history, then you should see this production.
CAST & CREATIVES
NORMAN – JULIAN CLARY
HER LADYSHIP – EMMA AMOS
MADGE – REBECCA CHARLES
SIR – PETER YAPP
IRENE – NATALI SERVAT
GEOFFREY THORNTON – PIP DONAGHY
MR OXENBY – SAMUEL HOLMES
KENT – ROBERT SHAW CAMERON
ALBANY – STEPHEN CAVANAGH
ENSEMBLE – CLAIRE JEATER, MICHAELA BENNISON
WRITER – RONALD HARWOOD
DIRECTOR – TERRY JOHNSON
SET AND COSTUME DESIGN – TIM SHORTALL
LIGHTING DESIGN – BEN ORMEROD
SOUND DESIGN – JOHN LEONARD