Tuesday, October 19

The Dresser

- September 29, 2021

There are times when I wish I was 24 years old again, heading out to the theatre too see a play for the very first time and later heading home knowing that you have seen something truly exceptional. That was me back when Ronald Harwood’s masterpiece opened in London’s West End. That was 1980, over forty years ago now and since I have seen several new productions and the filmed version. I like this play a lot!

So why would I want to be 24 again? The answer is simple, I wish I could have seen last night’s production with fresh eyes, eyes not tainted by memories of previous versions, previous performances. Because without those memories I could have seen this new production with no preconceptions.

So is this all leading to me having been disappointed? Far from it, this is a first class production with a first class cast. Matthew Kelly is simply brilliant as Sir, the fading actor manager at the end of a career that has slipped in status. Kelly has so often proved on stage that he is an actor of immense talent and skill and last night was confirmation of this fact, Kelly is a star.

Norman is of course the part that was going to get the most attention, and in this drama the role carries as much weight as that of SIr. And I guess that many of us would have been there wondering how Julian Clary would measure up to that original performance. He measures up well, he plays it with a softer edge, without a northern accent and with his own gentle camp edge… but  he is perfect in the role and delivers every line with a conviction that displays that he has real acting skill. Very soon I had forgotten my previous experiences of the play and totally believed that Clary was Norman, brandy swilling, dishing out platitudes and anecdotes like sweeties. Sharp too, brittle perhaps, certainly masking the truth about his unrequited love. In short Clary uses his natural talents to bring his own colour to the role and he does it with aplomb.

Emma Amos is every inch Her Ladyship, the common law wife of Sir, tired, bitter and at the end of her tether dealing with his demanding ways and arrogance, but at the same time believably fond of Sir if no longer in Love.

Rebecca Charles plays the frustrated Madge with real edge, tough, or should I say toughened, by Sir’s assumption of her loyalty and again unrequited loved. And Irene, the juvenile played by Natali Servat, has the right tone, an innocent suddenly realising that there is possibly another way to success in the theatre.

The rest of the cast add colour to the whole, comedy and hatred alike but all delivered with conviction and style. Terry Johnson has directed with clarity, this is a no messing in his realisation of a great script, no tricks, no gimmicks or strange twists, this is the play as written. And why not when a play is this good. And hats off to a beautiful set designed by Tim Shortall and lit by Ben Ormerod. This is a drama about touring rep in war time Britain and that is truly reflected in a set that is packed with period detail and realism and glows in soft and unwavering light. And it fits the small but perfectly formed dimensions of the Theatre Royal Brighton, which might sound an odd thing to comment on but when we are so often presented with half a set created by companies who have not paid heed to the technical specifications of our theatre it is praise indeed.

All in all this is an excellent production, Kelly at his best and Clary embracing a difficult and hefty role with a sureness that makes one wonder what else he might do outside the world of stand-up and in the world of legitimate theatre.

Theatre Royal Brighton

28 September

Andrew Kay

Rating: ★★★★☆

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