Last week I saw ‘The Dresser’ at Chichester Festival Theatre. This is the same production that has recently been on the West End and starred Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith. Not knowing much about the play, I went in with an open mind hoping for the best.
After I had purchased a program I read about how it had been speculation that the playwright had based the two main characters on himself and the actor whom he had dressed previous to becoming a playwright. It was clear that this was very possibly the case, although the playwright has responded by denying the claims.
The play is about a respected actor named Sir (Stott) who has recently been caught by age and edging nearer to his death. His dresser named Norman (Shearsmith) was doing his best to keep Sir alive. Stott and Shearsmith worked brilliantly alongside each other and created the on-stage friendship which was needed for this character.
The show was stolen by Reece Shearsmith who arguably had the better character but was strong throughout the play. The character Norman went through a journey of many emotions and personalities. The one-liners were delivered with conviction and often gained audible laughs from the majority of the audience. Shearsmith brought an amazing characterisation, especially when Norman slowly began to breakdown towards the end of the play. The line that ended the play was delivered by a tearful actor but I did not feel that the line itself had much relevance. I thought this was a shame as after a superb performance this sent me away considering the importance of this line and how I thought it was not the best choice to end the line. After considering this for a while ideas popped into my head. The line was the same as a line the Fool says in King Lear. I wondered whether this could be suggesting that Norman had realised that he had in fact played the Fool in Sir’s life which makes the choice of the line quite poignant.
Sir was played by Ken Stott with power, even when his first entrance consisted mainly of a flood of tears. Although not as prolific as Shearsmith in this performance he was able to create a character and take the audience on a journey and make them forget that it was Stott as he had become Sir through costume, makeup and characterisation.
Overall I thought this play was breath-taking and I believe it definitely deserved a longer West End. Hopefully another cast will create such a breath-taking production of this play in the future although I am sure it will prove to be hard.