We're treated to powerhouse performances from the play's leads, Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith as Sir and Norman. The former is an esteemed but bored, exhausted and self-entitled lead actor, struggling through King Lear for the nth time during the wartime air-raids. Norman is the waspish recipient to his grandeur, a lifelong companion utterly in awe of Sir. As stage hands and actors buzz in and out, we're treated to the sodden dreariness of a tired life, backstage in the theatre.
Harwood once worked as a dresser and the play's best asset is this insider eye. His experiences have conjured these forceful characters, and the troubled, tempestuous relationship between Sir and Norman. On display is that decaying type of subservience associated with old Shakespearean actor types, and their help. This is the root of the modern day diva. Stott and Shearsmith are glove fits for these roles (their combined stage experience must mean they're barely even acting!)
Given Michael Taylor's dynamic set, two-and-a-half-hours is too long to peer into this dressing room. Puzzlingly, Taylor's work only gets a tenth of the action it should have. When Sir finally takes the stage as Lear, the play descends into blistering Noises Off-style farce which is due light relief, but it isn't a big enough break from the backstage drama. Another clever bit of staging sees Stott morph from Lear to Sir on a revolving stage: removing Shakespearean garb for the last time, we peer inside his mind. But these modern day insights that get behind the dialogue are never explored enough.
Go for a blisteringly accurate portrayal of the unglamorous reality of backstage life. Stott and Shearsmith do what they can, and there are plenty of big laughs, but this cult-y play wasn't in need of a reboot. Perhaps it isn't too long before staging the outdated, broken and coarse relationships of ultimately unlikeable thespians will feel out-of-touch anyway?
|What||The Dresser review, Duke of York's Theatre|
|Where||Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4BG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
05 Oct 16 – 14 Jan 17, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book via Culture Whisper and See Tickets|