Tuesday, July 5

The Dresser – Richmond Theatre

The Olivier award-nominated tragicomedy The Dresser, by Ronald Harwood, is poignant, funny and a little heart-breaking. The show at Richmond Theatre last night was emotive enough to draw a tear or two from some in the audience as well as a cacophony of laughs. After it’s run at Richmond, this touring version will surely draw audiences all over the UK.

Set in wartime Britain, with the rumble of bombs falling and air raid sirens disturbing the otherwise peaceful dressing room of a revered actor known only as ‘Sir’, the play opens with the dresser himself, Norman, played by Julian Clary, hard at work. Confidant, counsellor and loyal friend, it’s hard to distinguish where Norman’s job ends and where his duties to the man he admires and ultimately loves begin.

As Sir struggles to prepare for his role as King Lear, Norman’s relentless efforts to lift him from his mental and physical unrest so he can make it through the performance is at once heart-warming and heart-breaking. We may all wish for a friend like Norman.

We come to understand that Sir is very much a shadow of his former self— once a renowned Shakespearean actor, now elderly, unkempt and playing to provincial audiences—which is all the more touching in Matthew Kelly’s captivating performance, which demands attention. Audiences will not be able to help but wonder, entranced by this charming play, what Sir would have been like at his peak.

This a rare dramatic role for Clary, well known for his career in stand-up comedy and pantomime, and the characters delightful acerbic wit is a perfect fit. His loyalty is unwavering, steady beneath the surface flourish of campness and comedy, and feels completely genuine.

The same can be said for Kelly’s performance: utterly immersed is the actor, who’s commanding voice reverberates with the steadying certainty of the most seasoned actors. The character of Sir is by nature loud, over the top, pompous and pitiful at the same time, but Kelly brings real vulnerability.

The strength of this production rests on the successful and convincing performance of a unique kind of intimacy in the relationship between these two men. It becomes clear over two acts that one can’t truly exist without the other. The whole cast complement each other well, however, it is the successful pairing of Kelly and Clary, playing very much to their dramatic strengths that makes this production such an enjoyable evening.

Playing until 30th October https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-dresser/richmond-theatre/

Reviewer: Natalie Romero

Reviewed: 26th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★