That was November in London theatre land
Review: Wild Honey, Hampstead Theatre and the obvious comparisons with the National Theatre's Platonov

Review: The Dresser, Duke of York's and why it feels past its best

The-DresserLove Ken Stott and it was that and a very good ticket offer on Today Tix that got me to a matinee to see The Dresser. And here is where I pause because despite Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith acting their socks off the play just felt lacklustre and a bit past it.

Ronald Harwood's play was first staged in 1980 is set during the Second World War in a theatre where actor/manager 'Sir' (Stott) is having trouble keeping himself together and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Shearsmith) is trying to get him ready to go on stage for an evening performance of King Lear.

I had several problems with the play. Sir is either having some sort of nervous breakdown or has the early signs of dementia and that isn't actually that funny - maybe Ken Stott's weepy, dazed acting is too good. He appears extremely fragile at times and attempts to get him ready for the performance feel almost cruel.

However, in his more lucid moments he is self-centred, self-obsessed and generally not very nice which makes him difficult to empathise with. You can understand why not everyone flatters and fawns over him. There is also one scene when he gropes (sexually assaults) a young actress and that might have been funny to an audience in 1980 but it certainly isn't funny now.

It is Norman who patiently and skilfully knows when to coddle, when to cajole and when to be firm after years of dealing with Sir's moods and ways. I couldn't decide if he was some sort of saint with a genuine affection for Sir or had just grown so use to the work he was too scared of the alternative.

There are some laugh out loud moments but it's not funny enough to be a good romp in the same way that Once In A Lifetime at the Young Vic is, which is similarly set in the land of theatre and showbiz. But neither does it feel tragic. It's a play that stayed with me not because it affected me but because I was thinking more about why it didn't.

The critics seem to have liked it a lot more than I did but for me it just felt a bit past its sell by date. I'm giving the acting four stars but the play gets two and a half. It is on at the Duke of York's Theatre until Jan 14 and it is two hours and 45 minutes including an interval.

 

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