The Dresser – starring Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville, Inside No. 9) – is currently at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Here’s what TVO’s Sophie Davies made of it…
The Dresser takes place over one night backstage at a theatre, where ageing actor ‘Sir’ (Ken Stott) is due to deliver his 227th performance as the title role in King Lear. The only problem is that he’s suffered a breakdown earlier that day, because of exhaustion or perhaps something more like dementia, and is in no fit state to go on stage. Sir has no intention of admitting that he’s unwell and cancelling the show, so it’s up to his trusty dresser Norman (Reece Shearsmith) to get him both physically and mentally prepared. Add to this the fact that it’s wartime, so bombs are dropping outside, and Norman has a very tough job on his hands.
Ken Stott gives a masterful performance as the pompous, embittered Sir – the sort of actor who delights in the failure of his peers, and believes he’s owed more respect and recognition than he’s got. Almost constantly on the verge of either tears or a furious outburst, he only really seems to perk up when told that there’s a full house, or when a pretty young actress visits his dressing room.
Reece Shearsmith is equally brilliant as Norman, Sir’s long-suffering assistant. All camp mannerisms and bitchy one-liners to begin with, Norman goes above and beyond to make sure the show runs smoothly, dismissing the interference of those who say it’s impossible. But as the night goes on and he steals more and more sips of booze, we begin to see a darker side to Norman, who’s frustrated by his many years of service going unappreciated and unrewarded. When it ultimately becomes clear that he’ll never get the credit he deserves, his reaction is heartbreaking to watch.
As a Reece Shearsmith fan who’s used to seeing him mostly as part of an ensemble cast (on television, as well as on stage in shows like Hangmen) it’s a real treat to see him in the spotlight, playing a gift of a part that gives him opportunities to make the audience both laugh and cry. His performance in The Dresser has been described as “a revelation” and we’re delighted here at TVO to see one of our long-standing favourites getting such praise.
The Dresser is at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London until January 14th 2017, before running at the Chichester Festival Theatre from January 25th to February 4th. You can get tickets for London here and for Chichester over here.
To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets for the show in London, enter our competition before midnight on Tuesday November 8th.
Reece Shearsmith will soon be back on our screens in Inside No. 9 for a Christmas special.