TNC CLASSIC 2016
by Ronald Harwood
Dir. Sean Foley
The West End has its traditions and the revival is high up there as one of theatrelands most cherished traditions. To be fair that can be said of theatre the world over but there is something evocative about a revival on the West End and no other revival could be as well placed quite like Sean Foley’s revival of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser.
Set during the Second World War an old ham Sir, Ken Scott, has been trudging his Shakespearian company across a war torn UK with the stress and strain finally taking its toll on him and his ever loyal dresser Norman, Reece Shearsmith. On one night he might be playing Othello the next King Lear it doesn’t take long for those around him to realise that he’s taking on way too much.
It hard to imagine a tragicomedy played so skilfully that one is left with a certain pang of guilt for laughing as hard as one does during Sir’s entrance and first opening lines. Scott so masterfully bring out a Sir who is exhausted, afraid and worried but for some reason feels the need to keep going.
As the sound of air raid sirens and bombs dropping around them the theatre quietly transports the audience to a country in the grip of the Blitz. There is a moment in the play when Sir is discussing the bombing of a theatre and his words hit hard as for him, his company and their audience theatre was a sanctuary for them all from the terrors and reality of the war.
Michael Taylor’s rotating stage plays a central role in the Foley’s revival making the whole stage come to life and is used brilliantly by the company to give a real sense of life to the production. Both Shearsmith and Scott are brilliantly cast and play off each other greatly. The stubborn somewhat selfish nature to which Norman manages to manipulate Sir back onto stage plays more to his fears of a life without being with Sir.
"...no matter how hard and painful they are, that he has on stage offer him a the briefest rest bite from everything that is happening around him."
Foley’s doesn’t just water down the farce he almost silences it at times allow the audience to really engage with the beauty that is so delicately written by the plays writer. There is humour and the spirt of farce is still strong but Foley wonderfully gives space and time for the plays more emotional and painfully heartbreaking moments to come through.
There are times you sit up and are in awe at the perseverance of this players, men and women who actually did this during World War 2. The sound of bombs dropping whilst audience and company would remain to perform, to take them out of themselves for a brief moment.
Perhaps that’s the core reason behind Sir’s refusal to stop. May be he sees those moments, no matter how hard and painful they are, that he has on stage offer him a the briefest rest bite from everything that is happening around him. We’re given small snippets of the troubles Sir is facing from company issues to his wondering eye to his dealing with a very determined Her Ladyship.
The Dresser's strength is a reminder of the power a good revival can have.