By Ronald Harwood
Directed by Terry Johnson
Rated: 5 stars
I went to see The Dresser at The King’s Theatre in Edinburgh (Capital Theatres) on Saturday. It was packed of theatre-goers and no wonder. The cast and play was superb in this memorable, not going to leave you play. Ever since I saw the film version of The Dresser I had hoped it would be on stage. It, of course, with its subject matters, lends itself perfectly to actually being staged. This stage version is poignant, mesmorising, sad, funny and acted amazingly. Find out more about it below, including the rest of my no spoilers review.
Matthew Kelly as Sir
Samual Holmes as The Dresser (understudy for Julian Clary for the day I saw this)
Emma Amos as Her Ladyship
Rebecca Charles as Madge
Natalie Servat as Irene
Pip Donaghy as Geoffrey
Robert Shaw Cameron as Kent
Peter Yapp as Gloucester
Stephen Cavanagh as Albany
Claire Jester and Michaela Bennison as the ensemble
Inspired by memories of working as Donald Wolfit’s dresser as a young man, Ronald Harwood’s evocative, affectionate and hilarious portrait of backstage life is one of the most acclaimed dramas of modern theatre.
Olivier award-winner, Matthew Kelly stars as an ageing actor-manager, known to his loyal acting company as ‘Sir’, who is struggling to cling on to his sanity and complete his two hundred and twenty seventh performance of King Lear.
Julian Clary (replaced by Samual Holmes due to illness for the day I saw this), stars as Norman, Sir’s devoted dresser who ensures that in spite of everything, the show goes on. For sixteen years Norman has been there to fix Sir’s wig, massage his ego, remind him of his opening lines and provide the sound effects in the storm scene.
The Dresser takes place behind the scenes of the theatre during the war. The parts the general audience do not see. The portrayal is pretty accurate, there are attitudes, egos, tenderness and confidences. These and the memory loss (on-set dementia), was also portrayed perfectly by Matthew Kelly. The play gives great insight to behind the scenes moments into the life of a dresser and the relationship between the dresser and the actor.
The play has great poignancy and sadness, with some humour for those who perhaps recognise what is really going on and lived through such moments.
Matthew Kelly as Sir (the principle actor) plays lots of Shakespearan characters, that’s what he is known for. The decline in health is evident as he tries to remember his lines for King Lear and the frustration shows. His dresser, played by Samual Holmes had to take a lot of the flack, but the intensity of the relationship was evident. After seeing Matthew Kelly in The Habit of Art online as Covid and lockdowns struck in 2020, I was looking forward to seeing him in-person on stage and he was every bit as excellent as I thought he would be, even with a very different part.
Matthew Kelly and Samual Holmes in The Dresser were evenly matched and so charasmatic and both played their parts with aplomb!
This has now finished in Edinburgh, but if you ever get a chance to see this amazing play, I highly recommend it. This is a play I would happily see again and the company was fabulous!