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REVIEW: The Dresser - Cheltenham Everyman

Two well-known names have joined forces in the latest production of The Dresser to tour the UK.

Matthew Kelly and Julian Clary star in the production inspired by memories from Ronald Harwood of working as Donald Wolfit's dresser as a young man.

It is 1942 and in a war-torn provincial theatre, an ageing actor/manager, known to his loyal acting company as 'Sir', is struggling to cling on to his sanity and complete his two hundred and twenty-seventh performance of King Lear.

It is down to Norman, Sir's devoted dresser, to ensure 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.

All photos credit: Alastair Muir

Norman, played by Julian Clary, was expert at delivering waspish asides rather than longer monologues. Sadly this wasn’t a match for his co-star, the Olivier award-winning actor Matthew Kelly.

Kelly, as 'Sir', outshone Clary with his beautifully delicate and dynamic character as he moved through a whole spectrum of emotions during the show.

Kelly showed the extremes of his character with ease, both strength and weakness, both decisive and dithery, both full of pathos and easily uplifted. It was easy to forget you were watching Kelly and fall totally into the world of ‘Sir’.

This possibly isn’t a play with a nervous disposition with the sound effects of London during the Blitz causing scares among the audience as well as the unravelling of ‘Sir’s’ mental and physical decline.

The wartime dressing room set was filled with great attention to detail and it felt like you had fallen into an old sepia photograph from your grandparents' attic.

This unquestionably moving production tackles the themes of ageing, loyalty, unrequited love and symbiotic, co-dependent relationships. Tragedy and comedy are splashed against the backdrop of Shakespeare's most tragic play and performed by a brilliant pair of actors.

The Dresser runs at Cheltenham Everyman until Saturday 25 September.

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