“The Dresser” is in many ways a tragic comedy set in the lives of a touring theatre company in the middle of the second world war. We see back stage intrigue, lead parts played by ‘cripples, old men and Nancy boys’. In many ways, you couldn’t get anything sadder but Ronald Harwood manages to wrench comedy from the situation by creating a wonderful set of characters.
‘Sir’ is a monstrously self-absorbed actor manager who cruelly ignore his wife, spurns the trust and devotion of his stage manager, flirts with younger company members and undervalues Norman who is even more desperate for the show to go on than he is.
The Company are on a third-rate tour of the provinces, playing Shakespearean greats to the masses. They comfort themselves in the belief that they are fighting the war, but on the cultural front. Each character has their own happiness and sadness. ‘Sir’ is seemingly losing his mind through exhaustion and driving himself and the company on to the very precipice of disaster. The only person who believes in him is the lowliest of the low in theatrical hierarchy, his dresser. Like a Shakespearean fool Norman is the only one allowed to laugh at and with ‘Sir’.
As the performance of King Lear progresses we see ‘Sir’ and Norman in turn being repellent, sympathetic, cruel and very funny until the final devastating conclusion when the consequences of a life lived in service to a wayward character begins to dawn on Norman.
So successful has Ronald Harwood’s wonderful 1980 play been that it has been performed many times and been filmed twice. We invite you backstage once again to marvel at the madly heroic attempt to stage King Lear in an air raid and to enjoy the pain and humour of this latter-day Lear and Fool.
Dick Whittington - December 2017 - The Plot
This is a “rags to riches” story of Dick Whittington, a country lad coming to London with his cat Tommy, thinking that the streets will be paved with gold. He gets a job working for Alderman Fitzwarren who has an attractive daughter called Alice whom Dick immediately falls in love with. Captain Hauley and the mate of the ship “Messy Bessy” call on Fitzwarren to arrange a voyage to Morocco. Unfortunately, Dick is framed by the panto villain, evil King Rat who hypnotised Alderman Fitzwarren’s cook Sarah Sauce and Idle Jack into planting a necklace in Dicks bundle. Dick is banished from London. Fortunately, Fairy Bowbells is on his side and she creates a dream as he sleeps on Highgate Hill. The dream tells Dick he will one day be Lord Mayor of London so he returns to clear his name.
In act two Dick returns to Alderman Fitzwarren’s shop, much to everyone’s surprise. King Rat’s hypnosis is wearing off and Sarah and Jack recall they had planted the necklace after all. They all set out on the “Messy Bessy” on a voyage to Morocco but the evil King Rat has also slipped on board. When approaching the shores of Morocco, King Rat summons up a terrible storm and the ship sinks. Everyone gets split up but they all manage to crawl ashore thinking they are the only one saved from the ship. They are captured by guards of the Sultan of Morocco and brought to his palace. Morocco has been subjected to a plague of rats and Dick promises the Sultan that he has the answer in his friend Tommy the cat. Tommy sets to work on the rats but eventually must tackle King Rat. With Dick’s help, he defeats King Rat and the Sultan rewards our heroes with a new ship and great riches. Everyone returns home, Dick marries Alice and is made Lord Mayor of London.
The play begins in the flat of wealthy Algernon Moncrieff (Algy) in London's fashionable West End. Algernon's aunt (Lady Bracknell) and her daughter (Gwendolen Fairfax) are coming for a visit, but Mr. Jack Worthing (a friend of Algy's) arrives first. Algernon finds it curious that Jack has announced himself as "Ernest." When Jack explains that he plans to propose marriage to Gwendolen, Algy demands to know why Jack has a cigarette case with the inscription, "From little Cecily with her fondest love." Jack explains that his real name is Jack Worthing, squire, in the country, but he assumes the name "Ernest" when he ventures to the city for fun. Cecily is his ward. While devouring all the cucumber sandwiches, Algernon confesses that he, too, employs deception when it's convenient. He visits an imaginary invalid friend named Bunbury when he needs an excuse to leave the city.
Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive. Algernon explains that he cannot attend Lady Bracknell's reception because he must visit his invalid friend, Bunbury, but he offers to arrange the music for her party. While Algernon distracts Lady Bracknell in another room, Jack proposes to Gwendolen. Unfortunately, she explains that she really wants to marry someone named Ernest because it sounds so solidly aristocratic. However, she accepts his proposal, and he makes a mental note to be rechristened Ernest. Lady Bracknell returns and refutes the engagement. She interrogates Jack and finds him lacking in social status. On her way out, Lady Bracknell tells Jack that he must find some acceptable parents. Gwendolen returns for Jack's address in the country. Algernon overhears and writes the address on his shirt cuff. He is curious about Cecily and decides to go "bunburying" in the country.
In the second act, the scene shifts to Jack Worthing's country estate where Miss Prism, Cecily Cardew's governess, is teaching Cecily in the garden. Miss Prism sings Jack's praises as a sensible and responsible man, unlike his brother Ernest, who is wicked and has a weak character. She teaches Cecily that good people end happily, and bad people end unhappily, according to the romantic novel Miss Prism wrote when she was young. The local vicar, Canon Chasuble, arrives and, sensing an opportunity for romance, takes Miss Prism for a walk in the garden. While they are gone, Algy shows up pretending to be Jack's wicked brother Ernest. He is overcome by Cecily's beauty. Determined to learn more about Cecily while Jack is absent, Algernon plans to stay for the weekend, then make a fast getaway before Jack arrives on Monday. However, Jack returns early in mourning clothes claiming that his brother Ernest has died in Paris. He is shocked to find Algy there posing as Ernest. He orders a dogcart — a small horse-drawn carriage — to send Algy back to London, but it is too late. Algernon is in love with Cecily and plans to stay there. When Jack goes out, Algernon proposes to Cecily, who gets out a diary and letters that she has already written, explaining that she had already imagined their engagement. She has always wanted to marry someone named Ernest, so Algy, like Jack, needs to arrange a rechristening.
Just when it seems that Jack and Algernon couldn't get into worse trouble, Gwendolen arrives, pursuing Jack, and discovers that his ward, Cecily, is unpleasantly beautiful. In conversation, they discover that they are both engaged to Ernest Worthing. A battle follows, cleverly carried out during the British tea ceremony. The situation is tense. Jack and Algernon arrive, and, in attempting to straighten out the Ernest problem, they alienate both women. The two men follow, explaining that they are going to be rechristened Ernest, and the women relent and agree to stay engaged.
Lady Bracknell shows up demanding an explanation for the couples' plans. When she discovers the extent of Cecily's fortune, she gives her consent to her engagement to Algernon; however, Jack's parentage is still a stumbling block to her blessings. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that he will not agree to Cecily's engagement unless he can marry Gwendolen. Dr. Chasuble arrives and announces that all is ready for the christenings. Jack explains that the christenings will no longer be necessary. Noting that Jack's present concerns are secular, the minister states that he will return to the church where Miss Prism is waiting to see him. Shocked at hearing the name "Prism," Lady Bracknell immediately calls for Prism and reveals her as the governess who lost Lady Bracknell's nephew 28 years earlier on a walk with the baby carriage. She demands to know where the baby is. Miss Prism explains that in a moment of distraction she placed the baby in her handbag and left him in Victoria Station, confusing him with her three-volume novel, which was placed in the baby carriage. After Jack asks for details, he quickly runs to his room and retrieves the handbag. Miss Prism identifies it, and Lady Bracknell reveals that Jack is Algernon's older brother, son of Ernest John Moncrieff, who died years ago in India. Jack now truly is Ernest, and Algernon/Cecily, Jack/Gwendolen, and Chasuble/Prism fall into each other’s' arms as Jack realizes the importance of being earnest.