“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.