REVIEW: The Dresser at Chichester Festival Theatre

In a play set against a backdrop of Shakespeare, it only seems fitting that tragedy and comedy should both feature heavily.

Thursday, 26th January 2017, 10:03 am
Updated Thursday, 26th January 2017, 10:08 am
Reece Shearsmith and Ken Stott in The Dresser. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

But at times, it was hard to know whether we should be laughing or crying.

The play centres around the toxic relationship between Sir, a fading theatre legend, and Norman, his long-suffering dresser.

Over the course of one fateful evening, we see Norman trying to coax a mentally-disintegrating Sir from his dressing room and onto the stage to play King Lear, with results that range from the farcical to the pathetic.

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These moments blurred into each other to such an extent that the audience did not know how to react.

There were titters from the crowd as Sir’s trousers falling down was interpreted as slapstick humour, and darkly funny punchlines were interpreted as serious dialogue. This was at times the result of unpolished timing - surprising given that the show was a transfer from the West End.

The actor who most successfully embodied the contrast of tragedy and comedy was Reece Shearsmith as Norman, whose comic skill resulted in some wickedly funny put downs and whose desperation during the tragic climax tugged on the heartstrings.

Playing a closeted gay man, Shearsmith’s interpretation erred dangerously close to a Blitz-era version of Alan Carr, but the sincerity of his portrayal made you feel for him throughout.

As Sir, Ken Stott nailed the imposing nature of his character, but lacked in the fragility needed to make this part fully work. He seemed too young – this is a part that needs to be played by a much older actor for full effect.

The set, which span around to reveal a back and front stage of the theatre, was a nice touch, particularly to illustrate the characters walking through the building, but the lighting could have been stronger on Sir when he delivered one of Lear’s speeches.

It is hard to pin down what this production is – but enjoyable features higher than confusing on the list.

Until February 4.