The Dresser review: Dry humour cuts through the sadness of a decaying actor

Matthew Kelly and Julian Clary in The Dresser, currently playing at Norwich Theatre Royal.

Matthew Kelly and Julian Clary in The Dresser, currently playing at Norwich Theatre Royal. - Credit: Alastair Muir

The Dresser, by Oscar-winner Ronald Harwood, has arrived in Norwich and delivers an emotional tale masked with dry humour.

Inspired by Harwood's own memories of working as a dresser for Donald Wolfit, the show follows Norman, a devoted dresser for an actor referred to as Sir.

For 16 years Norman has been at Sir's side to fix his wig and massage his ego.

But Sir is starting to act strangely and Norman is having to remind him of his lines.

The dresser is sad tale about a stubborn and decaying actor, bolstered by the sharp comedy of his dresser, which takes place during a performance of King Lear.

Matthew Kelly playing Sir in The Dresser at Norwich Theatre Royal

Matthew Kelly as Sir in The Dresser, currently playing at the Norwich Theatre Royal. - Credit: Alastair Muir

Sir is played with immense skill by Olivier-winner Matthew Kelly who switches effortlessly between pretentious actor and a frail old man.

He is demanding and at the top of his game one moment and terrified and piteous the next.

Most Read

Julian Clary plays dresser Norman, who is fiercely loyal and quick of wit.

Not surprisingly Clary's performance draws the most laughs from the audience with his sassy one-liners. 

But his character is just as double-edged as the actor he is devoted to with a cruel streak fuelled by jealousy hiding behind snide remarks.

Sir's wife, referred to Her Ladyship, seems nothing but a trophy wife and mediocre actress when she first appears but commands her own respect as the show continues.

Portrayed by Emma Amos, she is the first to put Sir in his place when his ego takes over.

Julian Clary as Norman in The Dresser, currently playing at Norwich Theatre Royal.

Julian Clary as Norman in The Dresser, currently playing at Norwich Theatre Royal. - Credit: Alastair Muir

Written in 1980 and set in 1942, the play is surprisingly relevant to the present, with scenes that bring to mind the #MeToo movement and the mistreatment of young women in the acting profession.

The War provides a disheartening backdrop for theatre, and with actors fighting on the front, Sir's company are left with a small cast.

The worrying state of the profession portrayed hit close to home after a difficult year and a half for theatre.

The play is filled with moments that will make you chuckle and roll your eyes, but leaves you reflecting on how illness can take away someone's identity.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter