Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

dresser top

Jon Holmes as Norman and Stan Hubbard as Sir

The Dresser

Mint Theatre Society

Aldridge Social Club


Ronald Harwood’s play The Dresser draws on his experiences of being dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit in the theatrical knight’s Shakespearean Company in the 1950s.

Classical actor Wolfit had toured his company throughout the war years and was renowned for his Lear and Richard III, anchor points for Harwood’s play set in the Second World War.

Sir - we never know his real name - is an actor/manager, a classical Thespian, with a wartime touring company struggling to find actors as all the youngest and best are serving King and country in uniform.

Not only that but Sir is not in the best of shape. It appears he has a reputation for being irritable, difficult, not the easiest, but now a cloud of dementia is descending upon him.

A strange incident in the street has seen him taken to hospital by his faithful dresser Norman but he discharges himself to return to play Lear – except he cannot even remember how the play starts or indeed which play he is performing – at one point he is putting on make-up to play Othello.

Enter her Ladyship, who at first appears to be his wife, but we discover is wife in all but name, Sir, having a latent marriage from his past. She wants to cancel, as does the company’s long serving stage manager Madge – but Norman insists Sir will be ready.

It is a wonderful performance from Jon Holmes as Norman. His Norman is Northern, effeminate, what was referred to then as a confirmed bachelor, at times catty, at times sympathetic; he treats Sir with a mixture of reverence and contempt, looking after his every need yet despising the way he, and perhaps others, are treated.

Norman drives the whole play along and has some of the best lines, wonderful quips and asides ranging from the witty to the sarcastic. He also has some powerful speeches which mix bitterness and anger with protection of the only life he knows.

Stan Hubbard’s Sir is old and confused, like the Lear he plays, although his stilted delivery amid the dementia is not always effective as the classical actor that Sir undoubtedly was – a Thespian of the old school where intonation, power and gesture were everything. But her carries the mantle of the fading and failing actor with some style.

Beth Howell is her Ladyship, Sir’s long-time companion, mistress, wife in waiting . . . who first got the job, according to Norman, as she was slim and light and easy for Lear to carry on stage as the body of his dead daughter Cordelia at the end of the play. A practical rather than artistic consideration.

sir, madge and her ladyship

Sir with Liz Daly as Madge and Beth Howell as Her Ladyship 

He is her Bonzo, she his Pussy, sobriquets from perhaps a younger, more romantic time. Now the love is hidden in familiarity. She wants Sir to retire, that night, announce it at curtain call. Live out his life in tranquillity.

Madge on the other hand just wants to make sure that if Sir is determined to go on – he does so and the audience get a show. Liz Daly is a no nonsense Madge, 20 years with the company, keeping everyone in line. The epitome of efficiency, yet we are to discover that behind that business-like exterior she has carried a flame for Sir for years.

In a final scene we discover the despair of both Madge and Norman, both in love with the difficult actor, both devastated at loss and, in Norman’s case, anger and resentment at the final indignity he has suffered in his 16 years with Sir.

There is anger, frustration yet most of all fear. Norman and Sir were bound together like Lear and his fool. The theatre was their only life, the safe haven that protected them from the harsh, real world outside, a place to hide. Without Sir, Norman, who tells us endlessly “I had a friend” as an introduction to some homily or tale of other, is naked and alone.

There is good support from Michelle Black as Irene, tasked with cleaning the crown, and David Daly as Thornton, a minor part actor who, having stepped up after Mr Davenport-Scott was detained in police custody for homosexual offences, was now asking for larger roles.

Then there Oxenby, played by Ian Toulouse, Welsh and cantankerous, obstructive and unhelpful – which might just have something to do with the fact Sir won’t read his play.

Mint have no home and do a remarkable job as a touring theatre in their own right. Aldridge Social Club has, as you would expect, a social club stage, and such stages are designed for comics and singers, bands and bingo – even the odd strip show in the more risqué establishments. Pretty well anything but theatre. No flies, no wings and lighting which is fine for karaoke, singing duos and discos, but less so for drama. It’s a case of horse for courses, or in this case stages for acts.

But Mint overcome the difficulties with a makeshift thrust stage and almost a pub theatre atmosphere with the audience on tables, drinks in hand, a matter of feet from the actors. Live theatre, close and personal.

The Dresser is not an easy play and Mint are to be commended for bringing such a splendid production to an unlikely venue and doing a fine job of making it work. To 24-03-18

Roger Clarke


Other performances: Aldridge Social Club, High Street, Aldridge WS9 8LZ at 7.30pm, 23 March and Stonnall Village Hall, Main Street, Stonnall WS9 9DY at 7.30pm, 24 March. 

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate