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

Dressed up to near perfection

The Dresser

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


I AM too easily distracted. When that over-used word, disinterested, crops up, yet again, by usurping uninterested because that is what somebody mistakenly thinks it means, it draws me like a rabbit to the headlamps.

I have seen The Dresser seven or eight times and I don't remember being aware that it has committed this particular sin against syntax before. Now, however, The Nonentities have made me wonder whether it is they or Ronald Harwood, the man who penned this wonderful play, who should take the blame.

It falls to Carolyn Brinton, as “Her Ladyship” – otherwise known as Pussy to her aging actor-partner – to speak the solecism. “You sound”, she says, “like a disinterested stage-hand.” And, as ever when this sort of thing happens, the story tends to scamper on without me for a little while, leaving me fretting in its wake.

Not that I missed anything of consequence. How could I? This is a consistent theme; a heart-warming study of power and arrogance on their beam-ends; of the actor-manager whose mind is in the throes of throwing in the towel; and of the man who has been his dresser-cum-slave-cum-nanny-cum-resilient-doormat for 16 years and who is finally driven to his wits' end in the crisis that accompanies Sir's 271st performance as King Lear, somewhere in the course of a tatty tour.


It is a play with two massive central roles. Tom Rees is Norman, the camp, faithful, patient, repressed, bitter character of the title. It falls to him to open it with a soliloquy of substance and considerable length, giving us a taster of what is to follow. And it is he who closes it, with savage disbelief at the discovery that has undermined his years of hero-worship.

Both these high-spots, like everything in between, are impeccably etched. While Sir crumples into confusion and fear in the hour leading to his entrance, Norman chides, coaxes and cajoles him, taking intermittent courage for himself from his hip-flask, behind Sir's back.

And in his more lucid moments, Sir (Robert Graham), imprints upon his audience an indelible image of the mighty actor-managers of yesteryear. He bellows roundly and mightily. He berates all about him. He is God in Goole and all adjacent compass points. But he is terrified. His mind has had enough. He has been found wandering the streets in a rainstorm.

He keeps forgetting what play he is doing tonight; keeps needing Norman to tell him what his first line is.


The master of all he surveys is essentially a little-boy-lost, a pathetic figure in his long-johns and his long-sleeved vest, but managing – with Norman's admirably unwavering guidance – to transform himself somehow into the bearded, wild-eyed Lear.

Thus are two mighty roles placed side-by-side to challenge the skills that any company can find to tackle them. And here, superbly, that challenge is met almost immaculately. Hugh Meredith's production is a gem; a joy. And it is superbly dressed by a set of seedy distinction, representing Sir's dressing room and its immediate surrounds.

Essentially, it is the story of the relationship between two men, but it has an important periphery. Carolyn Brinton – Her Ladyship – has almost given up on her long-time partner; Wilma Watson (Madge, the assistant stage manager) has unrequited love for him; Kelly Lewis is the young Irene, upon whom he gazes with lecherous intent; Stuart Woodroffe is the self-effacing Geoffrey Thornton; and Stanley Barton is the rebellious Mr Oxenby, the actor who is not to be coaxed into working the vital wind machine.

This is a team of strength and substance, extracting the humour as well as the poignancy from a fruitful script. It would be a dreadful shame to miss the result of its efforts. To 19.6.10.

John Slim 01562 743745

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