The Dresser, by Ronald Harwood, is a play about theatre; in fact it takes us to the bitter end of a once-glorious theatrical era.
It was a West End hit in 1980, and went on to succeed on Broadway, too. You might well have seen the 1983 screen adaptation, which starred Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay.
The era in question is that of the actor-managers, who ran their own repertory companies, and toured classic works – largely by Shakespeare – around provincial theatres, playing the lead roles themselves. Notable examples include Sir Frank Benson, and Sir Donald Wolfit.
Nicholas Betteridge is directing The Dresser at Lewes Little Theatre for the second time; the first was in 1986. He explains to me the dynamics of the play. It’s set immediately before and during a performance of King Lear, in a provincial theatre, in 1942. The rep company’s actor-manager, ‘Sir’, a sixty-something veteran, whose reputation is waning, is in the throes of a nervous breakdown. His dresser, Norman, has to persuade him to pull himself together enough to get on the stage and perform the lead. We watch the action – explosive in more ways than one – from behind the scenes... [read more]