An admission before I start. I’ve seen this show more than once. Let’s just leave it at that.
I’ve always liked Ken Stott – bumped into him at Eyre Brothers years ago where he was having too much fun to interrupt with mere fan worship. I thought I didn’t like Reece Shearsmith. After all, what was that League of Gentleman stuff about, gobbling up licence-payers money? And that Gatiss fellow – what’s he for? Don’t get me started.
Well – I was only half right. On the Stott front.
I mean, completely right on the Stott front, obvs. The man is magnificent. I was wrong on the Shearsmith front. Completely.
The Dresser isn’t a new play. Its many flavours are often destroyed by regional am-dram exuberance. If you saw the BBC’s recently crafted spendfest with Sir Antony Hopkins and Sir Gandolf, you’d be excused for not wanting to venture out into the cold to see another joke bypass with people you only half liked.
But you’d be sooooooo wrong!
Get out there!
This Dresser is totally and utterly outstanding – extremely funny, totally engaging and heart-wrenchingly sad all at once. Try getting that out of a Bertie Botts bean.
So what is it about Reece Shearsmith? His camp timing, his delivery, his stage presence all combine to wring humour from every element of the situation. And this is indeed a situation comedy. We are in the thrall of Sir (our Ken), once a colossus of regional wartime theatre, whose demons now threaten not only to sabotage his 227th performance as Lear but worse, threaten also to extinguish his already flickering, exhausted, near dissipated spirit. We are however, completely under the control of the Dresser (Shearsmith), Sir’s dutiful retainer. Fortified by covert nips of distilled spirit against his commander’s passions and peregrinations, and comfortable in his knowledge of what’s best for them both, he seeks to control access to, and largesse from, Sir.
And so the situation continues. The war rages, bombs are dropped, sirens sound and yet the touring show must go on. Even if the war has nobbled all the able bodied, straight actors and you can’t get a good man on the storm effects. Heaven knows Lear needs a good storm – and a lighter Cordelia.
So it’s all very funny until it all gets rather sad. And again, as the Dresser discovers that after years of dedicated service he doesn’t warrant even a footnote of gratitude in Sir’s recently composed introduction to his autobiography, Shearsmith collapses from control of all he surveys into a realisation of the pathetic irrelevance he has always really been. It’s jolly touching. (Not jolly, obvs)
I think I’ll see it again.