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Sir’s final curtain

REVIEW: The Dresser (Malvern Theatres, Tuesday, January 18 to Saturday, January 22)

THE truth hurts. You’re just a third rate actor, says Her Ladyship, as she looms over the sweating, greasepaint plastered old man slumped in his favourite backstage chair.

It is indeed life imitating art. For this time-torn heap of humanity is a veteran Shakespearian actor who’s undeniably seen better times. And in keeping with the tradition, he dies every night, a tragedy both on and off the stage.

Ronald Harwood’s chilling juxtaposition of fact and fiction is vividly brought to life, courtesy of stunning performances by Matthew Kelly and Julian Clary, who deliver their respective roles as if their hearts are snagged and bloodily dangling from life’s barbed wire.

Clary plays the part of Norman, dresser to a cantankerous aging actor-manager known to his company as ‘Sir’.

It’s hard to love ‘Sir’. Self-absorbed and frequently downright offensive, he is in fact struggling to retain his sanity as he contemplates yet another performance as the Bard's King Lear.

Yes, he is indeed hard to love. Yet the eternally patient Norman does in fact hold his master in great esteem, a sentiment that seamlessly crosses over into affection, despite the old tyrant testing it to the limit.

Meanwhile, this being 1942, German bombers are droning overhead, sirens wailing, and explosions shattering the night air.

Whereas previously, ‘Sir’ has bawled his defiance at the Luftwaffe’s aerial fleets like some latter-day Henry V before Agincourt, the moment the bombs drop he changes his tune, and shakes like a frightened child.

The earlier bravado rapidly surrenders to fear and self-doubt, the missiles metaphorically and literally disrupting his disturbed universe.

And yet… the show must go on, and finally reaches its conclusion, despite the best efforts of Goering’s pilots to steal the limelight.

But backstage, Her Ladyship (Emma Amos) takes her customary deep draught of vitriol and proceeds to spit it out over the old and plainly broken thespian, who we find once again desolate and

slumped in his chair.

The Dresser is a masterpiece in observational writing, superbly interpreted by two of this country’s finest actors. And director Terry Johnson should also be congratulated for reprising a classic work that richly deserves its place in theatre’s hall of fame.

Pictured: Julian Clary and Matthew Kelly appear in The Dresser at Malvern Theatres.

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