Paul Johnson | 24 Sep 2011 00:15am
‘Lighted Fools Theatre Company’ is rapidly attracting appreciative audiences from a wide Surrey area; they present their productions in Guildford, Cranleigh and on this occasion in Walton at the attractive Riverhouse Barn. This production was Ronald Harwood’s ‘The Dresser.’ Harwood joined Sir Donald Wolfit’s post war Shakespeare Company as an actor-dresser. In retrospect Wolfit can now be regarded as the last of the old style actor managers. Harwood wrote, “They worshipped Shakespeare, believed in the theatre as a cultural and educative force and saw themselves as public servants” and he draws on this experience with a script that is inspired by – though not a portrait of – Donald Wolfit, along with the frustrations of touring in wartime Britain with long waits for connections on a windswept platform at Crewe. Set in 1941 the script charts a back stage life essentially through ‘Sir’s’ interaction with ‘Norman’ his dresser – a dresser who panders to his whims, wants, women, wigs and in between vigorously massages his ego too. There is a sense of complete authenticity to the writing; “Come Sir it’s time to age!” says Norman, as he assists Sir to prepare for what will be his final role as King Lear. “I saw his Hamlet,” says Sir about a colleague, “I was pleasantly disappointed!” David Webb, as Norman the dresser, brings a practised compassion to his interpretation of the role. It possessed an assurance that originated from a player clearly in charge of his lines. All too often the role can be ridiculed – even mangled – by waspish effeminacy but this was avoided by Webb who gave an observed characterisation that occasionally hinted at the effete but allowed the dialogue full reign to speak. Richard Parish offered a mesmerising interpretation of ‘Sir’ – blending egomania and charisma into a barnstorming performance that roller coasted from ‘Sir’s’ public persona to the disillusioned old man coping with exhaustion and death. The ‘dying scene’ was played to a hushed audience obviously involved with the moment. Period detail, a supporting cast that was empathetic to the story, together with lighting and sound effects that were timed to perfection enhanced both the central performances and evening. The play was directed by Karen Sahlsberg.
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