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Bill Allender and Ian Klemen star in Ronald Harwood’s ‘The Dresser’ at The Stables theatre.

The Dresser is a triumph at The Stables

Sir Ronald Harwood wrote The Dresser in 1980, adapting it to become a screenplay three years later. Having studied at RADA and subsequently working as Sir Donald Wolfit’s ‘dresser’ for five years in the latter’s theatre company, Sir Ronald knew the world of provincial theatre well when he came to write it. Last week The Stables put on their own production. Toby Sargent was there on the last night.

The Dresser is a play that depends on the performances of the two actors in the lead roles. The actor manager ‘Sir’ and his dresser ‘Norman’ need at different times to show frustration, affection, irritation and love towards one another, with a sense of mutual dependence always underlying their sometimes scratchy relationship.

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David Harding as The Fool and Ian Klemen as King Lear preparing to go on stage.

So thank goodness that, in the hands of Bill Allender and Ian Klemen, The Stables’ production was a wonderfully handled delight from start to finish.

Mr Klemen’s baffled grouchiness and Mr Allender’s camp jollying along were expertly rendered, with the latter’s jaunty moves around stage and ever-changing facial expressions a real pleasure to experience.

Real warmth

To be honest, it’s almost impossible to believe that this pair of amateur actors are not paid professionals, with a procession of stage and screen credits to their name. There’s real warmth – not to mention any number of other emotions – in their exchanges, coaxing out every nuance in Sir Ronald’s script.

Impeccably directed

Impeccably directed by Peter Mould, the play is effectively contained within a single room – the tatty dressing room in a weary provincial theatre in 1942 (conjured up with great panache by set designer Cliff Brooker) both before and, in the second half, after Sir’s performance as King Lear.

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Maxine Roach as Her Ladyship and Ian Klemen as Sir in Peter Mould’s triumphant production.

But it would be unfair to see the play as nothing more than a two-hander. The supporting cast shine too, with Maxine Roach a nicely-judged wife to Sir, playing a preposterously miscast Cordelia to her husband’s Lear, and pushing him on for yet another performance, while doing all she can to get him to surrender to the inevitable and retire while he still has the strength to do so.

David Harding provided an exquisite and hilarious cameo as Geoffrey Thornton, an actor way out of his depth playing Lear’s Fool in what must have been a really extraordinary (in the true sense of the word) production taking place offstage.

Flirtiness and cunning

Susannah Mayor as Madge, the stage manager, was crisp, prim and businesslike, cleverly revealing her true feelings about it all as the evening developed; while Bella Griffith as Irene caught the flirtiness and cunning of her part with real style, and Neil Sellman was the epitome of bitter negativity as Mr Oxenby, the sort of chap who can suck the joy out of any situation.

So a moving, funny and triumphant production. Finely acted by the cast and directed with nuance and distinction by Mr Mould, it brought roars of delight from the audience, and the sort of buzz among them as they left the theatre that tells you you’ve seen something special.

After the show, director Peter Mould told HOT why the play was a favourite of his.

The Dresser is a play I have wanted to direct for some time. It has all the ingredients that make a good play, comedy and drama with a touch of pathos. And it’s written by a master of his craft. Also I find theatrical history fascinating and am intrigued by the notion of the actor-manager going back to Shakespeare and Burbidge and later Garrick and Henry Irving: a breed which no longer exists except perhaps in the person of Kenneth Branagh.

“Also I am fond of Shakespeare’s King Lear. So, I found it particularly satisfying putting that play on the stage, and it was an almost perfect production in that all the elements, (acting, setting, props, lighting etc) that make up a play were all exemplary.”

The Stables – terrific atmosphere and friendly welcome

A final word on The Stables itself. This was my first visit and, if you haven’t been, then I’d heartily recommend it. Entirely staffed by volunteers (as are the actors, of course), there’s a terrific atmosphere and a friendly welcome, with a great – and sensibly priced – bar, and all the other facilities you need for a great night out. Look at the list of forthcoming productions and go along to enjoy it yourself – I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.

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Posted 18:50 Monday, Nov 14, 2016 In: Performance

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