Charles Essex reviews The Dresser at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth
Unrequited love is painful and embarrassing to behold, especially if the object of that love is a selfish, egotistical bully. Kevin Coughlan, in his best performance to date, portrayed Sir, the lead actor of a wartime repertory company, with a sonorous gravitas and pomposity. He was no more aware of the chaos he caused to those around him in the theatre than he was of the death and destruction outside the theatre caused by the Blitz.
For 16 years his dresser, devoted servant Norman (Alan Wales), attended to his every need. Alan gave a very nuanced performance with witty dialogue as he cleverly weaved obsequiousness, cajoling and prissiness, tender and patient yet jealous of Sir’s attentions to anyone else. Even when Sir was suffering a crisis on the verge of a breakdown Norman could not bear to see the love of his life not perform and used all his guile to get Sir dressed and onto the stage. In the dressing room Sir was a Learian tragic figure, reflecting the Shakespeare character he was performing on the stage. Clever direction took the actors off the Priory stage, with voice overs, as they performed King Lear unseen whilst we remained backstage.
Madge (Ruth Jones) had toured with the company as stage manager for over 20 years, besotted with Sir, but now acknowledging her spinster status. The intensity and depth of Ruth’s performance took her acting to a new level. Norman singing the fool’s song from King Lear showed that he realised he had been the fool – Sir’s draft memoir did not contain any mention of his dedication.
This was uncomfortable watching because of its poignancy but the set, direction and performances were to The Priory’s usual very high standards. They are to be congratulated for adding this to their repertoire of murder mysteries and comedies.
* The Dresser runs until Saturday May 18. Call 01926 863334 or visit www.priorytheatre.co.uk to book.