The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
October 8, 9, 10 & 11, 2003.
by Ronald Harwood
David Creedon – ‘Sir’
Bob Ryder – Norman
Kati Szeless – Irene
David Goodger – Geoffrey
Sheelagh Baker – Her Ladyship
Diane Robinson – Madge
Tony Brownings – Oxenby
David Bickers – Shakespearean
Kevin Isaac – Shakespearean
John Garland – Shakespearean
Lighting – Mike Medway
Sound – Simon Snelling
Stage Manager – David Comber
Technical Stage Manager – John Garland
ASM – Olive Smith
Technicians – Chris Grey
Technicians – Janice Gooch
Properties – Sue Whittaker
Properties – Margaret Davy
Wardrobe – Margaret Pierce
Wardrobe – Judith Berrill
Set Construction – Dave Collis
Set Construction – Mike Davy
Set Construction – Brian Box
Set Construction – David Comber
Set Construction – Marc Lewis
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Press & Publicity – Judith Berrill
Box Office – Margaret Murrell
Front of House Co-ordinator – Betty Dawes
Programme Note #1: The Dresser
From the eighteenth century right through to the Second World War, the ‘actor-manager’ was the British theatre. He played from one end of the country to the other, taking his repertory to the people – frequently offering five different plays in a week’s ‘run’ in each town. They rarely played London. Their stamping-ground was the provinces. They toured under awful conditions, like the miserable railway journeys on Sundays [mentioned in The Dresser] and the long hours in the freezing cold at Crewe station waiting for train connections. They developed deep reserves of strength and determination, essential if they were to survive. They worshipped Shakespeare, believed in the theatre as a cultural and educational force, and saw themselves as noble public servants.
Nowadays we tend to laugh a little at this strange breed, represented by ‘Sir’ in Ronald Harwood’s play. There is no denying that their obsessions and single-mindedness often made them ridiculous, so they were often written off by London critics as megalomaniacs and hams. But in truth, many of them were extraordinary and very talented.
The Dresser is of course about the backstage drama of one such imaginary touring company, not least the struggle of Sir’s loyal assistant, Norman, to ensure that the show does indeed go on. It has been a popular stage play ever since it opened in 1980, featuring Tom Courtney and Freddie Jones. And it became even better known in the faithful film adaptation, when Courtney was joined by Albert Finney. The film won many awards and is now a British cinema classic. However, this is a work essentially about the life of the theatre – and there is no better place to enjoy it!
Review #1: The Dresser
Publication: Brighton Argus
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
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Once again the admirable Wick Theatre Company has come up with an outstanding production, this time under the skilful direction of Patricia Lyne.
Set backstage in a northern theatre during the Second World War, Ronald Harwood’s fine play deals with the breakdown through nervous exhaustion of Sir, an actor/manager of the old school, during a performance of King Lear, whose madness is mirrored by his own. It explores his relationship with the rest of his company and, in particular, with Norman, his dresser. The play calls for two leading men of exceptional acting talent to successfully fill these rôles and this production had two such actors.
In the rôle of ‘Sir’, David Creedon gave a powerful performance reflecting the many mood swings of the old actor struggling to play Lear and run his company at the same time whilst drained of all energy, one moment having to rant and rave, the next weeping bitterly. By contrast Bob Ryder’s portrayal of Norman was full of subtle nuances. It required a great degree of sensitivity to avoid the trap of camping the part up outrageously. Norman’s background is that he too has suffered a breakdown in the past and his world has shrunk to that of Sir and the theatre. It is only in this environment that he feels safe and at home. The character was captured beautifully by Mr. Ryder, with both the comic and sad sides of Norman being fully realised.
Excellent support to the main rôles was given from the rest of the cast with Sheelagh Baker, as Her Ladyship, leading the way.
The only criticism I would make is that the two leads, on occasions, both tended to let their voices drop at the end of sentences, making their words inaudible. As this is a problem experienced here before, it may be that the fault lies with the acoustics and is something that directors should be made aware of in future productions.
Review #2: The Dresser
Publication: West Sussex Gazette
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Jeremy Malies
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The Wick Theatre Company staged an outstanding production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser at the Barn, Southwick, last week. The piece is treasured for a 1980s screen version starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtney. Not having seen the film or a stage version, I came with no expectations or yardsticks and was seduced within a few moments. The action takes place in the dressing room of an aging actor manager at a grim provincial theatre in the winter of 1942. ‘Sir’ is suffering from panic attacks and is reluctant to go on stage as the lead in ‘King Lear’. Eventually he does and we see a fraction of the stage from its wings.
Pat Lyne’s version is shot through with innovative, endearing performances, all of them feeding off Bob Ryder, who was massive in the title rôle. Ryder was domineering, tactile, tender, and dismissive of his master as the situation demanded. His frustrations and unswerving loyalty stood out in bold relief during the final moments where he was both vitriolic at his employer’s ingratitude and prostrate with grief at the actor’s death. It was the most subtle and compelling dramatic compound I have seen all year.
As ‘Sir’, David Creedon has all the technical resources and intelligence to appear opposite Ryder. His recovery, from initial despondency surrounding mental illness to a buoyancy before the storm scene, teemed with invention. Both men were outstanding when their characters lapsed into snatches of Shakespearian dialogue from the major tragedies.
The supporting cast was also flawless. Playing Irene, Kati Szeless proved convincing when making ‘Sir’ quiver with lust, while Sheelagh Baker was sympathetic as a loyal wife and disgruntled Cordelia. Patricia Lyne injected the piece with many witty touches, none more original and disarming than ‘Sir’ spitting on his hands before lifting Cordelia as if he was about to perform a clean and jerk.
Mike Medway turns out consistently flawless lighting designs at the Barn covering everything from drama to musicals and operetta. Even by his high standards the final fade out which caught Norman as if in a frieze was inspired. The production team should be congratulated on the set. It was so redolent of the ’40s and awful in its dinginess that I began visualising the bleakness of the surrounding town and the actors’ shabby digs.
What is Sir’s advice to David Goodger as he prepares to play Fool for the first time? ‘Pace, pace, pace.’ The evening was pacey, intense and a sustained joy.
Review #3: The Dresser
Publication: Words & Music
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Gordon Bull
A superb performance virtually carried in the title rôle by Bob Ryder brought another masterpiece to the Wick, with Patricia Lyne showing her debutante talents as Director. David Creedon as ‘Sir’, the peripatetic repertory theatre manager was equally important and convincing and the whole cast in other rôles gave good support.
Commendation must go to the set designers and costumiers in recreating World War Two conditions, although in truth the air-raid warning did not tend to on quite that long. If that’s the only niggle, it shows what quality the show!
Ryder and Creedon brought a convincing master-gentleman’s relationship at a different level with Creedon having the privilege of carrying the substance of the whole play. As an indication of real life in the ‘old days’ this was a valuable docu-historical commentary.
Comment #1: The Dresser
Publication: Wick Newsletter November 2003
Author: Ralph Dawes
Heading: “The Dresser an American Perspective”
“Last night [Wednesday], I was Front of House Manager for the performance of The Dresser. It follows therefore that I was in the foyer and did not view the show that night, but could hear that the audience were enthusiastic and appreciative. During the interval a man was pointed out to me by one of the usherettes. She said that he was an American who was very impressed with the theatre and the production.
At the end of the evening he came up to me. ‘I can’t believe that you are going to tell me that those actors are not professional.’ I assured him that we were amateur but that we all aspired to achieve the highest standards. His remarks were: ‘The acting, presentation and production are so professional I can’t believe you are amateur. Thank you for giving me such an enjoyable and pleasant experience. Your company are to be congratulated on a thoroughly professional production’.
He was an American who owned and ran a small professional theatre company in Florida. His theatre had 999 seats to keep it in the lowest Equity band. He was so impressed with the Barn and insisted that our facilities ie stage, lighting, auditorium, were better than his own theatre. Having looked through the events list he was equally impressed that Southwick could support three home companies at the Barn”