This month we are pleased to welcome the eagerly awaited revival of Ronald Harwood ’s theatrical classic The Dresser to the Festival Theatre stage. Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith come together as lead actor ‘Sir’ and Norman ‘the dresser’, two men who are reluctantly and inevitably co-dependent.
We spoke to Ken Stott backstage at the Duke of York’s Theatre where the play is currently enjoying a celebrated West End run before coming direct to Chichester from 25 January.
Firstly can you tell us something about dressers from an actor’s viewpoint? What makes a good dresser, or a bad one?
The best dressers are those you never see until you need them – you scarcely know they are there otherwise. They become your friend, your confidant, ally and protector, who will go to any lengths for you.
Do you have any dressing room rituals?
It very much depends on the project and the play. I don’t have dolls or mascots or that sort of thing. In terms of preparation, I listen to a specific piece of music beforehand to help me get to the place ‘Sir’ should be – the right emotional level. Music is a very helpful shortcut in that regard.
The Dresser is one of those relatively recent plays which, like Broken Glass and Art, has become a modern classic. Is it possible to identify what gives a contemporary play longevity?
To achieve longevity, a modern play has to survive the moment when voices will say it’s become dated. If it battles through that, it will last.
Why did you want to be involved in this production?
The opportunity to play ‘Sir’ – it won’t come round again. And although the playwright Ronald Harwood wasn’t involved in rehearsals, to have him around to come and see it was wonderful.
The Dresser is also one of the many plays ABOUT theatre, which seem to appeal a lot to audiences. How close is it to the reality of backstage life?
It’s very close indeed. Despite the extraordinary and extreme circumstances the play portrays in trying to get ‘Sir’ on stage, it’s very well observed – the quickening of the heartbeat between the half and curtain up, the hive of activity. There’s palpable tension. A performance is like a squadron of planes taking off into the sky and, at the end, being brought safely down to land. The fear and the joy of going on stage never leaves you.
And you obviously have to play Sir playing Lear, a double layer of acting…
Yes, it’s art imitating life imitating art. At the end of the night it certainly feels as though we have done Lear – the play takes immense energy.
Any final thoughts?
Backstage life is often very like the play. People are fascinated by it. It’s a very truthful interpretation and as such, we love doing the play.