Actors spot on in dark comedy, but audience misses their cues

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 June, 2004, 12:00am

The Dresser

Fringe Club Studio

Tonight, June 9-12, 16-19

Much of the dark humour of the first half of Ronald Harwood's The Dresser appeared to sail over the heads of a supportive, but largely uncomprehending, first-night audience, who laughed nervously in response to the most obvious cues but failed altogether to respond to the subtler asides.

It was not the fault of the cast. Neville Sarony gave a splendid performance as the egomaniacal, stage fright-stricken actor manager known only as 'Sir', and Paul Frazer was wholly believable as the devoted but wholly unappreciated dresser.

The Dresser is a claustrophobic play, and the intimacy of the Fringe Club Studio made it more so. The set design had Sarony staring into the audience throughout much of the production through an imaginary dressing table mirror, and with no member of the audience more than a few feet away, the overbearing self-absorption of the character was palpable.

Notwithstanding the title, the play is much more about 'Sir' than Norman, the dresser, and Sarony and Frazer kept the performances in the proper balance, which makes Norman's eventual awful realisation of where he stands in his hero's estimation all the more powerful when it comes.

After the interval, cast and audience seemed more in tune with each other, possibly because the jokes were thinner on the ground.

Plays about the theatre can be annoyingly self-centred, but The Dresser is at least not sentimental. Harwood's characters are drawn compassionately, but with a clear eye, and the cast did them justice. With luck the next few audiences will be better attuned to the mordant wit of the play.