Ian Waller enjoys a night of fantastic theatre in Bath combining heartbreaking tenderness with top drawer comedy

The Dresser at the Theatre Royal Bath offers an evening of theatre at its very best. Throughout, the performances are just superb while the plot captures moments of wonderful joy, heartbreaking tenderness and top drawer comedy that will be rarely upstaged.

The plot focuses around the relationship between an ageing theatrical legend, played by Matthew Kelly and known only as Sir, and his loyal dresser of 16 years Norman, Julian Clary, as they struggle against the ravages of age, air raid sirens and disintegrating relationships to guide the actor (very much with a capital A) through his 227th performance of King Lear.

OK, yes, I was somewhat nervous about how Julian Clary would handle the role of Norman. After all, I’d only really known him as a comedy performer and doyen of the alternative circuit of the 1980s and 1990s, along with his regular spots on Just A Minute. I needn’t have worried. This was a hugely impressive and deeply emotional performance that seemed to grow and grow as the production went on. Whether being tender and caring to Sir, wonderfully scathing and gossipy of other members of the cast, or dominantly protective whenever Sir was threatened by the behaviour of those around, Clary took on each situation with authority, humour and real skill.

His best work, however, came when sharing the stage with Kelly as Sir. The deep respect, love and indeed at times, pure frustration between the two characters was just wonderful to see, and at times deeply moving. While his character was ageing and weak, Kelly still imbued the part with an undeniable pride and strength, switching from a scared and tearful old man to a master of his art who given the right support, could stride on to a stage and take on the roles of Shakespeare in front of a full house.

Around the two central characters, the whole cast shone. Rebecca Moss as Madge and Rebecca Charles as Here Ladyship were perfect as foils for their feeling towards Sir, Madge perfectly desperately repressing her true emotions towards the old performer, Here Ladyship increasingly frustrated by a life in digs, cold trains and cold meals, and a pleading with Sir to finally announce his retirement from the stage.

Really I can’t recommend The Dresser enough. If you can, book a ticket today and enjoy a great night at the theatre.

The Dresser runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until 18 September 2021. Tickets are available at www.theatreroyal.org.uk