Ronald Harwood’s 1980 play about a volcanic ham actor and his waspish dresser was successfully revived for TV in 2015 with two mighty knights in the lead roles, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Ian McKellen. After a sluggish start, The Dresser hits its stride as the two titans show us how it’s done. McKellen is the peppery, fey, poisonous Norman, chivvying the tempestuous “Sir” (Hopkins), as a ramshackle, provincial theatre touring group tries to put on King Lear during the Second World War.
“Sir” is a wreck; he’s clearly ill, can’t remember his lines and periodically goes off into freefall rants. Always at his side, coaxing him into his costume and make-up, is Norman; on the face of it a cheery gossip, but his veins course with venom.
Emily Watson (Sir’s wife) and Sarah Lancashire (his romantically thwarted stage manager) ensure that the men don’t steal all the glory.