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Production

The Dresser

Company

The Singapore Repertory Theatre

Reviewer

Kenneth Kwok

Date

30/06/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

The DBS Arts Centre

Rating

****

The Men Maketh the Show

I've always been a fan of Michael Corbidge, right from one of his first works in Singapore as a writer (A Perfect Love Affair) in 2001 and he has subsequently impressed me as an actor over the years in productions such as Lonely Planet and One Flea Spare. What I particularly like about Corbidge is his consistency. I can always count on him to have good taste in his choice of material and to give, at the very least, a solid performance every time. He did not disappoint with The Dresser. Ronald Harwood's script is truly wonderful: this distinctly English period comedy is consistently funny - witty in all the right places while also confident enough to engage in some slapstick for the big, easy laughs - but it also builds nicely to a moving finish without betraying its two central characters or seeming contrived. And Corbidge filled out the part of Sir, a traveling Shakesperian actor with dreams of grandeur, beautifully with a nicely rounded larger-than-life performance. He also allowed the character to be small and fidgety at times and this added a nice contrast, making Sir seem softer and more two-dimensional.

The surprise for me, then, was Adrian Pang as Sir's fey dresser, Norman. Despite his acclaim, I've known him essentially as a TV actor and have never actually seen him perform on stage before. What I loved about his performance here was not just how he captured so perfectly Norman's fussiness and flamboyance and delivered his tart lines with such bite and expert timing but that he was never condescending to this character that could so easily have been played as a stereotype. This enabled us to relate to Norman as more than a caricature and sympathise with him when, at the end, he realises that the egocentric Sir had never truly loved him, despite Norman's devotion to him for many years as his assistant.

The direction by Tracie Pang was another reason for the show's success. Besides eliciting strong performances from her two leads, she also managed to create a real sense of time and space. The backstage life of a traveling theatre group in the 1940s was brought vividly to the stage with ensemble actors milling around even when they had no lines to speak and careful detail having clearly been paid to costumes and props. Sebastian Zeng's incisive set design also helped, allowing us to see supposedly backstage and also onstage when Sir's group was performing King Lear to an invisible audience, and also to literally see through walls and thus spy on furtive conversations.

Where I fault her, though, is in her choice of supporting actors. A lot of the colour of the play was drained away through their involvement. Susan Tordoff as Sir's weary paramour turned in a quiet and nicely-nuanced performance but the young actors playing the group's ensemble were only adequate (and therefore totally overshadowed by Corbidge and Pang) and the more experienced actors in supporting roles were simply very oddly cast. Pam Oei as stage manager, Madge, had little chemistry with Corbidge either as a friend or a lover. The stoic role simply did not play up to her strengths and she overcompensated when trying to rein in her natural vivacity, resulting in a colourless performance. I had no issue with Gerald Chew's performance as one of the actors in the group... other than that he was playing no older than his own age and therefore not convincing as a toothless old geezer who had difficulty walking.

In fact, I would have preferred most of the cast to play their parts older, if not, to have actually been older. A lot of the emotion at the end of the play comes from the sense of lives having been wasted because the characters have never been brave enough to confront reality or take control of their own lives. I feel the impact would have been greater if you had a stronger sense that these people had traveled a great journey of time to arrive at this point and that, as they were already nearing the end of their lives, there would be no second chances for them any more (although, admittedly, the play's being set during a time of war did already touch on this to some extent).

Whatever the case, please don't think I did not enjoy the show or see The Dresser as anything other that a resounding triumph for the SRT. Comedy of this nature - and The Dresser is essentially a comedy and should be judged as one - is not easy because rhythm and tempo have to be timed perfectly, but the cast and director managed to pull it off with great aplomb. A night out very well-spent indeed.


"Comedy of this nature is not easy because rhythm and tempo have to be timed perfectly, but the cast and director managed to pull it off with great aplomb"

Credits

Written by Ronald Harwood

Directed by Tracie Pang

Set Design by Sebastian Zeng

Lighting Design by Yo Shao Ann

Sound Design by Darren Ng

Costume Design by Yang Derong

Hair Design by Ashley Lim

Cast: Adrian Pang, Susan Tordoff, Pamela Oei, Michael Corbidge, Wong Ping Ping, Gerald Chew, Ashraf Safdar, Jared Kok and Anton Chan

More Reviews of Productions by The SIngapore Repertory Theatre

More Reviews by Kenneth Kwok

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.