Triumphant performance of The Dresser

REVIEW
The Dresser, by Ronald Harwood
Chichester Festival Theatre

The winter Festival Theatre season continues triumphantly with an unmissable production of The Dresser. This enduring play by Ronald Harwood has stood the test of time since its first performance in 1980. This is the story of a struggling theatre company staging rep performances of Shakespeare in bomb-blasted England in World War Two, and features an aging actor manager, simply known as ‘Sir’, and his dresser Norman.
Sir is clearly losing his mind and his health, and the big question in the first act is whether he will make it on stage to perform King Lear. The stage manager Madge and her Ladyship (Sir’s partner) want to cancel the performance, but wonders are performed by the waspish and witty Norman who uses all his cunning and powers of persuasion to get Sir dressed and somehow ready to perform. Sir spends his time in his dressing room caught between torrents of self-pitying tears and bursts of bravado. He has huge difficulty remembering which play he is supposed to perform, and his first lines in Lear.
The second act initially moves the action fro the dressing room front of stage. Will Sir make an entrance or remember his lines? Afterwards there is a dramatic turn offstage. While you must no expect everything to turn out happy every after, you are certain to enjoy this marvellous play.
In his programme notes Ronald Harwood, who once worked as a dresser, to Sir Donald Wolfit, admits that his theatrical experiences have helped him to give a sense of reality and truth to his play. But he says that neither Sir nor Norman were modeled on Wolfit or himself, but on a number of people. According to Harwood says the actor-manager role lasted more than 200 years from the early 18th century. Although often ridiculed today, they “created a magnificent tradition which is the foundation of our present-day theatrical inheritance”.
Over the years The Dresser has enjoyed scintillating performances on stage and on screen, but there can have been few better than Reece Shearsmith as the eponymous dresser and Ken Stott as Sir. They wrung every ounce of comedy, pathos, melodrama, sorrow and empathy from their parts.
Stott plays Sir with just the right balance of ham, hypocrisy and honesty to create a mixture of affection and repulsion. Shearsmith is irresistible as Norman, putting his body and soul into his put-upon gay character. These are towering performances. There is strong support from the rest of the cast – notably Selina Cadell as Madge and Harriet Thorpe as Her Ladyship.
Director Sean Foley has ensured that every comic moment is exploited and the subtle rhythms of the play are realised.
The Dresser is on until Saturday, February 4 at the end of a tour which has included Brighton Richmond, Cheltenham and the Duke of York’s in London. Highly recommended.
www.cft.org.uk

 

By Nick Keith

Wear your green heart on your sleeve for climate change event

Petersfield WI groups are calling upon the townspeople to join them in the Square on Tuesday, February 14 for the Climate Coalition’s ‘For the Love of’ campaign.

Organiser Liz Bisset explained: “Valentine’s Day is traditionally when we show our love for friends and family but for the past couple of years this idea has been extended by the Climate Coalition as Show the Love day, part of their ‘For the Love of’ campaign (see http://fortheloveof.org.uk/).

“The Women’s Institute are in the Climate Coalition and as a WI Climate Ambassador and member at Petersfield WI, I am organising the event in Petersfield Square on Valentine’s Day, 11am-2pm, and I am asking as many people in the community as possible to wear a green heart and join together in Petersfield Square to show their concern about climate change.

“Organisations are asked to make a large green heart (at least 40×40 cm) with your name and the things that you want to protect written on it, which representatives will then bring to the Square by 11am. If you would like to publicise your organisation and show why you want to help stop climate change, you could set up a stall, too. In case the weather is bad there are some gazebos which will be set up and available for hire at the nominal charge of £10. The number of these is limited so they will be given out on a first come, first served basis.

“There will be a programme of entertainment starting at 11am from various local performers (the line-up will be confirmed nearer the time) and there will be hot soup available to buy made by Fork Handles Soup Kitchen stall.

Call 01730 263429 to find out more.”

A craft afternoon for all, run by the WI and the Climate Coalition, to make green hearts, will be held at St Peter’s Church on Saturday, February 11, 2-5pm. Teas and cake will be served.

Wintons’ Snow White a delightful family panto


Snow White (Winton Players)

Festival Hall, Petersfield
Friday, January 20 2017

Another splendid pantomime from Winton Players fulfilled all the panto requirements; audience participation, a colourful Dame (Phill Humphries in fine form), a principal boy played by a girl (Tara Taylor), a sweet principal girl (the excellent Grace Moritz as Snow White), idiot lackeys (Wayne Pinhorn as Scribbles), the court fool (Joff Lacey enjoying his role as Chuckles with the worst jokes in history), a fairy godmother (Jo Simmons lovely as Fairy Fortune), a pompous courtier (Ryan Watts as the bewigged Justice), and a host of woodland creatures and fairies (the little hedgehog was adorable).
It was good to see four generations of the Stephenson family in this year’s panto. Panto elder statesman George was his usual wonderful self as Slurp the drain cleaner with the limp which changed foot, his son Conrad (well-known in PTG for his comic roles) created the voice for grandson Thomas’ dwarf character Grumbly, while granddaughter Lucy joined the junior chorus in a band of fluttering fairies. Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Jo swept across the stage as deliciously evil Queen Avarice in glorious green; a great performance.
The dwarves worked really well as a device; children wearing masks, and miming, as the adults in the orchestra pit gave them their voices. The children were marvellous, making the audience laugh with lots of physical comedy. Well done to Theo, Isabella, Shoshana, Thomas, Hattie, Charlie and Luke.
Standout moments for me include John Edwards as Merlin in the mirror, hilarious in his I Want to Break Free moment; Jo and her backing witches in their I’ve Put a Spell on You; the bear creeping up on the Dame etc (well done Matthew Burrage); and the Dwarves scenes.
The chorus scenes were lively and entertaining, and it’s lovely to see people of all ages pitching in and obviously enjoying themselves.
The set was great, especially the spooky forest backdrop, and the band gave it some welly. Costumes, as always, were sumptuous.
Well done to director Penny Young for a proper panto for the whole family, (literally, in the case of  the Stephenson family!).
Loveliest of all for me was watching my young assistant reviewer, Camille, clapping, booing, laughing, jumping up and down with excitement and rushing back to her seat after the interval because she wanted to “find out what happens next”. Her favourite part was when the “mirror broke and the Dame pretended to be the Queen”. She thought the dwarves were very funny and said she really believed that the Queen was evil, which meant it was a really good performance. She was thrilled and delighted at the whole show. What more proof of a panto’s success could there be?

Kat Wootton

Food review – Station House, Haslemere


The Station House, Lower Street, Haslemere

01428 776560

Well, what a transformation has taken place at this hilltop hotel! As well as the hotel rooms, main bar and brasserie-style restaurant, there is now a cafe, and a terrace for sunny days.

My colleague and I were shown to our seats overlooking the railway and near the woodburner – nice and snug on a cold, sleety January day. I love the railway seating used in part of the pub, with a ‘view’ of the old railway; perfect for a Brief Encounter style romantic meal!

We ordered Moroccan spiced hummus and olives to start, and the hummus was delicious – not at all what I was expecting – sweet and fresh and light, with little pieces of oily bread to dunk.

My colleague then chose the stone bass while I opted to try the rabbit and crayfish pie.

The well-flavoured fish was cooked perfectly, and the samphire and buttery new potatoes added a rich salty accompaniment.

The pie was a bit of a revelation – a sweet, creamy sauce full of delicate rabbit and crayfish pieces, topped with flaky pastry and served with buttered carrots and a lovely crisp potato and tarragon croquette, both speckled with parsley.

We couldn’t resist the desserts – Bakewell cheesecake and bread and butter pudding with orange marmalade ice cream were selected, although it was a tough decision. Both were good – not too sweet, full of flavour, and attractively presented.

As we were both driving, we couldn’t sample the wines, but our elderflower cordial was refreshing and palate-cleansing.

The menu is interesting, with plenty of choice, and the prices, around £7 for starters, £12-£18 for mains, is good value. Recommended.

Kat Wootton

Highfield and Brookham Schools pioneer emotional wellbeing in schools

Recent media coverage in the UK highlights a growing concern for children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing, and only last week Theresa May announced plans to “transform” attitudes to mental health, with a focus on children and young people. This includes offering every secondary school mental health first aid training to teach staff how to identify symptoms, and help those who may be developing a mental health issue.

At Highfield and Brookham Schools in Liphook, emotional wellbeing and resilience is at the very core of their pastoral planning as they aim to lead the way in the Prep School sector, changing the culture in the way children’s wellbeing is assured at the very heart of school life.

The current thrust of activity began in April 2015 when Highfield and Brookham hosted a conference attended by more than 60 schools, launching a major campaign across Prep Schools nationally to place emotional wellbeing at the core of education. Their ‘whole school’ approach is to develop a culture with genuine involvement of all staff, pupils and parents, and includes mental health training, a peer listening scheme, ‘Mental Wealth’ check-ups, parenting talks, and the introduction of Mindfulness practice in the school day.

By May last year, the schools had completed their first round of mental health training for parents, as well as conducting a series of parent talks from external speakers James Shone; Jackie Cox, a leading educational physiologist; Dick Moore, ex- Prep School Headmaster; and international speaker and award-winning author for and about teenagers, Nicola Morgan. A substantial (and still growing) proportion of teachers and parents have completed the eight-week Mindfulness Foundation Course, and a there has been enthusiastic take up of the two-day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Course.

Over the next two years, Highfield and Brookham aim to enrol as many parents, teaching and non-teaching staff as possible on the Mental Health First Aid Course, as it provides a deeper understanding of how to spot the signs of mental ill-health and what to do.

Call 01428 728000 or see www.highfieldschool.org.uk to find out more.