A two-act play, The Dresser is set in the principal dressing room, corridor, and wings of an unspecified provincial theater in England, in January, 1942. Present are Norman, Sir’s dresser, and Her Ladyship, Sir’s personal and professional partner. They are discussing the bizarre behavior and state of mind of Sir, who is elderly and becoming feeble: Earlier in the day he was out in the local marketplace, in the rain, undressing and crying, and has been taken to hospital. Her Ladyship and Madge want to cancel the performance, but Norman demurs.
Sir walks in, having discharged himself from the hospital. He wants to get ready for the play, though he cannot remember which play. Norman keeps reminding him that it is William Shakespeare’s King Lear. While Norman attends to his makeup and costume, he also strengthens Sir’s resolve to perform by saying that there will be a full house.
At this point, the problems of a small company of players begin to emerge. One actor, Davenport-Scott, has been kept in police custody for homosexual behavior, so the casting will be altered. Another actor, Oxenby, is unhelpful because Sir will not read the play he has written. Sir assures Her Ladyship and Madge that he is fine and will give a good performance as King Lear. Only to Norman does Sir show his doubts, and his bantering relationship with Norman, by turns respectful, worried, insulting, and witty, is demonstrated. Norman projects a degree of confidence in Sir’s ability to perform this evening, though he clearly is unsure.
Another problem is that World War II rages around them: German aircraft drop bombs before and during the performance, and the air-raid sirens can be heard at intervals. The lines of the play make frequent reference to the war and its effects.
As he helps Sir...
(The entire section is 750 words.)