INTERVIEW: Harriet Thorpe chats about THE DRESSER
You have performed in some amazing shows over the years and also been a regular fixture on TV shows like Ab Fab and The Brittas Empire. What have been some of your career highlights?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to work with some of the best directors around. John Doyle, Franco Zeffirelli, Nick Hytner, Howard Davies. They are truly inspirational and teach you so much about your own work and performing in general. Otherwise I’ve loved nothing more than working in comedy. French & Saunders, Ab Fab and Brittas were always the most joyous experiences with the best of people.
You are starring in The Dresser on a short UK tour before it comes in to the West End. For those who may not be familiar with the show, what is it about and what attracted you to the part you are playing?
It’s about an aging actor-manager, known as ʻSirʼ, who was once great but is now severely unwell. It follows this small ragtag theatre company touring the country during the Second World War and braving the Blitz to provide entertainment to the country in its darkest hour.
I play ʻHer Ladyshipʼ. She’s the female principal of the company and Sirʼs common-law wife, so she’s very grand! However, at time we meet her I think sheʼs coming to terms with the possibility she perhaps isn’t as talented as she would have hoped. She has devoted her life to a narcissist who wouldn’t even marry her, and only realises at the end that perhaps it was a mistake. I love her humour, her glamour and her pain.
The Dresser first played in the West End in 1980 where it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Play. Do you think the show will translate just as well to audiences now, more than thirty-five years later?
It’s set in the 1940s so yes! If it worked in the ‘80s it’ll work now. It’s a contemporary classic and Ken who plays Sir and Reece who plays The Dresser are fantastic to watch together.
What West End show would you like to see make a comeback and why?
I think there’s always space for Sondheim in the West End! I’d love a great revival of Follies or West Side Story.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I had just graduated and had a contract at Southampton Rep. We did a 1950s’ rock musical which included a horse onstage – I forget the details of how that worked! On press night, of course, the horse had an attack of nerves and went to the toilet in the middle of the stage! No way of stopping it! We couldn’t halt the show so we had to carry on and work around the mess until the interval! Everyone was in stitches – us and the audience!
What are your thoughts on theatre etiquette? What things annoy you when you are performing or when you are in the audience?
I don’t usually get too distracted by an audience if they’re noisy – especially if they’re laughing! That said, it does bother me when people are on their phones during the show.
Apart from acting, what is your biggest vice?
If you could be the opposite sex for the day, what theatre role would you love to have a go at playing?
I’ve always thought I’d make a good Phantom of the Opera!
If you won the lottery and could stage one theatre show of your choice, what would you choose and who would be your dream cast?
Great question! I’d probably do a fantastic glamorous ensemble piece – let’s say Follies again – and put all my friends in it. We’d just have a ball!
Why do you think people should come and see The Dresser?
The show is a perfect homage to British theatre, celebrating and affectionately mocking our wonderful dramatic heritage. Ken as Sir and Reece as The Dresser are sublime together, it’s a joy to perform with them onstage. It’s not just about theatre either, it celebrates our stoicism and strength, our Blitz spirit. Anyone who loves theatre will love The Dresser.
Thanks for having Tea With Wilma
THE DRESSER plays at Duke Of Yorks Theatre from 5 October 2016. Get tickets