To Sir, with love: 5-min interview with Reece Shearsmith

Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith in The Dresser

Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith in The Dresser - Credit: Archant

Reece Shearsmith and Ken Stott are starring in The Dresser at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre, from Sept 27 to Oct 1, 2016

Reece Shearsmith and Ken Stott in The Dresser

Reece Shearsmith and Ken Stott in The Dresser - Credit: Archant

Two of our great actors Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith are coming together as ‘Sir’ and Norman ‘the dresser’ in the hilarious and poignant revival of Ronald Harwood’s play.

Set backstage in a provincial English theatre, the story reveals the complex, touching and, at times, uncomfortable relationship between the fading star and his aide as we’re given a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into their world.

Reece, known for his writing and acting parts in The League of Gentlemen, Inside No 9, Psychoville and many others, allowed us to catch up with him to talk Shakespeare, folk horror and Bourton-on-the-Water…

What do you think of your character Norman, Reece? Do you share any personality traits?

Yeah, I sort of understand Norman. He’s a very dedicated man and his life is lived completely for the theatre; I don’t think he’d exist without it. The reality is that Norman suppresses that he’s nothing without ‘Sir’, but equally that works both ways – they’re co-dependent on one another. They don’t know a time before it and they certainly can’t imagine when it would end, so it’s a lovely story of this mutual friendship built on a common understanding. It’s been done before on film but I think this is where it’s meant to be as Ronald Harwood originally wrote it as a theatre play. It’s a great way to experience this story.

Had you seen the movie and TV adaptation before accepting the role?

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Yes, I loved them; I thought they were both great. It’s such a good play that I think it would be silly to think that I can’t attempt it; that another version is the definitive one and it can’t be approached. You have to get past that and think “well, this must be our version.”

How did the part come about?

It was a while back when I was offered it and I asked myself “Can I play the part of Norman?” I thought about it for a while and decided “Yes, I absolutely can see myself doing that.” I was thrilled to have been thought of, and even more thrilled at the thought of acting alongside Ken – it’s a great honour.

Have you acted with him before?

No, no, I’d never met him before. We met a few times once we knew we were going to be working together, and he’s great – a proper titan of stage and screen. It’s going to be quite something to be on the receiving end of Sir’s rants! It’s such a great cast – there’s Selina Cadell and Harriet Thorpe, too, so I think people are going to really enjoy it.

What would be your dream role… or have you already played it?

Oh gawd, I don’t know… I’d love to do more Shakespeare; I’d like to play Richard III and perhaps Malvolio. I love doing comedy, but I’m also drawn to more serious roles… I did this TV drama called The Widower which is a quite horrific real-life story of a murderer, and that was really harrowing but a great part to play for an actor.

Talking of ‘dark’, I’m looking forward to the return of Inside No 9. Do you have a date for the third series being aired?

It’s going to be some time in September or October… it’s very dark, even for us!

Even for you! I feel there are shades of No 9 in The Dresser, in the intimate setting, interaction of characters, and the tragedy…

Yes, absolutely; one of the No 9s we made was set in a dressing room, and The Dresser was in our minds as we wrote it. We looked at backstage life and used that as our inspiration…

I read there’s a No 9 episode about Krampus, called The Devil at Christmas…

Yes, there’s one that’s set in an Alpine log cabin in the ’70s, and it’s all about the legend of Krampus, which is a sort of anti-Father Christmas… a demon that comes along and takes away naughty children. It has Rula Lenska starring in that, and she’s great.

What do you think of the new Folk Horror Revival – is it your ‘thing’?

Oh, yes. I did a film called A Field in England – a Ben Wheatley film – which is considered a folk horror film. It’s a nice genre to be associated with, and I’m not sure what other films are being made, but there’s certainly plenty of horror to be mined in the woods and in the trees and the reeds and the bushes… A lot of witchcraft stories could certainly be attributed to that genre, including recently The Witch; it’s genuinely scary and even frightened me, which is saying something!

Have you come to Cheltenham and The Everyman before?

I’ve been to Cheltenham a few times before, yes. My in-laws live in Bristol and so I’m often around and about there. I’ve not been to The Everyman before, though, so I’m excited to see it – I’ve heard it’s very beautiful.

It is, yes – a wonderful, historic Matcham theatre…

Well, that’s great – that will really suit the play as it’s set in the lovely old proscenium arch in a provincial theatre in the ’40s, so it will be really nice to be in Cheltenham for that time. I’m often in the Cotswolds, and love Bourton-on-the-Water and Lechlade – all those lovely little places we visit…

I have a feeling the Cotswolds will be offering up more inspiration for Reece’s darkly well-observed creations – and I, for one, can’t wait.


The Dresser runs from Sept 27-Oct 1, 2016 at Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, tel: 01242 572573,