Review: A Bunch of Amateurs
In a small Suffolk village called Stratford, the director of 'a bunch of amateurs' makes an appeal: "I beg you to take this last chance to save our theatre. If not, the community will not just lose its theatre. It will lose its soul". How very apt!
Even more apt is an explanation of why nobody has come to listen to her appeal: "Well… you’re up against Strictly…"
On a Saturday evening in Retford, this drew a big laugh from a large audience who had not stayed at home to watch Strictly. And they were well rewarded by the comedy that followed.
The solution that the Stratford Players come up with is to invite a Hollywood star to play Shakespeare’s Lear, and thus secure publicity and funding. When action hero Jefferson Steele arrives and discovers that this is not the Stratford, and there are none of the facilities he expects, just a village hall and a B&B, he is incredulous. Swearing at his agent on his mobile (several times) and getting nowhere, he is at a loss, and then…
Jefferson and his daughter Jessica (who arrives later) are convincingly played by Phil Underwood and Keri Duffy, actors not well known to RLT audiences; their American accents are excellent, and the world of Hollywood stardom and family relationships is revealed through their acerbic exchanges. Funnily enough (!), this relationship parallels that of King Lear and his daughters – and Jessica ends up as Cordelia.
Because this is a very clever play. Jefferson has the characteristics of Lear. As Jessica says, "Lear is an arrogant egomaniac and a lousy father", a fading star who throws his weight around and demands the impossible. Even those who don’t know King Lear (and there are great chunks of it as they rehearse) will be able to see how this play-within-a play is cleverly woven into our play.
The whole hilarious mess is held together by the director, Dorothy, who is very determined; she handles her motley crew – who each has a personal agenda – with a mixture of cajolery, humour and firmness. Joan Young does this superbly: she dodges the advances of Nigel (Stephen Walker) the frustrated, pompous thespian who thinks he should have the leading role; she comforts Mary (Angela Ingall), simpering and star-struck but who nevertheless gets all the star’s films wrong; she tactfully guides the well-meaning, bucolic Denis (Mark Thornton), who comes up with ingenious ideas about the blinding of Gloucester and appointing himself as Steele’s ‘entourage’; she welcomes the glamorous Lauren (Angela King), wife of the sponsor, and physiotherapist.
The comedy comes from the ‘am-dram-ness’ (the doubling-up or even trebling of parts, the lateness and absence of cast members, some of whom never appear; from the clash of personalities and their private lives; and from the witty repartee. Of added interest are the topical references: to bad action movie series, press coverage, sex scandals, promotions, funding, publicity, celebrity culture.
The set-builders had, as usual, produced a ‘non-am-drammy’ set; the thrust platforms (for the bedroom and dining room scenes) were particularly effective. The songs and music (composed by Angela Ingall) were absolutely delightful. We had a good cast, ably directed by Liz Williams.
There were a few disappointments. I had expected that the filmed sequence (an excellent idea) of Jefferson’s arrival at the airport would include sound; to have him standing, talking, next to the screen didn’t really work. The pace in the first half was rather slow, but, as it was only the second night, I expect this will improve. The lighting was a bit odd at times, or so it appeared to me on the back row.
Towards the end Jefferson says, "I always thought of amateurs as 'unprofessional'. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you’re the ones who deserve respect – not people like me. Because where’s the glory for you guys? Where’s the glamour? Where’s the fame?”
Reviewed by Christina Jones
OUR CURRENT PRODUCTION
A Bunch of Amateurs
Keen to boost his flagging career, fading Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steele arrives in England to play King Lear in Stratford – only to find that this is not the birthplace of the Bard, but a sleepy Suffolk village. And instead of Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench, the cast are a bunch of amateurs trying to save their theatre from developers. Jefferson’s monstrous ego, vanity and insecurity are tested to the limit by the enthusiastic am-dram thespians. As acting worlds collide and Jefferson’s career implodes, he discovers some truths about himself – along with his inner Lear!
Click here for booking information.
Retford Little Theatre is pleased to annouce our 78th
Season of plays will open with A Foot in the Door
by Richard Harris, and
with The Nightingales
A Bunch of Amateurs (Ian Hislop, Nick Newman), Fondly Remembered (Gareth Armstrong) and When the Wind Blows (Raymond Briggs) complete the season's line up.
Click here to download a copy of the 2018-2019 season brochure (printed copies available at the theatre Box Office).
Further details of all the plays in the
2018-19 season, including ticket information, can be found here.