A BUNCH OF AMATEURS. THE PLAYERS THEATRE, THAME
7th – 11th March 07:45 PM The Players Theatre Nelson Street Thame Oxfordshire OX9 2DP £8-10
A Bunch of Amateurs is a perfect play for an amateur company to put on, as it’s about an amateur dramatic society in the fictional village of Stratford St. John in Suffolk, trying to put on a production of King Lear to raise funds to save their little theatre – a converted barn – from demolition. Through a misunderstanding, they manage to attract a fading Hollywood star, Jefferson Steele, whose agent thinks they are the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford Upon Avon. When he arrives he is disgusted to find he is expected to act with “a bunch of amateurs”.
The posh word for this is meta-theatre (theatre about theatre). Another term is comedy gold, because this formula allows the actors to send themselves up, spoof Shakespeare, and down a lot of beers on stage.
Jefferson Steele (acted by Victor Gaultney) is an insufferable egotist, used to being waited on hand and foot and surrounded by flattery and press attention. For him the role of King Lear turns out to be a self-revelation, as he has a difficult relationship with his daughter, and in the end it is a salutary experience, though not when he puts his back out. The long-suffering director Dorothy (Becky Powell) has to steer him and her other cast members through a series of tiffs and tantrums to eventually put on a performance of which we see only a few intriguing glimpses. She does look rather eye-catching in her costume as the Fool. It all adds to an evening of fun.
Brian Holt plays Nigel Dewbury, the slightly pompous retired lawyer who really wants to play Lear rather than Gloucester, and stoops to nefarious tactics, which eventually turn out for the best. He was appropriately over-the-top. Colleen Tudway was an entertaining Mary Plunkett, the B & B hostess who fancies Jefferson like mad, and suffers from comical jealousy.
One person who really stood out was Jessica Beare playing Jessica Steele, Jefferson’s awkward, angry teenage daughter. She was convincing and funny, and this girl is a terrific actor. If she wants to be the next Judy Dench I will cheer her on. If she doesn’t...well, good luck to her in whatever she does.
A couple of suggestions. The voice-overs between scenes were a bit indistinct. Maybe snatches of music would work better? Or recordings of Laurence Olivier? And in general this production could do with a bit more pace. Most of it needs speeding up, as there are moments of hesitation, and witty repartee needs to be fast. This could make all the difference between just being funny, and being uproarious.
A Bunch of Amateurs is running till Saturday 11th March at The Players Theatre, Thame (that’s Thame in Oxfordshire, not Thame in Nepal).
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