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A Bunch of Amateurs

by on 27 September 2018

Pride Comes Before a Fool

A Bunch of Amateurs

by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman

Park Players at the Hampton Hill Theatre until 29th September

Review by Didie Bucknall

Congratulations to Park Players who are celebrating their 50th anniversary. From the programme notes we learn that this company was originally formed in 1968 from members of a baby-sitting circle who wanted to stretch their wings. As a group of people with only this aim in mind, the result was likely to be a mixed bag of talents, but they grew in size and ability and attracted some fine actors and so became a popular amateur theatre group winning many awards for their productions.

A Bunch of Amateurs was the play chosen to showcase their achievement. Written by Ian Hislop and the cartoonist Nick Newman, the play is sadly beginning to show its age.

The action of the play hops from one venue to another, cleverly shown by backlit projection on to the rear wall of the stage.

A small drama group are in danger of losing their much loved Barn Theatre to development. They have a dwindling audience of practically no one at all. They quickly need to boost their number of supporters to keep the barn going as a theatre and have come up with an ambitious plan to engage a big name to take the part of King Lear in the title rôle.

 

 

 

Jefferson Steele, played by Ian Ramage, is a has-been Hollywood heartthrob who is keen to further his career. His agent has booked him in to play the lead part. Jefferson is unaware that there are numerous places having the name Stratford but that where the barn is situated is in a sleepy Suffolk village far from Stratford upon Avon.

He struts about, quoting Hamlet instead of Lear which he has obviously never read and is appalled by the number of words that he has to learn. He cuts up rough, demanding the usual filmstarrish accoutrements such as hot tubs, masseurs and fresh flowers, not to mention a grand limousine to take him from his luxury hotel to the theatre. His hotel turns out to be a very humble B and B and when the rest of his requirements do turn up, they are hilariously not quite as he had expected or imagined them to be. There are no big star names to support him either, just a dwindling bunch of amateur actors, each with their own agendas and, in the case of Nigel Dewbury, well played by Nigel Roberts, vaulting ambition to supplant the star and play the lead part.

 

BunchAm2Directing the play and the most level headed of the actors is Dorothy Nettle calm in the ensuing chaos, a lovely performance by Sarah-Jane Brindley. As actors throw hissy fits and storm off the stage, she patiently carries on with forbearance. Over-eager Denis Dobbins keeps coming up with dreadful ideas for Gloucester’s eye gouging scene, Mary Plunkett an sycophantic fan, keeps telling Jefferson how gorgeous he was in various films, none of which he has actually appeared in, to his increasing annoyance. The brewer who is sponsoring the play sends his wife Lauren Bell with his specially named Lear Beer which inevitably gets consumed with obvious results.

 

BunchAm3The rehearsal for the scene on the Blasted Heath goes wrong when Dorothy playing Cordelia is too heavy for Jefferson to lift. Inevitably Jefferson’s back is injured but luckily Lauren is a qualified masseuse and his groans of ecstasy as she releases his torn muscles shocks the landlady but provides exciting copy for scandal hungry newspapers worldwide.

Jefferson’s daughter Jessica arrives, at first she is prickly and resentful and they quarrel but, as the play goes on, both are reconciled and the final act where he holds his daughter, now played by the lightweight Jessica, there is a touching tenderness between them.

Throughout the play between scenes, members of the cast sing snippets of the Fool’s songs and these are delightful but the doleful 16th century songs of unrequited love sung in minor key by a piercing counter tenor broadcast in the auditorium before the play and during the interval are unhelpful to the atmosphere, even though misleading directions announced to the audience were amusing. There was a slight problem with the lighting because when the scenes were set up on a higher level in the bedroom of the B and B, though the back projection showed the bedroom curtains, the actors were sometimes unable to get full illumination.

This is a play where the actors are stronger than the play itself and the best bits really are when they are playing Shakespeare himself. It should be rip roaring comedy, but that it doesn’t quite come off isn’t the fault of the cast though, if the pace was tightened up somewhat it might get better.

Unlike the audience at the barn, Park Players deservedly enjoy a strong following of supporters and we look forward to many future productions from this Company.

Didie Bucknall
September 2018

Image by Piquant

Photography by JoJo Leppink of Handwritten Photography

From → Drama, Reviews

One Comment
  1. Jim Thomas permalink

    The first time I had been to the Park Players. Congratulations to all concerned, especially Sarah-Jane Brindley, for a great evening out. I loved it.

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