The story of A Bunch of Amateurs centres around a fading Hollywood actor, Jefferson Steel, who arrives in England expecting to play the role of King Lear at Stratford-on-Avon, only to find out that his agent has booked him to play with an amateur company in the Suffolk village of Stratford St John. What follows is a colourful (language is quite strong throughout) and at times emotional look at how the Hollywood actor’s demands are compromised on the way to possibly finding his inner Lear and respect as a proper actor. A film version was made starring Burt Reynolds, Emma Thompson and Derek Jacobi, amongst others.
As usual, the casting and directing of this talented Maskers group is second to none and each performer rose to the challenges of the script, including ample samples of the Shakespeare play itself. Diction and pace were crisp throughout.
Maria Head as Mary, a wonderfully star struck but passionate participant in ‘am dram’, gave a terrific speech about what it is to take part in such theatricals. Phillip De Grouchy perfectly portrayed the pompous Nigel, whose resentment to Jefferson getting the lead role was apparent in every scene. His theatrical movements and genuine sense of hurt at not being able to fulfil his dream were very funny and surprisingly moving, too. He fully embodied the content of Mary’s speech as to the devotion to the craft forever able to walk into the part he felt was rightfully his.
As Jefferson’s feisty daughter Jessica, a spirited Molly McDade was natural and convincing in her portrayal of the only person who knew the real Jefferson. Her American accent was very well maintained and spoken; the scene with her father Jefferson reciting the Cordelia speech was quite brilliant. Corporate sponsor Lauren was portrayed by Maria McDade who showed her character’s different ‘skills’ very well, her misinterpreted physiotherapy scene was most amusing and well thought out, giving it just the right side of humour without being over played.
The down to earth character of Dennis, the odd job man who cast himself as Jefferson’s entourage as well as Gloucester, was played to great effect by Adam Taussik. His delivery was naturally genuine and his suggestions for portraying the scene where Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out were very funny, at one point balancing the proposed eyes on a fork being both grotesque and outrageous.
There was a very strong performance as Dorothy by Jan Spiers, the lynch pin of the Stratford players, the director and driver, as well as playing ‘The Fool’. A very natural warmth and passion showed through beautifully, combined with an excellent rapport with Johnny Carrington as Jefferson, who commanded the stage from the moment he entered. His accent and stage presence were very strong, showing great contrast in the character from an arrogance of the Hollywood superstar to the tenderness of a misunderstood father; his delivery of King Lear’s most well known speech was very powerful, the audience reaction being such that I am sure a pin could have been heard to drop.
With good use made of the limited performance space in order to portray the large number of different scenes, director Hazel Burrows should be very pleased. Her attention to detail in costume and set, choreography of movement of action and set props, use of excellent lighting by Tony Lawther and associated music throughout, be it interval or change of scene, all added to the professionalism of the performance. The setting of Shakespeare’s verses to music by Ruth Kibble were particularly effecting and added to the texture of the play.
Congratulations to everyone for a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment. Those who have tickets are in for a treat. I understand it is almost sold out but check the box office for possible returns as this is good stuff!