A BUNCH OF AMATEURS – an Appreciation – November 2018
The authors, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, have written that A Bunch of Amateurs is a love-letter to amateur dramatics. Originally written as a film and chosen for the Royal Film Performance in 2008, they re-wrote the script with the benefit of that experience as a play, first performed in 2014 at the Watermill Theatre. It makes a great play, rewritten for an English cast, including more Shakespeare, more jokes about Hollywood and the format suits the stage perfectly, whilst being challenging to mount for a small society of amateurs.
The Players have reflected the spirit of the theme under Pippa Martin’s direction. She gave full rein and coherence to a real-life bunch of amateurs, talented but some self-confessedly either typecast or playing themselves, but who all inhabited their characters with authority.
The plot concerns the Stratford Players, a local group in Stratford St John, Suffolk, strapped for members and under threat of losing their theatre. They recruit a big name, a Hollywood star, albeit a fading one in Jefferson Steel (played by Burt Reynolds in the film), to publicise their intended production of King Lear and save their theatre. Jefferson initially believes he is joining the RSC at Stratford-on-Avon, but is quickly disabused of this notion and billeted in Mary’s B & B rather than his anticipated 5-star hotel with all the trimmings of stardom. Introduced to a bunch of locals – enthusiast and driving force Dorothy, solicitor and prima donna Nigel, handyman Dennis, the fawning Mary, and Lauren wife of the sponsor brewery owner, now renaming his prime ale ‘Lear’s Bitter’ – he has the first of several melt-downs. Later on Jefferson’s daughter Jessica, 17 going on 25, arrives to discomfort her Dad and gradually be sucked into the production until she too is recruited to act – in the part of Cordelia.
Plenty of shenanigans follow, including a false news scandal linking Jefferson with Lauren in ‘saucy Suffolk sex romp’. Dorothy’s astute management and character-reading persuades Jefferson’s megastar behaviour and colourful language to metamorphose into commitment to the production, admiration of the amateur players and reconciliation with his daughter, in life as in Lear.
Chester Stern commands the stage with his spot-on Hollywood-accented portrayal of the self- obsessed Jefferson struggling to find his way in an unfamiliar milieu. Sarah Greenwood as Dorothy provides a very English and measured foil, holding the Stratford Players and their production together, and avoiding Jefferson’s admiring but tentative pass at her. Colin Brown as the even more English Nigel, desperately wanting to play Lear himself and having to be content as Earl of Kent, excels as the main prima donna and informer to the press. Berry Butler’s Mary plays the sweet and later spurned landlady who has a remarkable meltdown which elicited spontaneous applause. David Martin played Dennis with realism, delivering some memorable comic lines and visual gags such as eating his own eyeball (pickled onion). Debutante Catherine Elliott fitted her role as Lauren perfectly and delivered the tricky massage scene with no little assurance. Heather Hannaford played the teenager all-American Jessica with a teenager’s insouciance and aplomb in her first adult play. At the end, after unaccompanied solo Fool’s songs between some of the earlier scenes, cast and crew sang the final one with gusto.
No Woldingham production is complete without a well thought-out set and a dedicated backstage crew. The latter was extensive and unsung, as usual, were part of the whole team which delivered such a joyous show. The impressive balconied barn was a constant background, gradually accumulating props and rehearsal clutter. A low thrust-apron, separately lit, provided the B & B scenes, even if the back rows had to stand to get a good view of the massage scene! The star element was the sublime gauze backdrop for the King Lear scenes, conceived and largely painted by Pippa.
The large and responsive audiences over four nights were left in no doubt that this was a true portrayal and celebration of amateur dramatics by – an enthusiastic bunch of amateurs.
Write-up: Acted Play Reading on 22nd February 2018
The Players performed a witty play called ‘Key for Two’ written by John Chapman and David Freeman renowned for their hilarious comedies. This play was produced at the Miller Centre recently and three of their actors were co-opted by our Producer Christine Bower for our enaction of the first act of this skit on human relationships – all very offbeat.
The setting was the inside of an elegant flat in Brighton inhabited by Harriet, a divorcee living on her own, played by Allison Blair. Can you imagine the ‘goings-on’ that might ensue when the hostess entertains two married gentlemen callers on different days of the week, plus her friend Anne whose marriage to Richard, a vet from New Zealand, is under strain; parts played by Colin Brown, Ewen Rose, Sue Simpson and Reg Anderson respectively.
The reading was most entertaining with lots of mime, appropriate confused movements and mistaken identities. The actors and the audience enjoyed themselves immensely.
Congratulations to Christine for a carefully thought out production including a multitude of props! The North Downs Golf Club was our venue with tasty refreshments provided. Altogether a fun evening.
For further information contact one of the Officers:
David Martin – 01737 763395, email@example.com
Berry Butler – 01883 652448, firstname.lastname@example.org
Colin Brown – 01883 652005, moc.n1553372622sm@nw1553372622orbpm1553372622uj1553372622
History of the Society
Woldingham’s dramatic society was founded in 1927 and, with only pause in wartime, has been active with productions every year. We aim to produce one or two full-length plays every year at the well-equipped Woldingham Village Hall – in the past occasional musicals, but these days classic drama, thrillers, comedy and farce. We enter annual one-act play drama festivals as often as we can, principally the Southern Counties Drama Festival and since 2010 the Leatherhead Drama Festival.
We have had some notable successes at these. In recent years Blue Remembered Hills reached the semi-finals of the All England Festjval in 2004, the Dear Departed won at Leatherhead in 2010 and A Little Box of Oblivion was the best adult performance at the Southern Counties in 2017.
We welcome guest actors and they have contributed greatly to some of our productions in recent years. We are always on the lookout for new members, actors, back-stagers and anyone who is keen to contribute.
A regular feature of our programme is play-readings, all acted nowadays. We try to hold 3 or 4 each year and they afford the opportunity for aspiring actors to get a taste of the fulfilment that can be enjoyed.