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A Bunch of Amateurs
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.
Christopher Sykes spends an evening at one of the most professional and most entertaining events to be enjoyed recently in the Village.
Black comedy at its funniest and best always beats expectations and that’s exactly what happened at May 2017’s performance of ‘Natural Causes’, written by the talented Eric Chappell and performed by the brilliant Woldingham Players.
Truthfully, you could well believe that this performance was the forerunner of a move to the West End, similar to the way many plays are first trialled and launched in the provinces. Sad therefore that so many Villagers, especially the younger folk who rarely attend these events, and will never know what they missed. Not so the nearly 200 (few of whom were under 50) who attended over its three night run and will never forget.
If I hesitate in outlining the plot it is because it may shock you and my adjectives of admiration will be dashed and disbelieved. Sadly, I cannot water this down so please swallow the idea of an odourless, all-natural poison which causes a painless suicide and is delivered on special request by a visiting ‘consultant’!
Personified by the brilliant Reg Anderson, Vince visits a beautiful country house, acting like a double-glazing salesman, mistakenly assuming that his solution was the final solution for owner Walter, played in a slightly John Cleese way by Joe Crisfield. It wasn’t; he wanted it for his very depressed wife Celia, played by Rachel Rowson, because he was having it off with his secretary Angie, coquettishly played by Harriet Jackson. (Take a shock break now for an Interval, drinks and raffle and delighted chat throughout the Village Hall).
Pretty dangerous to leave poison like that around in sherry glasses because you never know who’s going to drink it or be given it. So naturally, the chaos of near-misses, personal confession and comedy left us all in a fit of giggles and unending surprise. Not least surprising in response to a call from Walter was the sudden appearance of a Samaritan, Withers (“Damn, we are not supposed to mention our name”), played in his often frenetic way by Gary Pollak. He too was so befuddled that the temptation of a shot of sherry would have been a great relief even though he thought he had been done for after downing an orange juice. Fortunately, they all survived except one.
Naughty Vince hung around hoping for a bit of nooky now that Walter and his girlfriend had eloped, but wife Celia was more interested in counting her chickens (money actually). Now totally confused but ready to move on to another client in Slough, Vince inadvertently took a taste of his own medicine and that was the instant ‘Fin’ on an unmissable night!
Once again congratulations to all the cast and many thanks to clever producer Colin Brown, backed up by his plethora of regularly hard-working backstage and front of house team. 175 productions in 90 years is why Woldingham Players is so professional!
Report from the Southern Counties Drama Festival at the Barn, Oxted 24th February 2017
Our President, David Martin, is mightily pleased to report that our entry, A Little Box of Oblivion, at The Barn, Oxted last week was adjudged best of all the adult plays. Players won the adult prize and Rick Morris won the best actor award. He was most recently in the Woldingham Panto 2017 in January. Warmest congratulations to him and to the whole team:
Director – Pippa Martin – third success in her four festival entries since 2004!
Cast – Berry Butler, Rick Morris, Sarah Greenwood, Ziggi Szafranski, David Martin.
Backstage – Colin Brown, Lorna Brown, Andy Kosminski, Hannah ‘the Scream’ Taylor.
Pippa, Sarah and Ziggi gained nominations in their categories, as did the stage presentation, which includes the set.
In his verbal adjudication Mike Tilbury praised the layout of the set, the use all the actors made of the space and the ensemble work – all areas in which we did well in previous successes – and the restrained acting of the comedy moments. His few suggestions for improvement were penetrating, and far less numerous than for several other entries. He only failed to note the (intentionally) wrecked bench, and to mention Tommy, the tortoise, who is awakening from hibernation to spring greens and retirement at Dene Cottage!
Berry, David and Sarah were also participants in Pippa’s previous successes.
When it’s Dark it’s Light, When it’s Light it’s Dark
Specially written for the several hundred residents who, sadly, missed this Players’ treat! Black Comedy, the production earlier this month put on by the Woldingham Players, is probably the most difficult – yet enjoyable – experience for an audience.
Those who were not there will be surprised to learn that the play opened with the stage in complete darkness. In spite of that, the first two actors moved around with the dexterity of badgers on their nightly prowl. We assumed, were sad even, that something had fused and we were right because a few minutes later the lighting blazed and everyone could see everything. Actually, not everyone because the leading actor exclaimed ‘Oh my God, we’ve had a fuse’. With that the pair started moving around like blind people in a sandstorm. Are you with me so far? No – thought not. With proper lighting, we could for the first time see the set was a living-room with a staircase leading to a small section of mezzanine sporting a large double-bed. Of dear, some thought, we never get away from that same old subject – not sex before the watershed, surely? Then others entered bewildered and blinded. When one flicked his lighter to see, we were immediately back into darkness. The cast reverted to normal action while we fumbled to reverse our senses. When the lighter was extinguished, they became blind again but we could see. Do you follow now?
Sorry, but that’s how famous author Peter Shaffer wrote it – the reverse of normality but it certainly didn’t cramp the ability of the actors (or the skills of the back-stage crew). The apartment was artist Brindsley’s (played by Simon de Cintra who exuded enormous physical energy and activity) who was with girlfriend Carol (the ever talented and very attractive Jules Silverman) awaiting the arrival of a Millionaire to purchase his latest sculpture.
To improve the place, Brin had purloined an assortment of antiques from a wealthy neighbour who was away. The arrival of Carol’s father (David Martin perfectly encapsulating the demeanour and language of a testy Colonel) was coupled with bewildered neighbour Miss Furnival (introducing Berry Butler wonderfully aged by make-up and slowly metaphorising into a first time drunk).
When gay Harold Gorringe (a perfect character study by Tony Goddard) arrived back unexpectedly, Brin’s panic generated the most extraordinary, sweat-producing action as he crawled, crept and leapt round the stage trying to smuggle furniture back to Harold’s apartment. This unique situation enabled us to see the action in supposed darkness with hilarious consequences.
The long-awaited electrician, German art-loving immigrant Schuppanzigh (so linguistically and believably acted by Gary Pollak), was mistakenly courted as the Millionaire before he was banned to the cellar to deal with the fuse.
If the fuse was a central problem of this play so too was the unbeknown arrival of girlfriend Clea (well played by Emily Damesick) cleverly changing her voice when Brin lied she was his bed-maker and not his actual bed-mate! Black Comedy was beautifully produced by Colin Brown. Right at the last minute, he entered dressed like a German aristocrat, just as Schuppanzigh emerged from the cellar over-proclaiming, like Shakespeare, that he would now switch on the light – and we were again plunged into darkness.
With just 75 minutes and 0 intervals, 8 equally brilliant actors and 245 in the audience over 3 nights you had the perfect formula for a unique, very funny and cleverly acted evening – not Black, more Rainbow Comedy!