REVIEW: A Bunch of Amateurs

Review: A Bunch of Amateurs by Nick Newman and Ian Hislop Chelmsford Theatre Workshop Tuesday 2nd October 2018

Michelle Jacobs, Writer· Thursday, 4 October 2018

An amateur dramatics group staging a production about an amateur dramatics group staging a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. As Chelmsford Theatre Workshop’s first offering of its 2018/19 season, ‘A Bunch of Amateurs’ is a clever, knowing choice. As the audience take their seats, well-observed and constructed set design transports us from CTW’s small but remarkably well-appointed auditorium to the humble converted barn theatre which is home to the Stratford Players.

Repercussions abound all round when fading Hollywood film star, Jefferson Steel arrives in a quaint Suffolk village believing he has been booked to boost his flagging career to play with the RSC at Stratford upon Avon. Some deft directing by Rob Whitfield and Katherine Tokley gives the comic script plenty of pace and energy and allows for some striking physical performances. The central aisle of the auditorium is used to great effect for some dramatic, flouncy entrances and exits and has the added effect of ensuring the audience feels part of the action. At one stage, it as if we are participating in a press conference as Jefferson is questioned by eager journalists about how he feels about his new project. The use of off stage voices as if they are part of the audience works well here.

Mark Sutton is well cast as Jefferson, capturing both the egotism and swagger and his growing humility as events unfold. Sutton’s American accent should be credited for remaining constant throughout. Jefferson’s main sparring partner is Nigel Newbury, who believes he is the only true actor in the village. Nigel is played by Martin Robinson who delivers some killer ripostes and a winning line in facial expressions. Robinson’s Nigel oozes pomposity and could, in the words of the ‘Suffolk Herald’, even be said to be “definitive!”

Charlotte Norburn is convincing as Jessica, Jefferson’s angst-ridden teenage daughter whose arrival has a profound effect on her estranged father. Norburn, like Sutton has obviously worked hard to maintain an American accent which slips only a little once when she is required to give a particularly emotionally and physically powerful performance.
Sylvia Lanz typifies authority with a human face as Dorothy Nettle, the Director who is determined to save the drama group’s fortunes. Christine Davidson sparkles as Mary Plunket, Jefferson’s glamorous hostess who is eager to give him more than bed and breakfast!

Tom Tull obviously revels in the role of clownish Dennis Dobbins and his “selfie” moment is a comic gem! Jacquie Newman makes a suitably breezy and impervious PR Lauren Bell.

This talented cast is given a chance to ‘brush up their Shakespeare’ for real when the Stratford Players finally and triumphantly bring King Lear to the stage, a challenge at which none are found wanting.

For A Bunch of Amateurs, this is a very professional performance!

Michelle Jacobs , October 2018

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