Keen to boost his flagging career, fading Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steele arrives in England to play King Lear in Stratford – only to find that this is not the birthplace of the Bard, but a sleepy Suffolk village. And instead of Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench, the cast are a bunch of amateurs trying to save their theatre from developers. Jefferson’s monstrous ego, vanity and insecurity are tested to the limit by the enthusiastic am-dram thespians. As acting worlds collide and Jefferson’s career implodes, he discovers some truths about himself – along with his inner Lear!
Directors: Rob Whitfield with Kat Tokley
By Guest Reviewers Sue Rogers & Steve Rogers.
A play about a fading Hollywood Star taking part in an Amateur production of King Lear to save a local Theatre.
What a great choice of script. ‘A Bunch of Amateurs’ is a terrific comedy packed with great comic dialogue and a plot of plenty of twists and turns including controversy, scandal, betrayal, and a visit to A&E, all while trying to rehearse for a production of King Lear! A very tall order to convey convincingly with So many lines to learn and such diverse characters to play by a small Cast but We were gripped from the first scene. There were no signs of first night nerves here.
Our Congratulations go to the whole team. We are always intrigued to see the inventive ways Chelmsford Theatre Workshop find to utilise their small space and this was no exception. This was a complex plot with many necessary Scene changes. The Set was very effective and fitted together like a jigsaw and it was evident that the Crew had worked hard to make the scene changes look so effortless and slick. The choices of music for the scene changes were clever, witty and worked very well.
Hats off to the Directors Rob Whitfield and Katherine Tokley for their excellent casting and Direction. Such attention to detail. The Cast were strong and worked together so well.
Mark Sutton’s portrayal of the Hollywood Star, Jefferson Steel was convincing. He was appropriately brash and ego-centric at the start and showed a gradual mellowing as the Play progressed. His American accent was excellent.
Sylvia Lanz as Dorothy Nettle, the Director was the Glue that kept the play together and kept the pace. She was the perfect antidote and calming influence on all the other bold characters. Her comic timing was exceptional and she was able to show many aspects to her character as the play progressed.
Charlotte Norburn as Jessica Steel, Jefferson’s daughter. Another fantastic American accent. Great Characterisations showing Teenage angst and great chemistry with her Dad and Dorothy but in entirely different ways.
Christine Davidson is delightful as Mary Plunket who is in awe of Jefferson and cannot help but fawn all over him in a rather ditsy but endearing way. Christine had excellent comic timing.
Martin Robinson played Nigel Newbury an outstanding ego-centric Lovey. His characterisation and comic timing was spot on and his diction was so clear.
Tom Tull’s portrayal of Denis Dobbins the Handyman come Thespian showed excellent characterisation and comic timing and with the witty script and clever props kept the laughs coming. It was great to see a completely different side to his character at the end when reciting Shakespeare.
Jacqui Newman as Lauren Bell the trophy wife of the Theatre Sponsor showed good versatility in the different characters she played. Both funny and believable.
Sue Tokley, Robin Winder, Rob Whitfield, Katherine Tokely as Journalists provided tension and atmosphere to the performance.
All the cast delivered quotes from King Lear in a very accomplished way showing great acting skill and direction. Another great dimension to each performance.
Congratulations to all involved. Thank you for a wonderful evening. If you love a laugh and Shakespeare, this is the play for you. Highly Recommended.
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