“Why the hell do you do it?!” exclaims big-shot Hollywood actor Jefferson Steel to the amateur cast of the Stratford Players. To which he gets the pithy reply: “It gets us out the house”.
It’s obviously a bit more than this for the real cast of Richmond Amateur Dramatic Society who have just started their run of A Bunch of Amateurs at The Georgian Theatre Royal. They appear to do it because they love it and this passion comes across on the opening night of this very polished and entertaining production.
For those of you who don’t know the play (or missed the film of the same name starring Burt Reynolds and Derek Jacobi), this is the tale of washed-up American star Jefferson Steel who is deceived by his agent into playing King Lear at Stratford. Unfortunately for him, it turns out not to be the birthplace of the Bard and instead is a sleepy Suffolk village. Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench are nowhere to be seen and the cast are a bunch of amateurs trying to save their theatre from developers. Steel’s arrogance and monstrous ego almost prevent him from submitting to such indignities as rehearsing Shakespeare in a barn, staying in a lowly B&B (without access to the obligatory leisure facilities), or swapping his customary limousine for a borrowed mobility scooter. But, with the help of his enthusiastic and dedicated co-actors, he slowly comes to rethink his pretensions and look at life in a whole new way.
It is a strong and cohesive cast that takes on Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s punchy script (the same team that brought us Spitting Image and Dawn French’s Murder Most Horrid). Miles Templeton takes on the role of Jefferson Steel (who is the epitome of the egocentric American) with nauseating accuracy. Indeed, much light-hearted humour is derived from the age-old rivalry across the pond. (“He’s a mate.” “You’re wrong. He’s an American!”) and one of the play’s funniest moments comes from the dispute over the pronunciation of asshole/arsehole.
The script’s killer comic dialogue is particularly well delivered by Gary Winn as Denis Dobbins – the down-to-earth handyman and village Mr Fixit – who displays perfect comic timing alongside his obsession with the scene in King Lear where Gloucester has his eyes gouged out as a punishment for helping the King escape. As anyone who has regular contact with teenagers will know, Martha Templeton gives a very accurate performance as Steel’s long-suffering and exasperated daughter and Julie Winn is perfect as the star-struck B&B owner and flamenco dancing enthusiast.
Always trying to steal the limelight from Steel, as well as the role of Lear, the pompous and indignant solicitor Nigel Dewbury is satisfyingly played by Warnock Kerr. Beki Stevenson is excellent as the breezy PR lady who is trying to push the beer of the play’s promoters (“I’ve tasted better spinal fluid!”) and Kath Torbett does an admirable job of trying to hold the play together as the long-suffering director.
This brings us to a final word from the real Director. In her notes, Lynne Kerr said she had been “looking for a light-hearted comedy which would entertain an audience on a (hopefully) warm balmy evening.” The opening night was on one of the hottest days on record and the audience was certainly entertained by this engagingly funny show, so full marks on both counts!
A Bunch of Amateurs is on at The Georgian Theatre Royal from Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 July and Thursday 2 to Saturday 4 August. Tickets are available from the Box Office on 01748 825252 or online at www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk