A NUMBER of first-timers took part in Lymington Players’ production of the terrific comedy A Bunch of Amateurs, written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman.
In a sleepy Suffolk village, an earnest band of local players, struggling to save their theatre from the clutches of developers, make a last ditch attempt by putting on King Lear.
In a desperate final endeavour, they look for a star to play the lead and are delighted to learn that a former but now aging star of Hollywood action hero movies, Jefferson Steele, has agreed to take on this task.
Jim Lockwood, on stage for almost the whole play, was superb as the egoistic Jefferson Steele, who believes he has been summoned to Stratford-on-Avon to play King Lear.
This vain ladies’ man is horrified when he discovers that the Stratford he has been booked for is “a hick town in the middle of nowhere” and the rest of the cast are “just amateurs”.
Sally-Anne McKenzie was excellent as the enthusiastic Dorothy Nettle, the company’s director, with the impossible task of keeping the peace and moulding the errant star into the role of the king.
Chris March was splendid as the rather stuffy lawyer Nigel Dewbury, a frustrated actor who thinks that he should be playing the lead instead of his lesser part as the Earl of Kent. He is scornful of the American’s acting ability and furious that he has made no attempt to read the play, let alone learn his lines.
At every opportunity he strides to the front of the stage, almost pushing the star aside to declaim his lines in true Olivier fashion.
Janette Russell, one of the first timers, was delightful as the star-struck Mary Plunkett who fawns around Jefferson, although she keeps getting his films mixed up with those of other actors such as Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Peter Wagstaffe was great fun as Denis Dobbins, the self-appointed one man entourage for Jefferson trying to fulfil all the celebrity’s requirements, although with some variations such as substituting a mobility scooter for a limousine.
The show’s sponsors are the local ale brewers and another newcomer Elizabeth Woolfenden was the efficient, sympathetic Lauren Bell, who deals with their PR.
The third debutante was Sophie Higgs, the feisty Jessica Steele who has come from America to join her father and is furious that he did not meet her at the airport as arranged. She addresses him with some home truths, leading him to realise that this is his last chance and he begins to take his role seriously.
As the play progresses, Jefferson realises that there is more to this acting lark than he has previously encountered and gradually his insecurity increases as displayed in a touching scene when in despair he recites the “Blow winds blow” speech from Lear’s scene on the blasted heath.
A misunderstood but compromising interlude between Jefferson and Lauren leads the jealous Nigel to release a scandalous story to the paparazzi resulting in the loss of the sponsors and the collapse of the play.
However, once the truth of the matter is revealed, he uses his legal skills to obtain a retraction, and the damages from the newspapers save the theatre.
The rear curtains draw back, the backdrop depicting a realistic castle, and various scenes from King Lear are skilfully acted out in swift succession. The spotlight illuminated various parts of the stage as different characters appear, culminating with the harrowing scene of Cordelia’s death and Lear’s utter destruction.
After the play’s triumph, Nigel apologises to Jefferson and puts out his hand but recoils in horror when Jefferson offers a hug, pompously exclaiming: “This is England.”
All members of the talented cast were word perfect and the American accents of Jefferson and Jessica were constant throughout. As a nice touch, during the scene changes, various actors sing a snippet of songs from Shakespeare plays.
Directed by Colin Keir, the production was a thoroughly entertaining amalgam of comic and straight acting to the delight of the sell-out audience.