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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

New Era Players - A Bunch of Amateurs

16th to 25th June 2022

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Let’s hear it for much maligned am drams

I am a very foolish, fond old man, being a sucker for those English Cinderella movies in which the plucky underdogs never actually win, but come a creditable second place. Swimming With Men did it for male synchro swimmers, Finding Your Feet for community dance troupes. A Bunch of Amateurs does it for the 2,500-plus amateur dramatic groups in the UK.

The Ultimate Finality action movie franchise has had its day and so, it seems, has its macho star, Jefferson Steele (played with appropriate confidence by Stephen Bennett in New Era’s production). In a bid to give his career a new direction (or was it just to get rid of him) his agent responds to an advert from the Stratford Players to take the lead in their production of King Lear. Unfortunately, this Stratford is not the birthplace of Shakespeare, and its players are not the RSC as Jefferson believed them to be when he left Hollywood. Rather, they are a group of stereotyped (but not unkindly so) amateurs who, desperate to save their little theatre, have set out to attract a big name to draw an audience into their overly ambitious production of the Bard’s demanding masterpiece.

Director Dorothy, played with assurance by Lisa Harrington, sets out ‘to direct an impossible play with an improbable cast in a dilapidated barn’. With satisfying predictability, egoistic and overbearing Steele becomes an integral part of the company, having acquired an unexpected insight: “I always thought of amateurs as ‘unprofessional’. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you’re the ones who deserve respect – not people like me.”

The show of course goes on, as it must. It’s a great success and leads to a most unlikely conclusion (but hey, it’s a fairytale!).

A Bunch of Amateurs is a good fun play. Hilary Hainge gave a spirited Pam Ayres-like performance as starry-eyed landlady Mary Plunkett who is smitten with her famous lodger until he is caught in a compromising position with the show’s sponsor’s wife (played by Emma Bastable). Handyman, H&S officer and self-appointed minder to Jefferson was played by David Tute who swung hysterically from general innocence and affability to manic attempts to play both Gloucester and Cornwall who puts out his eyes. When Jefferson’s daughter Jessica turns up, we are treated to a masterclass in disdainfully withering looks by Isabella Goldsmith who bars no holds in telling her on-stage father a few home truths about his shortcomings as both actor and parent. There are some very funny lines in the play, many of them going to Nigel, who thinks he should be in the lead role. Gareth Croft’s portrayal of this pompous yet spurned thespian was excellent, his comic timing and dry delivery being impeccable.

The play’s genesis as a film is apparent in its sequence of short scenes. The decision to forego all but the most essential stage furnishings and props was apt, but punctuating each scene with a blackout was unnecessary and disrupted the flow of an otherwise highly-successful production.