Theatre Review: A Bunch of Amateurs

A has-been Hollywood action hero takes on the role of Shakespeare’s King Lear in Stratford, only to discover it’s an amateur production in a remote UK town.

Presented by Red Phoenix Theatre
Reviewed 23 May 2019

You don’t need to be a theatre buff to appreciate the farcical comedy of Ian Hislop and Nick Newmam’s satirical play on ego and amateur theatrics. Nor do you need to be a fan of Shakespeare, although insights into both add immensely to this highly enjoyable foray behind the scenes of putting on a show.

In simple terms, the plot sees egotistical, has-been Hollywood action man, Jefferson Steel, arrive in Stratford in the UK, to take on the role of King Lear to revive his flagging career. Instead of Stratford-On-Avon, the home of the Bard, Steel finds himself in Stratford-St-John, a backwater British village with a bunch of amateurs trying to save their barnyard theatre by bringing in a big name.

The script is rife with biting one-liners, delivered with aplomb by a stellar cast of characters that include egotistical actors, star-struck fans, creative crew and eccentric organisers. Anyone involved in putting on a show should identify with each of the caricatures, while others should also recognise them easily.

Director Michael Eustice has paced the play very nicely, despite its over-long 2.5 hour run time (with interval). Kate Prescott’s simple set and his use of song to change scenes, makes sure the action flows.

His cast is led by the marvellous Petra Schulenburg as King Lear director Dorothy. She’s the glue that holds the characters and plot together with a restrained flamboyance that represents both the enthusiastic volunteer and the serious project manager.

She’s matched by Brant Eustice as the ridiculously self-centred Jefferson Steel. In a deceptively complex role, Eustice finds the balance between comical egotist, ignorant American, and compassionate human. It’s his character’s journey that progresses the plot. Eustice sells it like a star while lapping up the absurdity of both the situation and personal growth.

The only thing that doesn’t work is the romance between these two leads. There’s no chemistry prior or during their tryst which makes it unbelievable.

The leading cast also includes the delightful Tracey Walker, who is enormous fun as clueless, star-struck fan, Mary; Derek Crawford as simpleton Denis; and Lindsay Dunn who is magnificent as pompous wanna-be star Nigel.

They are ably supported by Cheryl Douglas, who I’ve admired for many years as an actor – and one of the primary drawcards for me wanting to see this play, and Laura Antoniazzi in a girl-powered role as Steel’s estranged but independent daughter.

The plot of A Bunch of Amateurs is highly predictable but that doesn’t detract from the journey, which keeps the laughs coming despite the heartfelt undertones that sometimes take control.

The Red Phoenix Theatre company is dedicated to producing Adelaide premieres and can chalk this one up to another success story. It’s always nice to support new works but it’s even nicer to support new works that thoroughly entertain.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Venue:  Holden Street Theatres, 34 Holden Street, Hindmarsh
Season:  23 May – 1 June 2019
Duration:  2.5 hours
Tickets:  $19 – $25
Bookings: Holden Street Theatres website

You don’t need to be a theatre buff to appreciate the farcical comedy of this play about plays.

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