REVIEW: Comedy of errors A Bunch of Amateurs is a choice production by Hasland Theatre Company

Stratford Theatre is facing its final curtain. That’s not the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Bard’s home town, but the am-dram enthusiasts treading the creaking boards of their village hall in deepest Suffolk, writes Roger Green.

Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 5:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 6:53 pm
Steve Cowley, as Jefferson Steel, Heather Davies, as Lauren Bell, Helen Preston, as Mary Plunkett, and Georgia Thomas, as Dorothy Nettle in Hasland Theatre Company's production of A Bunch of Amateurs. Photo by  Graham Martin.
Steve Cowley, as Jefferson Steel, Heather Davies, as Lauren Bell, Helen Preston, as Mary Plunkett, and Georgia Thomas, as Dorothy Nettle in Hasland Theatre Company's production of A Bunch of Amateurs. Photo by Graham Martin.

Faced with losing their council grant, the players need to raise £15,000 or the site will be redeveloped for executive homes, but their rallying call for community support ends in failure, with the hall empty. Well, it was Strictly night.

Enter fallen Hollywood star Jefferson Steel, raring to return to the stage after his action movie series flops with Ultimate Finality 4. He’s expecting to be cosseted in Stratford, Warwickshire, but instead is horrified to learn that his agent has booked him to play Lear with this bunch of East Anglian amateurs.

Writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman contrived this comedy of errors, staged this week by Hasland Theatre Company with direction by Nicky Beards, assisted by Noeline Wilkins.

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Steel’s demands for a chauffeur-driven limo, personal trainer, dietician and luxury hotel suite have to be somewhat reined in, and replaced with a mobility scooter, b-and-b accommodation and dietary advice from his landlady.

Steve Cowley plays him with the right degree of anger, disbelief at his situation and foul-mouthed drawl, moderated only when his daughter Jessica appears and paints a more realistic picture of him: “Lear is an arrogant egomaniac and lousy father, rolled into one. He’s perfect casting for him.”

Leila Hunt’s spunky Jessica was more than a match for her faltering father and joins the cast of King Lear as Cordelia, having studied the play at school. The father-daughter relationship was as much a central thread of the Steel family as it was Lear’s.

Almost always cheerful Dorothy Nettle is directing Lear as well as going all out for the company’s future. Georgia Thomas was charming in the role, ever enthusiastic and smoothing out the bumps in the road as opening night draws closer.

Not only does she have the spoilt Steel to contend with, there’s also the temperamental Nigel Dewberry (Rob Dean), the star-struck Mary Plunkett (Helen Preston), bumbling Dennis Dobbins (Andrew Davie) and dippy Lauren Bell (Heather Davies), who turns out to have hidden depths.

This was, indeed, a cast at home with their characters.

The set design and construction team created a highly believable village hall and then transformed it with deep red velvet drapes into the court of King Lear where the Bard’s lines were recited with as much reverence as Messrs Hislop and Newman’s were with excellent comedy timing.

And in some ways this was a wrinkle in the writing. The switch from cracking one-liners to the sombre Shakespearean tragedy wasn’t the easiest to make for an audience revelling in the laughs.

But could there be a happy ending for this Stratford’s humble theatre? It’s well worth making the visit to find out at the Hasland Playhouse, where A Bunch of Amateurs continues through to Saturday night.