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“A Bunch of Amateurs” – NODA review

Our NODA review is in for “A Bunch of Amateurs” –

“A Bunch Of Amateurs
Barton Players
Barton Village Hall
Friday 26th April 2019

Contrary to some people’s thinking, first impressions do count, therefore, the exceedingly warm welcome when I collected my tickets an exceedingly shiny and professional looking programme from the front of house staff, my first impressions were very good. In addition to their helpfulness the ‘team’ were easily identified in their smart society T shirts.

A term that is often used instead of ‘Amateur Dramatics’ is ‘Community Theatre’ and the atmosphere and my observations in the foyer prior to the show indicated to me that the Barton Players clearly have their place in the local community very well established. The front of house team were welcoming friends rather than customers.

‘A Bunch Of Amateurs’ is a show I knew nothing about other than it was co-written by Ian Hislop and, as a fan of Ian Hislop, I took my seat in anticipation of a night big belly laughs.

The set was simple but very effective, with the majority the of play set in a barn extravagance was not required and the set did exactly what was required of it. Congratulations to Keith Bowie and his team.

The costumes are in the main, contemporary and as such easy to do, however, the Shakespearian costumes required for the ‘performance scene at the end not so easy and could have been cobbled together which would detract from the show, Ann Holloway and her team did a very good job with this aspect of the show.

The play centres around Hollywood A lister Jefferson Steel coming to the UK to earn his stripes on stage performing King Lear in Stratford Upon Avon only to find upon arriving that this Stratford is a sleepy Suffolk village and, rather than appearing with the Royal Shakespeare Company he will be sharing a stage with a bunch of amateurs who invited him in a desperate bid to save their theatre.

John Murphy took on the central roll with the required swagger and self-importance to be convincing in his portrayal, I also enjoyed the softening in his character as lessons were learned during the course of the play without losing brashness when required.

Debbie Radcliffe, in the role of Dorothy Nettle, director of the amateur production of King Lear, had some lovely touches especially when educating the brash American by calmly and steadily getting her lessons through, whilst getting under Jefferson’s skin in a quiet but effective manner.

Harold Liberty was suitably pompous in his portrayal of Nigel Dewbury, his jealousy towards the American and attempts to oust the unwanted visitor from their production were nicely played.

In his role as the village handyman Denis Dobbins, George Horn gave an assured performance and his reoccurring attempts at staging the eyeball effect were particularly amusing, especially the edible one!

Katie Westwick gave one of my favourite performances of the evening in the role of the owner of the village B&B, Mary Plunkett, her unashamed adoration of Jefferson was excellent and when she was required to go into ‘angry mode’ Katie was extremely convincing and a striking contrast to everything that had gone before with her character.

The penultimate actor to take the stage was Hayley Bloodworth in the role of the down trodden role of the wife of the sponsor of the show, Lauren Bell, Hayley played this aspect of her character with aplomb and was very believable.

Whilst the characterisations of the actors were of a high standard, the combined result lacked pace and on a couple of occasions in the first act there did appear to be some uncertainty between the cast. This did result in some of the humour not being made the most of. However, given that the team only had 16 weeks to rehearse and only rehearsing once a week, the result belied the number of rehearsals they had.

I was very pleased and drawn back in with the introduction of Jefferson’s daughter Jessica, played by Sophie Bryant. She hit the stage with a determined presence and the pace of the show took a noticeable increase. Sophie gave, in my opinion the performance of the night and indicated the excellent youth policy that the Barton Players have with Sophie having been with the society from the age of 7.

I was very pleased that the pace and laughter count in act 2 were both improved from the first act and the script gave each member of the cast the opportunity to show what they can do and all took the chance with some lovely moments being portrayed, I particularly like the Fire Alarm scene, there was the chance for John Murphy to have milked this scene but he played it down and was spot on for me.

I did have a couple of niggles that could easily have been avoided which would have not distracted me from my enjoyment of the evening. The first is down to detail, sometimes shows are restricted and unable to pay the required attention to detail due to cost or resource implications, however, having a Hollywood A list celebrity arriving in the UK with a battered old suitcase distracted me and could very easily have been avoided.

The other is that, having spent two hours convincingly creating their personas on stage and getting the audience to believe in them, it spoils it for me when the actors are then seen as themselves in the foyer chatting with the audience whilst still in costume. It somewhat kills the illusion that the entire team have spent the evening creating.

One final thing that I thought was great was that the crew got to take a bow with the cast at the end. For many theatre goers, the crew are often completely forgotten about and are an unknown entity, Actors rehearse for months but everything that is seen or heard on stage happens by magic, so it was lovely to see the magicians come on to take their deserved applause.

Ultimately people get involved in theatre to entertain people and Barton Players as a big collective unit did this handsomely on Friday and the local community is a better place because of it.

My congratulations go to all involved.”