A Bunch of Amateurs Review
Review of “A Bunch of Amateurs” by The Algarvean Experimental Group
On Friday night I attended the Auditorio Carlos do Carmo in Lagoa to see the latest production of The Algarveans, “A Bunch of Amateurs”. I had seen the 2008 film of the same name and the play followed in 2014. Both were written by the acclaimed writing duo of Ian Hislop and Nick Newman and the film sported an A list cast including Burt Reynolds, Samantha Bond, Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi; a superb script, wonderful characterisations and many many laughs. So, I had great expectations for this production! I knew it had an experienced, imaginative and talented director in Paul Kloegman and if not all experienced, still a very strong cast. I was sure I was in for a treat!
The first thing that hit me was the warm buzz of a packed foyer. The membership of the group has increased dramatically over the last few years and with that brings new and bigger audiences to add to the expectation and pressure for the Algarveans to deliver! I was not disappointed!
The play opened effectively with a large lantern rising from the stage into the rafters to the rousing title music from “The Phantom of the Opera” It didn´t fly and crash into the audience but did create a feeling of intrigue as to what was to follow
The main action took place in the amateur theatre of a small Suffolk village called Stratford – to be confused with Stratford Upon Avon as Jefferson Steele a Hollywood actor arrives thinking he can resurrect his failing career by taking the on role of King Lear in the home of the Bard. In fact, he is part of a plan by the “bunch of amateurs” to save their local theatre from closure by using a star to save the day and get bums back on seats!
Frank Remiatte portrayed Jefferson Steele with ease, not to be underestimated as the part required him to not only metamorphose from extremely selfish, vain and arrogant to revealing his hidden softer side as he reconciles with his estranged, angry daughter confidently played by Ria Cowley. He also had to contend with showing Jefferson´s non ability to read, learn or understand Shakespeare at the beginning of the play to delivering an accomplished King Lear performance by the end of the play
Perhaps Jefferson´s biggest challenge was the clash of egos with Nigel, the self-acclaimed leading man of the am dram group. Suitably flamboyant and pompously played by Tony Sanders who as ever is on the button with comic timing
Dorothy is the company´s director and lynch pin of her group – she doesn´t suffer fools and soon has the mark of Jefferson. Deborah Kloegman is an accomplished actress and like her character she steered the play too. I particularly liked it when she allowed her character to soften to see the contrast between herself and Steele
Mary, excellently performed by Tracey Christiansen, is host of the local B and B who “puts up” Steele. She is besotted with Jefferson from the outset. Tracey expertly drooled until her illusion was shattered when she saw him in what she incorrectly perceived to be a compromising position with physiotherapist Lauren, reliably and well played by a very glamorous Angela Theobold. Tracey has one of the best comic moments of the play when she vents her anger and frustration at the disappointment she feels for Jefferson´s “betrayal” and she had the audience in stitches! I loved her characterisation although I did feel her costumes made her look a bit too pretty for the character
Carl Wilson who played the part of Dennis, the am dram group´s odd job man who assumes the role of Jefferson´s minder, carried it out as smoothly as the mobility scooter he drove onto stage as a substitute to the limo Jefferson would have preferred! Carl has a great talent which he has only recently discovered as this is only his second time on stage
All the cast are to be commended – its not easy to be an amateur actor, acting at being an amateur actor and they all had to do their fair share of quick costume changes and delivering of Shakespeare lines too!
The minimalist set looked great and allowed the audience to concentrate on the acting. I realise it was meant to create the atmosphere of a small village theatre, however I did feel that acting confined to the “small stage” built on the Lagoa stage was a little distracting. It did at times limit the movement of the cast causing some unnecessary masking and a few dips in pace. These moments were highlighted because during the rest of the play it romped along at a great lick
There were a few technical issues – for example it would have been nice if the reporters harassing Jefferson from the wings had been better miked to hear them to full effect but overall the Algarvean`s director, cast and crew once more gave the audience a fabulous night of entertainment all the way from the front door to the final curtain.
There was one line, where Jefferson asks the bunch of amateurs “Why do you do it!?”. I think from the looks on the cast´s faces, who were obviously having a great time on stage and the fabulous audience reaction we´ve answered the question!