A Bunch of Amateurs

Ian Hislop and Nick Newmanfrom an original story by John Ross and Johnathan Gershfield
The Watermill Theatre Company
Watermill Theatre Newbury

Sarah Moyle, Damien Myerscough, Mitchell Mullen, Jackie Morrison and Michael Hadley Credit: Philip Tull
Jackie Morrison and Mitchell Mullen Credit: Philip Tull
Mitchell Mullen and Eleanor Brown Credit: Philip Tull

Newbury’s Watermill Theatre had a world stage première with Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s A Bunch of Amateurs and it is a hilarious witty comedy that had the audience laughing out loud from the very beginning.

It was originally a successful 2008 British comedy film starring Burt Reynolds, Samantha Bond, David Jacobi and Imelda Staunton that received a gala opening attended by her Majesty the Queen.

In this new cracking stage version, it has been lovingly recreated for the intimate Watermill’s stage and it fizzes along with verve and energy.

Mitchell Mullin is splendid as the fading Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steele. His USA agent is keen to bolster his ebbing career and has managed to secure him a part as King Lear in Stratford.

Unfortunately this is not in the hometown of the Bard but in a tranquil Suffolk village and the cast are all well meaning amateurs.

The Council is about to close the barn it uses as a theatre to build executive homes which more than echoes the plight that the Watermill faced several years ago and, according to Ian, he had written this start to, “bring a smile to Hedda Beeby”—the current Artistic and Executive Director.

For anyone who has trod the boards, there may well be ripples of memories as the acerbic infighting, tantrums and bickering engulf this amateur group.

Jackie Morrison is wonderful as the Director Dorothy Nettle, determined to save the society by bringing a Hollywood star to boost sales and donations whilst trying to pour oil on troubled waters with the rest of the cast.

But pompous Jefferson is furious at being duped, insisting that his agent gets him out of his predicament whilst demanding his trailer and limo.

He ends up at Mary Plunkett’s B and B where a full English breakfast is shunned for the unobtainable guava juice and skinny latte. Sarah Moyle is delightful as Mary who is in awe of Jefferson’s star status whilst playing the part of Goneril.

Michael Hadley plays the frightfully ‘over the top’ Nigel Dewbury perfectly. He is not at all pleased at being usurped from playing the lead role and constantly makes himself available for the part as it becomes obvious that Jefferson can’t act.

Bringing us down to earth is Damian Myerscough as the hilarious local plumber Denis, who is also the health and safety officer and becomes Jefferson’s “entourage” whilst struggling to come up with an idea of how to achieve the effect of blinding Gloucester.

The arrival of Jefferson’s estranged daughter Jessica, the spirited Eleanor Brown, all teenage angst and furious at her father for forgetting to collect her from the airport, causes further chaos.

Emily Bowker is the glamorous sponsor's PR Lauren Bell who ends up in a misunderstood compromising situation when giving physiotherapy to Jefferson.

There are some beautiful songs from Lear’s Fool composed by Paul Herbert and Tom Roger’s set is impressively inventive.

Directed with skill and aplomb by Caroline Leslie, this is a thoroughly enjoyable production and the audience loved it.

During the interval, Ian Hislop told me, “I am thrilled to get a full stage version of the play, where I think it belongs and show what theatre can do for the community.”

Reviewer: Robin Strapp