Red Phoenix Theatre
Holden Street Theatres
Until 01 Jun 2019

Review by Helen Karakulak

Riddled with excerpts from King Lear, “A Bunch of Amateurs” is a refreshing depiction of a Shakespearean concept that draws attention to the challenges and joys of amateur theatre.

Directed by Michael Eustice, “A Bunch of Amateurs” was a thoroughly entertaining exploration of a strained father-daughter relationship and the consequences of an inflated ego. The simplistic set and vivid lighting complimented the cast’s melodramatic characterisation and contributed to a lively atmosphere that set the stage for hilarity to ensue.

The performance follows the story of the irritable Jefferson Steel, who had arrived in Stratford with an expectation to be working alongside the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh. Instead, finding himself relied on to help a cast of amateurs save their theatre, Steel discovers his inner Lear.

Holden Street Theatre offers a comfortable space that is well-utilised by the cast and crew. Whether it be the optimistic grace of Petra Schulenburg’s Dorothy Nettle, gliding onto the stage or the irreverent Jefferson Steel, played by Brant Eustice, storming off it, each extravagant entrance or exit was met with bellows of laughter filling the theatre.

A highlight of the performance was the inevitable personality clash between the fading Hollywood action hero, and the insufferably talented amateur vying for the role of Lear, Nigel Dewberry, played by Lindsay Dunn. This essential plot point of conflict allowed for Eustice and Dunn to thrill the audience with their amusing depiction of their characters frustrated physicality as Dewberry proposes a swordfight, and Steel defends himself with an umbrella.

The exaggerated movements of the cast and elements of slapstick present throughout the performance compliment the simple yet implausible plot that makes this farce a flexible canvas that is a gift to its performers.

Other standout performances include Laura Antoniazzi, as Jessica Steel, daughter of the arrogant Jefferson; and Derek Crawford as Denis Dobbins, one of the amateurs. Both Antoniazzi and Crawford had flawless comedic timing and, between the two, offered a contrast of comedy: from the drier delivery of the young Steel, critical of her father’s ego, to the eagerly excitable Denis, a voluntary one-man-entourage for the Hollywood hero.

When it comes time for the performance, excerpts of Shakespeare’s King Lear is performed by various cast members, with a spotlight directing audience attention from one scene to another. This offers an effectively concise portrayal of King Lear that highlights the work the amateurs put into preparing the performance. The varied reception Jefferson Steel receives from the amateurs in rehearsals tempers the audience’s expectations for Steel’s performance of Lear in this play-within-a-play. Thus, allowing pleasant surprise when his performance is well-delivered, although interrupted by a heartfelt moment with his daughter.

From a simple premise of an irritable, egotistical actor having a humbling experience in Stratford, Suffolk, comes this wickedly funny depiction of the joy of amateur theatre. “A Bunch of Amateurs” is eager to entertain and does just that. Regardless of whether you’re a Shakespeare fan, know or enjoy the premise of King Lear, it is well worth seeing what this talented bunch of amateurs can do.