The latest performance A Bunch of Amateurs by the Chameleons is a hilarious satire on Hollywood egotism and Shakespeare. When Stratford (Suffolk, not on-Avon) runs out of money for the theatre, the Stratford Player’s only choice is a washed up Hollywood actor called Jefferson Steel, who agrees to act in an amateur dramatics production of King Lear – only to find himself in the wrong Stratford- not the luxurious home of Shakespeare, but a nondescript English village.
Steel finds himself in an amateur dramatics group with a stuck up Shakespeare expert berating him, the owner of the B&B in love with him, and a huge ego to take care of. As if it couldn’t get more worse, his estranged daughter gets involved.
Culture shock: US vs England
The funniest part of the play is the culture shock between Jefferson Steel and the antiquated English village he finds himself in. Having this brash, overbearing and over the top personality stuck in an old-fashioned setting is comedy gold. It reminded me of the film Hot Fuzz, which sees a control freak police officer be re-assigned to a dull West Country village.
There is a lot of fun to be had with the cultural differences between Britain and America – Steel is confused over the amount of Stratfords, his food orders cannot be understood as he tries to order a long, elaborate American buffet. Moreover, instead of the sun of California that he is used to, he encounters the rain of Britain … the jokes are endless.
As a film buff, I understood a lot of Hollywood film references. One of my favourite running gags sees Mary, who is infatuated with Steel and claims to be a huge fan, mix his films up with films by Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Clint Eastwood. Her errors signify how she is clueless about an actor she claims to be a big fan of, making the comedy work brilliantly.
The character conflicts are also very funny and evolve over time. Steel is condescending and rude to the director Dorothy yet eventually respects her, whilst Steel’s conflict with the uptight Nigel is a highlight of the play. They both try to one-up each other at every turn and it is captivating. They are both men with huge egos and a desire to be the best, and this conflict drives a lot of the story.
The other fun part of the play is the links with Shakespeare’s King Lear. Despite knowing a fair bit about the Bard, I haven’t actually read King Lear, although I want to now. However, I know the plot and found the integration of it into the play amusing. Steel claims to know Shakespeare yet is constantly criticising the play and demanding it to be rewritten, which I found hilarious.
Like with the past performance of A Pocket Dream, which integrated A Midsummer’s Night Dream into the story of the play, A Bunch of Amateurs parodies and uses scenes from King Lear to impact the real story, in particular Steel’s relationship with his daughter.
I loved how dramatic the story got at points, with the characters genuinely evolving and turning into better people. Whilst Jefferson Steel starts off as a hugely unlikeable character in a love to hate kind of way, the audience begins to sympathise with him as more layers of the character are revealed. We learn that despite his ego and his unlikeable persona he is trying to make a difference and is trying to change as a person. It’s very endearing and you eventually grow to like him.
The play uses the format in a very clever way, as there is a lot of funny scene transitions that have the behind the scenes crew integrated with the main story, including a gut-bustingly funny scene near the end when a piece of set falls down.
The play gets introspective
The main conflict is focused on a huge misunderstanding that results in the Players having a clash with Steel. The way the conflict is set up is brilliant, as the character dynamics come to a head and we see different sides to characters such as Nigel.
Whilst it is still very funny, the play does get introspective and delves into some darker themes about the power of the press and about how misunderstandings can lead to a situation getting worse. The King Lear connections start to seep into the real world as like the character he is playing, Steel begins to lose his mind and gets abandoned by everyone towards the end before the truth was revealed.
Witty and successful
Overall, I found this to be a witty play with a great story attached. The characters were all very fun, well-rounded, and relatable. The message of how theatre can be redemptive is very poignant. It also made me more interested in what is seen as one of Shakespeare’s best plays so it did a great job in that regard. I highly recommend this play.
Credit: Photos by Liz Strevens and Stuart Wineberg
A Bunch of Amateurs, by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman
Director: Liz Strevens
Dorothy Nettle – Marilyn Dunbar
Nigel Dewberry – Geoff Dodsworth
Mary Plunkett – Jan Bradshaw
Denis Dobbins – Wayne Bradshaw
Jefferson Steel – Nick Coleman
Lauren Bell – Kayleigh Fagence
Jessica Steel – Lisa Dunbar