A Bunch Of Amateurs by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman
8th, 9th and 10th June 2023

Click here for more pictures of this play LADS - A Bunch Of Amateurs

Cast        Production Team
Dorothy Nettle Vee Wells   Director Adam Rabinowitz
Nigel Dewsbury Nick Charles   Production Assistant Cathy Naylor
Mary Plunkett Rohini Rajendram   Stage Manager Martin Howarth
Denis Dobbins Marcel Kay   Properties Karen Rogers & Mel Taylor
Jefferson Steel Howard Platt   Continuity Sylvia Zilesnick
Lauren Bell Vicky Harris   Wardrobe Liz Adams & Sylvia Zilesnick
Jessica Steel Lizzie Clare   Set Design Stephen Radley
      Set Construction LADS
      Lighting design Terry Tew
      Sound/Lighting Operation Sarah BIggs
      Sound Design Adam Rabinowitz
      Programme & Poster Design Howard Platt
      Production Photos Karen Rogers

Society : Loughton Amateur Dramatic Society
Production : A Bunch Of Amateurs
Date : 09/06/2023
Venue : Lopping Hall
Report by : Paul Daynes

Thank you for inviting me to watch A Bunch of Amateurs, on a warm but comfortable evening at
Lopping Hall. By this I mean the play by Hislop and Newman not the cliched description of ….. well
you get it. Why has this phrase grown to mean something of poor quality or badly organised? It
certainly didn’t apply to this production, to LADS or to most local theatre, but it does make for a good  title.

Set and Staging
Another cleverly designed LADS set which gave different static areas for the barn and the Bed and Breakfast dining area. The space taken for each was appropriate and more than adequate for the number of actors on stage and allowed for smooth changes between these two locations. The brick walls contrasted with the B&B wallpaper and even the two doors positioned close together didn’t confuse. The airport and physio areas were well zoned with lighting and the reveal of the stage area behind the curtains was fun to leave until partway into the play. The whole set was well thought out and so congratulations to Stephen Radley. One small comment was that when part of the playing area is raised as high as the dining area was in Mary’s Bed and Breakfast, you may want to consider sightlines from the audience’s seated level. Being so high, much of the audience couldn’t see anything on the table, therefore the tablets and the takeaway for example, were talked about but not easily seen. Also, when Jefferson was talking to Jessica the vase of flowers on the front of the table blocked their faces for some of the audience. When rehearsing on the flat these issues don’t exist and only come to life when on the stage. If the actors had held up the tablets and the takeaway a little before putting them on the table that might have helped or don’t raise the playing area quite so high. I wasn’t sure about the sprinkler high in the wall until it went off and then I was laughing in admiration. I do love a good slapstick effect.

I’ve seen this play before but, embarrassingly for me, never really understood what was going on. The clarity that was given in this production established the context and plot easily and the scene at the airport when Jefferson lands gave me everything I needed to sit back and watch the funny and ludicrous plot play out. Adam Rabinowitz did an excellent job setting the actors in the space provided and created some lovely pictures. The plea from Dorothy for the £50,000 was well handled and fun for the audience to feel part of the production. The positioning of Jefferson and Denis stage right and left worked well for their exchange and the mix of actors facing front or face-to-face gave a variety of positions. The celebrity tantrum at the end of Act 1 was presented as Jefferson versus the others on stage which looked good. Seeing and hearing David (and Archie) on the iPad was a lovely touch and something I suspect was added in for this production. The table centre stage for Act 1 was rather large and took up a lot of the area pushing the actors into a small space between the blue curtain and the chairs. The running around the table was fun but if a smaller table had been used or no table at all, as in Act 2, it would have provided more acting space. I felt the pace of the play seemed to stay in the same gear for long periods. Plodding along nicely without really taking off. Whether the pace could have accelerated and then decelerated a little more I’m not sure, but usually pace and attack can bring contrasting shades to a two-hour play. This didn’t take away from a well-directed comedy which had the audience laughing out loud.

Dorothy Nettle
Vee Wells played Dot with a calmness that suggested she knew all would be well and that any
problems could be overcome. Dorothy was not only King Lear’s director but also the facilitator of the plot holding the storyline together. Vee had some wonderful sarcastically delivered lines and was generally unimpressed by Jefferson the star, although warmly affectionate to Jefferson the man. Perhaps Vee could have enveloped the character of Dot a little more and made her more believable. Her ability to influence and persuade the likes of Nigel, Denis and Mary to do what Dot wanted them to do was a constant characteristic. Perhaps this provided an opportunity to show a more manipulative Dot rather than just her as the good community leader. Having said that, I enjoyed Vee’s performance very much and thought she contrasted well with the larger characters in the play.

Nigel Dewbury
Nick Charles showed some good timing on his comic lines and played Nigel with confidence and
attack. As with most of the supporting roles, this part didn’t have much depth to it but Nick displayed his frustration at Jefferson’s acting incompetence to good comic effect. His bow was strangely funny on each of its repeats and his pomposity came across consistently. The change of heart towards Jefferson was convincing and I liked the sword fight.

Mary Plunkett
Rohini Rajendram developed Mary into a warm and engaging character, excited by the presence of the screen star Jefferson Steel. Her enthusiasm and wanting of everything to go well was fun to watch and she didn’t miss out on the opportunity for some awkward flirting as only Mary knew how. Her confusion over which actor starred in which film was a good running gag which the audience enjoyed. The sight of the flamenco dress with castanets and Roh’s expression facing out front was a memory that makes me giggle as I think back on it now. Mary’s facial expressions gave much to this portrayal. Little grimaces as she realised she’d said something embarrassing, broad smiles at the joy and excitement of meeting a Hollywood legend and the shock in the eyes on discovering Lauren and Jefferson. As Act 2 progressed we saw an angry and jealous Mary and again Rohini played this just right with attack and venom but within the character of Mary. We also got a few glimpses of Rohini’s fine singing voice. This was a good performance in Rohini’s first non-singing show, well done.

Denis Dobbins
From Denis’s comic entrance through the back curtains his character was quickly established and well portrayed by Marcel Kay. His simple way of life in rural England seemed at odds with his ability to play classic Gloucester but therein lies the comedy. Denis moved to become Jefferson’s minder with serious enthusiasm and again this brought many laughs as did the lines written on Denis’s back. Also, congratulations to Marcel for a good and successful stab at the Suffolk accent. As a native of Norfolk, I have spent my life listening to people doing poor East Anglian accents believing that ‘yokel west country’ is good enough. So, when I heard Marcel say ‘Youtoob’ and ‘Scooturh’ I wanted to cheer. Good work Marcel and much appreciated.

Jefferson Steele
Howard Platt did a fine job as Jefferson Steel. From his airport entrance he established the plot
construct and the misunderstanding of the Stratford players. Howard’s Jefferson was very believable and he looked, sounded and acted the American star really well. I think the audience even had some sympathy for him and certainly felt his pain stuck in this situation. I liked the expectation that Mary was wanting his autograph but was really taking his breakfast order, and that his tour of downtown Stratford took just three minutes. Jefferson had some good lines about Shakespeare’s writing talents and shortcomings, e.g. “Needs a re-write” and Ultimate Finality 4 was a marvellous film title. (The art work in the programme for the movie poster was wonderfully funny and not at all self-indulgent, Howard!) I would imagine that this part is not easy to position with the absurdity of a Hollywood star being in a village production of King Lear with all its funny but obvious references to trailers, riders and food requirements. He also needed a warmth and ultimate admiration for the people around him. Howard navigated this voyage well and made the absurd acceptable and landed the intended comedy. Well done.

Lauren Bell
Vicky Harris took on the role as the sponsor’s wife Lauren with style. She obviously had more to give than just being ‘the Beer Broad’ and either as a physiotherapist or a Shakespearean actor, Lauren got her opportunities. The massage scene worked very well and was a clever piece of positioning, acting and timing. Mary’s eyes, as she came through the door, said it all.

Jessica Steel
The backpacker, Jessica, added much to the play when she arrived later in Act 1. The plot took on
another element and Lizzie Clare played with confidence and energy to confront the megastar with his parental failings. I really liked the relationship between Jefferson and Jessica and the breakfast scene showed that they knew each other in depth. Both actors brought a genuineness that carried through to the end when Jessica was ill and in need of care. Jessica’s asthma being brought on by her allergy to her father made me laugh, as did, I’m ashamed to say, her collapse during the King Lear play. Lizzie’s accent was well placed and consistent throughout.

Sound and Lighting
I really liked the different music played between scenes. I took up Adam’s programme challenge to see how many I could spot. Airport by the Motors, English Country Garden and the traditional Indian music made me smile. Some of the music was played a little too long as the actors were in place ready to go but kept in the dark. Sound effects of bleating sheep, shouting paparazzi, fire alarms, ambulances and Mission Impossible were all good fun. The lighting design of designated areas worked well as did the single spot on the blanketed Jefferson.

The well selected costumes complemented the characters and appeared in keeping. Mary particularly had a fine ever-changing wardrobe with bright dresses and skirts to fit her sunny nature. The flamenco dress was terrific. Nigel came to rehearsals dressed in blazer with bow tie or cravat. Denis’ blue boiler suit fitted his maintenance role in Act 1 and Jefferson’s shirts brought Hawaii to Suffolk. The King Lear requirements added to the large wardrobe but again all looked spot on, even Marcel as Goneril.

There were some lovely props with The Sun worthy of special note, complete with headline and front-page photo. The pool table, mobility scooter, take-away curry and wheelchair all needed gathering. Well done to Karen Rogers and Mel Taylor.
The challenge of this play is that it’s a well written, fairly light comedy, with a good set up and story
wrapped around King Lear, which is not known for its laughs. It then requires the cast to perform a
five-minute chunk of the heavy historical at 10.15pm. This is not easy for any audience, however good the acting. You did a good job contrasting the two styles but I wish Messrs Hislop and Newman hadn’t foisted this part upon us.


So as Jefferson said, us amateurs, why do we do it? We all have our own personal reasons but I suspect we can all at least agree with Denis, `’It gets us out of the house”.