A Bunch of Amateurs
By Ian Hislop and Nick Newman
Directed by Michael Darbon
An amateur production by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd
Keen to boost his flagging career, fading Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steel, arrives in England to play King Lear in Stratford only to find that this is not the birthplace of the Bard but a sleepy Suffolk village and the cast are a bunch of amateurs trying to save their theatre from being bulldozed to make way for executive homes rather than RSC stalwarts. Jefferson’s monstrous ego, vanity and insecurity are tested by the enthusiastic amateur thespians – who are not averse to a spot of ego, vanity and insecurity themselves. As acting worlds collide and Jefferson’s career implodes, he discovers some truths about himself and his relationships with other people… along with his inner Lear!
Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s A Bunch of Amateurs started life as a film screenplay for a movie. Based on an original idea by John Ross and Jonathan Gershfield, it was directed by Andy Cadiff and released in cinemas in 2008, starring Burt Reynolds, Sir Derek Jacobi, Imelda Staunton and Samantha Bond in the lead roles. It was selected for that year’s Royal Film Performance. Apparently, the Queen enjoyed it so much that she requested a second screening of it that Christmas.
The Watermill Theatre in Newbury had already expressed an interest in turning the script into a play for the theatre whilst the film was in production but it was many years – and many rewrites – later before that interest was turned into a reality. A Bunch of Amateurs finally arrived on stage at the Watermill in May 2014.
To quote Hislop and Newman ‘The experience of writing the film was to have a direct impact on the writing of the subsequent play. Whereas the film was written from the imagination, the play was based far more on our experience of working with a bona fide Hollywood star. Like our hero the former Hollywood legend Jefferson Steel, Burt Reynolds was looking to reboot his career. Like Steel, Reynolds was surrounded by actors more versed in Shakespeare than he. Like Jefferson, Burt had a problem remembering some of his lines. The words “I can do it with a look” saw a page of dialogue disappear on screen. So, when the Watermill Theatre, Newbury finally commissioned us to write Amateurs for the stage, we knew we could make it much richer and more realistic, tearing up the screenplay to produce a new script to reflect the story’s theatricality with a smaller cast but with more Shakespeare, more am-drams and more jokes about Hollywood stardom’.
The original Watermill production also featured a unique combination of professionals and amateurs with members of the local community theatre appearing in key scenes to bolster the action. So, in reality as in the play, the worlds of the amateurs and professionals collided. We may not be doing this in our production unless we can find a washed-up Hollywood star to come to Bromley for no money! Any takers?!
Ian Hislop and Nick Newman describe A Bunch of Amateurs as ‘a love letter to amateur dramatics’ and so it is.
… “this new cracking stage version fizzes along with verve and energy” British Theatre Guide
… “this terrific comedy, packed with killer dialogue, has a great story” WhatsOnStage
… “the acerbic wit of Hislop and Newman metamorphoses into some hugely witty one-liners” The Stage
… “a laugh a minute!” The Mail on Sunday