Portable Theatre Company brings entertaining production to Embleton, Rothbury and Warkworth

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The Portable Theatre has entertained audiences with their latest sell-out show in Embleton, Rothbury and Warkworth.

A Bunch of Amateurs (by comedian Ian Hislop and his long-time writing partner, Nick Newman) was this year’s eagerly anticipated offering by the group.

A struggling amateur dramatic company needs to save their theatre and, in these days of celebrities attracting all the attention, invite glamorous leading men from Hollywood to star in their production of King Lear.

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The only reply was from a true ‘has been.’ Jefferson Steele is a middle-aged Lothario whose Hollywood star has been fading to the extent he may even be described as washed up.

The cast of A Bunch of Amateurs by Portable Theatre.The cast of A Bunch of Amateurs by Portable Theatre.
The cast of A Bunch of Amateurs by Portable Theatre.

However, he has been deceived by his agent into believing that playing King Lear at Stratford is exactly what his career needs to reboot it.

Instead of the Home of the Bard, Steele is horrified to find himself at the Stratford Players, an amateur dramatic group based in a rural small village.

The story is one of redemption and transformation.

Like Lear, the arrogant, insecure egomaniac and lousy father becomes someone less vain, selfish and more recognisable.

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Direction was unusual and drew in the audience, particularly due to the non-stage based action taking place on the floor of the theatre.

The set was simple and easily adjusted for the numerous scenes even those of King Lear.

The cast worked together very well and the timing was excellent.

The characters are very recognisable to anyone who has ever been involved in amateur dramatics – indeed Hislop himself describes A Bunch of Amateurs as being ‘a love letter to Am Dram’.

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The play includes some wonderful, very recognisable characters.

Jefferson Steele – self-appointed star of Hollywood (and now of provincial theatre) and King Lear. Mark Stenton played both parts extremely well with great accent and phrasing – I had to ask if he actually was American. Mark seemed to effortlessly flit back and forth between his two roles while being convincing in both.

Nigel Dewbury – Stuart Archer was the jealous, pompous, theatrical lovey, retired Solicitor and Old Ham to a T with the physical presence and voice of one used to projecting lines penned by The Bard.

Dorothy Nettle – general factotum who tries to hold everything together. Diane Maughan hit just the right notes of control, exasperation, and romance. Her singing voice was particularly lovely.

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Denis Dobbins – stagehand and entourage. Keith Shotton provided a lot of the physical humour as well as doing a good job of projecting the appearance of a rather simple chap.

Mary Plunkett – Jefferson’s anxious (and confused by male leads) landlady. Claire Barber was very convincing in her parts and also wielded an excellent pair of castanets.

Lauren Bell – wife of sponsor and a Physio. Susannah Clapcott was very believable especially when getting stuck right in with her elbows while providing massage to Steele.

Last but not least - Jefferson’s neglected daughter Jessica Steele - Eloise Barber had exactly the same American accent as her father throughout the whole production and was very convincing as the cynical teenager.

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There were also several important but non-speaking parts well played by other members of the cast.

When the characters donned full Shakespearean costume and the production really became King Lear it was such a complete transformation in the energy onstage. The audience were so still it was a wonder anyone remembered to breathe.

The quality of acting shown by this amateur company was greater than seen in some large professional productions.

The technical team must have worked particularly hard, having to rig and take down the lighting equipment to reset it for three completely different venues.

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Obviously Portable is a very well-run theatre company as shown by the quality of this production and, although many people must be involved behind the scenes, special mention must go to Lynne Lambert as director, particularly for the areas where she gave us more staging than was in the original script and made it a far more engaging and creative production.

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