A no holds Bard comedy as Hollywood action hero meets King Lear

Arts Theatre Cronulla opens its 2019 season with a celebration of a bunch of lovers of theatre in Ian Hislop’s and Nick Newman’s satirical take on the trials of community theatre, A Bunch of Amateurs.

Dorothy (Margareta Moir) heads the Stratford Players, a small town troupe of actors from Stratford in Suffolk, as opposed to the other more famous Stratford in Warwickshire.

Performing in a barn for its villagers, the group struggles to attract audiences and is financially dependent on the local brewery’s sponsorship. In a desperate attempt to turn things around Dorothy approaches a plethora of Hollywood celebrities to take the role of King Lear in their upcoming production. 

One agrees. He happens to be the aging action hero, Jefferson Steele (Emmanuel Nicolaou) who hopes to reinvigorate his flagging career with a run in a Royal Shakespeare Company production. 

Of course, the Stratford Players are no RSC.

The script is clever working on many levels. Steele has to overcome his ego not only to accept the role but to relearn his acting for the Shakespearean stage and when his daughter (Louisa Panucci) arrives, to repair his relationship with her as well. His emotional journey follows the arc of King Lear and gains for him the actor’s ultimate tool, empathy with his character. 

Unlike King Lear this show is very much a comedy.

Jefferson the Hollywood star (Emmanuel Nicolaou) and Mary the star-struck hostess (Arianne Hough). Picture: Port Hacking Camera Club

Jefferson the Hollywood star (Emmanuel Nicolaou) and Mary the star-struck hostess (Arianne Hough). Picture: Port Hacking Camera Club

Recognizable tropes of Hollywood celebrity – conceited, demanding and vacuous – capably portrayed by Nicolaou, go head to head with the homespun idealism and altruism of Dorothy and her troupe.

The sincerity of Moir’s delivery captures our sympathies from the get go. We want her to win, but will the complications that arise from having a celebrity in their midst tear her little company apart?

The Stratford Players are made up of charming individuals vividly portrayed. Arianne Hough’s Mary steals the show with her over-enthused, gobsmacking adulation of Jefferson.

Kudos to Jo Clark’s Lauren whose therapeutic overtures hold back nothing when eliciting laughs. The troupe is rounded out with Bill Ayer’s pompous, ham Nigel and the obliging plumber, Denis (Ronny Couling).

This charming production packs in the humour with its delivery, characterisation, running jokes and unabashed sight gags. Predictable? Yes, but oh, so funny. Director, Tom Richards, has left no opportunity to ring out a laugh.

The production is in at the Arts Theatre Cronulla and closes Saturday, March 23 with shows Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with two Sunday afternoon matinees.

Bookings and session times: www.artstheatrecronulla.com.au or 9523 2779.