Review: Kenilworth theatre shows the folks in Stratford a thing or two

Esther Taylor (Lauren Bell), Stuart Lawson (Jefferson Steel) and Anita Dalton (Mary Plunkett)
Esther Taylor (Lauren Bell), Stuart Lawson (Jefferson Steel) and Anita Dalton (Mary Plunkett)

Charles Essex reviews A Bunch of Amateurs at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth

When I tell people I go to the local theatre they often assume I mean the RSC at Stratford-upon-Avon, an easy mistake to make as I live in south Warwickshire. Even easier from several thousand miles away when has-been Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steel arrives at Stratford St John in rural Suffolk thinking he is going to play the lead in King Lear at the RSC at Stratford.

There were no weak links as a strong cast brought King Lear to The Priory. A particular revelation was an excellent performance by Stuart Lawson as Jefferson, whom this critic has seen numerous times in relatively minor parts but here Stuart took his opportunity to grab the leading part with both hands, maintaining the American accent, pomposity and narcissism throughout.

The on-stage director Dorothy (Anne Bowen) had to sooth egos, primarily Jefferson’s, but also Nigel’s (James King) who fancied himself as the leading thespian in the company until usurped by Jefferson, and steer the company through rehearsals, forgotten lines and tabloid scandals. The swearing was unnecessary in the first act to convey Jefferson’s frustrations and irritation.

The second act was wonderful as we saw the reigniting of the relationship between Jefferson and his estranged daughter Jessica, excellently played by Joanna Ryan. As more of King Lear was played out this offered ideal opportunities for Jefferson and Jessica to not only act together as Lear and Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter, but as father and daughter.

After tantrums and walk-outs all the cast did well as they finally got to perform scenes from King Lear on the Stratford St John stage, with a couple of twists in the tail. This reviewer cannot recommend this production highly enough. Who needs the RSC when you have The Priory?