A Bunch of Amateurs

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Not to be confused with Stratford-upon-Avon, we’re talking about the AmDram group from Stratford St Johns in Suffolk here.

The Stratford Players desperately need King Lear to be a success or it will be their last ever production, and their theatre will be demolished for redevelopment. Maybe a big box office star can help? Enter from stage-left, one Jefferson Steele: Hollywood action hero, currently between his film-franchises and encouraged to play his very first Shakespeare role – live, and on stage. Unfortunately, his Agent, unable to find him work in the States, has allowed him to believe he is coming to THE Stratford and the RSC

By now you’ve realised that we’re not talking real-world – instead, it’s the latest production by Second Thoughts penned by Private Eye’s Ian Hislop & Nick Newman comedy of mis-understanding, mayhem and men in tights!

The Bear Pit
Just after 7.30, the curtain went up at the Bear Pit on what turned out to be (for us) probably Second Thoughts best production to date. Everyone acted their socks off – and the lead, Pete Cubitt (who we’ve not seen here before) was totally convincing in the lead-role. To say he ‘owned the part’ was a an understatement!
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Clearly the cast were enjoying it too, and that was reflected in the audience’s regular appreciation throughout the performance. The run is on until Saturday having started on Wednesday – and there’s a matinee performance on the last day too. At just under two-and-a-half hours (plus the interval), it certainly didn’t feel ‘long’ as the time passed very quickly (surely a good sign!)The only ‘bit’ I didn’t quite get was the short ‘Fool’s Songs’ at the end of many of the scenes, but technically-speaking, I could see that something was needed whilst a change of scenery was needed.

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Thanks Second Thoughts, we had a great time, and it was good to run into Rick, Ann and Mags too!

It was a good visit to Stratford for us too on the retail-therapy front. I managed to pick up an extra pair of shoes for our next holiday, Ann bought a few tops – and we finished it all off with a rather splendid nibble at Fourteas, a 1940s themed tea-room in Sheep Street.
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The journey home was full of road diversions, and as a result, it took us just over an hour-and-a-half!
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Twelfth on Twelfth at 12!

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More by happy accident than perfect timing, we headed off to Stratford-upon-Avon today with Chris and Gill to see the RSC’s matinee performance of Twelfth Nightactually on twelfth night! Continuing the ‘12’ theme, we sat down for lunch just before Noon! What are the chances ehh?

I remember studying this Play at school – it was my first formal encounter with Shakespeare – and what a horrible experience it turned out to be! All I remember was being bored, very bored and even more bored by the final act! (The only thing that stuck was that strange word ‘Hobnob’ being used!! For McVitie’s fans, that’s a full 18 years before the biscuit made its appearance in 1987). Talk about a wasted Grammar School education!!!


So, it’ll be interesting to see how much of the biscuit plot I remember!

1.15 and curtain up to a simple looking stage (that actually turned out to be anything but! Superb and elaborate sets that transitioned very smoothly when the time came).


The place was packed (a good sign!) and we all settled back for this 140 minute production. I don’t recall there being much (any?) music in it when I studied it at School in the late 60s, and it seemed to work really well – and there was more to come. They had also re-located the timeline to the Victorian age, and that worked well too! Gosh! where was this production when I was at School? Within the first 20 minutes, I was already hooked!
    
Cast-wise, the production included some well-known faces including Kara Tointon, Adrian Edmondson and Michael Cochrane. A great start for this TV/Film addict! This group of stars who, between them, have appeared in: EastEnders, Jonathan Creek, Bottom, The Crown, Downton Abbey, The Musketeers, Peep Show and Skyfall certainly got my vote – and they all acted their socks off.

Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio was clearly the highlight (and easily having the time of his life!), where the script gave him loads of opportunities to ‘do’ serious, with a touch of singing and more than a soupçon of manic behaviour.

John Hodgkinson (Sir Toby Belch) and Michael Cochrane (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) together ‘ticked the three Ps’ for me – a Perfect Pair of Pi**- heads – and were clearly relishing every staggering moment! It was also the first time I recall Sir Toby belching from his lower orifice too! Talk about life imitating fart!

Kara Tointon easily demonstrated what a versatile actress she is, assuming the role of Olivia with a commanding voice and a very natural stage presence. It felt like perfect casting in my book! (like I’m a Shakespeare expert all of a sudden!)

I’ve probably not done the rest of the cast justice, but suffice to say, everyone, without exception, played their part on this world stage.


More short musical pieces continued throughout and they seemed to blend in really well, complementing the on-stage action – just enough to not get in the way of the Bard’s work. “If music be the food of love…” and all that!

Well, the two hours and twenty minutes passed really quickly (and I’ve never said that about a Shakespeare Play before!). There was a twenty-minute interval, but apart for the need of a leg-stretch and a visit to the little room, we probably could have survived without a break.

By the final curtain, just before 4pm, we all agreed that it had been nothing short of a superb production. The enthusiasm of the audience’s applause at the end, seemed to agree with us too!

Am I a Shakespeare convert? Only if I see more productions like this! Superb!!! Thanks Will!
     

We headed back to the car and were soon competing for a place on the M1 (Boy, it was busy! Where are all these people going?). Back in Wootton, we had a quick cuppa and a natter before saying our goodbyes to Chris and Gill – then headed straight back to ours.

7pm: Home! Another great day out ending with feet-up at ours for the rest of the evening.