Fading 'Hollywood' star makes Welwyn Garden City comeback as A Bunch of Amateurs returns to the Barn Theatre

Jim Markey as Jefferson Steele and Rachel Thomas as Mary Plunkett in A Bunch of Amateurs at the Barn Theatre

Jim Markey as Jefferson Steele and Rachel Thomas as Mary Plunkett in A Bunch of Amateurs at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: John Davies

Last October, after months of lockdown, A Bunch of Amateurs opened the Barn Theatre season – for one night only!

That first night was joyful but, by the next day, both leads had fallen victim to Covid.

In the West End you would normally have understudies, but that’s a luxury hardly ever enjoyed by non-professional theatre, so the show closed and it looked like that was that.

Until, just a few days later, an unexpected gap appeared in the Barn programme and it was game on again.

Great news but, as director Bob Thomson said: "How, exactly, do you keep a show on ice for three months?"

The cast of A Bunch of Amateurs at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.

The cast of A Bunch of Amateurs at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: John Davies

The costumes were left on rails and carefully stored away, the props were boxed up, the set put into storage, but Thomson had to find something else to do with the cast.

He said: "We would meet up every few weeks and simply do a straightforward line run.

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"But acting isn’t really about sitting around running lines and the actors were soon in full performance mode, albeit to an audience of two or three.  

"As director, it was fascinating to see how the group, who’ve been together far longer than most, and in extreme circumstances, were interacting in a very comfortable manner.

"The characters in the play know each other very well and on the whole like each other and now our cast do as well, which has added another dimension to the performance."

Jim Markey as Jefferson Steele and Tamsin Goodwin-Connelly in A Bunch of Amateurs

Jim Markey as Jefferson Steele and Tamsin Goodwin-Connelly in A Bunch of Amateurs at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: John Davies

Keen to boost his flagging career, fading Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steele arrives in England to play King Lear in Stratford – only to find that he is not in the birthplace of Shakespeare, but in a sleepy Suffolk village.

And instead of starring alongside Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench, he’s performing with a bunch of amateurs who are trying to save their theatre – a converted barn – from ruthless developers.

Steele’s monstrous ego and insecurity are tested to the limit by the enthusiastic amateur thespians he finds himself sharing the spotlight with.

As acting worlds collide and his career implodes, he discovers some truths about himself – along with his inner Lear!

Jim Markey, who takes on the role of Steele, played Lear in Simon Wallace’s memorable 2012 Barn production and, more recently, at the Pump Theatre in Watford.

He returns to play it again – sort of. "How could I resist it?" he asks.

Jim Markey as Jefferson Steele, Hannah Humbles as Jessica Steele, and Charlotte Collingwood as Dorothy Nettle

Jim Markey as Jefferson Steele, Hannah Humbles as Jessica Steele, and Charlotte Collingwood as Dorothy Nettle in A Bunch of Amateurs, which can be seen at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: John Davies

Thomson’s experienced cast includes ex-Barn Youth member Hannah Humbles, fresh from appearing in Up Pompeii, and exciting new Barn talent Charlotte Collingwood and Neil Harrison.

A laugh a minute and stuffed with Shakespeare, the show includes music, courtesy of musical director Rachel Thomas, who also plays Mary, romantically inclined towards Steele.

Tamsin Goodwin-Connelly makes a welcome return to the Barn stage in the role of Lauren Bell, masseuse and wife of the production sponsor, and Adam Dryer plays Denis Dobbins, Steele’s ‘entourage’.

A Bunch of Amateurs runs in the Barn main house from Friday, February 4 to Saturday, February 12 at 8pm. There's also a matinee at 2.30pm on February 12.

Tickets cost £13 and are available from the box office on 01707 324300 or online at www.barntheatre.co.uk

Charlotte Collingwood as Dorothy Nettle and Rachel Thomas as Mary Plunkett in A Bunch of Amateurs

Charlotte Collingwood as Dorothy Nettle and Rachel Thomas as Mary Plunkett in A Bunch of Amateurs at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: John Davies