Celebrating its landmark 40th year, Burtonwood AMADS continued its prodigious roll of productions by putting on a three-night run of ‘A Bunch of Amateurs’ – their second show in just five months. Making her directorial debut, Hannah Smith was charged with taking Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s sparkling script from page to stage – and knocked it out of the park.

The inventive premise sees washed-up Hollywood action hero Jefferson Steel (Jim McMillan) arrive in England to play King Lear in Stratford – only to find that this is not the birthplace of the Bard, but a sleepy Suffolk village. Far from English acting royalty, his castmates are ‘A Bunch of Amateurs’ who are trying to save their theatre from developers.

Wearing a very suspicious ‘rug’ and armed with an obnoxiously long ‘rider’, Jefferson is tested to his limits by the enthusiastic am-dram thespians. As acting worlds collide and Jefferson’s career implodes, he discovers some uncomfortable personal truths – along with his inner Lear!

McMillan, who played Gomez in NADOS’ production of ‘The Addams Family’, reinforced his leading man credentials – holding the audience in the palm of his hand. From his acidic barbs to his boozed-up tantrums, McMillan fully embodied the entitled ‘big shot’ Steel – adding just enough warmth to have you rooting for his redemption. From THAT sports massage scene to his struggles to lift Dorothy (Julie Ratcliffe) off the floor, he never left a single laugh on the table.

Sally Rice, playing Denise – Steel’s very committed ‘entourage’ – showed wonderful comic timing, with her running gag about plucking out eyes paying off beautifully in the denouement. John Hickey’s swordsmanship was a real highlight, and Pauline Taylor brought lustful vigour to Mary, who takes an instant shine to serial womaniser Steel. NODA nominee Jess Ratcliffe showcased her star quality as Steel’s estranged daughter, while Julie Ratcliffe held the action together brilliantly in her role as Dorothy, director of the Stratford Players. Alli Owen, as Lauren, the Players’ sponsor’s wife, and Arran Abbey playing the role of multiple journalists, completed a cast that each had room to shine.

The lighting, sound and stage crew, and set designer Helen McNicholas, are all to be applauded for lending their own creativity and flair to a technically professional and visually delightful production.

The final scenes, in which Julie Ratcliffe and Pauline Taylor’s characters reflect on what it is that makes people want to do am-dram, felt especially meaningful for a Society that has served its audience for four committed decades. Long may BAMADS continue, with their next performance – ‘The Wedding Singer’ – currently in rehearsals.