A Bunch of Amateurs

Written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman

Thursday 4th April to Saturday 6th April, then Wednesday 10th April to Saturday 13th April 2019

Directed by Tasmin Halford

AuthorsIan Hislop and Nick Newman

Ian Hislop and Nick Payne

Ian David Hislop is an English journalist, satirist, writer, broadcaster and editor of the magazine Private Eye. He has appeared on many radio and television programmes, and has been a team captain on the BBC quiz show Have I Got News for You since the programme's inception in 1990.

He was educated at Ardingly College, an independent boarding school, where he became Head Boy and began his satirical career directing and appearing in revues alongside Nick Newman.

Hislop and Newman's association continued when they both attended Oxford University, later working together at Private Eye and on a number of comedy scriptwriting jobs. Hislop applied to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, but changed to English Literature before arriving at Magdalen College. While at university, Hislop was actively involved in student journalism. He relaunched and edited the satirical magazine Passing Wind. He graduated with a BA in 1981.

Hislop joined Private Eye immediately after leaving Oxford, and became editor in 1986 following Ingrams's departure. As editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop is reputedly the most sued man in English legal history.

In April 2017, Hislop won the London Press Club's print journalist of the year award; in his acceptance speech he said that Private Eye obtaining its best ABC sales figures since the magazine's launch 55 years earlier proved that “journalism is A, worth doing, and B, worth paying for both in terms of paying journalists and the public paying up for it.”

Nick Newman (born 17 July 1958) is a satirical British cartoonist and comedy scriptwriter.

The son of an RAF officer, Newman was born in Kuala Lumpur and schooled at Ardingly College where his satirical career began, working on revues with Ian Hislop. In his last term at Ardingly, Newman was 'asked to leave' (thrown out), after wiring up the chapel to play rock music during a chapel service. Despite this incident Newman managed to secure a place at Oriel College, Oxford where he read history and continued collaborating with Hislop, who was studying English at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Newman's career as a cartoonist began in 1976, when he sold his first drawings to Yachting Monthly - and by 1981 he was working regularly for Private Eye. Since 1989, he has been pocket cartoonist for The Sunday Times. His cartoons and strips have appeared in many other publications including Punch and The Spectator. He also draws for Times Higher Education (THE), Estates Gazette, The Wisden Cricketer, the Wisden Almanack and The Big Issue. The Cartoon Art Trust voted him Pocket Cartoonist of the Year 1997 and Gag Cartoonist of the Year 1998 and 2005. He won the Sports Journalists' Association's award for Sports Cartoonist of the Year in 2005, 2007 and 2008.

He has produced many cartoon anthologies and books, including three Wallace & Gromit adventures (with Tristan Davies. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton).

Hislop and Newman wrote for Maureen Lipman and co-wrote several episodes of Murder Most Horrid for Dawn French. Newman and Hislop's credits also include two series of My Dad's the Prime Minister for BBC 1, sketches for The Harry Enfield Show, creating the character Tim Nice-But-Dim, and the BBC Radio 4 series Gush, a satire based on the first Gulf War, in the style of Jeffrey Archer.

In 2008 they co-wrote A Bunch of Amateurs – starring Burt Reynolds, Sir Derek Jacobi and Samantha Bond – which was the Royal Film Performance for that year.

PlayA Bunch of Amateurs

Jefferson Steele is a fading Hollywood star. When he finds out his agent has landed him the title role in King Lear over in the UK, he believes he will be making his big comeback performing for the RSC. So he is somewhat dismayed when he arrives in England to discover that he has in fact joined 'The Stratford Players', a small local amateur dramatics company, fighting to save their theatre from closure.

Hilarity ensues as the worlds of Hollywood and Amateur dramatics collide. As Jefferson's ego, vanity and insecurities are pushed to the limit by the over enthusiastic thespians, he is about to be taken on a journey he never could've imagined.

As part of Bench's 50th Birthday year, join us as we celebrate all things AmDram with the play described as 'A love letter to the world of Amateur Dramatics'.

The Bench Production

A Bunch of Amateurs poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Jefferson SteelMark Wakeman
Dorothy NettleAngie McKeown
Mary PlunkettSue Dawes
Nigel DewburyAlan Welton
Denis DobbinsJeff Bone
Jessica SteelLeila Millson
Lauren BallSuzy Gains
DavidJaspar Utley
JournalistsMembers of the cast and crew


Director Tasmin Halford
Producers Jaspar Utley, Mark Wakeman
Stage Manager Jacquie Penrose, Zac Cuthbertson
Assistant Stage Manager Archie McKeown
Lighting Design Thomas Hall
Lighting Operation Craig Parker
Sound Design Howard Alston
Sound Operation Emma Kaas Andersen
Flyer Design Dan Finch
Programme Derek Callam
Set Design David Penrose
Set Construction David Penrose and Company
Prop Design and Construction Julie Wood
Photography Julie Wood
Front of House Megan Green
Live Music Composed and sung by Archie McKeown


Portsmouth NewsJames George

I will be honest. I wanted Bench's latest offering to be awful so I could refer to 'A Bench of Amateurs'. They have foiled me.

The principal negative about the evening is the script. Adapted from a screenplay, it still feels filmic - but the theatre is unable to cut between locations and different times in the way a film can and so some scene endings feel odd. The plot, too, is fairly uninspiring - fading Hollywood actor with majorly bad attitude finds himself hoodwinked into playing King Lear in an amateur production and learns how to be human again because of the lovely, honest, hard-working people around him.

So far, so blah. But first-time director, Tasmin Halford, has drawn some fine performances from her cast. Top marks must go to Mark Wakeman as the Hollywood import, Jefferson Steel.

Mr Wakeman has been very inappropriately cast - and he plays this to its magnificent hilt. He even manages to make the saccharine ending bearable with the strength of his performance. There is lovely work, too, from Angie McKeown as Dorothy who is the hapless director trying to corral the ego that is Jefferson. As a counter to Wakeman's wonderfully big performance, McKeown's is small and controlled and she gives some magnificent comic delivery.

Leila Millson as Steel's daughter, Jessica, gives the most grounded and truthful performance.

Also great support comes from Sue Dawes, Alan Welton, Jeff Bone and Suzy Gains - and some excellent vocals from Archie McKeown. Played on a simple, effective set this production proves to be a great evening's entertainment. Both Bench Theatre and director Halford should be happy amateurs indeed.

James George, Portsmouth News, April 5th

Production Photographs