Written & Directed by John Hewer
Paul Upshott – John Hewer
Benjamin Lecrosse – Adam Shannon
“To be or not to be” spouts Hamlet, and I’m quite obviously “to be” and you’re certainly “not to be”, all right?”
When Benjamin Lecrosse, the matinee idol of the 1960’s, secures himself the title role in a production of “Hamlet”, he is overjoyed at the possibility of achieving his lifelong dream. The theatre producers however, are not so sure and the recently graduated would-be actor Paul Upshott (playing Peasant Eight) is to be Lecrosse’s understudy. This witty comedy of one-up-man-ship and saving face is a riot of comic timing, characterisation and morality.
A Hard Act To Follow opened at The Broadbent Theatre, Wickenby on 25th September 2010. The production then went on tour to: Caistor Town Hall, Meridale Centre Sutton-on-Sea, Goxhill Memorial Hall, Willoughby Village Hall, Riverhead Theatre Louth, Blackfriar’s Theatre Boston, Epworth Memorial Hall, Limelight Theatre Brookenby, Castle Bytham Village Hall, Blackbox Theatre Franklin College, Grimsby and Old Nick Theatre Gainsborough and subsequently, in 2011, to Corn Exchange Alford, Terry O’ Toole Theatre Lincoln, Library Theatre Sheffield, Lea Village Hall, Cuckney Village Hall, Phoenix Theatre Bawtry and Pontefract Town Hall.
I have seen ‘A Hard Act To Follow’ twice now and I laughed as much the second time as I did the first. Even before the curtain went up, I was smiling yet again at the programme, which is actually two programmes in one, for reasons that become clear in the first couple of minutes of the play.
So, here is what it’s all about. Two actors play two actors, but that is where the resemblance stops. Benjamin Lecrosse certainly has ‘presence’. You simply cannot miss him when he takes to the stage. A seasoned actor, Benjamin is (in his own relentlessly enduring way) one of The Greats, although some might consider him to be a ham actor – with eggs and chips and beans too. Nevertheless, he has gathered a following over his forty odd years in the business, including up-and-coming, young-and-starving actor Paul Upshott.
Paul can name every production his idol has appeared in; Paul has his autograph; in fact, Paul could practically write his biography. So, imagine Paul’s awe and delight at being asked by his agent to be Benjamin’s understudy in Tramplemain Theatre’s production of Hamlet! Full of admiration and trepidation, Paul prepares to meet his hero, but fulfilment of his desire to be liked or respected by Benjamin is sadly… not to be. In fact, Benjamin finds the idea that a young upstart like Upshott could stand-in for someone of his standing completely out of the question. It’s war from there on in, with hilarious consequences in this bitter-sweet comedy.
Conflict between a fading thespian and a rather gauche young actor offers so many opportunities for comedy, ranging from snappy repartee, through farce and slapstick to some pretty dark humour. All of these are writer John Hewer’s stock-in-trade. Not only did he drive the play along with lines that varied from cuttingly witty to deliberately corny, but he also kept the audience’s ears and eyes working overtime with a liberal sprinkling of clever non-verbal jokes. Look out for the light-dimming and the green highlighter sequences. Both brilliantly funny.
Adam Shannon as the grandiose Benjamin managed to bring out both the ridiculous and the pathetic in his character, employing a quite explosive energy. The character Paul was played by the playwright himself and the duo’s comic timing really heightened the fun. Their respective insecurities surfaced in various different ways, keeping us thoroughly entertained throughout the play and giving us plenty to laugh at. And we certainly did.
Helen Appleton, Louth Leader, September 2011