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MORE TO THESE ARCHETYPICAL CHARACTERS THAN FIRST MEETS THE EYE

Print Version

THE MOTOR CAMP
by Dave Armstrong, based on a story by Danny Mulheron
directed by Ross Jolly

at Centrepoint, Palmerston North
From 3 Nov 2012 to 15 Dec 2012

Reviewed by Richard Mays, 15 Nov 2012


Frustration can be a funny thing. And frustration is exactly what fuels the fun in this raunchy summer holiday romp.

Christopher Brougham's Frank Redmond is a stress monkey. Tightly wound, the training college lecturer seems prepared to sacrifice not only his summer holiday, but further strain his already arm-length relationship with affection starved wife Jude, played by Danielle Mason, while further alienating his sullen teenage daughter, Holly (Lucy Lever).

The reason behind his frustration is not immediately apparent, but is slowly and surely revealed.

And that's a feature of this cleverly scripted comedy – there is more to Dave Armstrong's archetypical characters than first meets the eye. Initial assumptions about them are sooner or later overturned in this campsite encounter between a family of academics and representatives of the small business trades class pitched right next door.

Builder Mike Hislop, partner Dawn Tairoa and her son Jared from Whanganui, played by Greg Johnson, Raquel Sims and Nathan Mudge, seem a friendly, practical, forthright, good-natured, overly helpful bunch. Those qualities alone are more than enough to get on Frank's nerves. Worse, Mike and Dawn really enjoy caravan-shaking sex.

And then of course there's politics and social attitudes, with Frank's fair-weather well-paid socialism at odds with Mike's totally non-pc style. And for all of that, the passive aggressive Frank is just as bigoted as Mike, and the arguments sound as if they're lifted straight from the transcript of a talk-back radio show. It's a set-up that Armstrong uses effectively to take pot-shots at any number of social issues besetting the country.

Under Phillip Dexter's sunny lighting plot on John Hodgkins' set with its retro caravan facades, director Ross Jolly and his actors deliver a well-paced and well-timed production. Coming at regular intervals, the laughs make it easy to forgive those moments that don't quite ring true… and those hoary old Lada jokes. I mean, someone still drives a Lada? In this day and age? When they're on that sort of combined salary? Really?

Lada or no, the play is a ride the actors look quite comfortable in, courtesy of great casting and teamwork.  Jude and Dawn are both sympathetically portrayed and authentically interpreted by Mason and Sims. The youthful pairing of Mudge and Lever is convincing, and Mudge especially, handling his hormone overdosed role with aplomb – even during the “icky” scene – where possibly the play goes a step too far.

Johnson fills out matey Mike admirably, even to letting his nice-guy façade slip when stepson Jared looks to be getting out of line. But it's the way Brougham handles the uptight Frank – making him a character any audience can love to hate and revealing his nasty streak without ever losing sympathy – that stands out.

And just as the play spirals down into what seems to be a darkening place, the playwright pulls a snappy happy ending out of his hat – which succeeds because not only is it what the audience believes is going to happen, but also this cast makes sure that it works.

[Apology: This review got inadvertently stranded in the critic's drafts folder.-ed]  
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