Described as being “in the tradition of the Carry On Films or The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Camping wears its big comedic, over-the-top heart on its sleeve. On one level the characters are caricatures with big hair and big personalities, but all have enough aspects that are recognisable and which can elicit sympathy from the audience.
It is clear from the outset that the overall intention of the show is to entertain in as large and as joyful a way as possible, rather than to mine any of the potentially more ‘serious’ subject matter the plot touches on, and it certainly succeeds in that intention.
Two seemingly very different couples find they have been double booked at a romantic retreat at Lovers’ Cove and from this point on comedic chaos ensues. Both couples, Les (played by Tom Clarke at this performance) and Fleur (Kura Forrester), and Connie (Brynley Stent) and Francis (Chris Parker), have some issues they would like to address in their relationships, and almost everything we need to know is quickly sketched as they drive towards their destination.
This section gives both Forrester and Parker the opportunity to quickly engage the audience with their sideways glances and comments in reaction to their partners. They are both marvellous at making the comedy fly, perhaps helped by the feeling that their characters are just a little bit more developed than those of Clarke and Stent.
Stent has the sometimes difficult job of being a more subdued, less obviously ‘funny’ character, and she does the job effectively, supporting and often enhancing the high-energy antics of the other cast members.
As Les and Fleur settle into their accommodation, we look forward to the moment the two couples will meet. This wait feels a fraction longer than it needs to be, but it does set up some fertile ground for comedic payoff later, as we witness Francis’s reluctance to consider the physical side of his wedding night with Connie, while Fleur’s irritation with Les becomes ever more palpable through Forrester’s repertoire of facial expressions and physical reactions.
When the meeting does take place, the comedy takes off to another level, as the script (by Thomas Sainsbury and Chris Parker) makes the most of every opportunity to gain as many laughs as possible: from Les’ insistence on using his full name (Les Bean, pronounced Bee-an) as often as possible to Fleur’s barbed comments or foul-mouthed rants, or Francis’s growing terror as the target of Connie’s frustrated sexual desire.
As the situations become ever more competitive (for example a very funny yet also rather sad talent quest), and the attraction between different combinations of characters grows, the laughs come thick and fast. All of the performers are adept at the physically heightened sections of comedy and all come close to joining in with the audience’s laughter on more than one occasion.
These moments where the actors threaten to fall out of character and join the audience in their enjoyment of the absurdity around them serve to create an inclusive and loose atmosphere that works well in this instance. It suggests that the actors are enjoying their evening as much as we are, and that they are perhaps also surprised by some moments of physical or verbal dexterity from their fellow performers. The (literal) climax of the show is an inspired and prolonged piece of physical comedy that has the audience crying with laughter.
The show does not aim to stimulate intellectual arguments or create a depth of meaning, so there is no attempt to seriously investigate aspects such as the repressed feelings that Francis and Les display for each other, or the difficulty of keeping love alive over a twenty year long relationship other than to extract as many laughs as possible from them, and it achieves this with style.
This is a very funny show, full of highly skilled performances. If you have anything that is making you feel down in the dumps when you enter the theatre, this is a highly effective antidote.
[Nik Smythe reviewed last year’s season]
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