I Heart Camping

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

24/02/2010 - 06/03/2010

Fortune Theatre Studio, Dunedin

18/03/2010 - 20/03/2010

BATS Theatre, Wellington

12/04/2011 - 21/04/2011

Production Details


B.Y.O Camping Chair 

Camping, a New Zealand summer tradition. Beautiful sandy beaches, lush landscapes, sausages on the barbeque, the smell of Dimp and the salty sea air…

Each summer we return to the arms of Mother Nature, parting with our creature comforts for a taste of The Great Outdoors.

Auckland-based Yes Please Theatre Company in association with STAMP at THE EDGE are delighted to present the premiere of I Camping at The Basement 24thFebruary – 6th March. An original New Zealand theatre work written by Sophie Henderson and Curtis Vowell,I Camping will appeal to anyone who has ever pitched a tent. 

Directed by Cameron Rhodes and featuring Curtis Vowell, Sophie Henderson, Brett O’Gorman and Michelle Blundell. I Camping is a hilarious look at the Kiwi camping experience promising to evoke wonderful memories of bygone summers and an exploration into the confines of the campground.

William (Curtis Vowell) has surprised Samantha (Sophie Henderson) by taking her to the camp ground she came to every year as a child. Samantha is lying about loving the place. William is lying about being a camping expert. They are about to find out they barely know each other. A collection of eccentric campers played by Michelle Blundell and Brett O’Gorman make this a camping trip to remember.

Torrential rain. Outrageous neighbours.
Stolen baked beans. Third degree burns. No privacy.
It’s in tents.
This is an unromantic comedy not to be missed.

I Camping plays:
February Wednesday 24th – Saturday 6th March 2010
7pm Tuesday & Wednesday / 8pm Thursday to Saturday
The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
Tickets: Full $25 / Concession $18 / Student $18*
Book through www.the-edge.co.nz or 09 357 3355 or 0800 BUY TICKETS
*Booking fee may apply   

March 18-20
Fortune Studio

Sophie Henderson (Outrageous Fortune, The Scene, The Little Dog Laughed
Curtis Vowell (Bare, Design For Living, The Cult) 
Brett O'Gorman* (Pulp Comedy, Badjelly the Witch, Loser

Michelle Blundell (Holding The Man, Piece of My Heart, The Crucible

*Replaced for BATS season by: 
Gareth Williams (Apollo 13: Mission Control, Assassins, The Lonesome Buckwhips

Camp ground cringe gives laughs aplenty in under-the-canvas show

Review by Janet McAllister 05th May 2011

Clever comedy holds the downside of the Kiwi outdoor summer holiday up for ridicule. 

Camp grounds are lucky that I Heart Camping didn’t open earlier in the summer: this lively production would have caused a rash of tent site cancellations. With handfuls of one-liners and amusingly drawn gaudy characters, playwrights Sophie Henderson and Curtis Vowell gleefully point out what could go wrong when living under the canvas: storms, hot tents, sunscreen mishaps, noisy neighbours, tinned sausages, self-righteous outdoorsy experts and no phone coverage.

The multi-talented Henderson and Vowell play a young couple who know implausibly little about each other but don’t let that stop them judging each other. Samantha once fronted a band called the Meat Curtains; Will wants to be a pregnant male sea horse. Is that compatible?

Their sex life is put to shame by a retired magician (Brett O’Gorman) and his wife (Michelle Blundell) living in a campervan. These fantastic character actors – with comic timing in spades – also play a wild man of the woods who rails against Aucklanders and their "facespace.org"; an exhausting by with ADHD; and a lustful teenage girl who labels Will a "McChicken" who’s "McOwned" by his "gf".

While the main couple are busy grumping at each other, these peripheral characters keep the play bouncing along. For such a light comedy, the script is just a touch too long at two hours plus intermission, and the occasional music is a little heavy. But Henderson handles the change of gear for the play’s one sad moment very well, quietly allowing the emotional truth to show between the over-the-top comic scenarios.

The set, designed by group effort, cleverly encloses the audience in the world of camping – a tent narrows the theatre entrance, pegged towels hide the technician box.

Directed by Cameron Rhodes, I Heart Camping is good fun.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Romantic comedy hard to believe

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 14th Apr 2011

Described in the programme as an unromantic comedy I (heart) Camping turns out in the end, of course, to be a sentimental romantic comedy. But it has to be said that it is a very odd one indeed.

Samantha (Sophie Henderson) and William (Curtis Vowell), on their honeymoon at a DOC camping site, are a fairly normal young couple who, we discover at great length, don’t really know each other at all. She’s a nice, ordinary primary school teacher; he works at Kelly Tarleton’s Underwater World.

He has taken her on a surprise honeymoon to a camp site where she spent many holidays when she was young. Slowly he discovers her hidden past and she discovers, amongst other things, that he loves fish and won’t eat them. They both pretend to love camping.

But what makes the comedy really bizarre are the other campers who are outrageous enough to make even the hardiest soul want to leave the site, if not the play, the moment they appear. Colin is an unemployed, over-jovial magician and his wife has a voice that could blister paint at a 100 meters. There’s also a mad musician, a young woman of undefined age but clear sexual drive who has a hotline to Jesus, and her obnoxious kid brother.

And then there’s a weirdo who berates Samantha and William for being Aucklanders and in love with all the fancy technology available in the city, yet he wanders around the camp and the beach with a metal detector when he’s not shouting at the top of his lungs as he does when quoting King Lear in a storm. They are all played by Gareth Williams and Michelle Blundell as grotesques, which is the only way to play them.  

There have been a number of comedies about camping; the most recent, Dave Armstrong’s The Motor Camp was seen at Circa in January. Maybe, the timing of I (heart) Camping’s visit to Wellington is too close to Armstrong’s robust, concisely structured comedy in which the characters are believable human beings as well as New Zealanders that we can all recognize. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


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True heart obliterated by a buffeting storm of over-acting

Review by John Smythe 13th Apr 2011

The classic Kiwi camping experience is used here as a means of exploring where truth lies in the way we live our lives. How performances are pitched, therefore, is crucial to the theme. No matter how broad the comedic style, if the characters are not grounded in truth – which is the essence of clowning, commedia and all the genres of comedy that have followed – then the production falls wide of its mark.

The central relationship, between honeymooners Samantha and William – played by Sophie Henderson and Curtis Vowel, who also co-wrote I Heart Camping – is beautifully nuanced to let pinpricks of doubt escape from the airbed of their newly-wed love.

One whiff of sea air has blindfolded Samantha convinced they are off on a cruise. Is her feigned delight at finding herself in the camping ground her family frequented as she grew up a lie, or a commendable commitment to going with the flow and making it into a happy experience?

Given eager-to-please William took advice from Sam’s father, has he been lied to, or is the whole situation rooted in a girl’s understandable desire to bring happiness to the lives of her fighting parents by pretending to love – or at least ‘heart’ – their camping holidays?

In co-dependency terms, Samantha is clearly a peace-maker. William is a main-chancer, but not a wheeler-dealer wide-boy with it. He is very serious in his pursuit of happiness beyond his humdrum life. Deep down, I imagine, he knows how lucky he is and he doesn’t want to blow it.  

Within the convention of a fake grass camp ground in Bats’ black space (which places the audience in mid-air, above the cliff-face that meets the beach), Henderson and Vowel make their characters highly credible and recognisable, compelling us to ask what they really think, feel and want, and engaging our empathy in the process.

The play is so well crafted to bring its realities – and falsehoods – to the surface that I’m loath to give away too much up front. But it probably won’t hurt to say William works at Kelly Tarleton’s Underwater World – hence her nickname for him: “Penguin” – and they first met when teacher Samantha took a school group there. Her real passion, however, is musicals: she’ll burst into song at the tickle of a melodica. Her singing, we discover, is truly … what gives her joy. (Am I being truly honest here? If not, why not?)

The surrounding – or rather intervening – six characters are written to raise the same central question: given the way they carry on, how authentically are they living their lives?

Anne and Colin, the couple who honeymooned decades ago in Hawaii and now live in a Maui campervan, appear to be the salt of the proverbial earth, cracking hearty and inextricably entwined in their co-dependent love. Colin was a magician by trade and his dodgy tricks add another level to the play’s enquiry into what might be an acceptable level of illusion versus what is counter-productive delusion.

Camp vamp Jessica, who acts like a teenager and claims to be in her twenties, praises Jesus as her Lord while coming on to William in a way that reeks of an emotionally disturbed sexual abuse victim (although what drives this behaviour is not revealed). Her hyperactive brother Simon (presumably afflicted with ADHD) is impossibly demanding, inconsiderate and overwhelming, yet it is arguable that his behaviour is the most authentic.

Rigged out with a high-tech metal detector, creepy Eric reckons the only way to live authentically is off the land and close to nature. But does he practice what he preaches? Is he dangerous or a good man to have around in a crisis?

From time-to-time a Music Man emerges snail-like from a tiny tent, and plays tunes like ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’ on his melodica, offering either a provocation to tell the truth or a happy-clappy escape from it (take your pick).

In admiring the craft of the play’s composition, I have to add that I was only able to evaluate the significance and worth of these six characters by thinking it all through afterwards, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But on the night – the opening night of the Bats season – what came over most strongly was a display of coarse acting that worked against any intuitive or conscious connection with their characters.

While it is unusual to surround realistic and complex central characters with highly comedic caricatures, it is not automatically wrong, provided we are provoked to suspend our disbelief, accept the convention and connect with some essence of truth.

Michelle Blundell has been with this Cameron Rhodes-directed production from the start. It premiered at The Basement then toured to last year’s Dunedin Fringe. I can see what she’s working at with Anne and Jessica – and that’s the trouble: I can see her working. I want to engage with her characters.

This happens even more so with Gareth Williams’ Colin, Eric and Simon (in complete contrast to his minimalist Music Man). Williams is new to the production (replacing Brett O’Gorman who is otherwise engaged, ironically, with Did I Believe It?). I rather suspect there was huge hilarity in the rehearsal room, day after day, as Gareth was worked into his role – and that should have been a warning sign. The company is not the audience; their perspective is entirely different.

Maybe opening night was an aberration and it will quickly settle into being the play it seems to have been in its other seasons (see links to the reviews below). Maybe Cameron Rhodes needs to jump on a plane and sort it out. I am certain there are degrees of poignancy and pathos, emerging from true human insight, to be found within the comic extremities of Colin, Anne, Eric, Jessica and Simon. But in the absence of truth …

As it stands the true heart of I Heart Camping is obliterated by a buffeting storm of over-acting.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


John Smythe April 17th, 2011

Ameet, of course I am “stoked” that companies are “creating their own work as opposed to picking a ‘hot and happening’ play off the shelves.” Totally. But that does not absolve them from critical appraisal. That would be sooo patronising and counterproductive on so many levels.

Ameet Chana April 16th, 2011

Just because a show is "Booked Out"  it doesn't necessarily reflect that the quality of the show is any good. This was the same case with the show The Chatams. The show seemed to have done well with many sold out shows but at the end of it , the actual show was still weak, unpurposeful and was just average.

Having said that, I think it is awesome to see two new theatre work that is very kiwi in it's flavour.   There is something uniquely quirky and odd but delightfully charming about these piece and they don't try to be anything else. In that sense I congratulate both companies for creating their own work as opposed to picking a "hot and happening" play off the shelves. C'mon John, you gotta be stoked about that right?

I saw I Heart Camping. It was silly and entertaining. I liked this season better than the Dunedin one, perhaps it was the space.

 I these theatre creatives have s much experience behind them and am sure are more than capable of taking these comments with a pinch of salt and continue to make some good quality theatre.  

John Smythe April 15th, 2011

Apologies, Sam, if my injecting a bit of provocative humour into my query offended your designer sensibilities. I think I used ‘post modern’ accurately and I am genuinely interested to know if this was part of the reasoning behind a conscious decision to disrupt our willing suspension of disbelief. If so, I think it was a questionable call for the reasons stated in my review. And I am keen to hear the contra argument, if there is one.  

Simon Bennett April 15th, 2011

 Despite all the above hoo-ha, it's gratifying to note the show is selling out. 

sam trubridge April 15th, 2011

Your cynicism belies a contempt for any intellectual approach to designing for performance John. I am not saying that this show is as smart as your spoof makes tongue in cheek suggestion of. Rather you use words 'post-modern', 'performative', 'deconstruction' etc so derisively that I suspect you do not know what they mean or what their implications are for theatre. Having not seen this show I can only revel in the abstract joy I take in seeing badly made fat-suits. Like the 'ill-fitting robe' of Macbeth's regency, the bad fat suit is a lovely metaphor - but only if it is used intelligently. Much like one may use or misuse the word 'post-modern' with little demonstrated understanding or respect for what it stands for...

John Smythe April 15th, 2011

I’ve been waiting for someone to justify the style in terms of the post-modern deconstruction of performative conventions designed to subvert our being seduced into an imagined ‘reality’ beyond the immediate present on the grounds that the only absolute truth theatre can offer is that of the performance itself in progress and process. But no? It’s not that, then? 

John Smythe April 14th, 2011

Claire, can I ask if the fat-padding for Anne and Colin also looked ludicrously fake in Auckland? This was the first indication of tacky performance elements getting in the way of truthful (if broad) characterisation. 

Claire Buckley April 13th, 2011

 Wow!  It must have been a completely different production to the one in Auckland, where it was really very good, without any of the issues highlighted here.

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Lying within tent

Review by Sharon Matthews 23rd Mar 2010

I Heart camping is a fabulously energetic physical comedy which takes a wry look at one of the ‘delights’ of the New Zealand summer tradition, the camping trip. Written by Sophie Henderson and Curtis Vowell (who also play the newlyweds, Samantha and William), and produced by Auckland-based Yes Please Theatre Company, it is directed by the fabulous and ever-versatile Cameron Rhodes (a slight touch of bias here).

According to their website, Yes Please Theatre Company aims to develop and produce new New Zealand work which is “original, fresh and hilarious.” Their aim is produce theatre crafted from our own stories, celebrating who we are and where we come from. Particularly in today’s economic climate, this passion and belief in the enduring power of theatre needs to be applauded.

On the second night, the Fortune Studio had a good audience who were enjoying themselves hugely, laughing in all the right places while events on stage went steadily more and more wrong. However, I am curious as to why this particular show was included in the Dunedin Fringe Festival. The Fringe describes itself as an annual festival of innovative and experimental art celebrating provocative and unique ideas. I Heart is a professionally produced and hugely enjoyable show, dealing with some potentially robust themes, but neither presentation nor characterisation seemed to me to be either provocative or risky.

[Note: at the request of Sophie Henderson (see her Comment below) ‘spoiler’ elements have been removed from some of the following paragraphs – ED]

The plot-line is deceptively simple: William and Samantha are on honeymoon at the campground that Samantha went to every year as a child. This becomes the setting for an exploration of the deceits that underlie their relationship.  

The script is tightly-written with an acute ear for the peculiarities of the New Zealand dialect and the idiosyncratic New Zealand character. 

Brett O’Gorman and Michelle Blundell portray a range of horribly realistic characters, none of whom I would care to share a campground with, sometimes teetering on the edge of stereotypes, but always finding an element of human connection. 

Particularly notable is Blundell’s depiction of the hormone crazed teenager Jessica, who offers to transfer her love of Jesus Christ to William any time he might ask. Equally impressive is the sheer variety of O’Gorman’s characterisations, ranging from beer-swollen Colin to the distinctly creepy baked bean-stealing camper Eric, with his blood-stained hand, and including an APPALLING small child armed with ice-cream and rubber ball.

I Heart Camping is distinguished by its immensely enjoyable physicality, especially the brutal violence inflicted upon poor William in the name of comedy, as he is successively attacked by sun-block, a small child, the ocean, and hair-straightening tongs. By using the format of the ‘unromantic comedy’, Henderson and Vowell are able to explore some very interesting thematic territory; including: an examination of those images of self that we present in order to seem attractive, the extent to which we lie within a relationship, and the lies we tell to stay in or start a relationship.

These topics are dealt with sympathetically but facilely, skipping lightly over some very complex territory. The universal, if unrealistic, desire to protect the loved one – “I didn’t tell you because I wanted you to stay happy” – supports the comic structure of this play and provides a strong emotional underlay which I would like to have seen developed further, particularly since the characters are strongly developed and portrayed with considerable affection and sympathy.

Colin and Anne could be simply stereotypical camper trailer trash, but their belief in the power of love at first sight and the strength of their ….ummm… mutual delight in their obviously long term relationship form a lovely counter-balance to the rendering of a newly-married couple ignorant even of each other’s dietary preferences. Henderson and Vowell are perceptive observers of the strange loving rituals that couples engage in, symbolised by an awkward penguin dance that William displays for Samantha’s delight.

I do, however, find unconvincing the happy ending. I feel that resolving the scope of the lies and evaded truths between William and Samantha would need a team of family therapists and a considerable stretch of time. The way these issues are settled seems less than credible.

But although I think that the authors could benefit from the services of a dramaturge, and this production breaks no new theatrical ground, I Heart Camping is an energetically acted, audience-engaging show that anyone who has ever attempted to erect a tent in the great outdoors will relate to.

I am delighted to have seen this show, and look forward to Yes Please Theatre Company’s future productions. And guys, thank you for your passion and commitment, and your courageous desire to keep creating theatrically. _______________________________
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Editor July 21st, 2010

Fair enough, Sophie - the spoilers have now been edited out.

Sophie Henderson July 20th, 2010

Hi Sharon, Thank you for your review. At the moment we are planning a tour of our show around the country and was wondering if you might be able to remove some of the plot twists and reveals you write about in this review so it's not spoiled for our new audiences? When we were writing this play we thought a lot about slowly feeding the audience information so they could piece it together and work it out for themselves. Many thanks, Sophie.

John Smythe March 23rd, 2010

A Fringe Festival, by definition, is on the edge, away from the mainstream Arts Festivals. Of the seven excellent NZ theatre productions in this year’s NZ International Festival of the Arts, only two – He Reo Aroha and Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland – could be said to have embraced the “peculiarities of the New Zealand dialect and the idiosyncratic New Zealand character”.

The plays with no Maori dimension were set nowhere in particular (360), in fictitious lands (The Letter Writer; The Arrival), on the high seas with no Kiwi characters (Ship Songs) and in the USA with all-American characters (Apollo 13: Mission Control).  

By embracing the “peculiarities of the [Pakeha] New Zealand dialect and the idiosyncratic New Zealand character” then, I Heart Camping clearly qualifies as edgy, risky and even provocative. Given such plays are invariably created under no-to-low-budget co-op conditions, I see it as totally appropriate that they should get further airings on the Fringe and regional Arts Festival circuits.

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A fantastic, brave, funny, warm cast

Review by Lillian Richards 25th Feb 2010

“I heart camping: It’s in tents.” I only got the puntastic nature of the above quip after my partner read it aloud. Yeah, it’s pretty intense.

We’re only talking hearts here, not love. You see hearts are what you use to show affection when affection is all there is. You heart your brand new school bag; you heart your first crush …

But let’s not get too etymological too quickly. Basically said, to heart something is to be fond of it; the kind of fondness that propels you to carve a name into the bark of a poor tree or the wood of a desk. There is a kind of gentle passion in hearting; a flimsy sort of love.

And most New Zealanders have flimsy sort of love and affection for camping; most of us camp, most of us say we love it, but let’s be honest, most of us have our fill of camping the moment smells wafting from our own person make us reminisce: “Oh that’s the smell of yesterday’s swim and last night’s beer and this morning’s anguish… I think I want to go home now.”

I Camping is a play about this version of love; about the ideas we have of ourselves and – as a wonderful aside and clever context – the unrealistic romanticism we have as a society for camping.

Sophie Henderson plays Samantha, a newlywed who is taken on a surprise camping trip by her husband William, played by Curtis Vowell. Their relationship goes under the microscope in what always turns out to be the cramped quarters of Mother Nature: “You, me and Mother Nature” – “Yeah, it’s like a dirty threesome.”  

Henderson crafts a totally sweet, multifaceted, natural character in primary school teacher Samantha. She is verbose without being painful and naturalistic in her idiosyncrasies. Vowell matches this with his not-very-suited-to-the-outdoors William; perhaps a marine biologist but definitely a lover of fish, penguins and anything in the sea.

The couple is hammered from all angles by a neurotic cast of campers: an aunt, a magician, a helpful psychopath, a whorish child Christian and a retarded and hyperactive kid called Simon. This cast of cameos is played by Michelle Blundell and Brett O’Gorman respectively, with an attention to detail – brilliant Kiwi accents, lingering looks, uncomfortable silences, melodica playing… – that results in the conjuring of a lively campground atmosphere.

The archetypes are well drafted by Henderson and Vowell (the co-writers) and brought to life superbly by Blundell and O’Gorman, whose skill makes the cast feel far larger. The four walls of the small theatre seem to expand into open space and the four actors seem to expand into an entire community of oddballs, camping aficionados and bad childhood memories.

The play is pitched as an unromantic comedy and this deductive approach works well. Through the mess, the sheepishness, the lies, the storms, the obscure revelations, comes the gradual revelation of a couple who are less at home with themselves than they let on and so, ultimately, are less able to be a home for the other.

There are moments where lies and misunderstandings are brought to the fore, where both characters come clean, and in these moments sometimes the gravitas of what is being shared is a little undervalued. But then the voice of this play is playful and weight is a hard thing to carry when you’re trying to be light.

Overall the play works very well. It’s fantastic, brave, funny, warm cast all shine equally bright and all are equally bedazzling to watch. The stage and set design (accredited to Yes Please Theatre) is exceptionally good, somewhat like being allowed inside a really elaborate museum display of ‘A Native Kiwi Camping Ground’.

The music is beautifully chosen (I adored the use of Arcade Fire) and effortlessly establishes a powerful emotional connection between passing moments in time, which speaks of good direction (Cameron Rhodes). So too does the use of the space; the actors’ constant movements are engaging without being frenetic and their breaking of the 4th wall is perfectly executed.

Moments of this play feel like a sweet art house movie, a delicate little fumble at love with musical montages, genuine affection, vibrant colour schemes and a lurking quirkiness.

What is perhaps best about I Camping is the fact that it is uniquely Kiwi without pandering to wretchedly overused iconography or stereotypes. Henderson and Vowell eloquently portray a very Kiwi experience without pulling buzzy bees across the stage or making rugby references: this is a brilliant and relevant representation of New Zealand and its people. It is also very good theatre, from all angles.

It’s a(n un)romantic comedy about camping, love, illusion and real insight that takes you on a wonderfully sweet trip.

I heart this play.


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