The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

29/06/2013 - 10/08/2013

Production Details


From the writer of THE TUTOR and THE MOTOR CAMP comes the new smash-hit comedy KINGS OF THE GYM.

“Dave Armstrong has fashioned a comedy from the colliding personalities of four teachers who are archetypal Kiwi characters, easily recognised and loved because of that” says Artistic Director, Ross Gumbley.  “Never one to shy away from the topic of the day, Armstrong has swung his full armoury on to the education system and set his sights on those employed by the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry itself.  It is a relief to us in Christchurch to have schools-related drama limited to the stage for a change.”

The story centres on Hautapu High School’s P.E. teacher Laurie Connor, whose un-PC methods are beloved by students, but barely tolerated by the Headmistress.  When a young, enthusiastic student teacher arrives at the school, it’s not just the pupils who will be tested.

Drawing from his own experiences, Armstrong says the initial idea of for the play occurred to him during the mid-1970s in the gymnasium of his local secondary school. “Most co-ed school gymnasiums back then were little man-caves – oases of testosterone where the P.E. teachers, who were usually male, ruled the roost. Yes, these P.E. teachers could be boorish and insensitive – like Laurie in the play – but these kings of the gym really liked kids. And it’s very hard to dislike someone who likes you.”  

It is not the first time Armstrong has been inspired by his school boy days.  One teacher, in particular, prompted him and classmate Danny Mulheron to co-create the TV comedy series, SEVEN PERIODS WITH MR. GORMSBY. “The Major, as we called him, was a former military man and a relic from the British Empire. He was highly authoritarian and had no time for ‘liberal mumbo-jumbo’. He once tried to cane our classmate, Claire, who had rather a deep voice, refusing to believe she was a girl. ‘You’re not a girl, lad’.” 

featuring Tom Trevella and Eilish Moran  
opens on 29 June and runs to 10 August 2013  
Mon, Thurs 6:30pm
Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat 7:30pm
Matinee 2pm Saturday 6 June 2013
Bookings at or 03 963 0870.

2hrs 15 mins incl. interval

Milked for all it's worth

Review by Alan Scott 01st Jul 2013

I am not sure what the Physical Education fraternity would have thought about this comedy, but judging by the comments I overheard, other teachers in the audience were certainly enjoying it. Indeed, the production was warmly received by everyone. 

Set in the low decile school, Hautapu High, where drinking and gambling are the favoured sports of the P.E. department, the play centres on the clash of ideologies and personalities when a keen student teacher, a would be Silver Fern netballer, brimming with the ideas of the new curriculum, is put under the wing of Laurie, the lazy head of department, an unPC dinosaur for whom the hardest job of the day is blowing a whistle.

The whole premise behind much of the play is a bit old hat, to be honest, but writer Dave Armstrong milks it for all it is worth. His brand of satire always goes down well and Kings of the Gym is no exception with its exaggerated characters, sharp one-liners and both acute and outrageous observations. 

The first half of the play was a little hard going with the cast delivering caricatures rather than real personalities and Armstrong’s writing taking its time to wind the humour up. 

After the interval, some unexpected twists and turns in the plot make the whole production more interesting and compelling. There is a deeper meaning to the comedy, and the script hits its stride with very funny and engaging humour which the audience lapped up.

The cast of Tom Trevella, Eilish Moran, Alex Walker and Cian Elyse White also raise the stakes considerably and deliver fluid performances which bring out the comedy perfectly.


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Richly comedic

Review by Lindsay Clark 30th Jun 2013

School and teachers – there’s a response for everyone who ever went through an education system and it’s generally acknowledged that the curriculum of the day is just the beginning of any learning schools can offer. Dave Armstrong is in a generous mood with this romantic comedy, using it as a skeleton for nibbling away at almost every crumb of concern or debate within the whole fruity pudding. The aroha is left for last. 

All is set in the congested office of Hautapu High School’s coach and Head of PE, overlooking the territory of competitive sport which he rules with the authority of self-belief.

A couple of deft scenes establishes his ways – slack or justifiable, according to your view of these things – and his relationships with a pleasantly non-effective young offsider, and the Headmistress, whose undisputed realm seems to be the rest of a bureaucratic world.

There is potential material enough for a good stir of things here, but the real catalyst arrives in the person of a newbie student teacher, who brings her theories and best practice ideas as well as a personal background of born again Christianity into the recipe. She is Māori, a rising netball star and able to be diplomatic; he is rampantly Pakeha, a couch sportsman and given to expressing in technicolour, whatever whenever he feels the urge. 

Director Conrad Newport shapes the play from a plethora of loaded comment and riposte, bubbling away around a neatly contrived plot line. The most entertaining aspect lies in the banter arising from conflicting beliefs and the jockeying for power between the Head and her stubbornly non PC colleague. Spontaneous applause more than once confirms how readily the audience agrees with both sides!

She is all for keeping up squeaky clean compliance and studiously mangled Te Reo; bravado and unapologetic bigotry are his forte. His eventual resignation (“The King is dead, long live the King”), leaving the way open for a new approach from the younger teachers, can be read as a triumph or a defeat – or neither. 

Set and costume (Harold Moot and Tina Hutchison-Thomas) enhanced by lighting and sound from Joe Hayes, create a thoroughly believable stage picture, wherein the four characters battle it out in the heat of proximity. 

They are well cast, each bringing distinctive physicality to the role. As student teacher Annie Tupua, Cian Elyse White is relaxed but forceful in a part where she is constantly having to defend herself or rationalise her creationist beliefs. Pat Kennedy, the other young teacher and eventual inheritor of the gym, is played with sporty bounce by Alex Walker, in his debut at The Court. 

Claiming the wider territory of the school with bristling dignity is the feisty Eilish Moran as Viv Cleaver, Headmistress of Huatapu High School. Her charged presence nails many a laugh and provides a formidable foil for the wayward HOD PE who eschews the official curriculum with boozy confidence. Tom Trevella devours the part in a bravura performance, working every moment at the richly comedic set up.

Armstrong hopes that the play will get us thinking about the issues raised so inconsequentially in the course of the laughs, presumably in the way of cartoons. It is far more likely to be recalled for its gleeful humour.


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