Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

06/02/2016 - 27/02/2016

Production Details

From the author of smash hit The Motor Camp, comes this outrageously entertaining show.

New Zealand Comedy 6-27 February, 2016
Featuring Jared Kirkwood, Rhema Sutherland, Phil Vaughan and Lisa Warrington

Ambitious new principal Viv Cleaver (played by Lisa Warrington) wants to clean up low-decile Hautapu High School. Her big problem is the PE department, in which unfit and un-PC Laurie Connor (played by Phil Vaughan) is head teacher. He spends his days with his young acolyte Pat Kennedy (played by Jared Kirkwood), gambling and watching TV instead of teaching the curriculum.

“Dave Armstrong has yet another comedy hit on his hands.” Laurie Atkinson, The Dominion Post

When super-smart and sporty student teacher Annie Tupua (played by Rhema Sutherland) arrives on a placement, Viv sees her chance to make some changes. In this play, new and old education systems and beliefs go into the ring. Sparks fly, team dynamics shift, the whistle is blown and the audience are the winners!

“Armstrong creates characters complicated enough for our sympathies to see-saw between them… Sometimes – big call here – theatre might even be as good as New Zealand television.” Janet McAllister, NZ Herald

Artistic Director Jonathon Hendry says, “I’m thrilled we’re bringing Dave Armstrong’s satiric summer comedy to Dunedin with such an exciting team. Under the sure hand of Patrick Davies we showcase two young actors who are proving themselves ones to watch. Alongside them, Phil Vaughan has originated and triumphed in a number of iconic kiwi roles with Armstrong. Also our audiences are lucky to be able to see legendary director from Otago University’s Allen Hall, Lisa Warrington, back on stage in a role that is simply made for her. I can’t wait to see Viv and Laurie battle it out on leading New Zealand designer Sean Coyle’s brilliantly evocative set.”

Director Patrick Davies says, “I had a great time directing Dave’s play, The Tutor, in 2011 and he’s done it again with Kings of the Gym. Anyone who loved the mix of un-PC and social satire in that performance will love this – Dave always delivers a knockout punch to whatever he’s writing about.”

When asked about the play, writer Dave Armstrong says, “This is a play about the battle for the soul. We all think we are tolerant but deep down many of us want everyone else to think exactly like we do. This idea lies at the heart of Kings of the Gym and I hope the play makes us all a little more tolerant about those on the ‘other’ side – whether that side is political, religious or educational.”

This big hearted comedy about competition and compassion is the perfect start to Fortune Theatre’s year.

Venue:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Production Dates:  6 – 27 February 2016  
Running Time:  2 hours including an interval
Performances:  Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm

Tickets:  Adults $42, Early Bird (booking 1 month in advance) $37.50, Opening Week Ticket (Sunday-Thursday) $37.50, Senior Citizens $35, Community Services Card $35, Fortune Theatre Members $32, Tertiary Students $22, High School Students $17.50, Group Discount (10+) $35

Bookings Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Box Office 03 477 8323 or visit  

Lunchtime Bites / Thursday, 28 January, 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The actors will perform an excerpt from Kings of the Gym with an opportunity to win tickets. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Opening Night / Saturday, 6 February, 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.

Members’ Briefing / Sunday, 7 February, meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Director Patrick Davies for a lively informal chat about Kings of the Gym.

Forum / Tuesday, 9 February – join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show.

Pat Kennedy:  Jared Kirkwood
Annie Tupua:  Rhema Sutherland  
Laurie Connor:  Phil Vaughan
Viv Cleaver:  Lisa Warrington

Dave Armstrong
Director Patrick Davies
Set Designer Sean Coyle
Set Builder Richard Clark
Lighting Designer Garry Keirle
Costume Designer Maryanne Wright-Smyth
Sound Designer Matt Morgan
Stage Manager Monique Webster
Properties George Wallace

Theatre ,

Bouncing ideas off the theatre walls

Review by Helen Watson White 09th Feb 2016

I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal … Some of that old-style us-and-them conflict, crude as it is, makes a rattling good play.  

In Kings of the Gym, Dave Armstrong, ex-teacher and author of multiple TV and stage dramas, highlights a comic culture-clash in the PE Dept of Hautapu High. Irresistible force, principal Viv (‘Cleavage’) Cleaver – Lisa Warrington in magnificent voice – meets immovable object, PE head Laurie Connor: Phil Vaughan outdoing himself in body language, whether in-your-face or (at some points) exquisitely refined. The issues: professionalism, or box-ticking of the curriculum’s new criteria versus skiving off to drink at the New Criterion; supervision of classes versus yelling out the window while phone-gambling on sport. [More


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Flawed characters elicit empathy and tolerance

Review by Terry MacTavish 08th Feb 2016

I’ve been looking forward to this play, about a low-decile school’s Phys Ed Dept, because the setting is familiar to me and because playwright Dave Armstrong is usually brilliant, whether working on his own, or in sensitive collaborations like Where We Once Belonged and the classic Niu Sila. His comedy The Motor Camp had proved a perfect start to the Fortune 2012 programme: wickedly observant of NZ culture and really funny, delighting audiences while leaving them with some pertinent questions to ponder.

The audience certainly find Kings of the Gym amusing, and director Patrick Davies and his cast give it their all, but the issues we are invited to consider seem strangely dated, due chiefly to the lead character, the very un-PC Head of PE, Laurie Connor. My guests, PE teachers themselves, are soon cringing at his laziness, resistance to change, refusal to follow the curriculum, habit of spending teaching time consuming alcohol and betting on TV sports, and worst, his loud vocal abuse of his students – he teaches by yelling through the window, using belittling nicknames: “Chopsticks!(Asian), Harry Potter!(Glasses), Reffo! (Refugee), Ya big girl’s blouse!!!”

It was in the 1980s that a friend of mine, who lectured in the PE Dept of Dunedin College of Education, felt compelled to write a furious letter to the paper, condemning a local PE teacher’s practice of forcing boys who forgot their gear to wear a spare pair of girl’s lacy panties. The 1980s.  Yet here is Laurie making them wear piupiu. It’s now nine years since the launch of the New Curriculum that Laurie chucks in the bin, we have been teaching NCEA standards for over a decade, there’s an academic basis even to Outdoor Ed, and Health and Well-Being are comfortably embedded in the curriculum. Open bigotry is no longer acceptable: could Laurie really be getting away with this?

The last play at the Fortune, Flagons and Foxtrots, was set in the 1960s, which not only allowed us to revel in nostalgia, but to laugh at the horrors of sexism and homophobia from a safe distance. Kings of the Gym opens to the sound of 70s hit ‘We are the Champions’ (courtesy of award-winning sound designer Matthew Morgan) which initially leads me to assume it is to be a period piece.  If it had been set in the 80s or even 90s, the highly competent Dance and PE teacher beside me would not have been surprised, let alone seething.

The pleasure of most audience members is evident, however, and we conclude that the play resonates for them because, although it may not be truthful now, it is typical of the set-up when they themselves were at school. Plenty of gruff but good-hearted ex-sportsmen once taught just like Laurie, as an extension of their role as coach (think Tupper in Greg McGee’s Foreskin’s Lament). And yes, many of the kids loved them despite the constant cheerful verbal abuse.

So I will allow the audience to know best, overcome my indignation on behalf of my conscientious colleagues and concentrate on the aspects of the play that appeal to me, chiefly the relationships between the characters, the age-old battle between the generations and the universal urge to control others.

Principal Viv Cleaver is anxious to get rid of her deplorable HOD of Physical Education, who has managed to evade all efforts to make him move with the times. Worse, he has encouraged his once-promising young assistant teacher, Pat Kennedy, to follow his example. The arrival of Annie Tupua, eager student teacher, fundamentalist Christian and potential Silver Fern, provides the catalyst for change.

There is much to appreciate in the production. The set by guest designer Sean Coyle is a well-constructed and convincingly blah school office, the voices of the children can be heard through the window, and in what has become trademark Fortune style, lighting designer Gary Kierle has created a lovely ambience between scenes, by allowing light to enter the dim room only through the venetian blinds.

Patrick Davies, actor as well as director in last year’s dazzling Hound of the Baskervilles, is an ideal choice to direct, given his talent for enhancing any scenes of physical comedy. The push-ups and arm-wrestling contests between Laurie and Annie are hilarious, and the audience cannot but applaud the tremendous scene in which the two men re-enact (spoiler!) Annie’s winning goal for the Silver Ferns (all clear!). But as well as this boisterousness, there are moments that are intimate and almost tender.

The four actors, all of whom have a taxing amount of stage time, work hard to make the characters credible and their inevitable clashes entertaining. As Laurie, Phil Vaughan holds the play together in a role apparently and credibly written with him in mind. Vaughan’s comic timing is infallible, and he endows Laurie with such warmth and energy that it is hard not to like him (though the ‘retard’ rant has one PhysEder’s head in her hands).  Laurie’s saving grace is that he actually likes the kids and Vaughan succeeds in bringing out his essential kindliness.

Lisa Warrington, veteran of 30 Fortune productions, usually as director, brings a welcome gravitas touched with humour to the role of Principal Cleaver (‘Cleavage’ to the blokes). Maryanne Wright-Smyth has designed for her an extensive wardrobe of colourful, attractive outfits that are actually contemporary.  As Vaughan does, Warrington must struggle with some awkwardness in the script, like the contradiction between the Principal’s reasonably enlightened attitude yet her clumsy attempt to inflict a ‘Maori’ welcome on her new student teacher. (It looks odd, incidentally, that Viv’s tablet appears only in the one scene when it must be used – surely it would make a useful personal prop.)

Assistant teacher Pat Kennedy is played by Jared Kirkwood, 2015 Best Actor Award Winner for Punk Rock, which memorably showed the students’ side of the teaching equation. Kirkwood is similarly convincing as a teacher, giving an appealingly laid-back performance: watch his response to Annie and reaction to her reply when he first asks her out. He provides a necessary balance for Laurie’s roistering and they make a great double act, with moments of polished comic pantomiming.

Rhema Sutherland as Annie is lively and charming, a totally credible young professional with the shining eyes of an idealist. She has no trouble in engaging our sympathy, even when some of Annie’s views are as challenging in their way as Laurie’s. Sutherland actually looks as if she could be a Silver Fern, though I was fascinated to read in the programme that she once hated sport so much, she tried to break her arm to get out of it!

Armstrong has ensured that Pat and Annie, and even Viv the stern Principal, have been given the opportunity to tell touching little back stories that help to explain what has shaped them, all delivered by the actors with a sincerity that elicits our sympathy. Davies has brought out the heart in the characters and we come to care about the two young ones in particular, as all four move towards a more tolerant understanding of each other.

And although the implication of the ending is disturbing (evoking memories, surely inadvertently, of the hideous conclusion to Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros), Armstrong seems to give us hope that the next generation will turn out for the better. If so it will owe much to the teachers who have inspired it, not least my friends the PhysEders, who see their subject as opportunity not for thuggery, but for creativity.


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