The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

23/06/2012 - 04/08/2012

Production Details

Written by Dave Armstrong
based on a story by Danny Mulheron
Directed by Tim Bartlett


The weather outside may be cold, but things are heating up inside The Court Theatre with Dave Armstrong’s “100% pure NZ comedy” THE MOTOR CAMP, inspired by one of the great kiwi summer traditions.

Well-known for THE TUTOR, LE SUD and SEVEN PERIODS WITH MR GORMSBY, Armstrong has written a play about the sparks that fly when two distinctly different families are forced to share adjoining plots at a motor camp for their summer holiday. The kiwi comedy has been a national hit, attracting rave reviews for its mix of cheeky comedy and social commentary as well as a repeat season in Wellington due to popular demand.

Stephen Papps and Tom Trevella, fresh from roles in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, swap Shakespeare for sandals as university lecturer Frank Redmond (Papps) and working-class businessman Mike Hislop (Trevella), who find themselves neighbours at the Windmill Motor Camp. The pair’s conflicting views on culture, education and parenting lead to steadily increasing mutual irritation.

Jill Reynolds plays Frank’s frustrated wife Jude Redmond, whose hopes of a relaxing getaway are thwarted by her husband’s book-writing aspirations and the neighbours’ boisterous activities. Juanita Hepi, recently returned from a season of THE MAORI TROILUS AND CRESSIDA at London’s Globe Theatre, plays Dawn Tairoa, Mike’s partner.

Phoebe McKellar is the Redmonds’ petulant teenage daughter Holly, who is more interested in texting than enjoying the scenery – until she meets Jarod, Dawn’s troubled son from a previous relationship (Tola Newbery).

Set designer Nigel Kerr has created a motor camp that “could be anywhere on the east coast of the upper South Island”, accommodating two full-size caravans on the stage. Artist Maurice Kidd has spent two weeks painting a scenic coastal backdrop 34 metres wide and 4.8m tall on over fifty MDF panels.

THE MOTOR CAMP marks the main-stage directorial debut of Tim Bartlett, who has appeared on stage in numerous Court productions and is enjoying directing “one of the funniest new plays from a kiwi playwright”.

Artistic director of The Court Theatre Ross Gumbley is similarly enthusiastic about the production. “Armstrong’s ‘warts and all’ portrayal of everyday New Zealanders makes us gasp at his moxy and roar with laughter at our own pretensions. Naughty, considered and very funny – THE MOTOR CAMP is destined to become a classic piece of Kiwiana.”

by Dave Armstrong, based on a story by Danny Mulheron. Directed by Tim Bartlett
Contains coarse language and sexual references.
Performances: 23 June – 4 August 2012
Show times: 6:30pm Mon/Thu, 7:30 Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat (2pm matinee Sat 30 June)
Venue: The Court Theatre, Bernard St, Addington
Tickets: Adults $48 | Senior $41 | Groups (20+) $39 | Under 25s $29 | Child $19
Bookings: 03 963 0870 or

Stephen Papps, Jill Roberts, Phoebe McKellar, Tom Trevella, Juanita Hepi, Tola Newbery 

Director - Tim Bartlett
Stage Manager - Jo Bunce
Set Designer - Nigel Kerr
Lighting Design - Joe Hayes
Sound Design / Operator - Sean Hawkins
Costume Design - Pauline Laws & Pam Jones
Properties - Anneke Bester
Production Manager - Mandy Perry 

No dull moments

Review by Lindsay Clark 24th Jun 2012

Comedy writing for and about New Zealanders has established Dave Armstrong as a favourite for stage and screen. His ability to find laughter in our cultural confusion and social embarrassments is astute and unerring. When this well-honed talent has the target of ill-matched neighbours,  managing the forced intimacy of adjoining sites in a motor camp, expectations run high that we’ll be faint with laughter before the night is out, and feel all the better for a little cheerful analysis of our Kiwi ways. 

Perhaps it is the very predictability of the experience which left me feeling disenchanted by the end of the opening performance, and reflecting that the short story on which this work is based would have had the advantage of economy and punch, whereas the staged version felt padded and at times contrived as situations were milked for their humour, some of it distinctly dirty. Most people in the audience were not noticing however, and the applause at the end of both halves was warmly approving.

The stage arranged for the Eindhoven camp sets up well to Nigel Kerr’s design, with two caravans and camping gear and a communal space. Prominent is the loud speaker which will regularly bray out admonishments from the ‘Dutchie’ owner. Beyond is the wide blue world of sea and sky, painted by Maurice Kidd to provide that whiff of a paradise which the neighbours might just reach after the life lessons they encounter.

On one hand is the professional couple, the Redmonds, and their sulky teenaged daughter, whose cell phone contact with the friends she has had to desert, brings only misery. Dad is a lecturer in literacy at a teachers’ college, pressured to publish (he gets straight on to ‘writing’), anti-social and generally sour on life. His wife enjoys higher status as a professor, though her wifely needs are not being met and like her husband’s, her liberal ideas about education and parenting will be tested by events. 

Across the shared picnic table are those responsible. Their family group is also a threesome. Mike Hislop is a builder, a self confessed ‘hard case’. Together with his partner Dawn Tairoa and her adolescent son Jared, he shows an altogether more spontaneous attitude to life, especially pleasure.

The scene is set, then, for a series of situations where mismatches – comical for the viewer but uncomfortable for those involved – will provide our entertainment. Sometimes this arises from broad stereotypes we spot even before the action starts, sometimes from farcical situations and running gags.

Either way, it is Armstrong’s facility with language patterns for his characters, as much as what they do, which brings the smiles of recognition. Tim Bartlett’s own understanding of comedy guides his direction and there are no dull moments, though some strain credibility. Sometimes, too, the laughter is silenced as a serious issue. For example, violent parental authority erupts, and shared understanding seems a long way off.

The casting brings some new faces to The Court. Juanita Hepi as Dawn and Jill Roberts as her opposite number, Jude Redmond, play their contrasting attitudes clearly. As the adolescent pair, Phoebe McKellar (Holly Redmond) and Tola Newbery (Jared Tairoa) suggest that only adults would let social and racial embarrassment stand in the way of a good time.

But it is the dads who carry the main thrust of the play and each has something to learn from the other. Stephen Papps as the uncomfortable Frank Redmond embodies the taciturn, impractical and unphysical academic. His sparring partner, Tom Trevella (Mike Hislop) is in fine form. He plays a robust bloke, full of importance and crude bonhomie who does not see how he is failing as a parent.

The writer describes this piece as “a love song to families, camping and public facilities.” Certainly it makes the popular songbook, though not exactly a national anthem. 


Corus July 10th, 2012

Thank you Jane, for helping to restore my sanity - xx

Jane Hopkins July 5th, 2012

So a university professor, her lecturer husband and their privately educated daughter (since when do Socialists send their children to private school?) choose to spent their holiday in a run down motor camp? The premise on which this thin piece of theatre is based is, at best, silly. After five minutes of the tedious and predictable exchanges between these two contrived families we couldn't wait to leave. It seemed a long time 'til interval.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council