The Motor Camp

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

22/01/2011 - 19/02/2011

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

21/01/2012 - 18/02/2012

Production Details

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

Commissioned by Circa Theatre

A cracker Kiwi camping comedy 

New NZ Play – World Premiere 

Dave Armstrong, the award-winning writer of Le Sud and Niu Sila, and Danny Mulheron, the director of The Bach and Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, combine to offer the perfect summer treat at Circa Theatre in January.

They are joined by some of Wellington’s top comic actors including Tim Spite (SEEyD), Danielle Mason (Mauritius) Phil Vaughan (The Birthday Boy) and Olivia Robinson (Le Sud). Making their Circa debut in The Motor Camp are exciting young actors Anthony Young and Florence Mulheron. 

The Motor Camp sees two couples, two caravans, two teenagersarrive at a motor camp and have to park next to each other. As both families try to enjoy their holiday and keep their hormonal teenagers apart, a hilarious series of events unfolds. 

Frank Redmond (Tim Spite), a left-wing literacy lecturer, just wants to spend a quiet Christmas holiday at an isolated camping ground with his family – long-suffering wife Jude (Danielle Mason) and their 15-year-old daughter Holly (Florence Mulheron), who’d much rather be at the Mount with her boyfriend. The Windmill Holiday Camp, though run by the overzealous and authoritarian Dutchie, seems the perfect desolate location for Frank to finally finish his book on literacy.

Enter Mike Hislop (Phil Vaughan), a garrulous redneck builder from the next-door caravan. Mike’s social-climbing partner, Dawn Tairoa (Olivia Robinson), seems unable to impress the Redmonds no matter how many naughty cocktails she offers them. When her stroppy hormonal teenage son, Jared (Anthony Young), takes a shine to Holly, sparks fly between the younger and older generation, and between the families.

The Motor Camp is a glorious celebration of our annual Kiwi camping rituals. 

Playwright Dave Armstrong says:
“A long time ago, Danny Mulheron told me his idea for a story about two very different families sharing a site in a motor camp. I could see immediately that it was a fantastic concept. After Danny erected those first structural poles, I ended up hammering in all the pegs – and banging out a script.

“Both Danny and I had fathers involved in left-wing politics and education who took their families camping, and mothers who worked hard at keeping relations civil with other families. The holidays that Danny and I remember were wonderful, though we can’t forget the terrible weather, crappy facilities, neo-fascist camping ground owners, and the almighty arguments that could occur, for all the world to hear. This shared dramatic experience was the genesis of The Motor Camp.

“Camping grounds are great levelers. University lecturers read Chomsky while sitting slap-bang next to builders reading Dan Brown. Middle-class women sit listening for tui and crickets while working-class blokes drink Tui and listen to the cricket. It is this juxtaposition that attracted me to the idea of the motor camp as a sort of Pakeha marae, where issues of family, relationships, education and politics could be discussed and resolved.

SEASON: 22 January – 19 February 2011

Performance Times:
Tues & Wed 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm
Sunday 4pm
After show Q & A Tuesday 25 January
Adults $46, Concessions $38
Friends of Circa (to 6 Feb) $33
Groups (6+) $39 (20+) $36
Under 25’s $25
Specials: Friday 21 Jan & Sunday 23rd Jan $25
Bookings: Circa 801 7992


Hit Comedy Returns  by Popular Demand


“…a boatful of laughs…I was cracking up almost non stop” SCOOPIT


A cracker Kiwi camping comedy


Following a triumphant sellout 2011 season The Motor Camp returns to Circa Theatre in January for a perfect summer treat. The original cast, which included some of Wellington’s top comedy actors, star again – Tim Spite, Danielle Mason, Phil Vaughan, Olivia Violet Robinson together with the two exciting young actors who made their debut in the premiere production, Anthony Young and Florence Mulheron.  Anthony andFlorence were both recently nominated for Best Newcomers at the 2011 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards.


RETURN SEASON: 21 January – 18 February 2012


Performance Times:
Tues & Wed 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm
Sunday 4pm
After show Q & A Tuesday 24 January

Adults $46, Concessions $38 Friends of Circa (to 2 Feb) $33  
Groups (6+) $39 (20+) $36 Under 25’s $25
Specials: Friday 20 Jan & Sunday 22rd Jan $25
Bookings: Circa 801 7992


Pre-show dinner available at Encore – phone 801 7996 

Danielle Mason
Florence Mulheron
Olivia Violet Robinson
Tim SpiteMike Hislop Jared Tairoa Zonneveld

Lighting Designer Costume Designer Dramaturg Eli Kent

Stage Manager:  Miriam Sobey
Chief Electrician:  Zeb Mansell
Technical Operator:  Laurie Dean
Set construction and pack in: John Hodgkins, Iain Cooper, Isaac Heron, Cam Nicholls, Ulli Briese
Set Finishing:  Nicole Day
Publicity:  Colleen McColl
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller – Toolbox
Poster imagery:  Nick Blake - Whirlwind Designs
Photography:  Stephen A’Court
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson  

Quirky comedy neatly resolved

Review by Helen Sims 27th Jan 2012

In The Motor Camp two very different families are thrown together in the socially-levelling environment of a beachside holiday park. 

The Redmonds from Wellington (Jude, an English professor and head of the Arts department at a Wellington university; Frank, a literacy lecturer at Teachers College and aspiring author; their stroppy 15 year-old daughter Holly) are forced by the ‘fascist’ camp-owner Zonneveld (more commonly known as “Dutchie”) to park their caravan next to the one belonging to Whanganui builder Mike Hislop, his wife Dawn Tairoa and her 16 year old son Jared. 

Despite receiving a friendly welcome from Mike and Dawn, Frank would have preferred to park the caravan in un-neighboured space.  Holly would prefer to be in ‘The Mount’.

Forced by proximity to interact, tensions between the families soon arise.  Against an idyllic beachside backdrop, the space between the caravans becomes the ground for fiery exchanges between families, couples, adults and children.  Frank also rails against the dictatorial announcements of Dutchie over the camp’s loud speakers.  As their parents behave childishly, a romance sprouts between the two teenagers, who accept each other relatively easily as summer holiday companions.  

Excellent performances are given by both of the young actors playing Holly and Jared (Florence Mulheron and Anthony Young).  The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Tim Spite and Phil Vaughan deliver brilliantly contrasted performances as Frank and Mike, and are both complemented by Danielle Mason and Olivia Violet Robinson as their better (looking) halves.  Although Mason looks slightly too young to play 40 year old Jude, she delivers her withering lines with panache. 

The play seems pretty squarely aimed in its content and tone at people in their 40s and 50s.  The stresses of parenting teenagers, maintaining long term careers and businesses, and keeping marriages alive, loom large.  There is still plenty to enjoy for younger audience members, however, especially in remembering teenage summer holiday antics.

Words – be they reading, writing or speaking – become a real focus of the play.  Conflicting theories of literacy – phonics with its emphasis on sounds and rules versus context-driven word recognition – become symbolic of the battles between the adult characters and the broader themes of the play.  It’s very cleverly structured by writer Dave Armstrong and astutely directed with an emphasis on blistering pace by Danny Mulheron.  

The set, costumes and lighting are colourful but unobtrusive and all complement the relaxed summer holiday setting.

The first half is quirky with plenty of shocking laugh-out-loud moments.  It ends with a flaming argument between the two caravans.  The second half, which picks up during the awkward morning after is mostly geared towards ‘pay-off’ for every detail in the first half.  Some of the plot resolutions are far too ‘neat’ to be satisfactory: a 16 year old failure by parents and the education system can be remedied with a couple of weeks of ad hoc lessons; financial woes can be remedied through a simple transaction and a shocking infidelity (with the revelation that it’s not the first time) which is quickly forgiven and forgotten. 

Ultimately, I had the same difficulty with The Motor Camp as I had with Armstrong’s Le Sud: important social, political and cultural issues are picked up, used for a laugh and then dropped again in quick succession.  Comedy can be an excellent genre in which to explore issues and lead people to examine their prejudices and values, in a relatively ‘safe’ environment.  Armstrong’s skill in delivering a play that is funny yet poignant and thought-provoking was demonstrated with Niu Sila.  In contrast, The Motor Camp, whilst good fun, didn’t require me to think harder. 

Perhaps Armstrong, in doing too much with this play (issues of race, class, gender, age, education are all touched upon), ends up doing too little.  I can’t fault the return-season Circa production, but I wanted a little more from the play.  


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Superbly modulated wit and flair

Review by John Smythe 29th Jan 2011

This is a superbly crafted comedy, extracting its laughs from the shock of seeing our own and each other’s pretensions, shortcomings, hidden thoughts, true feelings and vulnerabilities exposed.

Publicity has focused on the motor camp phenomenon of levelling, whereby families from all walks of life and socio-economic strata are suddenly required to live cheek by jowl and get one. Or not. The necessarily small caravans featured in Dennis Hearfield’s excellent beach-side setting against a Kodak sky, are both retro numbers of the kind made in Levin and common to the era when writer Dave Armstrong and director Danny Mulheron (whose story planted the seed for the play) had the motor camp experience as boys.

Nowadays I think the difference between the Hislop/Tiaroas (building contractor, Mike; his Maori partner and business manager, Dawn; her 17 year-old son from an earlier abusive relationship, Jared) and the Redmonds (English professor and head of the Arts department at a Wellington university, Jude; literacy lecturer at Teachers College, Frank; their 15 year-old daughter Holly) would be more clearly reflected in their style of caravan, with the Hislop one being flasher.  

While the clash between the ‘ivory tower’ of academe and the ‘real world’ of small business contracting, under recessionary fiscal pressure, fuels much of the insightful comedy, with squirts of mindless racism from Mike – and Dawn, and Frank – thrown in for toxic flare, the binding theme turns out to be education (also explored by the same writer/director team in Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby and The Tutor).

The battle between advocates of phonics and whole word recognition plays out hilariously in a key plot line that also blends in moral and sexual behaviour issues as they pertain to adults and teenagers. It’s when the multiple levels of class and cultural difference all erupt in scenes of blistering comedy that the true quality of this work comes to light.

Somehow, for all their hormone-induced temperaments and confusions – and setting aside the odd self-protecting deception and lie told to protect each other – it is the teenagers who seem in the end to have the most moral integrity. With the minefields of adulthood ahead of them, they offer a fresh and compelling counterpoint to the variously flawed parents.

Antony Young brings a riveting stillness to the at-risk Jared, whose capacity to deal with ‘adult content’ is strangely endearing. Florence Mulheron nails the disaffected teenager beautifully, allowing just enough eye-contact and pleasure to betray the familial love that underlies her volatile age and stage.

Despite his hard man notions about teaching kids lessons, and his judging of all Maori by a few at the margins, Phil Vaughan’s Mike commands our empathy with his blunt honesty, blind loyalties, stoicism under financial pressure and a winning boyishness. Olivia Violet Robinson captures telling contrasts in Dawn’s naturally friendly neighbour, role-playing wife and mother, cocktail-loving would-be party girl, and realistic business manager. There’s more to Dawn’s story than we get and we’re left with plenty to ponder.

Tim Spite embodies convincingly the anger-inducing frustrations of the under-achieved academic, obliged to write and publish to keep his job to the detriment of his marriage. Danielle Mason finds depth and breadth in the high-achieving Jude, bereft of love and intent on having a relaxing break. Their clashes over parenting Holly are just one of the many aspects to which many theatregoers will instantly relate.

The wider life of the Windmill Motor Camp is ingeniously sketched in by loudspeaker announcements from ‘camp commandant’ Zonneveld (Cees Ebskamp), balancing authoritarian announcements with information about Christian and family group activities. This also brings into sharp – and comic – relief the ever-present tension between order and discipline versus the freedoms we each naturally crave.

Armstrong clearly responds well to creative collaboration and rigorous feedback without wimping out of his ‘parental’ responsibilities. Credit must be therefore be given to the Auckland Theatre Company’s Literary Unit, which gave The Motor Camp a development workshop (director Raymond Hawthorn; dramaturg Philippa Campbell) a couple of years ago.

Now Danny Mulheron (with Eli Kent as dramaturg) has reclaimed his role as ‘father’ and brought the child he seeded to fruition with superbly modulated wit and flair. Paul O’Brien’s lighting and Nic Smillie’s costumes complete an exemplary creative package.

Credit must also go to Circa Theatre for commissioning The Motor Camp, although it has to be noted that – as with Heat, concurrently playing in Circa Two – the job of developing its potential alongside the ‘parents’ (as educational entities may do with children) was left to others. [Not a fair comment as it turns out – see comments below – JS 1 Feb.]

That said, Circa must be commended for kicking of 2011 with two truly excellent New Zealand plays. See them both. 
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 February 2nd, 2011

Again, thanks Lynda for the clarification. It is important for these things to be known and acknowledged publicly for fear of commentators like myself making assumptions to bridge the gaps between the bits we do think we know. Arohanui to you too. 

Lynda Chanwai-Earle February 2nd, 2011

Hi John,

I'm so glad you enjoyed Heat at Circa Two. The role of Bob is definitely a huge challenge for any actor, consummate courage and commitment shown by Byron Coll in this case, not the least because he's always in danger of getting his genitals caught in the zipper of Simon's Antarctic gear during the more physical moments in the show! (previously mentioned by The Otago Daily Times during Heat's season in Dunedin).

However, like Dave Armstrong, I would like to clarify the birth of Heat and the various parenting bodies associated that have fueled the productions along the way. You are correct in that Heat was originally commissioned by Circa Theatre as a playscript (those many years ago!) and I was blessed and privileged to have one workshop and not less than two readings of the play with Circa during the scripts infancy.

I feel it's important that I take full responsibility here for being the worst kind of "damn procrastinating writer" (my words and a learning lesson never to be repeated) during the writing process of Heat. The wait between drafts would have sorely tested any Patron Saint of writers, in this case Circa Theatre, who were saintly in their patience to say the least! My procrastination finally ended in 2008 when Heat's playscript was selected by the STAB Festival at BATS Theatre and the inaugural production premiered in 2008 alongside the development of our alternative energy aspect.

Since then, Heat has toured to main centres and festivals around the country and has come home to Circa for its return season. Its home coming is very fitting I feel, because as far as parenting goes, Circa was Heat's original mother and STAB/BATS the father (both in Antarctic Mukluks rather than Ugg boots, in this case).

I agree wholeheartedly with Dave when he expresses praise and gratitude towards any organisation that supports the development of New Zealand theatre during any part of its journey, from infancy to adulthood, from page to stage.

Cheers & aroha
Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Danny Mulheron February 1st, 2011

Hey there John

Ditto from me,  The Circa council showed great patience and support for The Motorcamp right from the start, not only commissioning but giving us money for a workshop.  Invaluable for writers actors and directors.  It was a process that took almost two years and was worth taking the time and effort for.   Thanks for the insightful review.  Were you in a costume? 

cheers and aroha Danny Mulheron

John Smythe February 1st, 2011

 Thanks Dave - for the correction and amplification. Excellent to have all that on the record. 

Dave Armstrong February 1st, 2011

Hi John

I’m glad you enjoyed The Motor Camp, and I was amazed that those outrageous shorts didn’t win best costume at Friday night’s show. However, I would like to clarify the situation regarding the ‘birth’ of The Motor Camp.

As you rightly state, it was commissioned by Circa Theatre. After a couple of drafts had been written and some initial feedback from Circa received, I was offered a two-day workshop by the ATC (director Raymond Hawthorne, dramaturg Phillipa Campbell). I attended that with Circa’s blessing and found it extremely helpful to ‘see it’ in three dimensions and receive much critical feedback from performers and audience. Afterwards I did a major rewrite. That rewrite was then read by Circa, and met with their general approval. Then after receiving some more helpful feedback from Circa I did another rewrite, after which I was informed The Motor Camp had been programmed. Danny Mulheron then gave it a ‘slash’ (with me holding the knife)  and Circa then fully funded a two-day workshop  (director Danny Mulheron, dramaturg Eli Kent) which I found enormously helpful as we used the cast that performed the play, just before it went into rehearsal.

So as you can see, Circa was very much a loving parent (though not the sole parent in Ug boots) of the child that was The Motor Camp script – my first play on the mainstage at Circa. I am eternally grateful to Circa Theatre, as well as the ATC literary unit, Danny Mulheron, Eli Kent, the present cast of the Motor Camp, and various Dutch people who swore me to anonymity, who have all contributed to the success of both the script and the production.  As they say, it takes an entire middle-class Wellington suburb to raise a play.

I am, like you, delighted that Circa have two NZ plays on at present , and look forward to more new plays by new New Zealand names  on its main stage. Are there exciting and entertaining local writers out there who can fill larger theatres? Absolutely. Just ask Eli Kent, Lucy O’Brien, Branwen Millar, Leon Wadham and Dean Hewison, Jo Randerson, and Jamie McCaskill, to name only a few. I look forward to seeing more NZ plays in ALL our theatres in the future – amateur and repertory theatres included.

Commissioning and developing a play costs money, so it’s up to our theatres and arts funding organisations to develop more literary infrastructure, such as literary units, and have more conversations with local writers, take a few risks, and develop more local plays – with a performance at the end, rather than lying for eternity in dramaturgatory. Who knows, people may even have some fun.  And I know from experience that bringing a new comedy script in the world is the most fun you can have without laughing.


Dave Armstrong

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Camping crammed

Review by Lynn Freeman 27th Jan 2011

The summer holiday exodus sees thousands of Kiwis leave their own piece of paradise to get away from it all – and end up crammed into camping grounds cheek by jowl with other like-minded holiday makers. It’s nuts on one level and endearing on another.

In this scenario, Dave Armstrong (based on a story by director Danny Mulheron) has two academics and their pouty 15-year-old daughter park their battered old caravan alongside a family from the other side of the tracks. Oil and water.

Armstrong, his director and cast give us characters who are stereotypes but while that can be a negative, here they are just people and couples with the kinds of problems most of us can identify with at some level. It might be noting a relationship in trouble, or a perpetually texting teenager, or professional jealousy.

There is a lot packed into this play, and as with the best comedies, the balance between the laughs and real substance is just right. If we don’t care for characters, plays like this fail. You will care about them.

The Redmonds, Jude (Danielle Mason), Frank (Tim Spite) and 15 year old Holly (Florence Mulheron), pitch up at the Windmill Motor Camp, idyllic apart from the crazy camp ground owner and their temporary neighbours, building contractor Mike (Phil Vaughan), partner Dawn (Olivia Violet Robinson) and her 17 year old son Jared (Anthony Young).

They are the kind of polar opposite couples you’d mix up in a TV wife swap programme. An attraction between the teens sets off a series of confrontations that make for an eventful two hours.

The stellar cast do the writer and director proud, Dennis Hearfield’s set looks and works a treat. This is one way of squeezing in some time at a camping ground without having to leave home.
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Camping capers hit right spot

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 25th Jan 2011

 Someone had to do it eventually. Just about every Kiwi pastime and institution have been the wellspring of popular comedies: the Public Service, shearing gangs, education, OEs, tramping, race relations, sports, reading groups, retirement homes and the Plunket Society.

And now motor camps in Dave Armstrong’s lively look at Kiwis on holiday in The Motor Camp, which I predict will soon be performed all over the country so long as theatres have stages large enough to accommodate two caravans.

Holidays can bring families closer together and they can drive them apart. In The Motor Camp the home truths revealed in the hectic climax involving the two neighbouring camping families are such that one would have thought divorce would be inevitable. However, being a comedy, within a matter of about eight minutes all ends happily. 

And being a comedy one has to ignore the likelihood of a curmudgeonly academic, Frank Redmond, trying to finish his thesis on the teaching of phonics in the bustle of a motor camp and that his youngish wife, Jude, is the Dean of the Arts Faculty at Vic. However, their sullen fifteen year-old daughter Holly who wants to be with her boyfriend at The Mount, is all too amusingly real. 

In the neighbouring caravan are typical Kiwi bloke Mike Hislop and his Maori wife Dawn and her seventeen year-old son Jared. And being a Kiwi Comedy of Manners, the rules of which are nearly as rigid as those governing Restoration Comedy of Manners, much of the humour arises in the conflict between the Left and the Right, the sporty, DIY, bigoted contractor and the clumsy, inadequate academic, and of course there’s sex which drives the plot and causes the explosive revelations. 

The senior members of Danny Mulheron’s cast go to it with their familiar, well-honed comedy skills in top-notch condition. As Frank, Tim Spite spends most of the time in a Basil Fawlty-like fury at just about everything until he has a scene with Jared which is both hilarious and touching at the same time, and quite the cleverest and best written scene in the play. 

As Jude, Danielle Mason is the epitome of common-sense until she’s given a large fish, while Phil Vaughan as Mike (though at times seemingly mumbling through his moustache) is all bluster and vulgarity but a good bloke underneath. In an under-written part, Olivia Violet Robinson gives Dawn a warmth lacking in the other characters. 

As the teenagers Florence Mulheron and Anthony Young, both scions of highly respected theatrical parents, show that they have talent to burn too. Mulheron’s Holly reading her boyfriend’s text message and Young’s mooching, off-hand manner for most of the play are true and funny.

And I shouldn’t forget to mention Cees Ebskamp who is the voice of the “Dutch fascist” who runs the camp and is heard over the loud speakers issuing side-splitting orders such as the maximum weight of children allowed on the trampoline.
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Enjoyable, if rather predictable, comedy

Review by Hannah Smith 25th Jan 2011

 Pavlovas, sausage rolls and cheese cubes on a stick: even the catering was Kiwiana for the opening night of The Motor Camp – a light and enjoyable comedy that launches Circa’s 2011 season.

Dave Armstrong’s new play investigates issues of class, race and family dynamics. The difficulties inherent in the dictum “Love thy neighbour” are thrown into the spotlight when two very different families park next to each other at a motor camp. The Redmonds are well-off, politically correct Pakeha academics. The Hislops are working-class, salt of the earth and struggling with their business. The enforced proximity of the holiday leads to clashes of ideology and personality.  

I was surprised by what a good time I had. Imagine something halfway between the Outrageous Fortune Christmas special where they go camping, and Four Flat Whites in Italy, plus two teenagers. Much humour is wrung from the contrasting politics and principles, and more from the trials and tribulations of campsites. There is gentle ribbing of classic Kiwi faults and ultimately everyone helps everyone else become better people with some strong reinforcement of the importance of family. 

Tim Spite is outstanding as grouchy Frank Redmond, a teacher frustrated in his career and infuriated with his wife, daughter, boss and life in general. Danielle Mason acquits herself as his long-suffering wife Jude (though it is difficult to believe she is old enough to be the mother of a fifteen year old). Florence Mulheron, as their daughter Holly – a tiresome teenager who is all texts and pouts and sighs – does well.

Phil Vaughan brings warm good humour to his portrayal of Mike Hislop, and his grounded performance deftly ensures the casual racism and school-of-hard-knocks parenting come across as funny rather than frightening. The clan is rounded out with his partner Dawn Tairoa (a vivacious Olivia Robinson) and her son from a previous liaison, Jared Tairoa (Anthony Young) whose hang-dog expression and diffident manner are hiding some troubling issues.

Dennis Hearfield’s set is charming. Two real caravans provide an authentic touch and the colour palette, reminiscent of seventies Polaroid film, is pleasantly summery and nostalgic. 

In the program notes Dave Armstrong suggests the motor camp as “a sort of Pakeha marae in which people work out their problems, often very publicly.” I thought the way these families played out their conflicts in such a public space rather stretched the boundaries of credibility, but then, this is comedy, not real life. 

And it is enjoyable, if rather predictable, comedy. The average liberal, literate theatregoer gets to have all of their opinions comfortably confirmed with a bunch of laughs thrown in.
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