Playwright Dave Armstrong creates characters complicated enough for our sympathies to see-saw between them.

If you wish Paul Henry were hosting Seven Sharp, and you like watching 7 Days and Two and a Half Men, then this might be the play to make you change your mind about theatre being all mincing "clown-f***ers" (to use a Kings of the Gym-ism).

Sometimes - big call here - theatre might even be as good as New Zealand television.

Auckland Theatre Company's favourite playwright Dave Armstrong uses shock-jock humour to show us that Laurie (John Leigh), head of PE at Hautapu High, is a comfortably old-fashioned chauvinist.

Laurie thinks the curriculum is too te reo heavy: "I had to make some pois for the first fifteen," he says.


He refers to the female principal as "Cleavage" and one of the students, from Laos, as "Chopstick" - but the kid has told him to, so that's absolutely fine, right? Another student, whom Laurie mocks for using a groin protector as a mouth guard, is a "downsie".

But Laurie really cares for the kids, and we're told they love him, and that's all that matters.

The play's focus is the training of goody-two-shoes student teacher Annie (Cian Elyse White) - beautiful, Maori and Christian - and the reactions she provokes in Laurie, his assistant Pat (Brett O'Gorman) and the principal (lively, sparky Bronwyn Bradley).

Armstrong has created characters complicated enough for our sympathies to see-saw between them during their enjoyably candid arguments. A discussion on abortion is handled with surprising sensitivity, and Laurie gets a great speech on the modern problems of being a teacher with a "novodraft" and an increasing admin and assessment load: "The only thing I like is teaching - and there's less and less of that."

Rachael Walker's set puts wooden climbing bars to excellent use for that nostalgic, cramped gym-office effect.

Overall, the play is as unreformed as Laurie himself (publicity flyers quote approval of rightwing political commentator Kiwiblog). Change grandpa into his unstained tracksuit pants and take him along for a treat.

What: Kings of the Gym
Where: Maidment Theatre, Albert St until March 2