Theatre review: The Motor Camp, Maidment Theatre

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Greg Johnson plays one half of a working-class couple in the ATC production The Motor Camp. Photo / Supplied
Greg Johnson plays one half of a working-class couple in the ATC production The Motor Camp. Photo / Supplied

For the second year in a row, the Auckland Theatre Company - a national "arts leadership" organisation - has opened its annual season with a deliberately crass and bawdy farce.

Jokes about bums (some funny, some not) mean bums on seats, and those looking for an evening's light, tasteless entertainment will find much to enjoy here, such as - once again - Andrew Foster's impressive photo-realist set.

Last year, the season launch was a Stephen Sinclair edit of 1970s slapstick comedy Well Hung; this year, it's a Dave Armstrong adaptation of a story from Sinclair's old Meet the Feebles collaborator Danny Mulheron. ATC is ticking the "local" box with these blokey efforts - but is our comic playwriting pond really this small?

Ironically, The Motor Camp, directed by Roy Ward, has pretensions to be something more than superficial. Armstrong uses the setting for a few summer holiday nostalgia jokes about fascist campground owners and townie incompetence with awnings, but he's more interested in how university lecturers get along with construction company owners when living in the same space.

The resulting class cringes are wonderfully teeth-clenching, if predictable, and some of the jokes about academia and teenage text speak are funny. But the tone lurches wildly; there's a social commentary in here somewhere trying half-heartedly to get out.

Class anxiety about Maori/Pakeha interaction is introduced but not developed. A sub-plot about a violent step-father - lazy, prejudiced stereotyping - looks serious, but then doesn't resolve, leading only to a joke about CYF. Making light of domestic violence is back, folks.

The acting in the first half is shouty-shouty - although Greg Johnson and Nicola Kawana as the working class couple look as if they're enjoying themselves - and it's a relief when the second half relaxes, drops the pseudo-complexity and embraces farce fantasy.

This makes Roger Hall look deep. No mean feat.

THEATRE

What: The Motor Camp.
When: Until March 3.
Where: Maidment Theatre, University of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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