Review: Comedy pokes borax at political correctness

By Nicki Harper

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From left Owen Potter, Tom Wilson and Lucy Mavin go head to head in the upcoming play Kings of the Gym.
From left Owen Potter, Tom Wilson and Lucy Mavin go head to head in the upcoming play Kings of the Gym.

Kings of the Gym
By Dave Armstrong
Directed by Lindsey Bishop
Produced by Waipukurau
Little Theatre
Reviewed by Nicki Harper

If you've got anything against sexism, racism, religious intolerance, you name it, you'd better leave such baggage at the door if you're planning to go to the Waipukurau Little Theatre's latest production of Kings of the Gym.

Not that you should let such trifles put you off going to this play, because it's quite fun to be whacked around the head with shockingly un-PC one-liners that cause your wine to spray out your mouth.

Written by Dave Armstrong, this production has been one of the most popular Kiwi comedies of the last 10 years as it pits the political correctness of modern educational reforms against the old-school style of teaching.

Set in the gym office of Hautapu High School, director Lindsey Bishop's set looks grimy and run-down - a dour, slightly dated battlefield for the conflict that takes place between a politically correct principal with a mandate for change against two lazy, unfit PE teachers who spend their days gambling and watching television.

Laurie Connor is the head of the PE department of the school, played by Owen Potter, who, when he hits full obnoxious mode is superb as he drops multiple clangers, both comic and cringeworthy.

He's a lazy teacher, whose educational input seems to mainly involve sticking his head out the window and yelling at the kids, but for all that he's liked by the students (even "Chopstick" - yep, you got it, that's the Asian student).

Laurie's sidekick is Pat Kennedy, played by Tom Wilson. He's younger and has potential, but he's comfortable to hang out with Laurie.

The bane of their lives is new-age, progressive principal Viv Cleaver (Madeleine Howard) - she's controlling, and driven to be seen as doing the "right thing", an effective conduit for some eye-rolling "typical PC brigade" humour.

What really stirs up the nest, however, is the introduction of Annie Tupua (Lucy Mavin), a young, enthusiastic, Christian fundamentalist student teacher who challenges the status-quo and ends up giving the other characters a lesson in tolerance.

Surprisingly, among the shock-jock jokes and cheap laughs, some reasonably heavy themes around the likes of modern day educational reforms and abortion are treated seriously and sensitively, adding welcome depth to what could have been a one-dimensional treatment of the subject matter.

Performance times:

* 7.30pm tomorrow; matinee 2pm Sunday; 7.30pm Tuesday, July 5 to Saturday, July 9.

* Tickets available from Colourplus, Waipukurau, phone 06 858 7116.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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