17 January 2011

Getting to the Motor Camp

The Motor Camp, opening on January 22, has been a long time in the making. Though Circa commissioned the play a couple of years ago, it was well before that that Danny Mulheron and Dave Armstrong first discussed the idea of a play set in a Kiwi motor camp. 

Playwright Dave Armstrong explains:

 “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. We talked about writing a play sometime, wrote a bit of a draft then got busy doing other things. However, after Danny erected those first structural poles, I knew that there was a good play in there so ended up hammering in all the pegs and banging out a script.

What attracted me to the idea is the theme of very different people from very different backgrounds being forced slap-bang next to each other and having to get on together. It’s not the first time I’ve examined the different classes in our society, but the motor camp is a unique location. It’s a place where people are meant to enjoy themselves but so often, disaster happens. 

 The characters in The Motor Camp were people Danny and I felt we knew well. The Redmonds are an educated middle-class family from the western suburbs of Wellington. People like Danny and I who know the difference between a latte and a flat white and who probably go to shows at Circa Theatre! Frank Redmond is a left-wing training college lecturer. His wife Jude is a lecturer in art history and their 15-year-old daughter Holly goes to an expensive private school, and would much rather be at the Mount with her boyfriend than the godforsaken iron sand beach on the west coast of the North Island that Frank decides will be the site for this year’s holiday.

Right in the next caravan is Mike Hislop – a redneck building contractor from Wanganui, and his Maori partner Dawn and her teenage son Jared, a child from a previous relationship.

While Danny and I probably know more Redmonds in our life than Hislops, we are fascinated by characters like Mike Hislop and we have met them at barbecues, in hardware shops and in sports teams. On the surface Mike Hislop is an intolerant bigot but there is far more to Mike, and people like him, than meets the eye.

Camping grounds are great levelers. University lecturers read Chomsky while sitting 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.

Within the two families in this play, who are from very different racial and socio-economic backgrounds, Danny and I discovered a host of prejudices, sexual and relationship problems and family dysfunction – in other words, fantastic fodder for a play. And they were funny! I love it when I see people, who on the surface have no similarities or common ground, gradually get to know each other and eventually become friends. It’s a common theme in a number of my plays and I make no apology for that.
(left to right) Anthony Young, Olivia Robinson, Phil Vaughan, Danielle Mason, Tim Spite, Florence Mulheron
Then there is the whole area of camping itself. The holidays that Danny and I remember that we had as children 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.

Just about all Kiwis have been camping. There are wonderful rituals associated with it that tell us a lot about our national character. Men love displaying their manhood by pitching tents, building fires, and hunting and fishing for camp food. The fact that these same men largely spend their days behind computers doing sedentary work for the other 11 months of the year is irrelevant.  

Yet sadly, motor camps are being sold off to provide private luxury accommodation for a few, and that’s a tragedy. Yet again Armstrong bangs on about the way that public facilities are disappearing or being privatized in this country. But now I’m sounding like Frank from The Motor Camp so I’ll shut up, and urge you to book for The Motor Camp. It’s very funny, it’s got a fantastic cast, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this love song to public ownership."

The Motor Camp runs 22 January - 19 February, with a $25 preview performance on 21 January and a $25 special on 23 January. To book your tickets, please contact the Circa Box Office: 1 Taranaki Street, 801-7992, www.circa.co.nz.

We are looking for the funniest camping disaster story! Send us your best worst camping story by 31 January, and be in to win a magnetic beach scene from Whirlwind Designs (which was used as the background for The Motor Camp image) and a bottle of bubbly. 

Enter by mail to Camping Story, Circa Theatre, PO Box 968, Wellington or by email to cara.hill@circa.co.nz. The winning story will be published on the Circa website.

1 comment:

  1. Went on Sunday afternoon, worried a bit it was pensioners day because could only spot about 10 others in crowd who looked under 45.
    The whole audience lapped it up despite the occasional typical beach-side profanity.
    If you're a Wellingtonian who's ever stayed a night at any motor camp (beach or whereever), you must go.
    If no-one knows what a MILF is then you really must go.
    And, to Phil Vaughan, that's the bestest facial hair I've seen since Movember.