PERFECT START TO THEATRICAL YEAR
KINGS OF THE GYM
by Dave Armstrong
directed by Danny Mulheron
Producer: Howard Taylor
at Circa One, Wellington
From 19 Jan 2013 to 16 Feb 2013
Reviewed by Lynn Freeman, 23 Jan 2013
originally published in Capital Times
A comedy with everything you could wish for kickstarts an immensely promising Circa Theatre programme for 2013. A Dave Armstrong/Danny Mulheron production is a winning combo (The Motor Camp) but here they have both truly excelled. The satire in Kings of the Gym targets both the beleaguered education system and political correctness. Armstrong achieves the right blend of ferociously funny observations and genuine affection for his characters. They are people with whom we enjoy spending the evening.
The action takes place at a decile two high school where Laurie the Head of PhysEd (Paul McLaughlin) is what you might call a dinosaur – he is a gambler, he's sexist, lazy, unfit and scathing of both the current ‘winning doesn't count' school ethos and NCEA. What he does have is a rapport with the kids.
His assistant is one of his former pupils Pat (Richard Dey) who's loyal but a bit lost. They have thrust upon them a student, Annie, (Acushla-Tara Sutton) who disrupts the boys' cosy arrangement with her views on teaching practices, assessments and religion.
Representing the establishment is Viv the Principal (Ginette McDonald), who will do anything to prove she can turn things around at the school. The cast of four are terrific with impeccable comic timing. McLaughlin has the best lines and he knows how to make the most of them. Dey and Sutton are delightful and McDonald's experience in comedy shines through in what is by far the toughest and least sympathetic role. Mulheron is in his element with this script and this cast.
Supplementing the storyline are topical references to Novopay and NCEA and even to the Black Caps' recent woes.
Designer Dennis Hearfield has worked his magic again, creating Laurie and Pat's disordered bachelor pad office.
The opening night audience rewarded the script, direction and actors with sighs and gasps of concern for Laurie, Pat and Annie amidst the many belly laughs. We cared. Kings of the Gym has just the right mix of comedy, social comment and heart. It's the perfect start to the theatrical year.
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