By Kathryn Burnett
Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna
to 18 September
Reviewed by Malcolm Calder
8 September 2022
Tadpole Productions know what they’re doing. Research boomers living on the North Shore, identify their tastes, ensure Tadpole product isn’t over-demanding and has a high entertainment quotient, throw in a bunch of well-credentialled actors and then the audience should lap it up. And, just to be on the safe side, add in some delightful digs at another suburb (which had better remain nameless) and the recipe for success is looks even healthier.
Tadpole’s latest production is Kathryn Burnett’s The Campervan. It’s a world premiere – great term that, helps even more with box office.
This play asks what happens when a blustering, over-entitled alpha male has a late mid-life crisis (or possibly an early later-life one) and decides to walk away from his massive share portfolio, sell off all his family’s 28 properties and a farm up north, not to mention getting rid of the wine cellar, sundry artworks and miscellaneous trinkets? Nope. He has had a revelation and is going to totally change his life by walking away from this consumerist lifestyle and live on-site in a two-berth Winnebago whilst creating an infinitely renewable city-based farm.
Wonderful Admirable even. Um, err, no it’s not because he has unfortunately forgotten to discuss the plan with anyone who might be impacted by such a unilateral decision.
The resulting hullabaloo, disruption and confusion opens the door to a gaggle of sight gags, some side-splitting one-liners and general hilarity. It also provides The Campervan with a context.
Simon Prast fills this with a close-knit ensemble that overplays deliciously and delivers more than a few surprises. The well-travelled Andrew Grainger switches from the besuited businessman Hugh to the manically single-minded idealist Hugh who blusters, bullies and freely admits to seeing others’ viewpoints – but conveniently forgets that he is holding a mirror. He blindsides substantially younger second wife Tamsin (a not-quite coquettish Catriona Toop) who sees her future lifestyle potentially vanish overnight – shock, horror. A trusted and thrice-divorced business colleague with a roving eye Johnny (Greg Johnson) is not consulted, generating strategies around own financial future. And elastic-bodied, film-maker son Marco (fully funded by the Bank of Dad of course) can’t begin to even contemplate an instant digital demise.
However former first wife Gillian (Lisa Chappell) has seen it all before. Her droll observations fill the gaps with an ascerbic wit that’s timed to perfection. And her calm presence proves to be the glue that holds everything together.
Simon Prast surprises even got me! At the beginning of Act 2 when a well dressed bloke re-entered with the audience and sat adjacent to me in an aisle seat. I barely glanced at him apart from a fleeting second where I ‘sorta’ mentally noted that he looked ‘kinda’ familiar. I felt like a right idiot of course when he stood and raced to the stage to commence a press conference as Hugh.
Campervan is ideally structured for a comedy and is essentially an old-fashioned type of play, much of its humour is derived from one-liners rather than being comedically embedded and the first Act might benefit from a tiny edit or two. But that’s unlikely to trouble Tadpole audiences. There is more than enough highly entertaining hilarity and craziness here for a jolly good night out. Well done Tadpole.