Kings of the Gym

January 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Kings of the Gym had its premiere at Circa last night. It was fabulous fun, with some stand out acting.

The play is set at decile 2 Hautapu High School, and pokes lots of fun at education bureaucracy, political correctness, Destiny Church and even Novopay gets the odd mention! The set was very authentic, with even the fluorescent tube lights in the office reminding you of your own school days.

Ginette McDonald plays Viv Cleaver, the school principal. The principal, referred to as Cleavage by the PE HOD Laurie, is a politically correct bureaucrat who is obsessed with improving the NCEA grades and making sure her friends in the education bureaucracy think highly of her. It is a tribute to McDonald’s skills that she doesn’t just make Cleaver a caricature – but actually turns a pretty unsympathetic character sympathetic.

McDonald has some comic gold lines, and is just superb.

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Paul McLaughlin portrays his character perfectly.  Laurie drives Cleaver mad. He mocks the curriculum and files it in the bin. He states how the PE curriculum mentions well-being 73 times, and winning just once – to stress it is not important. His idea of a class is to play soccer. He’ll often delegate the ref to someone else so he can watch TV and bet on the TAB.

But Laurie is a likeable rogue, and his kids all love him. In fact one of them has become the 2nd teacher in the department, and has seemingly thrown away any ambition and his degree, to be a mini-Laurie. That is Pat, played by Richard Dey. The chemistry between Dey and McLaughlin helps make the play so excellent. The looks they give each other, the hassling, and especially Laurie’s expression when he finds out the girl Pat likes is already engaged. Many comic moments.

You never see the kids on the stage, but they are used to humanise the characters. Cleaver and Annie are horrified that the Vietnamese student is called “Chopsticks” by Laurie, despite he fact that is the name he prefers. He is so good at soccer he is told he must play left footed. Laurie also tells the kids they must have at least three girls on each team, otherwise the boys will win. Hilarious, harsh judgement calls.

But Dougal is the student you hear most about. If he scores a goal, it is worth five points as Dougal has Downs. At first you think such statements are so insensitive, but you later hear how he helps Laurie after school stack up the gym equipment (even though Laurie can do it quicker by himself) and realise behind the gruff, Laurie is hugely protective of Dougal.

Acushla-Tara Sutton plays Annie, the student teacher. At first she is just an over eager high achiever who insists on goals for every class. She is also a top sportswoman, and on the verge of making the Silver Ferns. But the real tensions comes when it emerges she is a born again Christian, and a member of Destiny Church (they don’t call it Destiny in the play – but it obviously is). The real tensions come when in biology class she refers to there being two schools of thought on where humans came from. She also sets up a church youth group, and has some of the students make purity pledges.

The play isn’t mocking of Christians, or the church. In fact she plays tribute to how they helped her, and the real message of the play is about tolerance.

There are some great one liners such as how pregnancy and STDs are the only two areas where the school over-achieves, and a line by the principal about how if one particular female student abstains for even a week, that will reduce the chlamydia rate. Many laughs through the whole play. The first half was a bit more tense at times, while the second half which had the big plot twist and the eventual happy ending had more of those laugh out loud moments – not the dignified giggles – but the forced laughter as it was so hilarious.

Kings of the Gym was a terrifically funny play which made for a great night’s entertainment. Dave Armstrong has produced a very New Zealand comedy that has near universal appeal.

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On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover

September 15th, 2008 at 8:58 am by David Farrar

The play “On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover” has returned to Downstage, as people may see from the advertisement on the right.

When I first heard about this play, I thought I would rather play lawn bowls than go see it. But then just as the season in Wellington was ending, I started to hear good things about it. Then I read Che Tibby’s review and rang up to try and get tickets on the final night. They were all sold out. Che said:

The play is extremely well-written, extremely well-acted, and contains more gems, illuminations, satire and outright slap-your-knees-you’re-laughing-so-hard moments that you’ll feel rewarded just for turning up. Unless you work in Parliament, in which case you’ll want to perhaps wear a disguise, so as not to be seen laughing at what is a very heavy satire of the Labour Party and incumbent government.

The political jokes run thick and fast in this lecture, along with a number of outright lewd references to many people who are not Helen Clark (they don’t actually cross that line). There are even some fantastically arcane political science jokes in there, which only me and the two people sitting next to me (whom I did not know!) got.

So, there’s something in there for everyone. It’s extremely not-PC, it’s fast moving, and it’s actually funny.

I was pissed off I missed seeing it. But then it opened in Auckland. So I extended one of my trips to Auckland to stay on for it. And it was fucking hilarious. Don’t be mistaken by the title into thinking you will not enjoy this is you are right of centre. There were National MPs in the audience laughing as hard as anyone.

The star is commanding as he takes the audience through his powerpoint presentation on why Helen Clark should take him as her young lover. He comes across as so earnest and sincere (the scary thing is he may be just that) about the proposition that it is just hilarious. I liked the play so much I got a copy of the book and got him to autograph it.

Downstage have asked me to include this letter from Richard Meros below, which I’m delighted to do so. If I have the time I’m going to go again, and I really do recommend it to anyone who has a robust sense of humour. You will not stop laughing. Remember it is on this week only until 20 Septmber 2008.

Kia Ora Tatou, I’m Richard Meros and I have a Dream.

Our proud nation has laboured too long under a barely discernible pendulum wobble from Labour to National, National to Labour, so on ad nauseum. Yet we yearn for, and deserve, something greater. Through meticulous research I have drawn an inescapable conclusion: that only my personal engagement with the electoral process – and with our noble Prime Minister - can herald the glorious future of our South Pacific Utopia.

My acclaimed pamphlet of romantic political philosophy, On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover, provoked howls of acclaim when published in 2007, and I have committed to share the “powerpoint” version of my book the length and breadth of New Zealand before Election Night 2008. Why? Because I care.

This life-changing lecture has toured across Aotearoa; enlightenment comes now to Wellington.

I encourage you, your friends, hapu, colleagues, book-groups, iwi and families to attend my presentation at Wellington’s Downstage Theatre (from 12-20 September) where my vision for a New New Zealand under a New Helen Clark, Warrior Princess, will be presented using the latest exciting digital communication technologies.

The engagement is strictly limited to 10 lectures only, and to encourage your passionate participation in the democratic process I am offering a complimentary bottle of Montana Brut Cuvée, (whimsically liberated from a recent National Party Conference) to every party of six or more who books.

Every vote counts.

Richard Meros

As an added bonus, I will be launching my newest book, “Beggars and Choosers: The Complete Written Correspondence Between Richard Meros and Creative New Zealand Volume One” after the first lecture on Friday night.

Book online now at www.downstage.co.nz (or telephone 801 6946). Our operators are standing by.

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