REVIEW: Camping: Parker and Sainsbury (NZ International Comedy Festival)

Review by Nathan Joe

Thomas Sainsbury and Chris Parker

[Fantastic Foursome]

Set in a holiday home where two couples double-book for a honeymoon and an anniversary, the drawing room comedy becomes the primary target for parody in Chris Parker and Thomas Sainsbury’s Camping. It’s like a raunchier version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with the serious drama cut out. Even the characters feel like grotesque Kiwi versions of Edward Albee’s counterparts, from the sexually repressed newlyweds played by Chris Parker and Brynley Stent to Thomas Sainsbury and Kura Forrester’s older jaded couple.

It quickly becomes obvious that the title of the play refers less to the setting and more to the entire show as a whole. That the husbands of the play both share repressed homosexual desires is only part of that. In fact, it’s the whole cast who are camping it up in their entire performance style, giving their Kiwi caricatures the fullest commitment even in their most ridiculous moments.

Stent is the outlier of the bunch, adding a very different flavour to the over-the-top theatrics. She plays it remarkably subdued most of the time, allowing for her character’s naivety and insecurity to come to the forefront. It occasionally risks feeling low-energy compared to the rest of the cast, but at its best she’s a brilliant contrast to the madness that happens around her. But it’s Forrester who gives the spotlight stealing performance of the evening, nailing every single line every single time. She’s a potty-mouthed diva with a predilection for the highly inappropriate in the best possible sense, serving butch camp realness on a platter.

But the comedic energy is best when all four actors are in the same scene bouncing off each other, barbs thrown and Kiwi politeness made fun of. When the characters are forced into pairs, the chemistry is still there, but the snappy pacing is disrupted. This is particularly noticeable between Parker and Sainsbury whose characters’ become a running gag with diminishing returns when together, but shine fabulously when played against their female counterparts.

Even if the jokes don’t always work a hundred percent of the time they come so hard and fast at the audience that it doesn’t really matter. For every one that doesn’t land there’s at least a dozen that do. Amongst all the quick-fire dialogue are also two inspired set-pieces of physical-comedy that are impossible to ignore. Without giving away too much, a highly ridiculous talent show and an over-the-top sex scene worthy of South Park are the icing on an already gut-busting cake. While it’s not exactly a thinking man’s comedy, the cheapest and dirtiest gags will have you laughing in spite of your most politically correct sensibilities.

Simply put, Camping is a really funny show written and performed by really funny people. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Parker and Sainsbury’s Camping plays as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2016 at The Basement until 30 April. Details see Comedy Festival

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe 

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