‘The Erpingham Camp’ – You’ll Have A Whale Of A Time

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Well! That was a blast from the past… the good old days when the British Empire was still within living memory and not just a story from history books… of knobbly knees and glamorous granny competitions … of class systems and sly humour…

Let me explain. Regular readers will know that I have two sons, the younger of whom is at college, studying Level III Theatre Foundation Course. Last week I attended the final performance of the course, ‘The Erpingham Camp’… by myself… and I can only apologise to those other people who were sitting around me, as I chortled, snorted, hooted and wept with laughter…

Briefly, ‘The Erpingham Camp’ was written by playwright Joe Orton, who was working in the 1960’s. He was in a same sex relationship with Kenneth Halliwell, who later went on to murder him, at a time when homosexuality was illegal and hanging was still a means of criminal punishment. Against this backdrop, Orton wrote works of comedy, poking satirical fun at the Establishment and caricaturing all that was seen as “best of British.”

Erpingham Camp is a holiday camp, run with steely determination by the owner until one fateful day there is an uprising… and his little empire is overturned. ‘Erpingham’, although originally a male part (chortle) was ably undertaken by Francesca, who was very reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher in her glory days. The reins of the holiday camp were held tightly in her dainty grip as for the first part of the show we are guided through the setting and introduced to the various characters.

Of course, every dictator needs a right-hand man… introducing my son, Alex, as the “Padre”… ahh, the days when a camp (chortle) vicar was protocol among the staff… and what a team! Alex, as the outrageously creepy Padre, bailed out of prison and returned to duties as Francesca’s second in command, Kenneth Williams to her Hattie Jacques, the perfect casting of high camp comedy, frankly terrifying facial expressions and wholly inappropriate religious fervour to Francesca’s megalomaniac illusions of world domination – through holiday camps.

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What camp commandant is complete without her minions, her subordinates, her – Yellowcoats! ‘Harrison’, as played by Vanessa, demonstrated a hilarious talent for the rushed, breathless innuendo style of comedy as written by Orton – her crush on Riley, was tear-inducingly funny. ‘Riley’, as played by Louis, captured the essence of hopeful and ambitious Entertainments manager, a cheeky Irish chappie, whose unwitting departure from camp procedure leads to the eventual camp downfall. Assisted by Rowena as a suitably flirty ‘Jessie Mason’, and Ben, ‘Jim the Circus Boy’ Riley devises an evening of entertainment that ends in a revolutionary uprising…

Where are our happy campers? ‘Lou’ and ‘Ted’ as played by Ned and Brad, are a very respectable couple, pillars of society and members of the Conservative Club; stalwarts of camp life who enter every competition with gusto – note their visible comic disappointment as Ned fails to place in the Glamorous Granny Competition. Upright and law-abiding, this couple conform in every detail – even down to the trim on Ned’s costume that matches perfectly with Brad’s shirt.

The other husband and wife team the audience are invited to focus on are ‘Kenny and ‘Eileen’ as played by Sean and Becca. They are our working class Romeo and Juliet love story, as Eileen shriekingly reminds us, their families didn’t approve. Sean is masterful and macho as he guides his wife up the social ladder. Becca – the frail- and heavily pregnant – wife, rescued from a loveless life by marriage to her proud husband, matches his aspirations, but this delicate little flower can’t half pack a punch as we find out later…

On to the evening of disaster… I was on my second packet of tissues by then… the usually impeccably behaved Ted is coerced into an impromptu strip which he enjoys a little too much while Lou and Eileen are egged into a screaming competition by Riley. His ill-planned entertainments spark a physical conflict between the ladies – Riley attempts to stem disaster by slapping the hysterical Eileen, but he didn’t bargain for the outraged Kenny, suitably attired in a leopardskin, retaliating with fists – not quite the done thing – and Ned’s surprise when Becca hits her is superbly comic, as if a kitten grew teeth and became a tiger…

A few other mentions: the scene where Erpingham is under siege, Francesca inspiring her Yellowcoats, the Padre leading them in a chorus of “Love Divine”, while we hear the rioting campers wreaking havoc offstage, I was put in mind of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’, before Agincourt, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” Alex’s big reveal… I screamed as my son’s priestly vestments were torn asunder to reveal – electric blue ladies’ underwear and lacy stockings… The delicate timing with which Ben, as Jim the Circus Boy knocked out Sean with an acrobatic kick to the jaw… The people behind the scenes, Ethan, the stage manager who guided his actors through the set changes; Monica, the set designer, Georgia and Sophie who were in charge of sound and lighting; Kathy, for her costume skill and design.

From Benny Hill to the ‘Red Flag’, Orton’s satire on standards and expectations of society is brilliantly brought to life by this NCN class of 2017. The cast delivered lines and blows with great timing and the practised aplomb of seasoned professionals. Amy Legge, as Director, has done a sterling job with this talented cast – thank you very much – they were amazing! Look out for these names, people, I fully expect great things from all of them – and a re- run of ‘Erpingham Camp’ in twenty year’s time…

Congratulations Class Of 2017!

19398911_1860155600971275_376908560_n(From left to right: Becca, Lauren, Rowenna, Jonathan, Vanessa, Sean, Francesca, Monica, Brad, Ned, Louis, Alex, Leon, Laila and Ben on the floor)

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19 thoughts on “‘The Erpingham Camp’ – You’ll Have A Whale Of A Time

    1. I thoroughly enjoyed it! I sometimes feel live theatre is viewed as a bit..elitist, but the college is very good, a large theatre, a smaller one, sound studios etc. There’s a good theatre here and tickets are reasonably priced, so we go as often as we can. Alex’s degree will cover all opportunities, like radio work, re-enactments…fingers crossed! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Live theatre is so much more organic and interactive than film or television. Of course quality varies, but the best if it can be electric and life-changing. Best of luck to Alex!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Ms. Samantha – We like your writing very much and your son sounds very talented. However, we cannot figure out how to send our questions to your kitties. Would you please send us your email address? Thank you. Snoops and Kommando Kitty

    Liked by 1 person

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