Pros: Snappy and witty with belly laughs and satisfying moments of grit.
Cons: A dragging finale compromises the rest of the piece.
In the last few years, a spate of gay teen suicides in America has raised the question of dubious conversion therapy and the role religion plays in ostracising gay youth. Gay-to-straight conversion camps exist across the ‘Bible Belt’ of the US and Camp re-imagines one of the camps in Wales, as Britain’s first outpost. The set-up sounds dark and difficult, and there is some unavoidable gloom but Camp offers surprising laughs.
The production cleverly sidesteps any accusations that the camp doesn’t feel realistic, making constant references to the “low attendance” and the lone counsellor so we feel like we’re sharing in the joke of fringe theatre. We easily buy in to the slightly surreal setting and take the three strange characters who inhabit it into our hearts.
The play hangs on the chemistry between its three characters, two camp participants or “seekers”: cynical Londoner Stuart (Tom Scurr) and affable Welshman Scott (Jess Jones), as well as camp counsellor Jessye (River Hawkins) and in this respect it succeeds. The play has the constant bounce of zippy back and forth – with a healthy dose of innuendo but not enough to make it feel cheap or panto.
The able cast are also able to handle the moments of poignancy, which stood out starkly from the humour that dominated the piece. Jones’ vibrant presence and impressive range assured he didn’t inhabit the limited third-wheel space he could have been left to. The play’s climax, serves as a reminder that although these camps and their mission make them easy targets for ridicule to the liberal theatregoing London public, the damage they do is very real.
If I were to offer a criticism, it would be about the final confrontation scene, which feels drawn out compared to the brisk pace of the rest of the piece. It seems to be an odd airing-out of the argument in favour of these camps – that they offer a supportive alternative to those who hate the fact that they are attracted to those of the same-sex. Giving this viewpoint any credit seems strange and feels a little false, given how the rest of the play portrays the anti-gay movement.
Still, the ending of the piece offers a clever twist that is worth the wait and restored my faith that I had seen a quality piece of work – well worth spending the short running time squashed like sardines into the Etcetera. Camp is far more than the sum of its fringe elements and this strong piece of writing is the epitome of the theatre’s Black Box festival and an excellent example of new work.
Camp finished its run on 17th January but The Black Box festival continues at The Etcetera Theatre.
Author/Director: Anthony Simpson-Pike
Producer: Feathered Mercury
Assistant Director: Stephanie de Whalley