Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Erpingham Camp

Louche Theatre , Aberystwyth , April-23-16
The Erpingham Camp by Louche Theatre The Erpingham Camp by Joe Orton

Louche Theatre is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe, and this year they're going equipped with Joe Orton's “The Erpingham Camp”, a production as placid and conventional as it's author's domestic circumstances.

Orton's playwriting career lasted a bare three years before his lover bludgeoned him to death at age thirty four, but in that time his work became known for dark humour and an irreverent approach to....more or less everything. In this play his chosen foes – authority, religion, the establishment – are the management of the titular holiday camp, and he wastes little time in bringing all to wrack.

Beginning it's run at the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth, the action takes place on a stage bare except for the suggestion of an office up stage centre. In this space Orton's characters vomit forth into the world of a 60s era holiday camp, and in no short order the twin personifications of authority - in the shape of a fascistic camp manager, and religion as embodied in a philandering chaplain - watch the edifice crumple around them. Trouble flares at the Chief Yellowcoat's doomed attempts to entertain, and within minutes a farcically slapstick revolution breaks out amongst the campers.

Fun, I thought, but not subtle. That being the case I was genuinely surprised to hear audience reactions to moments of pathos. A Yellowcoat being stripped of his entertainments sash for allowing a revolution to break out may seem a strange sight to evoke sympathy, but apparently it does. And that says a lot for the quality of the cast and direction. Any idiot can deploy farce – if they're willing to go the whole hog – but to turn on a sixpence and forge emotional connection with the audience, however briefly, that takes a lot more doing.

So yes, it's a bawdy romp filled with human caricatures wearing leopardskins and doing the can-can. But if you scratch the surface there's more to it. Social commentary perhaps, the scent of the revolutionary 1960s coming through in the class divides between it's characters. Orton can paint in broad strokes, but there's a lot of detail packed into this hour on the stage. But bawdy romps don't work when they're done half-heartedly : The cast pulled out all the stops on this play, and it shows in the energy it radiated and the response it garnered.

I suspect it will do rather well in Edinburgh.

Reviewed by: Alex Gilbey

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