By Danielle Farrow
The Erpingham Camp is a holiday camp of the 1960s, overseen by Mr Erpingham himself, with blue coat staff led by young Riley who is determined to gain the role of Entertainment Officer. This achieved, the evening’s entertainment goes horribly wrong, as righteous frenzy overtakes the would-be revellers in this treatment of the Bacchae legend by playwright Joe Orton.
The chaos caused by Riley results in anarchy vs. authority, the trashing of property and then far worse. There are a number of political parallels, with much made of Empire-building philosophy, obsession with surface order, dramatic over-reaction, extremism and those – on both sides – who will take a stand whatever the consequences. Part of the strength of Orton’s script is that these representations of social and political thought and behaviour still have very sharp teeth today.
Fourth Monkey’s production entertains well, with its direct treatment of dodgy British innuendo and sex gags, and Orton’s religious mockery and well-observed characters are clearly defined, performed with very strong stage presence. There is great use made of physical set pieces that change scenes with interest and prove very effective for heightened dramatic scenes.
Some of the humour and political posturings falls a little heavily, and while there is a lot of energy on show, the forward momentum of the piece is not always as strong as it might be – the start of the riot loses itself just a little in overlong forced mayhem. Overall though, Orton’s stock camp characters – the megalomaniac manager, the over-ambitious and under-skilled hireling, the performers with fixedly smiling faces, the Padre with wandering hands, the ‘up-for-anything’ punters and a ‘we’re so special, this is our first pregnancy’ couple – provide much comedy and a helping of food for thought.
Fourth Monkey’s The Erpingham Camp succeeds in offering entertainment that tickles a fair few funny bones, elicits some admiration for performance and throws up socio-political posturings of a number of different types that are still alarmingly relevant today.