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Kings of the Gym

Dave Armstrong comes into to open for Auckland Theatre Company with his delightfully romantic and wickedly entertaining comedy Kings of the Gym at Maidment Theatre from February 7, before touring to Kerikeri and Whangarei in March.

Armstrong is now firmly established as New Zealand's foremost satirical and comedic playwright, with a string of hits to his name including the box-office-record-setting Le Sud, The Tutor, The Motor Camp, Niu Sila (co-written with Oscar Kightley), Radio New Zealand's Down The List and the TV series Seven Periods With Mr Gormsby and Spin Doctors.

"Armstrong takes delight in completely skewering us... It's thrilling being in the voyeur's seat." - Theatrescenes

"Known for his comic writing which is sophisticated and sharp." - NBR

It's the new school term and Hautapu High is set to rocket up Metro's Best Schools ranking. The only thing standing in the way is a rearguard action led by the old-school, politically incorrect but hugely popular head of the PE department, Laurie O'Connor.

Laurie's on a collision course with the ambitious new principal, Viv. She can't stand his work methods or his opinions on education; heaven forbid, he still believes kids should learn that sport is about winning!

Is it the end of an era for his cosy little empire?

Big-hearted, bitingly satirical and laugh-out-loud funny, Kings of the Gym is the perfect summer comedy.

"Kings of the Gym was a terrifically funny play which made for a great night's entertainment. Dave Armstrong has produced a very New Zealand comedy." - Kiwiblog

"Dave Armstrong just keeps those comedies coming! Le Sud, The Tutor and The Motor Camp have had us cringing with delight at ourselves and our neighbours. Now Dave turns his brilliant satiric eye on education politics, religion, professional sport and that particular Auckland affliction, 'Best School Syndrome'," says Auckland Theatre Company's Artistic Director, Colin McColl.

"The initial idea for Kings of the Gym probably occurred to me in the mid 1970s in the gymnasium of my local secondary school," says Armstrong.

"I remember back then that most gymnasiums in co-ed schools were like little man-caves - oases of testosterone where the PE teachers, who were usually male, ruled the roost. In their striped tracksuit trousers, with the ever-present whistles around their necks, these teachers would command us to go on long cross-country runs and play all sorts of games, which were highly competitive and very physical. Most of us enjoyed them but heaven help you if you were overweight, bookish or both. Liberal English, drama and art teachers wouldn't go near the school gymnasium, preferring the coffee plungers, literary magazines and pottery mugs of the staff room.

"Though as a breed, PE teachers seemed to be very different from other teachers, I enjoyed their company immensely. They were almost all uniformly contemptuous of modern, progressive education and perhaps therein lay their appeal. After a day of interactive learning I quite enjoyed playing a highly physical and competitive game of now-forbidden bull-rush in the gym. What interested me is that my liberal teachers, whom I really liked and respected, couldn't believe that I enjoyed spending time in the company of the 'Neanderthals' in the PE department. It was true that these PE teachers could be boorish and insensitive at times, very like Laurie in the play, but I also knew that these kings of the gym really liked kids. And it's very hard to dislike someone who likes you.

"Kings of the Gym is not really about PE teachers. The gym is merely the setting - that got me thinking about a variety of things. One was that a scummy, dirty gym of a tawdry failing low-decile school would be a really challenging place in which to set a romantic comedy.

"But as well as being a gym rom-com, Kings of the Gym also looks at a number of issues, not just the obvious ones to do with politics and education, but also wider human issues such as tolerance.

"We all think we are tolerant, but real tolerance is another issue altogether. As I was writing this play, a number of social and religious groups such as Destiny Church, Family First and Sensible Sentencing hit the headlines. Some of the members of these groups are highly intolerant, especially of gay rights groups, liberals, prisoners, schoolteachers and judges, to name a few. But I also noticed a growing intolerance amongst people like me to Christians and other conservative groups.

"What would happen if people from these opposing groups found themselves all in the same place, say in a school gymnasium? It was then that I realised that even though only one of the four characters in Kings of the Gym is religious, this play is really about a battle for the soul. Each character seems to want every other character to think like them and believe what they believe - and are all prepared to fight to get their way. I found this battle both intriguing and at times very funny."

Tickets for Kings of the Gym can be purchased from Maidment Theatre on 308 2383 or, The Turner Centre (Kerikeri) on 09 407 0260 or Forum North (Whangarei) 09 430 4244.


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