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Kings of the Gym comes to Nelson

Kings of the Gym comes to Nelson.

Kings of the Gym

Dave Armstrong’s romantic and very funny comedy Kings of the Gym is coming to The Nelson School of Music on Friday April 12.

People who loved Le Sud at the Nelson Arts Festival, Seven Periods With Mr Gormsby on TV and the current Radio New Zealand satire Down the List will know Armstrong as a playwright who makes the audience laugh, while skewering some of the current foibles of New Zealand society. In Kings of the Gym it’s the politics of education, religion, professional sport and 'Best School Syndrome’.

The Auckland Theatre Company is touring this production, which Artistic Director, Colin McColl explains is set at Hautapu High, a low decile Auckland school that’s set to rocket up Metro's Best School 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,” he says. “Laurie's on a collision course with the ambitious new principal, Viv. She can't stand his work methods or his opinions on education - he still believes kids should learn that sport is about winning!”

McColl says the Auckland Theatre Company is delighted to bring Dave Armstrong’s work to a wider New Zealand audience, describing it as ‘a very kiwi play that is sure to amuse people wherever they may live’. Last year The Auckland Theatre Company presented On The Upside Down of the World during the Nelson Festival, and was thrilled with the response to the production.

Writer Dave Armstrong says he got the idea for Kings of the Gym in the mid 1970s in the gymnasium of the local secondary school where he found relief in the company of the PE teachers:

“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.”

Armstrong says he liked the challenge of setting a rom-com in the scummy, dirty gym of a failing low-decile school, and this got him thinking about a variety of things, from education and politics to wider human issues such as tolerance.

“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.”

NSOM Manager Frances McElhinney says it’s going to be a change to have a theatre show on this scale at the School of Music.

“The Auckland Theatre Company is bringing a 20 tonne truck full of climbing walls, balls, ropes and sports gear that will transform the stage into a school gym everyone will recognise,” she says. “It’s going to be a real treat for Nelson people to have a professional show of this scale staged here.”

Tickets for Kings of the Gym are on sale now online at or at the Nelson School of Music in Nile Street, phone 548 9477. Ticket prices (+ service fees) are Adult $35 and Student/Senior $30. The Nelson performance of Kings of the Gym is on Friday April 12, doors and bar open 6.30pm, start time is 7.30pm.

"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

“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


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