Ben Ager, Jamie Oxenbould, David Terry, Karen Pang, Jennifer Corren and Michelle Doake in Gary Baxter's CAMP. Pic Steve Lunam
Ben Ager, Jamie Oxenbould, David Terry, Karen Pang, Jennifer Corren and Michelle Doake in Gary Baxter’s CAMP. Pic Steve Lunam

Most of us have been camping at least once in our lives, vulnerable to erratic weather and ghoulish nocturnal animals.

Gary Baxter’s new play, CAMP, which opened at the Ensemble Theatre last night, delves boldly into the despair, disunity and desperation of a group of friends eager to unwind in an over-popular and noisy camping site.

We meet the argumentative and stressed couple, Maggie and Jack, (played enthusiastically by Michelle Doake and David Terry), so disorganised, they have to borrow much of their tenting gear.  Jack, however, manages to remember to bring copious amounts of alcohol.

In contrast, easy-going couple Cynthia (Karen Pang), breadwinner of the household, and droll and amusing Danny (Ben Ager), happy househusband, are mostly oblivious to the problems around them, bringing much needed peace amongst the trauma.

Both of these couples are accompanied by their children who remain offstage.  This works well as we hear their occasional voiceovers.

Our third couple is the funny and compulsively neurotic Peter – “where’s my hammer!” – (played with some great comic moments by Jamie Oxenbould), and his professional housewife spouse, Julie (Jennifer Corren), striving to live with her husband’s timetable.

Not all three married couples are happy.  Their marital problems are not extensively explored, but remain secondary to the farcical, almost slapstick genre of this play. The humour of turmoil in a supposed ideal holiday gone wrong.  Some of the argument scenes could perhaps be pulled back in volume and intensity to reach their maximum effect.

People will identify with CAMP, the human error that plagues us, especially at critical times.  Those who love or hate camping will remember the uplifting spirit of adventure and the downright annoying obstacles that occur in the outdoors –  sharing the showers, the incongruent weather, the exposure to neighbourly noise – it’s all here in Baxter’s play, drawn from his own personal experience.  The play is directed with great energy and verve by Mark Kilmurry.

The lighting by Matthew Marshall is superb, the warm sunsets, the glow from inside the campervan.  So too is the set design by Anna Gardiner, very Australian landscape colours and props, which lend themselves to such a recognisably Australian play.

The appropriate choice of music, from modern to bombastic, was well orchestrated by Daryl Wallis.

Gary Baxter’s CAMP runs at The Ensemble Theatre from Thursday September 26th to Saturday October 26th.