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Review: The Campervan is a funny yet dramatic takedown of the patriarchy

The Campervan is a new comedy drama written by Kathryn Burnett that explores the dysfunctional relationships within a rich list family. Hugh Webb is a self-made millionaire with a younger ‘trophy’ wife, a do-gooder left of centre ex wife, and a millennial artistic son.  The family’s equilibrium is thrown off balance when Hugh announces he’s giving all his money away to set up a philanthropic enterprise and intends to live in a campervan. 

It is an intriguing premise. How would a family react to a decision like this from a man who has ruthlessly exploited opportunities to make a vast fortune? The ensuing action in this play covers those very reactions in an incredibly funny and dramatic way.

The Campervan is a deliberate farce. The wit in the script, its many bouts of physical comedy, and the characters who inhabit the story are all designed to lampoon the rich, the mindless acquisition of ‘things,’ and the manipulations inherent in many relationships be they familial or corporate. 

Hugh Webb is at the heart of the story. He is the archetypal patriarch. Both charming yet controlling, he thinks he has had an epiphany and that through his largess, he can save the world. It’s all egotistical bombast of course, but he seems to feel he has a messianic duty to do good in the world. 

The problem is, despite his seemingly jovial nature, Hugh can’t seem to get over his need to be in control and hates to be challenged. 

It is this duality in him that brings out the conflicts with the other characters in the story and the results are hilarious, but also at times, disturbingly dark. Hugh is played by the very talented actor Andrew Grainger who manages to portray the patriarch with a marvellous dexterity. His natural comedic talents, and his ability to take Hugh from displays of affability through to outbursts of fury is magical to watch. 

While the entire cast was strong, I felt that for some of them, the humorous lines, the pauses, the sideways glances, all needed to be played up more. In some ways it needed a bit of ‘campness’ and exaggeration in delivery, but also that witty dialogue needed to breathe more, delivered perhaps at a slightly slower pace and to be spoken with more deliberateness. 

But these were minor considerations for a piece of work that is very clever, has a cracking script, some excellent physical comedy and gives a very strong critique of the human condition and the patriarchy. 

Having said that, it would be a mistake to assume that the rich white male patriarchy is the only target. The Campervan shows that manipulation and hypocrisy are not unique to that tribe. 

Marco, the ‘woke,’ yet privileged son, quickly abandons his principles when he faces the loss of his inheritance. Gillian the ex-wife with the perfect left-wing credentials proves to be just as manipulative and self-serving as Hugh. And Tamsin, the supposed trophy wife claiming to sacrifice all for her family is as rapacious as any of them. 

The Campervan is a therefore a very funny farce that manages to evoke a modern type of Noel Coward comedy of errors, while also lampooning our obsession with power and the acquisition of stuff! 

THE CAMPERVAN 

Produced by Tadpole Productions and The Pumphouse Theatre

8-18 September 2022

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