Jamie Skinner reviews Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman's Theatre Camp: A financially struggling theatre camp tries to assemble a production based on the life of its hospitalised founder (Amy Sedaris).

Cert - 12, Run-time - 1 hour 33 minutes, Director - Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman -

“We’re theatre people, we know how to turn cardboard into gold” says overworked camp technician Glenn (Noah Galvin) to increasingly worried Troy (Jimmy Tatro). He’s been put in charge of his mother’s (Amy Sedaris) theatre camp for the summer after she suffers a severe seizure. However, while everyone else is pre-occupied with putting on a musical production of her life (entitled Joan, Still) his dives into en-Troy-preneurship fail to bring money in to the financially struggling summer haven.

Troy is one of the few characters who can’t be described as carrying ‘big theatre kid energy’. Everyone around him lives and breathes theatricality, especially the teachers who have put their lives into the world. Heads of music and drama Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) and Amos (Ben Platt) crave to become performers, but have spent a decade teaching in the same place. They treat their jobs with insane seriousness, arguments ensue after the auditions as to which child is best for which role. Which ten-year-old do they see more as a prostitute and who could better portray a virgin?

The humour throughout is treated with a good deal of self-awareness as to just how loud, and camp, these characters are. Even down to the ‘strangeness’ of certain actions; well-contained with the bubble of the camp. (Presumably) Heightened situations and conversations have the ability to slip into irony as co-writers Gordon, Platt, Galvin and Nick Liebermen get as many laughs out of every scene as possible. Theater Camp is the funniest mockumentary in years (perhaps since Borat). Pushed further by Gordon and Lieberman’s direction which truly shines in each scene - particularly commendable as great direction in a comedy is often hard to notice.

It’s easy with a film such as Theater Camp to reference Christopher Guest’s Waiting For Guffman (particularly Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara’s highly theatrical couple). Take that and add elements of Legz Akimbo Theatre Company (the titles of previous main event musicals produced by Amos and Rebecca-Diane are enough to inspire such thoughts) and ramped up the campness it may be close to this. This particular mockumentary is unashmedly camp, bringing in lashings of flamboyance wherever it can - in both visual style and personality.

Perhaps nowhere else is this evident than in the climactic musical number which brings the film to an effective close, whilst also bringing about many of the biggest laughs. Where the true success of this sequence lies is in its complete lack of irony. It’s a scene of love. Made with heart, for theatre kids by theatre kids, passion radiating from the screen. 

Cardboard is truly turned to gold as 93 frequently laugh out loud funny minutes fly by in a flamboyant rush. The intensive lessons the teachers put this summer’s young attendees through is worthwhile for the fitting conclusion. A fantastically written, performed and directed mockumentary, Theater Camp may turn out to be the funniest film of the year.

Jamie Skinner, Four stars ****