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  • Writer's pictureKerry Smith

Theater Camp ★★★★

Molly Gordon, Nich Lieberman

Starring Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Jimmy Tatro, Noah Galvin, Ayo Edebiri, Patti Harrison

Mom… dad… I'm a thespian. When a kid falls in love with theatre, sometimes slowly but always surely, they'll find their "home" in a bunch of square pegs that didn't fit into round holes. Theater Camp is an endearing mockumentary that builds a house, makes you a tea, puts the fire on and hangs a welcome home sign at the front door. Directed by Nick Lieberman and Molly Gordon (who also stars), Theater Camp reminds us what home should feel like.

Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris) runs the summer camp, but after stage strobe lights send her into a fit resulting in a coma, it's revealed that the place is under threat of foreclosure due to mounting unpaid bills. Her eventually charming en-troy-preneurial son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) steps in to run things despite never having got the whole theatre thing when he was growing up. But the show must go on, so Camp opens as normal and treats us to the auditions of some adorably and hilariously talented children trying out for this year's production which camp teachers and besties Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) write and produce each year. They've based this one around the life of their founder and named it 'Joan, Still'.

Eccentric and dramatic, the characters' overbearing eccentricity is cringe-worthy, but in that loveable musical theatre way. While the mockumentary format becomes forgotten somewhere in the middle, the characterisation and quips of these campers are set up perfectly, allowing audiences to understand the meaning of theatre and its impact on children and adults alike. Delivered in such a short space of time, Gordon and Lieberman's storytelling makes it impossible not to be heartbroken by the idea of this beloved camp being shut down, or worse, taken over by its theatre camp rivals over the road.

For stage kids everywhere, and anyone who has any level of familiarity with the theatre, Theater Camp is so relatable it hurts. Cutting deep in the lightest of ways, it shows how some of these children grow up living for the approval of a director or crave to be given the chance to prove themselves. While that feels dark, Theater Camp gleefully sheds light on the therapeutic value of being part of a like-minded community that supports you to get to where you want to be in life.

Opening with insightful commentary from Joan herself, the film aims to show that theatre is good for children in that it allows them to try on new personas, experiment with their imagination, learn about worldly stories, and be silly and serious in a safe space. Released on August 25 of this year, the message comes after the Covid-19 pandemic and the spotlight society shone on the need for and importance of entertainers and creatives. But this mockumentary can mock all it likes with much-loved Broadway legend Ben Platt in it. We never even get to hear the Tony-award winning star sing… and that is why I liked Theater Camp. It's not a platform film to show off impressive vocals and flashy costumes, but simply here to remind us that camp isn't home but isn't it, really? Isn't a place where you feel and love and laugh and cry about the same things as those around you home, really?

Theater Camp available in select cinemas now

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