If you are on Brighton Pier at any point between now and the 24th of May and two simultaneous fights break out, panic not. You have probably just stumbled into the middle of a promenade piece from Joe Orton’s ‘The Erpingham Camp, (but you should probably check just in case).
Part of the Brighton festival, The Erpingham Camp is staged entirely on the pier, which amazingly enough is the first time the pier has been incorporated into the festival’s 43 year history.
Set in straight-laced, glum post-war Britain, The Erpingham Camp is Orton’s take on The Bacchae. It’s a fast-paced and at times savage piece of theatre about a holiday camp by Erpingham, a man so well-mannered and refined he draws a curtain over a portrait of the Queen whenever he changes his trousers. What a gent!
The focuses around Erpingham’s feverish behaviour when the camp’s entertainments officer dies in suspicious circumstances, and the chief redcoat Riley get’s his long-awaited chance to run the show, creating anarchy.
Originally written as a one act play for television in 1966, The Erpingham Camp’s revival is quite appropriate, at a time when the British holiday camp is experiencing a rebirth. The economic climate means traditional British companies like Butlins and Pontins are pretty much the only holiday companies making a profit as thousands of Britons ditch the long haul flights and opt for holidays within the UK this summer.
Brighton pier adds a necessary quintessential Englishness to the performance, and is, says director Ellie Jones “The perfect fit. There are the rides, the restaurants, the sweetshops, the slot machines…As soon, as you step onto the pier you feel like you’re on a summer holiday”. And interaction with the pier is a key part of the production, which uses rides, restaurants and bars on the pier to act out scenes.
The audience are also encouraged to help set the scene by dressing up sixties-style, and are issued with red sashes upon arrival, integrating them into the performance as campers. Complimentary fish and chips is included in the price of the ticket. The use of audience participation in theatre and art seems to be becoming a growing trend. The famous performance company Punchdrunk are putting on a sold out show that heavily relies on audience participation in London’s Waterloo as we speak.
“People are used to sitting in the dark and watching a play but when you involve the audience, it feels more real” says Jones. “There is a trend amid younger theatre-goers who grew up video-gaming that they don’t want to be on the outside looking in. They want to be part of the story. You could say we are giving them the chance to be seven again”.
The Erpingham Camp runs until 24 May
Box office: 01273 709709