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'Theatre Camp' Review: A Film Worthy Of The Spotlight

The theatre, subject of 'Theatre Camp' (2023)
Image courtesy of Natalie Verde; licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

In the words of my mother, Theater Camp was “surprisingly good”. Even I, a self-confessed theatre kid, had serious reservations about this film. But I was genuinely impressed by the quality, originality and depth of this short, silly but undeniably profound film.

Theatre Camp is a mockumentary-style film with an ensemble cast. After Joan, the owner of Camp Adriond falls into a coma, her son, Troy (Jimmy Tatro), attempts to run the performing arts summer school in her absence. The story spans the summer, following the children preparing for their performance of ‘Joan Still’, a musical written about Joan’s life and the early days of the camp by Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), the theatre teachers and camp alumni. The future of the camp is hanging in the balance, with impending closure due to severe financial difficulties. Troy’s journey to save the camp forms the narrative crux of the film.

As a whole, Theater Camp is absolutely hilarious. A true laugh-out-loud film… for me anyway. There were probably ten other people in the cinema, and I did catch that I was the only one laughing several times, like the reference to the recent and widely hated 2019 live-action Cats adaptation. It’s possible that the film’s significantly less funny if you are not involved with theatre, or know someone who is. The creative team (Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman and Ben Platt) really selected theatre kids as their audience and honed in. So, I don’t think it’ll be a box office hit… but for a select few, this film will really hit home and really mean something. It was exactly the right mix of silly, serious and sentimental, which makes a perfectly satisfying watch. The niche of the film is something really special, and one that theatre lovers have never really had and probably won’t again for a while.

At the start of the film, the number of characters we met in quick succession was confusing. But in the end, every member of the ensemble cast became distinct and loveable—even Troy (Jimmy Tatro), despite personally hating the influencer trope that they had tried to cram in for some reason. Troy is a business/social media influencer, and this was the punch line of his character to begin with, which got tired quickly. Once they cracked Troy out of that box that they’d put him in, his character arc was a really enjoyable one that felt gratifying to watch. The character of Glenn, played by Noah Galvin, is a stand out of the film and he truly blew everyone else out of the water, especially in the final performance. Even Ben Platt, controversial as he may be these days due to the recent conversations around the casting in the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen, was a joy to watch as Amos.

The ensemble cast, including the various children attending the camp, really did feel like real people that you might know in your own theatre circles, but not in a stereotypical way. This was likely because it was created by people who truly know the world of theatre inside out. It was written, directed and produced by Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman and Ben Platt, who all have a background in theatre and acting. The casting, particularly of the children, was beautifully inclusive in all kinds of ways, with characters spanning all gender and sexuality spectrums, people of colour and children with disabilities. This will mean so much to the young people who will see and relate to characters who are like them, and even to adults, who recognise their younger selves in a way that was not represented when they were younger.

Underneath the obvious silliness of the subject matter, there is the thinly veiled metaphor of the real budget cuts and privatisation in the arts. Although an obvious standpoint to take, the creative team did a really good job of getting their message in. Not being too preachy about it, the subtle inclusion of the competitor Lakeside Camp and the financial struggle that underpins the main storyline added another, more poignant layer to an otherwise fairly simple plot.

There was undeniably a level of awkwardness in the dialogue and filming, but I actually think that added to the film. It made it feel more real, and it definitely reminded me of my misspent youth at summer holiday theatre camps and clubs, and the preteen awkwardness coupled with the hardcore obsessive nature of theatre. The mockumentary style definitely helped in believing the reality of the film. It was really lovely and important that none of the children were ever made fun of or teased at the camp. They were all genuinely safe. Maybe this is what kids’ theatre is like nowadays. But, for the older generation in the audience, it was definitely healing the inner child, as some might say, seeing a genuinely supportive environment for young people.

Overall, Theater Camp was wonderful. It was all the things a film should be and I’m still thinking about it a week later. Theatre kids in their masses should be off to watch this film! A secondary and subsequent request: ‘Joan, Still’ needs to be released as a full musical. Someone make it happen.


Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor