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August 10, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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Le Sud

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I’m not going to lie to you guys. I did in fact laugh during Le Sud. I laughed a lot. Sometimes despite myself, I laughed. Le Sud is funny. However, with every laugh came a little niggle, a little knot. You see, Le Sud is a farce, it is a play of broad strokes. It trades solely in stereotypes, archetypes and recurring jokes about erectile dysfunction. Very oddly, for a play that rather plainly prides itself on some degree of political bite, it never explores, expands or picks apart the meanings it creates with its slap-happy socio-political point-scoring sense of humour. This is not out of hand a bad thing but when the programme note demands the audience read it as a satire, when it is simply not—at least not to me—something seems to be a little up. That being said, one cannot deny the powerful funny that Le Sud has. It’s just sometimes you feel just a little too guilty for laughing.

The plot of Le Sud by Dave Armstrong is such a nifty little idea that you’re largely amazed no one else has used it already. In 1838, the French landed in Wanaka and claimed the South Island for themselves. This resulted in a split in two nations, a prosporous, socialist and French South Zealand and a down on its luck, stoic, uncultured, British North Zealand. North Zealand has been buying a large amount of its electricity from South Zealand but the recession has forced the South Zealanders to double their prices. The play’s main body of action is as the delegation from North Zealand travel to Wanaka to negotiate a new power deal. Very soon the play becomes a lot more about the amorous implications of all involved and cheap (but soooooo good). Shots at current political figures and issues—everything from Taito Philip Field to the anti-smacking bill gets skewered. The play is a rather odd shape, with a break in the middle that seems to be for an interval that doesn’t arrive, and not one but two rather out of nowhere, tacked-on endings. But you don’t really mind. You’re too busy laughing to think about it. ‘Fridge logic’, it’s called.

Conrad Newport’s direction is slick, clean and ably held up by the talented cast. Nick Dunbar as Francois Duvauchelle, the South Zealandian Prime Minister is part Sarkozy, part Berlusconi and part demented swan. He lithely flings himself across the space constantly threatening to steal the whole show from everyone else. Heather O’Carroll plys her stock in trade repressed woman with a saucy side to the same ingenious effect as always as Dominigue Le Bons the Deputy Prime Minister. Mark Ruka as their native affairs minister is delightfully shifty. Gavin Rutherford as Jim Peterson, Prime Minister of North Zealand, is the archetypal Kiwi bloke, the kind of man who would cut off his own face rather admit to feeling an emotion. Olivia Robinson as Moana Maree Matakana does a good job of a very questionably written character. Rounding out the cast is Barnaby Fredric as a rather lizard-like and devious right winger from the North.

Le Sud is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. It’s almost too guilty for comfort.

Written by Dave Armstrong
Directed by Conrad Newport
With Nick Dunbar, Heather O’Carroll, Mark Ruka, Gavin Rutherford, Olivia Robinson and Barnaby Fredric
At Downstage, 5–22 August 2009
Book at www.downstage.co.nz

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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