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March 12, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Review – Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man

  • Adapted from Richard Meros’s book by Arthur Meek and Geoff Pinfield
  • Directed by Geoff Pinfield
  • Performed by Arthur Meek
  • BATS, 8 March, 6.30pm
  • Reviewed by Ryan Brown-Haysom 

Richard Meros is a man who requires little introduction; that is, if you already know who he is. For those not yet acquainted with Wellington theatre’s most beguiling phenomenon, some kind of primer is clearly necessary. But how to describe him? Gonzo pundit? Cod philosopher? Idiot-savant? Perhaps it’s sufficient to say that Richard Meros is one of the most intelligent and entertaining figures in the often-underwhelming world of home-grown New Zealand satire. This is all the more remarkable given that Richard Meros – unlike Jon Bridges and Jeremy Corbett – is a (mostly) fictional character. Originally the creation of writer Murdoch Stevens, Meros was first brought to the stage by Arthur Meek and Geoff Pinfield in 2008, in the one-man show entitled On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover. Four years on, Meek – who has succeeded brilliantly in making the character of Meros his own – has reprised the role and triumphantly returned to the stage in Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man.

Like OTCAPOHCTMAHYL, Meros’s new project takes the form of a lecture – it might be more accurate to say a diatribe – delivered over an hour with the aid of power-point slides and a few selected props. It is a format to which Meek and Pinfield are clearly inured, and they carry off the visual gags with pitch-perfect humour and near-flawless comic timing.

Yet the theme marks a significant departure from the political satire that dominated their previous work. Audiences might well feel uneasy: can a self-confessed city-boy like Meros really discourse on the subject of the ‘Southern Man’ without descending into archness or lewd jokes about sheep? What more can there really be to say about the commercially-exhausted imagery of the craggy, hyper-masculine Mainlander? Such apprehensions are quickly laid to rest. With remarkable skill and confidence, Meros employs the ‘Southern Man’ trope as a platform for a sweeping, passionate, and surprisingly insightful analysis of the national malaise.

The last four years have been difficult ones for the country, and as it turns out they have been tough for Richard Meros (BA(Hons)) too. With his intended paramour swept from the political stage, he finds himself robbed of his vocation and helpless to save Aotearoa New Zealand from its slide into economic mayhem. Jobless, hopeless, and unable to reconcile himself to the prospect of becoming John Key’s young lover, Meros eventually finds himself in a seasonal fruit-picking job in Central Otago. And it is here, amid the bonny banks and braes, that he experiences the epic epiphany that will point him to the solution to both his own personal crisis and to the moral blight afflicting the nation. With an incisive wit sugaring the bitter pill of truth, Meros lays out the dire situation and the dramatic solution it demands: New Zealand is holding out for a hero. A hero till the end of the night. If it all sounds terribly serious, it’s because it is, and Meros brings a kind of evangelical energy to his message disconcertingly suggestive of Bishop Brian Tamaki selling Suzanne Clips. If we’re never entirely sure just how far he’s joking, that is part of the uneasy brilliance of the show.

Though the sight-gags inevitably get the biggest laughs, I was more impressed with Meros’ remarkable flair for words. There are some really cracking one-liners here, and even the most plodding parts of the show exhibit a kind of verbal deftness that is, in places, virtually indistinguishable from genius. Meros deadpans his way through this patter with the self-obsession of an over-earnest student politician. The research is impressive, though there are a few minor slips (it would be hard for the nation to be “aboard the metaphorical Tangiwai,” given that Tangiwai is a place that gave its name to a rail disaster, not the ill-fated train itself). Such minor errors stand out chiefly because Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man is not a production that wears its learning lightly. It positively fizzes with braininess, effortlessly integrating Big Ideas (colonialism, the financial crisis, the flaws of capitalism) with whimsical trifles (why does the Work and Income logo depict a man strangling a chicken?).

For all its smartness and its audacity, however, there is also genuine human warmth to the production. This is like no lecture you’ve ever been to before: there is a surprising intimacy in the address (and how many lecturers hug you as you enter the theatre?). Ultimately, Meros cuts such a charming figure – even when utterly deluded – that the audience is willing to be swept away on his quixotic fantasy. And, even if one doesn’t agree with all of his analysis, there is enough truth and beauty in this Salute to make even the most cynical city-slicker shed a single manly tear.

Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man runs from 8 to 10 March and 12 to 17 March, 6.30pm

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  1. RBH says:

    Fucking subeditors. Molest my syntax at your peril. Don’t make me go all Giles Coren on you.

    Fucking subeditors: Molest my syntax at your peril! Don’t make me go all “Giles Coren” on you.

    Fucking? Subeditors molest! My syntax (at your peril). Don’t make me go; all Giles [Coren] on… you.

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