Le Sud

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

13/02/2010 - 06/03/2010

Production Details

If the French had colonised the South Island, Christchurch would be chic 

Cut from the same fabric as Catherine Deneuve, Jennifer Ward-Lealand saunters on to the stage as Dominique Le Bons, the elegant Foreign Minister in LE SUD by Dave Armstrong, at the Maidment Theatre from 11 February (opening night: 13 February).

Armstrong’s latest play is a wickedly revisionist satire that imagines the South Island or “Le Sud” was claimed by the French in 1838.

170 years on and Zelande du Sud is now an independent, prosperous French-speaking socialist nation where people work 30 hours a week, enjoy long wine-fuelled lunches, and the popular Prime Minister, Francois Duvauchelle, is a renowned womaniser.

Meanwhile, poor old English-speaking North Zealand is starved of electricity and Prime Minister, Jim Peterson, must lead a delegation south to persuade their rich neighbours to get the goodwill – and the electricity – flowing north.

A provocative comedy, LE SUD pokes fun at three cultures, two islands and one country.

Dave Armstrong has emerged as one of New Zealand’s most original and popular playwrights, with a string of theatre and television hits including THE TUTOR, KING AND COUNTRY, NIU SILA (co-written with Oscar Kightley) SPIN DOCTORS, 7 PERIODS WITH MR GORMSBY and BRO’TOWN (script editor).

“I’m an equal-opportunity satirist. My style of theatre is to mercilessly poke the borax at as many different social, linguistic, cultural and sexual groups as possible – that’s my job,” says Armstrong.

“We have a Prime Minister seemingly made of teflon, Rodney ‘Perkbuster’ Hide flying his young thing around the world at the taxpayer’s expense, a Maori-less super city about to be run by a bunch of white mofoes and a mute opposition leader last seen somewhere on the streets of Mt Roskill. I predict satirists will be one of the biggest growth professions in the next 12 months – them and glaziers who have to come into private schools and fix the windows broken by ropey kids from low-decile areas on government scholarships,” he says.

The idea for a play about the French claiming the south island had been percolating with Armstrong for about 40 years.

“Ever since I learned about the French in Akaroa at school. We’ve all had teachers who said how New Zealand or the South Island could have been French had a British warship reached Akaroa a few days later. I just took the idea to a logical (or, in the case of the French, illogical) conclusion. I was fascinated by how different our country would be if we had been colonised by the French. The coffee and the bread would certainly be better, and the All Black backline might be far better-looking and have more flair,” jokes Armstrong.

LE SUD was originally commissioned by the Wanaka Festival of Colour with Auckland Theatre Company’s Literary Unit supporting Armstrong with the script’s development.

George Henare, recently honoured with a CNZM for services to theatre, returns to Auckland Theatre Company to play Tama Te Tonga, a consummate statesman with a range of business interests on the side. Andrew Grainger heads up the Sud Zelandais government as the south’s womanising Prime Minister, Francois Duvachelle. A British ex-pat now resident in New Zealand, Grainger last delighted Auckland audiences as Mr Bumble in ATC’s Christmas production of OLIVER!

After narrowly beating FLINTLOCK MUSKET’s Scott Cotter and the Edge’s production of MY FAIR LADY to claim the Hackman Award for Best Death of the Year with his dramatic death scene in OLIVER! , Michael Lawrence returns to the stage as the North’s Prime Minister, Jim Petersen. Lawrence is joined by ATC newcomers Gregory Cooper and Miriama McDowell as the two fresh faced politicians in the North Zealand coalition government.

Director Raymond Hawthorne and Designer Tracy Grant have one of the longest lasting creative partnerships in New Zealand theatre. They started working together at Theatre Corporate in the eighties before moving to The Mercury Theatre and are still going strong.  They regularly team up for ATC productions where they are renowned for their exquisitely stylish and highly theatrical productions. They last worked together to bring OLIVER! to the stage.

With comically outrageous plots and power plays, cultural clashes and sexual shenanigans, LE SUD has more bang than a French nuclear test.

Bookings can be made at the Maidment Theatre, 09 308 2383 or www.atc.co.nz.

Le Sud 
Maidment Theatre
11 February – 6 March
Opening Night: 13 February

Les sud-zélandais
n: Zélande du Sud
adj: sud-zélandais(e)(es):
Francois Duvachelle:  Andrew Grainger
Dominique Le Bons:  Jennifer Ward-Lealand
Tama Te Tonga:  George Henare

The North Zealanders 
n: North Zealand
adj: North Zealander(s)
Jim Petersen: Michael Lawrence
Moana Maree: Miriama McDowell
Lyndsey Marsland: Greg Cooper

Director/Directeur: Raymond Hawthorne
Costumes/Costumes Tracy Grant Lord
Scénographie: Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting/ Lumière: Philip Dexter, MSc.

Farcical, hyper-relevant, trans-dimensional satire

Review by Nik Smythe 15th Feb 2010

The concept is immediately intriguing to anyone interested in our nation’s cultural heritage. Due to the French gaining the advantage in the ‘famous battle of Picton’ in 1839, Aotearoa as we know it doesn’t exist. Instead the South Island, Le Sud-Zelandais, is under French rule whilst the British have somehow retained governance of North Zealand.

The action takes place inside the Wanaka conference centre, a sumptuous pale-green classical Parisian mansion adorned with columns, gilt-lined entrances and elaborate fancy scenic wallpaper. This, according to designer Tracy Grant Lord, is how the affluent Socialist French government of the Le Sud likes to conduct diplomatic relations.

The opening scene plays entirely in French which somehow a virtual non-speaker of the Gallic tongue such as myself manages to follow, peppered as it is with current political and local geographical references. Andrew Grainger’s arrogant playboy French Prime Minister of Le Sud, Monsieur Francois Duvauchelle, is preparing to meet with the British Prime Minister to discuss a pressing political issue. His deputy Dominique Le Bons (Jennifer Ward-Lealand), a handsome haughty feminist unafraid of exhibiting strong lesbian signals, is also la Minister d’Energie or however you’d say that… 

I’m from North Zealand you see, not much culture up our way; we don’t even have broadband or iPhones yet. The issue on the table involves the North’s dependence on Le Sud’s hydroelectric power, the price for which has suddenly doubled from two to four dollars per unit. 

A third significant character on the French side is George Henare’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Tama te Tonga, a cheeky opportunist who milks every potential chance to exploit his cultural status and expertise – beginning with the embarrassingly absurd powhiri welcoming their Anglo-Saxon cousins from the north. 

North Zealand’s pitiable slob of a chief whip Jim Peterson (Michael Lawrence) is not a million miles from Brian Sergent’s classic PM in Flight of the Conchords; a scruffy, oafish, uncultured and dim-witted conservative. Lawrence’s Jim plays very much to our country’s petrified reputation as a behind-the-times welfare state, first immortalised in the 70s with Glide Time

Thanks to the lambasted curse of mixed-member proportional representation, Jim comes flanked with his coalition partners Lyndsey Marsland (Greg Cooper), diminutive uptight Kings-educated financier from the hyper-right wing Federation of United Consumers and Taxpayers Party, and Moana Marie Matakana, a strikingly attractive somewhat schizoid Parnell yuppie of Tuhoe descent, representing the Maori Party.

Tensely courteous negotiations ensue, quickly degenerating into a vitriolic screaming match about rugby. By now it must be clear that any notions of sensibility, let alone political correctness, are unlikely to get much of a look-in in this farcical, hyper-relevant, trans-dimensional satire. A nod to the famously acerbic 17th century works of Moliere, no-one’s dignity is safe from ridicule, even – or especially – the tangata whenua. 

The climactic solution to the political impasse is contrived, idealistic, unlikely and gut-bustingly hilarious, and it’s a trifling inconvenience that we may need to adopt in some small way a similar mindset to the six self-serving bigots comprising the cast, in order to allow ourselves be amused.  

A less skilled and talented company could see all the outrageous farce, obvious political sideswipes and cheap shots fall flat. Under director Raymond Hawthorne the levels are pitched very well throughout, with gags hammed up and underplayed at all the right points. Hawthorne was central to the original script-development workshops with playwright Dave Armstrong, clearly to the production’s advantage.

Speaking of Armstrong, at this opening for ATC’s Le Sud the playwright took a bow in the curtain call. I believe this was the first time I’ve ever witnessed such an occurrence, a parting nod to the peculiarities of this alternative dimension perhaps? It also occurs to me that given how much real-life politics continues to spew forth issues and episodes screaming to be lampooned, the play will need to be almost rewritten each time it’s produced.

In conclusion, whilst the idea itself is worthy of extensive contemplation, there’s no great moral or inspirational message provided in this conceptual cross-cultural examination but there are curtain-to-curtain chuckles, guffaws and belly laughs to offer us a greatly welcome cathartic release from the more frustrating absurdism of our real parliament. 
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Superb cast delivers delightfully anarchic Kiwi ‘what-if’ with relish

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 15th Feb 2010

Auckland Theatre Company’s season opener explodes with the jaunty impudence of a jack-in-the-box as it bounces around the alternative reality of a South Island that was colonised by the French, leaving our Anglo-Saxon forebears to make do with the North.

In the anarchic imagination of playwright Dave Armstrong this historical "what if" throws up the delightfully absurd image of French poodles trained as sheep dogs, with some predictable jibes about a local cuisine sans Watties tomato sauce and the truly horrifying realisation Dan Cartier wouldn’t be playing for the All Blacks. [More]
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