Le Sud

Gallagher Concert Chamber, Wel Academy of Performing Arts, Waikato University, Hamilton

24/06/2010 - 25/06/2010

James Hay Theatre, Christchurch

29/07/2009 - 31/07/2009

Clyde War Memorial Hall,

29/04/2009 - 29/04/2009

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

01/06/2010 - 19/06/2010

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

01/05/2009 - 04/05/2009

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

05/08/2009 - 22/08/2009

Settlers Festival Theatre, Dunedin

08/10/2010 - 11/10/2010

Fuel Festival 2010

Otago Festival of the Arts 2010

Production Details

Written by Dave Armstrong
Directed by Conrad Newport

Producer: Caroline Armstrong, Armstrong Creative

A brand new play by Dave Armstrong

Le Sud is a rollicking political satire that warmly pokes fun at three cultures, two islands and one country.

This specially commissioned play assumes that the French successfully colonised the South Island in 1839 and South Zealand or ‘Le Sud’ became an independent French-speaking nation. Today ‘Le Sud’ is a prosperous socialist country where people work only 30 hours a week, enjoy long wine-fuelled lunches, and the popular Prime Minister, Francois Duvauchelle, is a renowned womaniser.

The English-speaking citizens of the North Island are far less happy. North Zealanders work long hours for little reward, their free-market experiment ended in disaster, and race relations are at rock bottom. Starved of much-needed electricity, North Zealand lives in permanent recession.

Le Sud is the story of a delegation from North Zealand, led by Prime Minister Jim Petersen, who travel south to the beautiful chateau at Wanaka au Lac to persuade their rich neighbours to provide them with cheap electricity.

Warning – this play contains many hilarious jabs at the political, sporting, religious, racial and cultural values that New Zealanders hold dear!

Comments on previous Dave Armstrong plays:
“An agonisingly funny comedy of insight.”
“The play is full of topical one-liners that make fun of both Left and Right.”
“It’s the sort of play that reminds us why theatre was invented.”

When / Where
29 April,  7pm – Clyde War Memorial Hall
01 May,  7pm & 9.30pm – Lake Wanaka Centre – Both Perfs SOLD OUT
04 May,  7pm – Lake Wanaka Centre – Book Online

Duration:  85 minutes no interval
Price:  $32 (including booking fee)

Bookings       Book Online
Tickets for most shows can be booked online (see above).

Book by Phone:  Call +64 3 443 4178

Book in Person
Lake Wanaka i-SITE Visitor Centre
(from 23 Feb to 3 May, 9am to 5pm daily)
Lake Wanaka Centre
(from 27 Apr to 3 May, 10am to 7pm)



LE SUD (South Zealand)

Nick Dunbar -
Francois Duvauchelle, Prime Minister of South Zealand

Heather O'Carroll - Dominique Le Bons, Deputy Prime Minister of South Zealand

Mark Ruka - Tama Te Tonga, Minister of Native Affairs and head of Le Tahou iwi

LE NORD (North Zealand)

Gavin Rutherford -
Jim Peterson, Prime Minister of North Zealand

Olivia Robinson - Moana Maree Matakana, MP and member of the extreme left-wing Maui Party

Barnaby Fredric (ChCh, Wn) / James Winter (Wanaka) - Lyndsey Marsland, MP and member of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party


Set Design - Brian King

Costume Design - Nic Smillie

Lighting Design - Paul O'Brien


Stage Manager - Rachel Callinan

Technical Operator - Paul O'Brien

Le Sud was commissioned by the Festival of Colour and developed with the assistance of the Auckland Theatre Company's Next Stage season. 



2 hrs incl. interval

A comedy of manners, not politics

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 11th Oct 2010

Le Sud premiered, appropriately enough, in Wanaka last year (see review). In the play, the scenic town is given as the capital of an independent, French colonised Republic—Le Sud—whilst the North has apparently suffered the misfortune of being established by the British, a situation which, together with various geographical and agrarian quirks, has left the northern nation sadly impoverished and dependent on its southern neighbour for fiercely priced electricity.

The play then uses the negotiation-meeting of three elected representatives of each of these alternative versions of New Zealand as the frame for a series of comic entanglements. To describe Le Sud as a French farce is perhaps too easy, and in any case, the rapid fire exchanges, dense dialogue, endless quips, and elements of sexual comedy are hardly unique to French theatre.

Often during the play I wondered if I was watching a particularly good, modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona or Twelfth Night. Like these works, Le Sud features scenes involving mistaken or masqueraded identity: namely the tough talking Energy Minister of Le Sud, Dominique (Heather O’Carroll), who is later shown to have not been the “raging lezzie” (the play’s words, not mine!) everyone suspected, but in fact a seriously heterosexual woman who has spent her life looking for a “cauliflower” buttocked, Anglo-New-Zealand man who speaks in clichés and is unable to express his emotions—just like our lackadaisical, number-eight-wire Northern New Zealand Prime Minister, Jim (Gavin Rutherford).

These elements listed above are mixed with digressions on the nature of love—or more accurately seduction, notably in a truly hysterical scene where Le Sud’s Prime Minister, François (Nick Dunbar), demonstrates to Jim how to woo a woman à la Française—as well as asides on politics and the Machiavellian machinations which characterise them, with us here moving from Shakespeare’s ideal princes to our own politicians, whose feet are firmly planted in the clay of imperfection. 

In bringing together these elements, author Dave Armstrong closely follows these patterns first established in classical and Italian Renaissance drama. Indeed, the final dénouement where François happily bounces off stage with his Gauguin-fantasy woman from the north, Moana of the Mâui Party (Olivia Robinson) closely echoes such patterns in having all of the characters paired off at the end, despite the fact that there is no longer any motivation within the plot itself for Moana to accept François’ genuine (albeit racist) advances. 

The political critique is at times all but pitch black. The portrayal of one of the two major Mâori characters, specifically Le Sud’s Minister of Native Affairs, Tama (Mark Ruka) as a totally unflappable and unmitigatedly self-interested wheeler-dealer businessman and merchant of corruption, bribes and every kind of ‘koha’ under the sun, can give the play a bitter taste at times.

That said, such allusions are quite specifically asides—they pepper and enhance the work, but they are not its focus. The play is much more focussed on the relationships between François and Jim (one of empathy between Prime Ministers), Jim and Moana—indeed Moana becomes a primary site of conflict, with Dominique initially feigning, more than convincingly, a strong attraction for the charismatic woman—and so on. 

Perhaps for this reason, it is Dunbar who totally steals the show almost every moment he is on stage. His springing gait, amplified physical expression (his long legs especially tend to intrude, rise, twist and curve into the middle of the drama with impressive comic effect) and endlessly light touch keeps the performance happily moving along without any real darkness intruding. Every time Dunbar shakes his head in delight and wipes back his carefully groomed hair, the gentle comedy of the piece is reignited.

Particularly impressive is how Dunbar’s carefully honed physical performance and clichéd but effective French accent comes across as playful and broadly Gallic without ever really becoming too campy—a rather important factor here, since François is defined by a clear heterosexuality and rampant sexual desire which enables him to be so confident as to pretend to ravish Jim without it ever really eroding his feminine-focussed libido. Whether lounging vampishly on a table, or swinging his form close to the floor with a flower between his teeth, Dunbar is endlessly sexy and fun, and never just plain silly. 

Whilst it continues to bemuse the English-speaking world that it is all but expected that major male French public figures will have at least one mistress, typically on the state’s or the company’s books, without anyone really raising an eyebrow unless the amount of money becomes truly exorbitant, Dunbar certainly offers a portrait of man for whom this would seem at least possible.

The other actors acquit themselves well with their material. O’Carroll is slightly scarily firm, even getting Dunbar/François to “heel” puppy-like behind her at several points, although her habit of achieving this by tucking her chin close in to her throat makes for a slightly forced vocalisation and performance at times. Nevertheless, when she lets down her hair as a librarian becoming a vamp, and rubs herself against Rutherford’s impressively uncomfortable demeanour, she does shine as a performer. 

Rutherford really just has to be loose throughout the proceedings, but he doubles both Dunbar and O’Carroll extremely well in those scenes where he plays the straight(er) man to their excesses. Robinson as Moana has very little to work with really, and Barnaby Fredric as the right-wing private-school boy from the North is also rather marginalised by the main drama, so his role, though well executed, is strictly supportive. 

Ruka’s character is a bit more problematic, as he and director Conrad Newport had decided to have him performed as something of a buffoon. With an endlessly resigned and surprised expression which only really shades into about 6 variations of these responses, Ruka basically rolls on stage, his belly forward like an old-fashioned circus clown, makes the odd pointed comment, patronises Moana, grabs a bribe, makes a call on his mobile to do some insider trading, and then rolls back out. 

There is one moment where it seems like the play might suddenly shift gear, when one Pakeha character makes a passing comment about Mâori, and Ruka suddenly strides up in a swift, direct line to the speaker exclaiming, “What did you just say??” For a second it seems like violence might erupt, but then Tama/Ruka smirks to show that he was only bluffing, before suddenly his scowl returns and the menace is felt again.

This sudden emergence of real conflict, together with the double-take, now makes it impossible for either the other characters, or even the audience, to be sure to what extent Tama is simply pretending to be the uncomplicated, corrupt Mâori minister everyone expects him to be, and to what extent some other, entirely hidden and obscure motive might guide his actions, offers a fascinating tipping point for where Newport could have moved this play into darker territory.

In the end though, Le Sud is a romp, and romp our actors and our characters do. There is no lesson or moral in this piece (although the coming out of a lesbian as a closet heterosexual could be read as a rather nasty backlash gag). This is a fine night out characterised by swift exchanges, but—perhaps most of all—by the limber limbed charisma of its leading male player, Dunbar.

A fine piece provided you accept this is a comedy of manners, and not of politics. 


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Kiwis with a taste of French

Review by Ben Stanley 28th Jun 2010


Imagine a world where New Zealand was actually two nations – a prosperous, buoyant South Island and a repressed, struggling North.

As a proud North Islander, it’s a concept I laugh heartily at, as was now and then the case with Le Sud, part of this year’s Fuel Festival.

In Le Sud, the Frenchies didn’t stop at Akaroa in 1839, instead colonising the whole mainland before declaring independence.

The years since have been kind to South Islanders. But years of stuttering social reforms, racial division and a lack of power to fuel the British-held north’s industry, have led to the young nation foundering.

The play looks at a meeting of the delegations of the nation’s two leaders – the dinky-die North Island prime minister Jim Petersen (Gavin Rutherford) and the scandalous Le Sud PM Francois Duvauchelle (Nick Dunbar) – attempting to broker a power sharing deal with the north. The talks sway from character to character, and Kiwi cliché to cliché, until by the end of the show, not even Ten Guitars is left untouched.

The star of the show is Rutherford, delivering a parody on the quintessential Kiwi bloke.

A lot of the laughs were obvious ones, with newer jabs at BP, Shane Jones, Dan Carter – all a bit too predictable and easy for my liking.

That said, that folksy sort of gumption was swallowed up by a large crowd which close to filled the Wel Academy’s impressive Gallagher Concert Chamber.

But then again, the dialogue wasn’t really the hook – Le Sud was more about delivery and having a laugh at ourselves and our distinct differences. Super Wines and all.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Entertainment first and foremost

Review by Maryanne Cathro 02nd Jun 2010

As a Wellington lass deported to Christchurch for eight years, where I nearly lost an eye (I still favour red and black) the premise of this play really appeals to me. If you’ve been to Akaroa, it’s easier to see just how things could have panned out not so differently from the world according to Le Sud. The French really left their mark on the place.

Now, bearing in mind this play was commissioned to have its debut in Wanaka, the affectionate way in which it manages to stress the many advantages of the South over the North would have gone down a treat. It’s not wrong either, the South Island is much prettier, has more natural resources, better agriculture… it’s just colder, that’s all. Those of us who have lived there, or still do, can see this plainly, unobscured by the Bombay Hills or the Cook Strait.

Anyway, back to Wellington on a freezing cold evening where Le Sud opens at Downstage to a full house. I hear almost as many French speakers taking seats as English, modern French music plays as we take in the set draped with red velvet, two flags taking pride of place upstage centre – the NZ flag we know and another where the Tricoleur replaces the Union Jack. Clever.

This is Le Chateau d’Infinité in Wanaka, built by those first French settlers in 1839. Suspend your disbelief, let logic go, this is a ‘what if’ scenario. Had the settlers at Akaroa really won the L’isle du Sud, they would not be referencing Canterbury or Christchurch, or Invercargill, but it is testament to how well this play rolls that I didn’t care.

Think McPhail and Gadsby meets ’Allo ’Allo. Fairly predictable satire on the stereotypes offered by Frenchies and Kiwis/English. Enough sexual innuendo and farcical ‘walkings in on people in compromising positions’ to shake a stick at.
This is a well much visited but the bucket continues to brim as both races persist in living up to the jokes. However, throw in a hefty wallop of (New) Zealand humour, jokes, characters, politics and race relations and run them past the French connection also, and it’s almost like a whole new thing. Almost.

Many details of commentary change as this satirical play keeps pace with contemporary events as recent as yesterday. This production gets digs in about PM’s having vasectomies, Tuhoe fighting back over the Ureweras, tax cuts – these recent adaptations balance nicely against the more generic digs such as Auckland Grammar being the only decile 11 school in Auckland, and if we were called Aotearoa, we would get to walk out before Australia at the opening of the Olympic Games.

Delicious performances from Nick Dunbar as Sud’s political leader François Duvauchelle, and Gavin Rutherford as North’s PM. Dunbar’s Frenchman is weasel-like and suave and has the attention span of a whatsit, whereas Rutherford’s laconic Kiwi bloke ruminates awkwardly and shows flickers of his inner yearnings, while delivering some of the best laughs. He has a great feel for comedic timing.

Heather O’Carroll’s Minister of Energy is all farce and while her energy is great on stage, and her sense of comedy excellent, the character could have borne a bit more credibility and light and shade. This is a true ensemble piece however and these three are joined by great performances from Mark Ruka, Olivia Robinson and Barnaby Fredric.

I strew accolades around like French bonbons to the production people and director who all did their bits very well. (God, now I’m sounding like Young Mr Grace. There is truly something Lloyd-Croftish about this show, and it’s catching! )

Like the works of that famous duo [Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft wrote, for example, Are You Being Served and ’Allo ’Allo], this show is entertainment first and foremost. It goes deeper at times, but not too deep. It’s unlikely to provoke you to argue about the premise on the way home. More likely you’ll be recalling the funniest bits and laughing at them again.
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Fast, furious, funny

Review by Lynn Freeman 13th Aug 2009

As a Mainlander, the idea of the South Island having the upper hand over our northern cousins holds immense appeal.  Dave Armstrong has taken this concept way beyond the old rallying call of ‘cut the cable’ to a Zealand where the South prospers under French rule, while the north is in a permanent recession largely due to having to pay ridiculously high power prices.

Le Sud is part farce, part political satire, part attack on our politically correct sensibilities.  It’s littered with up to the minute references – The Dipton Double Dip and Taito Philip Field’s jail time both bring the house down. It’s fast, furious and funny.  It’s also, in the nature of farce, totally over the top with the actors given license by director Conrad Newport to push their performances as far as they wish. Which is a long way in most cases, and enjoyable for it.  

The scenario sees the impoverished North Zealand government come cap in hand to the prosperous South Zealand palace at Wanaka, to negotiate power prices.  No French stereotype, no Kiwi sacred cow, is left unturned as the two countries collide over economics, culture, sacre bleu, even sport.

Nick Dunbar is gorgeous as the womanising PM of Le Sud, and as his Thatcheresque deputy, Heather O’Carroll gives it everything she’s got.  Gavin Rutherford specialises in endearing character roles and that’s exactly what he is as North Zealand’s bumbling PM, with a good foil in Olivia Robinson as coalition partner Moana Maree Matakana from the extreme left wing Maui Party.  Mark Ruka you can’t help thinking channels the sharp dress sense of Winston Peters as Tama Te Tonga, Minister of Native Affairs, while Barnaby has the least to work with as the scheming member of the extreme right wing Freedom party, but does it well.   

New Zealanders need to laugh more at ourselves, satire is part of a healthy nation. Armstrong said even before the play was produced that he intended it to insult everybody and he ticks all the boxes, the key is that it’s done with affection and evenhandedly.
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Indulge your sexism, racism and homophobia all in one shot

Review by Melody Nixon 07th Aug 2009

On premise, Le Sud seems to be a rare and lacking beast in national theatre: a topical satire that astutely pokes fun at New Zealand’s government. It promises humorous yet shrewd political and cultural observation. What is delivered, however, is humorous, but hardly incisive.

While writer Dave Armstrong’s broad topical knowledge, word play and sometimes skilful wit is impressive, the only thing he doesn’t make fun of is midgets. And that’s only because there aren’t any midgets currently serving in Parliament. If there were, Armstrong would make fun of them.

Perhaps that’s okay; humour in Aotearoa has long been broiling itself in a soup of brainless stereotyping. Le Sud is no different, and it positively revels in the murky depths of political incorrectness (and in doing so, almost ironically plays into John Key’s hollow statement last month that our supposed extreme political correctness in New Zealand is what drives our ‘best and brightest’ off shore. Really – the smartest people in this country want to leave so they can go and make sexist remarks in Australia. Highly plausible.).

The trouble is, the comedy lacks the exceptional wit or subtlety that just might justify so much stereotyping, and has no underlying bite to lead us to seriously question what we’re being presented with or what we are seeing around us in the current (or any) political climate.

The show offers us corrupted Mâori tikanga, sexism, horrendous cultural stereotypes, and equal parlance on the evils of right and left; though the left come out slightly better off. Some of the observations are astute; for example, the playing out of the double standard of the patriarchal exchange between Mâori men and women that is not carried across racial boundaries; yet others come across as unintentionally misguided.

The most obvious example is the "Yo yo whaddup nigga" slur when the US President calls on the phone (yes, it’s clear this is poking fun at our lack of cultural breadth but it’s also pretty immature). More subtly, hearing the New Zealand wars called "the Mâori wars," comes as a surprise; maybe that still flies in the South Island (and maybe that’s where some unintentionally misguided comments of my own come in) but up here James Belich set the record straight about that one a long while back.

The script also misses entirely with its series of lame puns on English idioms. Shamefully the cast must continue repeating them, knowing that each will fall flatter than the last; only at the end does Dominique Le Bons'(Heather O’Carroll) bizarre ‘fly buys will be fly buys’ remark actually make contact, mostly for its sheer strangeness.

Ultimately, it is the stellar performances of the French contingent (Nick Dunbar, Heather O’Carroll and Mark Ruka) that make the play, for all its foibles, shine. Dunbar and O’Carroll in particular are most vibrant and engaging; Dunbar in flagrante delicto with Gavin Rutherford (as Jim Peterson) has a Basil Fawlty-like physicality that is both practiced and wonderfully, spontaneously strange. Heather O’Carroll hams up her dominatrix like role (ultimately, it seems, women are in charge – but of course, this is New Zealand!) and adds appropriate relish to the revelation that underneath it all Dominique is normal, just like the rest of us (time for a sigh of relief).

Barnaby Fredric starts out a little flat as the extreme right winger Lyndsey Marsland, but gains momentum and zest as his character becomes increasingly impertinent. Yet there is another example of an unintentional and misguided comment with Lyndsey Marsland – "everyone thinks I’m gay," he states, and the implication is clearly that this is a negative.

The, err, ‘transformation’ in the character of Moana Maree Matakana (Olivia Robinson) seems unlikely; early on in the show Moana seems blessed with integrity, or at the very least intelligence. Her sudden fall – "loyalty is something you buy" – seems inconsistent with the way she is first presented to us. Equally unlikely , and equally offensive, is the way she responds to her leader Jim Peterson’s (Rutherford) suggestion that she prostitute herself "for the good of the team" by stating that she isn’t sure it will work out – because the man in question can’t really be attracted to her...

Perhaps Le Sud goes partway to addressing the void of savvy political commentary in Aotearoa, but it falls short in its ability to actually challenge. As a result, its humour does not subvert the stereotypes it presents, just engages with them, lightly, and then lets us walk away feeling good. It even has theme songs.

The play doesn’t seem to be aiming for much else than a good old Christmas pantomime style bag of laughs. We’re allowed to indulge our sexism, racism and homophobia all in one shot. What more could you ask for? Cést fantastique! Cést tres bien!
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


neil furby August 8th, 2009

La critique est aisée, mais l'art est difficile.

Corus August 7th, 2009

 Lame's not the word for it ... groans of disbelief became groans of pain became the retchings of despair ....... (is this what they mean by catharsis?)  It doesn't 'part way address the void' - it IS the void.

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Satire takes a poke at things Kiwi

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 07th Aug 2009

For a night out at the theatre in winter, there is nothing like a good comedy or farce to lift the spirits, and that is certainly what Dave Armstrong’s new play, Le Sud, playing at Downstage does. 

Commissioned for the Southern Lakes Festival of Colour – the setting is a chateau in Wanaka – the play takes a very irreverent and funny, even hilarious at times, look at many things typically Kiwi that could only occur in New Zealand. 

Le Sud of the title is South Zealand, a very prosperous socialist country with a booming economy where everyone works a 30 hour week with extended liquid fuelled lunches.  It is run by rich, womanising Prime Minister François Duvauchelle (Nick Dunbar), assisted by his autocratic Deputy Dominique Le Bons (Heather O’Carroll) and Minister of Native Affairs Tama Te Tonga (Mark Ruka). 

This is in contrast to North Zealand, led by Prime Minister Jim Peterson (Gavin Rutherford) and his coalition partners Moana Maree Matakana (Olivia Robinson) of the Maui Party and Lindsey Marsland (Barnaby Fredric) of the Freedom Party.

North Zealand is suffering under the recession and in dire need for more of South Zealand’s hydro electricity.  As a consequence the North Zealanders have come to Wanaka to negotiate with the South Zealanders for a better pricing deal for more power. 

Nothing much more happens but in the process of the negations numerous aspects of New Zealand’s way of life are satirised and sent up including politics, anti-smacking, the smoke free environment, Wellington’s wind, Palmerston North, Māori terrorism, rugby and Daniel Carter (Cartier) and some very topical jokes such as the current row over the "Dipton Double Dipping".

Some of the jokes were rather laboured and most not very PC, and the second half becomes laboured as the negotiations wear on, getting nowhere, but there is no denying the cleverness of what is essentially a farcical piece of irreverent nonsense. 

The cast under Conrad Newport’s assured direction contribute much to the plays success by the pace and quick timing of the rapid fire dialogue, the six actors on stage working exceedingly well as a group, maintaining momentum and energy through to the end. 

Many of the comic routines, especially the seduction scenes, are as funny as the dialogue, making this a sure fire winner for Downstage. Not to be missed, Le Sud is compulsory viewing for all politicians and public servants.
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Energetic irreverence

Review by Elody Rathgen 29th Jul 2009

[Christchurch Arts Festival]

Le Sud adapts a nifty concept to make a lively theatre farce, which will appeal particularly to South Island audiences. Sud Zealand (the South island) has been colonised by the French, while North Zealand (the North island) has been colonised by Britain. Both have significant indigenous populations.

Le Sud has flourished economically, politically and culturally. People work short hours, and enjoy long, indulgent culinary and wine events. It is a sophisticated country, the wealthiest in the southern hemisphere.

The play concerns the arrival of a prime ministerial delegation from the North and their attempts to negotiate down the price they pay Le Sud for electricity. The North has come to a point of collapse and unless they can pay less for their power the members of this delegation will certainly lose their positions. 

That is as far as anything serious goes in this play! This is home-grown nonsense which the Christchurch Arts Festival audience thoroughly enjoyed on opening night. Whether Northerners will is another issue.

Very few sacred cows in New Zealand are excluded from a thorough mocking. MMP, Mâori entrepreneurs, any form of sexual politics, rugby, Te Papa, smacking, smoke free, Tuhoe terrorists, Palmerston North and lots of other icons or issues come in for merciless one-liners or set comic routines. As this is pure farce there is no point to it except to make people laugh. And they do.

Only one piece steps over the edge. A bit of pseudo street rap takes references to the Obama family unnecessarily far.

The cast ensemble is excellent. Great pace and the choreography of set comic routines keep the performance energetic. The audience laughs so much in places that we miss some lines.

All of the company contributes well to the irreverence, but among them Nick Dunbar as Le Sud’s Prime Minister and Heather O’Carroll his deputy stand out. Their slickness and vitality are superb.

The set is drab, and positioning of the characters in unforgiving lines at times seems more suited to the television camera than live theatre.

Le Sud might suffer if we thought too hard and long about it.  But we are not supposed to think about the point of farce, and the Christchurch audience thoroughly enjoyed the laughs.
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Laughs aplenty

Review by John Smythe 02nd May 2009

To mark the world premiere of this specially commissioned Dave Armstrong comedy, Wanaka comes to the party with éclat, its stores festooned with red, white and blue balloons, a large percentage of its population wearing black berets, ‘Viva Le Sud!’ and ‘Mon Dieu!’ signs and badges variously displayed. On opening night (following a solitary preview in Clyde), prizes are awarded for the best French dressing (as in costume).

The well-publicised premise is that in 1838, French settlers in Akaroa declared the south island of Aotearoa a French colony: Le Sud (a.k.a. South Zealand). The north island has remained a British colony (North Zealand).

Le Sud generates most of the electricity consumed in the north and now North Zealand, in economic meltdown and under threat of insurrection from the Tuhoe Nation (it’s headlined in L’ Otago Aujourd’hui so it must be true!), has sent a delegation of coalition politicians south to negotiate a more affordable electricity price.

Power politics is the name of the game and expectations are high. Dave Armstrong has become a Festival of Colour favourite thanks to Niu Sila (co-written with Oscar Kightley) and King and Country (at the first festival in 2005) and The Tutor (2007). But those seeking the rich aftertaste those works offered beyond their immediate wit and perception will find Le Sud more of a quaffable plonk than a vintage red; more soufflé than pepper steak.

Yet it takes a writer of skill to whip up a topical socio-political satire and on that score Armstrong delivers, abetted first by development through the Auckland Theatre Company Literary Unit with Raymond Hawthorne, and now by director Conrad Newport with a strong creative team (from the North Island).   

The delegation meets in the conference room of Wanaka’s Chateau d’ Infinity, evoked by designer Brian King with plush red curtains, two Southern Cross flags with the Tricolore and Union Jack in their respective corners, and pinewood furniture. Paul O’Brien’s lighting design suggests massive windows that frame the view: "Regardez le lac!"

Heather O’Carroll dominates delectably as the bespectacled, besuited Dominique Le Bons, Deputy Prime Minister of South Zealand, all strictly business and uptight hair that, inevitably, gets let down in an expose of what sexual politics has come to in the 21st century.

Her sexually pro-active (some might say delinquent) Prime Minister, Francois Duvauchelle, suavely styled by Nick Dunbar, epitomises the Gallic charm and sophistication of his forbears.

His Minister of Native Affairs and head of Le Tahou iwi, Tama Te Taonga, is made wicked flesh by Mark Ruka. He prefers a golf club to a taiaha, and is constantly on his cellphone, let alone the make and the take as and when any chance arises. To him, his separatist Tuhoe Nation cuzzie-bros are merely "Children of the Missed Opportunities".

Gavin Rutherford’s Prime Minister of North Zealand, Jim Peterson, is your classic rugger bugger ex-farmer Kiwi bloke trying to juggle the complexities of an MMP coalition, having sacrificed his marriage for his career.

Well, truth be told, it was his finding himself at a topless bar in Manila thanks to the hospitality of his conference hosts that got him into trouble at home and saw him slump badly in the polls (not to mention his pole: b-boom). That he should suffer thus from one such incident while Duvauchelle’s stocks soar the more he plays about, distils the cultural differences between the two islands to a piquant sauciness.

Paterson’s strategy has been to complete his delegation with two junior coalition partners from opposite ends of the political spectrum, to ensure he remains in control. His political future hinges on his returning home with a deal signed that will assure North Zealanders a continued supply of affordable electricity.

MP Moana Maree Matakana represents the extreme left-wing Maui Party. Olivia Robinson captures well the inner struggle between her responsibilities to her party and her people, her basic sense of integrity and her personal ambition. The question is, will she be willing to "take one for the team"?

Neatly personified by James Winter, the extreme right-wing Freedom Party member Lyndsey Marsland, educated at Kings and fluent in French, sees himself as disadvantaged because he’s "a spotty white male with an IT degree who is bad at sport". He Excels at cooking the spreadsheets, however, and that is why he’s on this team.

The first highlight is the inspired melange of French, Māori and English as the delegations meet and greet, while the low humour dimension is founded in their attempts to conduct a powhiri.

Their driving quest, to negotiate a credible electricity price, generates some excellent satirical shocks at the expense of socialism and monetarism, French and Kiwi, Māori and Pakeha. No sacred cow is left unjabbed which, of course, is the currency of such comedy.

But humdrum cliché intrudes in the sexual shenanigan sections. Surely we can explore the arts of expedient seduction more credibly and interestingly without resorting to OTT vamping redolent of early Hollywood screen ‘sirens’. And when these interactions occur, the others in the background appear to sit and watch, which seems unlikely somehow.

Another anomoly, less easily solved, is the retaining of largely British names for a South Zealand colonised by the French in 1838. But without that contrivance many jokes would disappear.

Nevertheless there are laughs aplenty, not only at topical quips, the shafting of ‘political correctness’ and the witty insights into cultural differences, but also at Duvauchelle’s tutoring of Peterson in the finer arts of seduction – Dunbar’s exquisite physicality transcending all – and Le Bons’ ‘quelle horreur’ revelations at her true sexual nature.

Some may call Le Sud a farce but it doesn’t quite qualify for me because its notions of subterfuge and deception are not carried through into actions that we enjoy from the privileged perspective of knowing more than any one character does. For example, Marsland and Matakana’s realisation that if Peterson returns triumphant they will lose traction in the coalition, and Matakana and Te Tonga’s consideration of a bi-lateral Tangata Whenua counter-offensive promise something but deliver nothing.

The ending is not a pay-off from all that has gone before. It comes out of left field, or to be more precise from deep below the North’s bubbling mud pools. That’s fine but it’s part of what keeps it in the realm of extended revue sketch: a broad comedy in the style of Diplomatic Immunity, fun while it lasts but leaving us with little to chew on beyond the remembrance of good one-liners.

What a plus, though, that a small regional arts festival is able to commission a populist work that links directly to its home town. With further seasons planned for Christchurch (later this year) and Dunedin and Arrowtown (next year), it becomes their gift to the nation.
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