On The Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

12/09/2008 - 20/09/2008

BATS Theatre, Wellington

15/01/2008 - 19/01/2008

The Basement Theatre, Auckland

06/05/2008 - 10/05/2008

Comedy Club: Hutton Theatre, Dunedin

01/04/2008 - 05/04/2008

Tauranga Art Gallery: Toi Tauranga, Auckland

26/09/2008 - 27/09/2008

Production Details

On The Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover is the first state-of-the-nation address for the Rogernomics generation – a punky powerpoint-driven monologue exploring obsession, politics and the hopes and dreams of a passionate but confused generation.

‘The National Party looks likely to form the next government, unless drastic action is taken. Miss Clark, I am that drastic action.’ 

In 2002 a scurrilous booklet of the same title was published by the elusive Balclutha author Richard Meros. This stage adaptation, ostensibly an impassioned logical analysis of how the Right Honourable Miss Clark would succumb to the temptation of the lonely performer, is at heart an incisive satirical investigation into the effects of the past twenty years of user-pays, individualistic New Zealand politics.

‘We, who ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for ourselves! 

Richard Meros – Author: Other works include Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man and the NZ race-relations treatise Tinorangatira, Muthafucka.

Arthur Meek – Performer: Arthur is the creator of the award-winning short film Being John Campbell (2002), and member of Billy T Nominated band The Lonesome Buckwhips (Best Comedy, Fringe 2007).

Geoff Pinfield – Director: co-writer of the all-singing all-dancing all-Mâori extravaganza Maui – One Man Against the Gods and creator of anarcho-mime show Happy Hour for Miserable Children (Best Comedy, Fringe 04)

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Meros for office!

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 29th Sep 2008

Listening to Steven Berkoff this morning on National Radio, I was struck by his guiding principle that "the actor should be totally used" in relation to the text, environment, and atmosphere. We don’t often see this in mainstream theatre. Yet Arthur Meek’s performance as an obsessive Richard Meros ("B.A.") in this hilarious solo performance does exactly that; it’s vocal and intellectual gymnastics rooted in a solid context that could only be done in the theatre. Both Meek and director Geoff Pinfield are to be heralded for bringing this lesson in wit, timing, and a damned good argument to the stage. If you haven’t seen this show, go and see it, and tell your friends to go and see it. You may never see such unflattering images of our politicians again.

Everything that’s been said already in reviews on this website is true. Meek is relaxed, witty, focussed and determined in his pursuit of a central assaulting argument that he, our modern intellectual, (over-educated and under-employed) is the perfect Rake to both revamp Helen Clark’s public popularity and her personal love life. It’s an absurd argument that, like the best Monty Python situation, is so absurd it’s right. As Berkoff, Beckett, our Politicians and now Richard Meros all know, life is indeed weirder than fiction. Answering Labour’s slogan that "Labour Makes You Free", it is actually Richard Meros who will be Helen’s unlikely salvation.

The show relies heavily on Meek’s  invocation of a cast of many players through the excellent use of power point – so flawless it’s like a well choreographed/conjugated dance. Some shocking photos of our leaders (past and present) advance the argument with more absurdity than you can shake a snake at. Lockwood Smith doing the haka? Posing in Speedos? Or Helen Clark, our "Uber Frau", leering down at Meros like some over-inflated Marxist bulldog deity? Strange but true – our leaders are indeed only human and there are some pearler pictures resurrected from history (or should that be ‘herstory’?) to prove this point.

Metaphor, logic, and the circumbobulation of language are key to challenging us to keep up with Meros. It’s refreshing to see an audience relocate their poles of logic and expectation in relation to a verbose and complex argument. The show struck me as quite Shakespearean in this way; you have to work to keep up. There are words and a level of wit that you probably haven’t heard for a while. I like that. (I wonder if there is scope for more audience involvement here – a survey? Show of hands responses to things? There’s something here – just a thought.) And of course I’m left with some classic turns of phrase; "the National Party was formed in 1936 for the sole purpose of biting pillow"; "Helen should be actively on the prowl"; "our generation’s dream of getting a dream". Very clever.

Yet ultimately it is not the argument that shines through, but Meek’s portrayal of a sexist, racist, highly opinionated and very lonely obsessive young man. I am suddenly more interested in Richard Meros, B.A., from Balclutha than any political idea he espouses. The personal is political, and this performance is clever enough to reference some big ideas around the centrifugal point of Our Man Meros. Whittling down the potential pool of Young Lovers from over 4.2 million to 1 garnered a round of applause from the audience. In short, we loved him and pitied him. Run for Office, Meros!

As a small note I would have enjoyed some Hayley Westenra pre-show music to really set the context. And a touch more of the quality of invitation would counterpoint well with the unrequited vigour of Meros. Small things to think about. A fabulous show and very well received in Tauranga. Good on you Arthur, Geoff, and "Richard". Refreshing to see political satire tackled in such a professional and clever way. Great stuff.


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Perfect timing

Review by John Smythe 13th Sep 2008

The serendipitous synchronicity that saw the long-programmed On The Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover return to Wellington on the very day Helen Clark announced the election date must auger well for the aspirations of the redoubtable Richard Meros.

Could it be she was sending him a coded message? But can there be secrets in politics these days? I half expected this morning’s headline to read ‘Clark’s late poll plan to take a young lover’.

For eight months Meros, the stage incarnation (who bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Arthur Meek) has been pursuing his extraordinary goal, yet his presentation is as fresh and compelling as it was on day one (15 Jan). More so, if anything. (See links to earlier reviews below.)

I had assumed that Richard Meros, the writer (whose surname with one letter altered could reveal his true identity as a political editor; and if that’s right this morning’s Last Word in the DomPost suggests he himself has taken a young lover …) I had assumed Meros the writer was the master of marvellous metaphors. But another scan of the published booklet (1st ed. 2005; Lawrence and Gibson) suggests this particularly thrilling textual enrichment is added by either or both of the dramatists: actor Arthur Meek and director Geoff Pinfield.

For example (from memory), HC’s husband is first described as the rock from which the ship of state is launched while RM is merely a waka bobbing in her wake … and despite the young lover’s desires and intentions, the husband is credited with being “the dry dock to which she will always return”.

Refreshing tweaks that keep the show aligned to the socio-political moment include this extraordinary description of its current venue: “Downstage – that red-haired, hare-lipped, wheel-chair bound step-cousin of the recurrently funded organisations.” Make of that what you will!

Pinfield and Meek are presumably also responsible for the classically structured and wondrously witty PowerPoint presentation, delivered with impeccable timing by the remote-clutching ‘Meros’. The huge roars of laughter attest to a brace of very astute play makers.

The logic of the over-educated, under-employed but now extremely focussed Meros is as inescapable as his rhetoric is formidable. And en-route we are treated to a rich socio-political history that is all the more potent as the election looms.

During his interview with Kim Hill this morning, Meek asserted the show would reach its use-by date come election day – so don’t delay your booking (only a week to go at Downstage).

Of course had Labour not got to form the government after the 2005 election, we would never have seen the booklet adapted. Even if Labour survives the coming election, Helen Clark may well move on, leaving Phil Goff to lead the 2011 campaign. And … nah. This really is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


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Complex weave of deliberate irony = unbeatable hilarity

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 07th May 2008

Balclutha author Richard Meros (though who is he really?*) wrote a booklet with the same title a few years ago. Adapted for stage, director Geoff Pinfield and actor Arthur Meek turn this riotous satirical premise into an outstanding one-man play presented as a lecture, complete with a brilliant power point presentation.

Taking on the role of Richard Meros, Arthur Meek barely pauses for breath, as he categorically persuades his enthusiastic and at times raucous opening night crowd, that on the conditions and possibilities of our Rt. Hon. HC taking him as her young lover, not only is he an expert on the subject and a man not to be messed with in a debate, he simply must be right.

Meros is well read, well educated and politically astute. His text is dotted with literary references, full of civil sting, wit and humour – the perfect vehicle for an actor of immense talent and confidence, such as Meek. This fresh-faced man’s delivery is so flawless, convincing and passionate, that by the end of 60 minutes of solid reasoning and academic workout, it’s hard to think of a good reason why Meros shouldn’t be free to pursue his ultimate target market. 

Tonight was an unusual evening at the theatre, even before the lecture got underway. It began with Meek and his mate serving free tea and scones in the foyer, (they are campaigning after all….) then took a surreal turn when I ended up sitting in front of Rodney Hide and next to Michael Hurst… the latter has played the former (in the feature film We’reHere To Help).

Rodney and his back-row posse proceeded to heckle loudly and at times threatened to drown out poor Meek. To be fair, others in the audience were also vocal for a while, before we all settled in, shut up and succumbed willingly to Meek’s tour de force.

Meek / Meros’ obsessive rant is not all about taking our "Uber Frau" Helen – although the hypothesis gives rise to unbeatable hilarity. It is also a complex weave of deliberate irony, giving a voice to his shrewd yet confused generation, their aspirations, their aims and their hope for a better future.

If you are looking for something more cerebral in the last week of the Comedy Festival, this is the one for you.

(*I’m told by a reliable source that Richard Meros is an anagram for his / her real name.)


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Loving Helen

Review by Anna Chinn 21st Apr 2008

A passionate entreaty to the Prime Minister.

Perhaps because in politics she has always been about cranial and not carnal knowledge, has favoured rhetoric over the erotic, the Prime Minister’s sex life intrigues and/or perplexes the nation.

In 2005, before the last election, essayist Richard Meros used that intrigue as the founding block from which to build a discourse on such topics as Rogernomics, gender studies and bodily fluids. He called the philosophical and satirical result On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover. Then, in 2007, mindful of the next election and with funding from Creative New Zealand (thus indirectly from the arts minister herself), actor Arthur Meek and director Geoff Pinfield mined that essay for dramatic possibilities – and struck gold when their one-man show premiered at Bats Theatre in Wellington in January this year. [More]


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It gets my vote

Review by Lynn Freeman 23rd Jan 2008

It’s unnerving, hearing yourself mentioned in a play you’re there to critique.  Richard Meros (as played by Arthur Meek) talks about turning his (Richard’s) book into a play and looking forward to a ‘firm but fair review by Lynn Freeman in the Capital Times’.

So here’s my ‘firm but fair’ review Richard, and Arthur, and co-adapter, Geoff Pinfold. 

This political satire comes hard on the heels of the extremely and well deserved success of The Hollow Men, and of course timed at the start of election year.  As a raucous night out at the theatre, it gets my vote.

Pinfield and Meek have turned Richard Meros’ book of the same name, into a persuasive power point presentation – or in their own words, ‘a watertight rational case study’.  After an hour of argument and imagery, you will agree with the premise that our Prime Minister, ‘volcano of desire’ that she is, not only needs a young lover, specifically Richard/Arthur, but for this to happen is indeed in the country’s best interests. 

He acknowledges there are roadblocks to their union, including Clark’s husband, but comes up with a solution to each one in turn.  He explains his attraction to the PM – the aphrodisiac of power, the lofty mountaintop of her magnificence, the fact she’s far and away the sexiest of the country’s 30+ Prime Ministers thus far. (Sexy being in the eye of the beholder). 

Meek is in devastatingly fine form as Meros, investing every satirical line with punch and pizzazz.  Clearly he’s having the best time on stage and invites us to enjoy ourselves too.  Unlike its title, On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as Her Young Lover is

sharp, snappy and memorable – an avalanche of words and imagery.  You really won’t look at Helen Clark in quite the same way again. 


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Slightly disturbing but highly entertaining

Review by Helen Sims 19th Jan 2008

OTCAPOHCTMAHYL is based on the book by the same name by Richard Meros, which was written when “Aunty Helen” had been the PM for 6 years. Described by Meros as “ridiculous”, Pinfield and Meek have thankfully mined the more humorous and pointedly political content from the book to create an excellent stage play, with extra resonance given it is election year and shortly Helen’s political neck will be on the block. It’s less of a play in the conventional sense as a post-modern power point presentation. We are skilfully guided though the carefully constructed presentation by Meek, playing Meros, in order for him to persuade us of his point – that Helen Clark is in urgent need of a young lover, and the only viable candidate is him. The logic takes some magnificent leaps at some point, but there’s no denying the force of his argument. It’s also the cover for two other thinly veiled messages – the rampant individualism amongst 20-somethings as a product of the “Rogernomics” of a government which Clark was a part of, and the portrayal of Meros as a self-obsessed loner, the “poster-kid” of this generation. Ask not what you can do for your country, but what you can do for yourself!

Meek’s characterisation as Meros is flawless. The “real” Meros is notoriously elusive (check out his Myspace page…) so I’m not sure if he has “read between the lines” of the book or met the genuine article. He slowly builds a picture of Meros that extends beyond this evening, back to the fantasies that have induced a young, recent BA grad from Balclutha, “with maidenhead intact”, to formulate an elaborate theory as to why he is Clark’s much-needed young lover. This young lover is far from the heroic, romantic ideal. Near the end the play takes a forward leap as Meros imagines himself kidnapped to Clark’s stately pleasure dome, at which point the narrative breaks down into a never-ending repetitive explanation of how he has arrived there. Pinfield’s direction is also excellent and there is an obvious eye for detail. I found the pot plant inexplicably creepy. There are a wide enough range of political jokes in there to crack up those who scan the headlines to those who know some Kantian theory. Most political parties come in for a bit of a drubbing, but the play is neutral in its politics, alleging National was formed for the sole purpose of “pillow biting” at the same time as bringing Labour down into the gutter as well.

The vision is slightly disturbing, but highly entertaining. It is sharp political satire which we so desperately need more of in New Zealand theatre. I hear that the remainder of the season is sold out – in which case I would lend my voice to calls for a return season and/or this excellent show to tour.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Slick, wicked poke at politics

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Jan 2008

Get down to Bats straight away and book a seat for this ‘anarchic and incisive’ (I quote from the blurb and it’s all true) theatrical lecture with a slick and wickedly clever PowerPoint presentation that alone is worth the price of a ticket. This hilarious show finishes on Saturday, which is a very short run for a comedy as consistently funny as this one in a city as politically-minded as Wellington.

It is based on Richard Meros’s book which has sold, we are led to believe, only 16 copies though it has been reviewed in The Guardian Weekly! On Richard Meros’s pledge card to Helen Clark he promises to bend to her every whim, snuggle, reinvigorate her and the nation, and win the 2008 election for her and rescue us all from a National Party government.

The PowerPoint presentation to prove all this, which by the way is followed by tea and scones in the foyer, is genuinely witty and, though it occasionally leads us into areas of purity with Haley Westenra in extreme close-up, it is also allows Richard Meros’s alter ego, Arthur Meek, to rattle off the names of all 36 prime ministers of New Zealand in reverse historical order as their portraits appear simultaneously on the screen. He earned a deserved round of applause from the audience for this feat of memory and technical know-how.
Arthur Meek’s Richard Meros is a nice young man, rather geekish in his dress (beige and brown with an ill-fitting pullover) but with a passion for his subject that any self-help or get-rich-now guru with a PowerPoint would envy, as he itemizes on the screen the bleeding obvious and illustrating everything with metaphors such as being Helen’s cell-phone battery recharger in the night and then bursting into outrageous purple passages that are sheer delight and are performed with comic aplomb and spot-on timing.

Every now and then his passion gets the better of him and he has to pause to drink some water or use his inhaler but there is no denying his devotion to "Our philosopher Queen,"  "our Uber Frau" with "the voice of a crystal cello" and his determination to prove that he is the Adonis to do the job. However, underneath all the jokes (lots of digs at liberal attitudes) the malaise that bedevils the current political scene ("our dream of getting a dream") is the real target of this brilliant show.


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Seductive satire

Review by John Smythe 16th Jan 2008

Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, David Lange and Margaret Pope … Why not Helen Clark and Richard Meros?

The point is power: an aphrodisiac, to both the holder of it and the would-be holder of the holder. And PowerPoint is the prime means used to present this philosophical treatise-cum-thesis-cum-erotic fantasy, wherein actor Arthur Meek personifies the mysterious boy from Balclutha and clandestine essayist who hides behind the pen-name Richard Meros.

That Meek and director Geoff Pinfield perceived the theatrical possibilities in Meros’s weighty, if slim, printed discourse, first published in 2005, marks them as minor genii of the genus thespian, although there are precedents in Chekhov’s On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, Swift’s A Modest Proposal, Ruddock’s Vitalogy

Nevertheless their dynamically illustrated adaptation of On The Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover and Meek’s unflagging passion in performance, seductively paced and modulated with impeccable comic timing, are triumphs worthy of note in the next honours list.

There is excellent dramatic structure in the logical argument. Part I: ‘The decision of Helen Clark to Take a Young Lover’ comprises a brief biography of HC and a consideration of young Lovers in general, before it goes on to enquire into ‘Helen’s desire to take a young lover’, ‘rational interferences with HC’s desire’ – e.g. her husband, the media, the 2008 general election … all skilfully brought to the conclusion that drastic action must be taken to fend off electoral defeat, and "I am that drastic action!"

Richard is, after all, a go-getting child of Rogernomics: "Ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for ourselves!‘ 

Part II deconstructs, with even greater ingenuity, why – of all the possible candidates – HC should take RM as her Young Lover. And so to the fantasised assignation (precipitated by a burly member of the Diplomatic Protection Squad) at Premiere House where he traps himself in a perpetual cycle of … before … Enough said here. See it.

OTCAPOHCTMAHYL should tour the country as an ideal counterpoint to the inevitable earnestness of electioneering. Which raises the further point of where the show stands in relation to the Electoral Finance Act. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the purpose of the production is to urge people to vote Labour in the coming election.

The project has already received a $9,750 grant from Creative New Zealand, which is alright because although it’s a donation and over $1,000, it’s not anonymous. But if the show’s budget is over $12,000, does this mean the co-op must register as a third party? Then what if it goes on the tour it richly deserves and the spend – offset by healthy box-office receipts, one hopes – ends up exceeding $120,000? Can we really countenance such a disincentive to artistic success?

Except OTCAPOHCTMAHYL is not urging its audiences to give their votes to Labour. It is urging the Prime Minister to take a course of action that could possibly elevate her chances of re-election. Or not. Who knows?


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