Had The French Come, Christchurch Would Be Chic

13 Jan 2010

This content is tagged as Theatre .


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.

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.