Every time a new season of Le Sud, Dave Armstrong’s hit comedy about a French-speaking South Island and an English-speaking North Island, is about to begin, he pays particular attention to news headlines and TV bulletins.
‘Last year at Downstage the scandal about Bill English receiving 800 dollars a week rent from the taxpayer broke the day before opening night’ explains Armstrong.
‘Thanks to some quick rewriting on my part and actor Mark Ruka being able to think on his feet, we were able to add a short scene about it on opening night. It went down very well, but because one bit of the script was written the day before, some people thought the entire show was written the day before.’
Le Sud had a sell-out season in 2009 at Downstage and is now back there by popular demand. So can we expect new material in this version?
‘Every time I do a new season,’ explains Armstrong, ‘and there have been many, I try and both localise the script and keep it topical. When it was performed in Auckland by the Auckland Theatre Company, I added heaps of stuff about the super city and they loved it. All these councilors who I was trying to cruelly lampoon kept emailing ATC saying how much they loved it. It was extremely frustrating.’
The play did record box office in Auckland, being seen by over 10,000 people and surpassing even last year’s hit Pohutukawa Tree.
With the return season at Downstage, Lyndsey Marsland now belongs to a small right-wing party called the Federation of United Consumers and Taxpayers (FUCT) who hold the seat of Epsom.
‘Of course, any similarity between FUCT and a real New Zealand political party is entirely co-incidental,’ explains Armstrong, ‘just as co-incidental as Le Sud’s small ‘Maui’ party, a Maori political party, which is in coalition with a conservative government.’
Dave is currently very interested in the recent kerfuffle over the Urewera settlement.
‘Given that one of the premises of Le Sud is that North Zealand are at war with their own Tuhoe people, I can hardly ignore the recent Urewera controversy. As for John Key telling a joke about Maori cannibalism.
‘That’s exactly the sort of offensive thing that gauche ex-farmer Jim Petersen, North Zealand’s Prime Minister in Le Sud would say – except that Jim would say “Tuhoe would have me for tucker” rather than “Tuhoe would have me for dinner.” Jim Petersen is far more poetic than John Key.’
Armstrong thinks satire is vital in a democracy and Le Sud has been a fascinating experience for him.
‘It was written under a Labour government and at early workshops and performances people kept saying to me “good on you for having a go at the whole Labour, PC, feminist thing.” I was the darling of the right-wing blogosphere and even labelled sexist, racist and homophobic by one liberal reviewer. I was so proud.’
Armstrong continues ‘However, when the show hit Auckland earlier this year I had all these Labour MPs coming up to me congratulating me on ‘giving the Tories a kick up the butt.’ But one thing I have learned is that most politicians in this country, Left and Right, have a bloody good sense of humour. Tauranga National MP Simon Bridges not only came to the show but wrote a very nice review for the local paper.
Now when I bash National over the way they’re mining our beautiful conservation land and favouring the rich I have to preface it with ‘but that Simon Bridges is a very nice young man and I won’t hear a word against him’ which irritates my leftie mates. And I did get told off by one senior National MP for calling a certain American President a naughty word.
But I assured the MP him that the President, with his hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was quite capable of defending himself, and I think that made the MP feel much better.’
So far Le Sud has been performed at the Wanaka, Christchurch, Nelson, Tauranga and Taupo Festivals, as well as sell-out seasons at Downstage and Auckland Theatre Company, and will run from June 1-19 at Downstage Theatre.
Starring: Gavin Rutherford, Nick Dunbar, Mark Ruka, Heather O’Carroll, Olivia Robinson and Barnaby Frederic
Directed by Conrad Newport
Dates: 1-19 Jun
Times: 6:30pm Tue-Wed and 8pm Thu-Sat.
Matinee: 12 Jun
Prices: $25 to $45.
Meet the Artists: Wed 2 Jun
Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at (04) 801 6946 or in person at Downstage’s box office. For up-to-date information visit www.downstage.co.nz Downstage is proudly sponsored by BNZ.