Downstage Theatre
Sept 12-20 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

A FRIEND asked me if I thought this play was suitable for her interested-in-politics teenager, and I had to say yes. This play is pretty much suitable for everybody as it operates on a variety of levels. The jokes come thick and fast, and if you miss one, you don’t have to wait long until another one comes along. At the same time, it is wonderfully irreverent – someone is bound to be offended by something in here.

Arthur Meek doubling as Richard Meros, and an usher to seat us before the performance, presents a stunningly logical argument in this hour long stand-up comedy/Powerpoint presentation routine. Through amusing anecdotes and photographs he ‘proves’ that Helen Clark should taker a young lover and why that young lover should be him.

His facial expressions, vocal tone and pace are highly effective and I found myself following his argument even though it was obviously tosh, like something you would write for an exam, if you were both clever and funny. He ranges between unctuous sincerity and passionate enthusiasm, never once dropping his act. Key note speakers could do well to take notes.

Meek is slicker with the clicker than most weather presenters, even getting a round of applause when he rattles off the names of all 36 prime ministers of New Zealand never looking at the screen but assuring that all of their pictures pop up with perfect timing. He also throws in some fabulously pointless pie charts and graphs to ‘illustrate’ his points.

He argues that Helen should take a young lover as it would raise her profile and, as she works on average 18 hours a day, she clearly needs more energy. In taking a young lover she would be like a vampire who has stumbled into a kindergarten. Humans hunger for young bodies like some sort of cannibalism, and ‘precedents abound of presidents abounding.’

He would be the metaphorical equivalent of a cell phone charger; the lick of paint to her weather-beaten house – and the cuddles would be nice. He denies that this is an entirely carnal longing (he has actually got a Hayley Westenra fixation) claiming that, overwhelmed by sexual images on billboards, he turned to Helen who appeared wise and free in her portrait, not to mention clothed. Neither are his motives spurred by political ambition – ‘I don’t like politics – I’d rather go back to Balclutha.’

Like every student essayist is taught, he sets up the objections only to knock them down. Why would a normal healthy hard working married woman take a young lover? Because Helen is anything but typical. She is the first elected female Prime Minister who bucked the trends when they said you can’t be prime minister; MMP can’t work as a system; you can’t get from Waimate to Christchurch in an hour and a half – ‘She said, wrong; wrong; wrong. Can’t is a critique of pure reason’. There were groans at this point from the sections of the audience who wanted to show that they got it. He quickly disposes of the husband hurdle with an assurance to Peter Davis that, ‘you are the dry dock to which she will always return.’

Explaining that he is a glass half full type of chap, he moves on to why this lover ought to be him. There are many spurious reasons which seem to make sense at the time; such is the power of his persuasion. Apparently Helen Clark Warrior Princess, she of the voice like a crystal cello, is obviously interested, because as minister for Arts and Culture, she has now granted a substantial sum to the cost of their mutual seduction. She also approves of his unemployed status as the Labour policy of interest free student loans ‘has allowed me to semi-complete degree after degree.’

The humour is wry and cutting. Meros is the smiling assassin of youth capitalism, claiming that he is part of the first generation to have grown up with free market economics. His own principles are simple, ‘I want better public transport for other people so I can park in town; I want to take with one hand and receive with the other and I am not alone.’

If he had a pulpit he would pound it as he asserts sonorous statements that mean nothing on further reflection – for him Helen embodies ‘our generation’s dream of getting a dream. Something to fight for is better than nothing to fight against.’ This production has a limited shelf-life and it has already toured widely. The fact that it remains fresh is due entirely to the ineffable stage presence of Meek. One is almost tempted to sign the petition and buy the book, of which he claims to have sold more than 16 copies.

See also:
» On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark... (Reviewed by Helen Sims)