Loving Helen

by Anna Chinn / 26 April, 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.

On the Conditions is now touring nationally. In it, Meek plays Meros, presenting his essay as a PowerPoint-aided lecture and trying to convince us: a) that Clark must take a young lover to ensure her political survival; b) that Clark's acquisition of a young lover will benefit the country; and c) that he, Richard Meros, between whose brown wool vest and brown tweed trousers exists a certain chemistry, should be that young lover. (The latter conclusion bringing a spontaneous applause from the near-capacity audience on the night I attended.)

Meros, furthermore, intends the tour of his lecture to bring him to Clark's attention, so that he can gain the proximity necessary for him to persuade her to take him as her young lover.

Absurd. Brilliant. Delightful.

Meek is the ideal thespian suitor to Meros' satyric satire. Watching him, as Meros, enthuse earnestly and volubly about his fantasy must be what it's like to be transfixed by one of those evangelist types. His left eyebrow alone is worthy of note. The essayist hopes to persuade. The eyebrow, in being set in an ever-so-slightly-raised position, is beneficial to the persuasiveness of the essayist's face. Hail, eyebrow. And hail, Meek's command of intonation and comic timing, too.

The show lasts a mere hour, and is so thick with ideas that you barely have time to notice whether Enough is Going On for it to be Theatrical (one of those things only reviewers consider).

But it certainly has its climactic moments - one involving Hayley Westenra, and the other Clark in a secret, sumptuous chamber of Premier House. And the PowerPoint helps, with its illustrations ranging from bullet-pointed lists to a photograph of a potato substituting for Jim Bolger.

Pinfield and Meek have done an excellent job of whipping something from the page up on to the stage.

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