A salute to the Southern Man

19:26, Oct 18 2012

I was greeted at the theatre door by a curly-haired man strongly resembling Arthur Meek, who wore a sharp blue suit with a real, bright pink bow tie.

“You look a bit lost,” he said. “Which seat are you in?”

I introduced myself and asked whether he was Arthur, the actor.

“I'm Richard Meros,” he said proudly. “B.A!”

Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man is an all-encompassing experience. Part motivational seminar, part thesis presentation, part theatrical production, this one-man show was the result of a collaboration between Meek, director Geoff Pinfield and a writer named Murdoch Stevens.

The play follows the quest of a fictional character named Richard Meros as he searches for the embodiment of New Zealand's “Southern Man” archetype to fix his, and consequently all of New Zealand's, troubles. With a minimal setting of tussocks and rocks, Meek relied completely on a powerpoint presentation projected onto a screen behind him to convey this epic journey, sometimes using shadows to appear as if he was interacting with the pictures.

Pinfield said the play took around six weeks' work to convert from Meros' book of the same name. Meros is the pseudonym of Stevens, who remains an enigmatic figure of mystery. His written work is more theoretical than the plays and can veer into downright dense at times, but Meek described his and Pinfield's job as “making Meros accessible”.

Meek's sharp-suited, bow-tied interpretation of Meros was exuberant and a little ridiculous at times, but the show's critiques on the political situation in New Zealand were very technical. Despite the silly clip-art that accompanied them, the arguments did translate into a strong critique of the government, culminating in Meros' advice from a symbolic dying Southern Man: “Harden up”.

After the show, I mentioned to Meek and director Geoff Pinfield that the show almost looked like a right-wing revelation in some places. It had definite political relevance, and not always the kind you'd expect from as creative and free-living a character as Meros has been presented as.

“Which current political party offered a solution that was closest to Meros' vision?” I asked.

“Meros would probably say, whatever party Schopenhauer voted for,” replied Meek, adding that Meros was “outside the spectrum” of politics.

Meros/Stevens is apparently not bothered by Meek's exaggerated on-stage interpretation of his personality.
“Richard Meros looks and sounds a lot like me when I play him,” said Meek. “He very much appreciates the work we do, especially since we sell a truckload of his books.”

The impression I got, personally, is that the Meros character is really a bit of a troll who seeks only to goad the public into thinking critically about the issues that confront us on a national level. Pinfield commented that when he and Meek did the play version of On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover, National and Labour voters both interpreted the show as an attack on their political sympathies- it seems to me that this is about what Meros is aiming for.

Perhaps I should stop trying to dissect Meros. Perhaps it's impossible. But like his work, it sure is fun!