Saturday, June 24, 2017

Three Days In The Country

Another week, another excursion to the theatre. This time we’re off to see something serious…

Three Days In The Country is a new adaptation by Patrick Marber – best known for Closer – based on Turgenev’s classic A Month In The Country. I assume you’re all familiar with this? No? Me neither. However it is described as being Chekhovian, despite being written some 40 years before Chekhov hit his stride.

Years ago, we visited Two Souls Bistro on Wakefield Street. It was reasonably good, but uninspiring, standard bistro fare. Unsurprisingly, with the way that the Wellington food scene has moved on, it’s fallen somewhat out of favour, and closed last year. The site has now reopened as Vee N Zed, a New Zealand/Vietnamese fusion restaurant. As is so often the case with new restaurants, there’s a special offer on GrabOne to try and entice people into their new place. We were duly enticed – helped by a fairly positive write-up from David Burton a couple of weeks ago.

Whilst it calls itself a fusion restaurant, the two cuisines rarely meet – there’s either Kiwi classics or Vietnamese food on offer. Since its opening they seem to have largely ditched the Kiwi in favour of the Vietnam, and now only two fundamentally Kiwi dishes remain. As these were specifically excluded by our GrabOne deal, I ignored them, and instead had a reasonably good Vietnamese meal. They were prompt about dishing it up, too, which suited our purpose admirably. We were able to nonchalantly stroll up the road to Circa Theatre in time for the play to begin.

Three Days In the Country may have had its title shortened from A Month… but that doesn’t seem to have shortened the play. This is presumably part of the reason for the early start. Unlike most productions in Wellington, this one has a full cast of 14 characters, so at first it was a little confusing trying to determine who was who in relation to the main characters. It soon became clear, though. The casting included a number of Wellington favourites who we’ve seen in many a production over the years – I guess the number of actors able and willing to make a living from stage acting in Wellington is not high. Unlike the UK, New Zealand doesn’t have the critical mass to support a celebrity culture of soap stars, TV actors and the like to boost the popularity of shows. Nor do shows hang around in the style of the West End – they’re put on for a month at the most. Gavin Rutherford, Andrew Paterson and Harriet Prebble are all mainstays of Wellington theatre.

The play follows the relationships of the Islaev family and household in the Russian countryside. Everyone, it seems, is in love with the wrong person and (spoiler alert) it ends badly for most of them. As Patrick Marber put it, "not much happens but everything happens". It was all expertly done and thoroughly enjoyable. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It's A Kinda Magic

Can a tribute act ever be as good as the real thing? There is any number of tribute acts to bands that have either stopped performing due to break-up or death. But what about bands where the main performer has died, but other members of the band carry on?

Queen continue to perform as Queen + Adam Lambert, an admission that Adam Lambert isn’t really part of the group. But with only the guitarist and drummer, are Queen really Queen? Freddie Mercury was, of course, the flamboyant front man, but both Brian May and Roger Taylor are noted performers and solo artists in their own right. (John Deacon has not performed with the rest of Queen, other than the tribute concert in 1992.)

But there are numerous Queen tribute acts doing the rounds. One, an Australian outfit styling themselves Queen: It’s A Kinda Magic, are currently touring New Zealand. I was in two minds about whether to go…but then an offer came up for cut-price tickets on GrabOne, so I bought them.

The main premise of their act is to recreate the 1986 Magic Tour. As you may know, I went to two concerts on this tour, at Knebworth Park and Wembley Stadium, so I am uniquely placed to judge their performance.

But first, dinner. We’ve not been to Jano Bistro in a while, so as the show wasn’t starting until 8pm, we thought we’d take it in. Jano specialise in offering a very short menu (usually 3 entrées and 4 mains), and then do the main ingredient in as many ways as possible. We shared the entrée platter (a taste of each of the three entrées – rabbit roulade, smoked eel and goat cheese with beetroot) before choosing the duck and king salmon mains. I’m pleased to report that the quality remains as high as ever – the nut-encrusted salmon was cooked sous-vide and was delicious. We considered the desserts but frankly, we were too full, so skipped straight to coffee and tea before making our way to the Opera House.

“I hope you’re not going to spend the whole evening carping at the historical inaccuracies” said Nicola, so let me get all the carping out at the beginning. OK, it’s not an exact recreation of the Queen concert…firstly, because they only have 2 hours to do it in, where the original was substantially longer. They’ve changed up the order, and left out all the non-Queen songs, natch. They also put in two songs which weren’t recorded at that time – Headlong and I Want It All, from The Miracle – presumably because they just like those songs. Oh, the historical inaccuracy!

Other than that, though, they did a passable imitation of Queen. The main man, Giles Taylor, was convincing as Mercury, and the other musicians were also competent, if not exactly the spit of the original members. Giles Taylor has put in a lot of work with Peter Freestone, long-time friend of Freddie Mercury, into getting the stage movements and gestures just right.

The next problem facing them was that the Opera House is a sit-down venue. He was successful at getting everyone standing and singing along for most of the anthemic stadium-rock songs. It is a feature of Queen concerts that the fans do know the words to all of the songs, and will happily sing along – even when they try and confuse us by delving deep into the back catalogue and offer up an album track from Sheer Heart Attack.

 At the end of the show, they all came to the front of the stage (Roger with a footpedal bass drum) to perform ’39, and Don’t Stop Me Now, before ending with the obligatory God Save The Queen. Overall, a very good show. It’s not Queen, but is it the next best thing?  

Monday, June 12, 2017

White Man Behind A Desk

The comedy festival is over, but parts of it keep popping up for a second go. White Man Behind A Desk won the best newcomer (Wellington) award, and as such was given a second run at a larger venue. One of my colleagues had seen the show during the festival and recommended it, so when I saw it was on at Circa, I booked tickets.

And a good job I did, as this run was also sold out in pretty short order.

A half past seven start gave us plenty of time to explore dining options, and those nice people at GrabOne duly obliged by promoting a special offer at Pravda, which we took full advantage of. We then walked down the road to Circa, arriving just in the nick of time to claim our seats.

White Man Behind A Desk is a satirical show, where Robbie Nicol attempts to solve some of the problems facing New Zealand, and the world. At first we thought it was going to be a right-on, tedious, leftie actually attempting do this, but he very quickly subverts the genre. He sits behind a desk and talks to camera, which is then projected onto the screen at the back of the stage. The first problem to be solved, as a warm-up for the audience, is World Hunger. “What should we do about world hunger?” he asked the audience. “Food?” came a querulous reply. “FOOD! Yes! Problem solved!” and the post-it note with World Hunger on it was quickly dispatched to the dustbin labelled “Solved”.

The show is managed by the First AD with a rod of iron. He is of a type that is probably familiar to all who work in TV or film, and really doesn’t give a shit what Robbie says or does as long as he does it from the right place. At one point, Robbie tries to get the cameraman to film, and 1st AD comes down on him hard. “You don’t tell him when to roll. I tell him when to roll”. Looks at cameraman. “…roll”.

The show descends into farce when their first special guest is a no-show, but fortunately they have a back-up in the form of Gareth Morgan. Morgan is world-famous in New Zealand for his opinions about cats. After some failed attempts at how to film him in the same frame as Robbie, he’s left standing on his own on the stage whilst Robbie goes out to try and find a chair for him. They play Pictionary. Robbie wins.

The rest of the show rapidly gets out of hand as they run out of time and realise that they haven’t actually solved any issues yet. Robbie starts handing out topics to various members of the audience and gets them to record their discussions on their phones. As you can imagine, this is somewhat chaotic and leads to the end of the show. I won’t spoil the surprise.

You can see the sort of things that he discusses on the Youtubes here: 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Basement Tapes

We haven’t been to BATS to see a theatre show in a long while, so I thought I’d check out what was on. There were a couple of things that caught my eye, one of which was The Basement Tapes. This has nothing to do with Bob Dylan, and everything to do with a cassette player.

But first, dinner. It’s a new year in the world of Entertainment, and we decided to revisit The Tasting Room, as they have, on their menu, beef Wellington. And you can’t beat eating beef Wellington in Wellington. We should probably have worn wellingtons to complete the experience. The Wellingtons come as individually baked servings and are pretty well executed. We also started with another Seventies classic, cheese fondue, to share. How retro are we?

We walked around the corner to the theatre. I’d left the tickets behind in my desk drawer (again) but fortunately had the email on my phone, which proved sufficient. BATS need to get with the program and do electronic ticketing!

The Basement Tapes is effectively a solo performance, augmented with an uncredited delivery guy and the disembodied voice from the tape recorder. The show starts ordinarily enough, with a telephoned pizza order for a vegan pizza. Then the scene is set as a young woman appears in the junk in the basement of her deceased grandmother’s home, and it is apparent that she’s there to sort out the junk, and dispose of it how she sees fit. A lot of it is being thrown out until she finds an old-fashioned tape recorder of the variety that we used to have in the 1970s, and also a box of old tapes. Selecting one at random, she starts to play it, and her grandmother’s voice comes out. Naturally, this scares the shit out of her. What follows is a quasi-dialogue between the unnamed protagonist and her grandmother/the tape recorder. The pizza delivery person makes his delivery but it turns out that he, too, is not what he appears. How much is real, and how many of the people involved in the story are alive, or dead, or fictional, is not made clear. It is all very spooky and atmospheric, and the final revelation makes it all very weird. I need to watch it again to figure out what it was all about!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Olive Copperbottom

As the comedy festival comes to a close, we took in our last show of the festival. Again, a performer that we’d seen before, in the shape of Penny Ashton. Last year we saw her produce Promise and Promiscuity, in collaboration with Jane Austen. This time round, she’d teamed up with Charles Dickens to create a new musical, Olive Copperbottom.

We went to dinner first at Portlander. This is the (mainly) steak restaurant in the Wellington Rydges hotel, and I’ve been there a couple of times before and found their burgers to be tasty during WOAP. In the evening they’re a bit pricey, but we were armed with our Entertainment discount to bring things down to a more manageable level. The food was good (but not brilliant) and the service distinctly dodgy. And I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks this place has gone downhill somewhat. I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to go back.

Olive Copperbottom is a one-woman show performed at the Circa Theatre. The evening’s audience was a little on the small side, and we were encouraged to sit in the first two rows of the smaller, Circa 2, auditorium. No matter. We were in the front row, and were often called upon to respond, although (fortunately) not to actively participate in the show. The story revolves around orphan Olive and her adventures in the orphanage, her career on the stage after leaving said orphanage, and the discovery of who she really is. In this respect, very much like a lot of Dickens’ other plots. Naturally, there’s singing and dancing, and topical references thrown in for good measure. The characters’ names also follow Dickensian tradition, with Mrs. Scabbybits being a particular standout.

At the end of the show she exhorted us to tell all our friends about it, and also publicised her fridge magnets for sale in the foyer (“you’ll have to walk past me to get out”, she told us). But we didn’t need the hard sell as wanted them anyway, to add to our collection from last year.

Penny is taking Promise And Promiscuity to the UK later in the year, so all my UK readers (both of you) please take a look at her website and see if there’s a show near you! If you’re a Londoner (and maybe it’s because I am one), then the Greenwich Theatre is the place to go.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Tessa Waters Over Promises

The Comedy Festival Greatest Hits rolls on, and for part two of Wednesday night’s entertainment, we went to see Tessa Waters Over Promises. Last year, we saw Tessa on a windswept, rainy night at the Fringe Bar, in the company of maybe a dozen other people. Tonight, however, she was at the Propeller Stage in the BATS Theatre, and it was fully booked.

One of the features of Tessa’s shows is audience participation. To prepare ourselves fully, we selected seats in mid-row, where we were unlikely to be called out and onto the stage. Sure enough, she restricted her victims to front- and second-row audience members, and those on the ends of the rows. Phew! No need to get up and waltz this time!

Her show followed a similar format to last time, but with new moves: a mix of comedy, dance, exercise, and mime. She got an audience member to mime throwing her some mime hula hoops, then mimed hula hooping. This is actually funnier than it sounds. In fact, the whole show had us in stitches. At the end, she got everyone to shout out body parts for her to do a dance with, then put the whole thing together into one ensemble dance…then got everyone to stand up and do the dance with her. There’s just no getting away from that audience participation.

It is a bizarre performance, but it’s also very uplifting and feelgood. I don’t think she over promises at all.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hand To God

We’re doubling up on the entertainment tonight, with a double bill starting at 6:30 at Circa Theatre and a performance of Hand To God, followed by another of NZ Comedy Festival’s Greatest Hits, a return to see what Tessa Waters has been up to in the year since we saw her last.

The first item to be dealt with was, of course, dinner. With an early start we couldn’t go anywhere too swanky, so decided to go to for a curry at Great India. We haven’t been there for a while and they’re a reliable all-purpose Indian restaurant.

Hand To God is a puppet show. Wait, what? Didn’t you just go to a puppet show? Why yes we did, and thank you for remembering. That was a ventriloquism show, though, whereas this is more a glove puppet show – like the muppets. But not like the muppets, in that the content is considerably darker. And it’s on during the comedy festival. Indeed, it is advertised on the comedy festival’s website as a show to go and see. So we went.

Hand To God isn’t a comedy show. OK, it has its blackly comedic moments, but mostly it’s a show about death, grief, coming of age, child abuse and religion. With puppets. Sounds like a bundle of laughs!

The action centres on a puppet club in the basement of a church in a small town in Texas. These are a thing in America, apparently. Americans are weird. Margery, recently widowed, has been asked to run the puppet club, whose members include her son, Jason. His puppet, Tyrone, becomes possessed by the devil, and high jinks ensue. The puppet says the things that Jason can’t say, to the girl he fancies in the club, to his mother, and to club delinquent Timothy. Jason tries to “kill” the puppet, but it comes back to life, and it’s not until he’s dealt with his feelings about his mother that he can finally remove the puppet from his hand. As I said, it’s not a comedy.