Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Venus In Fur

Circa Theatre, you are really spoiling us with these Ferrero Rocher current productions! Hot on the heels of The Father, along comes Venus In Fur, a two-hander by David Ives. It’s been around since 2010 and has been performed around the world, as well as adapted to a film by Roman Polanski.

As summer is almost upon us, we felt it was high time we revisited Whitebait, on the waterfront. Whitebait is one of Wellington’s premier seafood restaurants, but suffers from an unfortunate location. Ostensibly high-end real estate on Clyde Quay Wharf, it features floor-to-ceiling windows which make it into a greenhouse on summer evenings, as it catches the sun all afternoon and evening. We were first in, as we had to get to the show, so were able to select a table in the shade (they originally wanted to put us in the window). The seafood was excellent as usual, and we had time for a dessert as well, which was also good. We then made the short walk across to Circa with plenty of time to spare.

Venus In Fur is a play within a play, a two-hander about a playwright adapting and directing the 19th century novel, Venus In Furs, by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch – the man who brought us the word Masochism. In fact, this is the book that inspired the term. The play revolves around an actress auditioning for the role, and gradually reversing the power dynamic between director and actress as the plot develops. Whilst at the beginning she makes mistakes and admits to only having glanced through the text”, by the middle of the play it’s clear that not only is she very familiar with both the original work and the playwright’s reworking, she also has (gasp!) opinions about it. At the end you’re left asking whether that was even a real actress? Or was that the embodiment of Venus, returning to Earth?

Great fun, and if you get a chance to see it, do so.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Brian Cox

Brian Cox, famous telly scientist and presenter, has been touring with his talk on astrophysics and related subjects for the last year and a half. This spring, he brought it to New Zealand.

Tor had organised the tickets, and after a careful inspection and confirmation that the venue was indeed the TSB Arena, we decided on Shed 5 as a mutually satisfactory dinner venue. We rocked up early at 5:45, in time to have a cocktail before the usual fine seafood fare on offer. I had a crab and lobster tian followed by groper, and Nicola had bruschettas with salmon and tuna, followed by seafood risotto. We didn’t have time to hang around for a dessert as they’d been a bit tardy in bringing out the mains, so we then crossed over the square to join the queue to enter the venue.

Brian Cox came on stage, and introduced his subject. He’s a polished performer, clearly used to public speaking, and gave a clear introduction to his talk, before getting into the meat of it. In this he was assisted by his co-presenter of The Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince, who provided some comic relief in between the serious bits. Robin Ince, you’ll remember, was the presenter of Cosmic Shambles which we saw earlier this year. Get us with the science-y stuff!

The talk ranged from Einstein’s theory of relativity, and how it is the basis of modern cosmology, to recent discoveries about planets and moons in our solar system, including the Ice Fountains of Enceladus (sounds very sci-fi), which houses conditions found in the early development of Earth around the time that life began here. Other subjects included the fate of the sun in the far future, the Crab nebula, and the length of time it will take for the universe to finally suffer heat death (don’t worry, it’s a long way off). After the break, he took questions from the audience, which had been submitted by twitter or the old-fashioned way, on pieces of card. These ranged from “What’s your favourite planet?” (this one) to “How far will the James Webb telescope be able to see into the past?” (all the way).

All fascinating stuff, and with digressions into philosophy and the nature of science – such as how he has to modify this talk as the science has changed since he started. He manages to explain complex scientific concepts without dumbing it down or patronising the audience. And he didn't mention D-ream once. A very enjoyable evening!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Father

The Father is a play originally written in French by Florian Zeller in 2012 as, unsurprisingly, Le Père. It is translated into English, and performed at the Circa Theatre. The cast contains a bunch of the usual Wellington acting mafia - Gavin Rutherford, Harriet Prebble, Bronwyn Turei and Simon Leary; with the lead roles played by Jeffrey Thomas and Danielle Mason. The play deals with dementia, as the central character tries to deal with what seem to be – to him and to us, the audience – a series of confusing vignettes.

The central premise of the story seems to be that André, suffering from dementia, is resisting having a carer in his Paris flat, provided by his daughter Anne. Anne no longer has the time or resilience to deal with her father’s illness, and wants to move to London with her lover, Pierre. Or does she? Is this all just part of a plan to get André out of his flat and into a home, so she can have the flat? As the scenes come and go, the same characters are played by different actors, and given different names, which adds to the confusion. Over time, the appearance of the flat and furniture also changes – has he moved in with Anne? Some of the scenes are replayed, sometimes exactly, sometimes subtly differently. Time doesn’t move in the linear fashion we take for granted. As André’s world closes in the furnishings and décor of the flat become a uniform grey, as one by one, the pictures and furniture disappear. The fate of Anne’s sister, Elise – referred to throughout, but never seen onstage – is also gradually revealed.  The play gives a sense of isolation and also the antagonism of André, as he is determined that the world is conspiring against him.

There is no tidy ending, no denouement. It ends with a whimper, rather than a bang.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kings Of The Wild Frontier

Adam Ant is touring Australia and New Zealand. Wait, WHAT? Adam Ant? Of COURSE I’m going to see him!

Nicola is currently on a World Tour of Las Vegas with her adopted chorus the Waikato Rivertones, so I arranged to go with Tor instead. I made a cunning plan to park up at the far end of town, and booked a table at the conveniently-placed Foxglove bar and restaurant at the waterfront, where I met Tor and Gavin for dinner beforehand. Pork belly followed by a chocolate crepe, since you ask…very nice too.

We then walked around the corner to the conveniently-placed TSB Bank Arena. There was a suspicious lack of activity at the doors, and, as we approached, they failed to open. A quick check of the tickets showed we had the right date, right time…wrong venue!

D’oh! We should have been at the Opera House! When all else fails, read the instructions. Fortunately Wellington is such a small town that within 10 minutes we were in the correct place, and taking our seats in the circle.

The support act was an Australian singer in the mould of Sheryl Crow or Alanis Morrisette, although with a voice more like Sophie B. Hawkins (so I’m reliably informed). Her name? She didn’t tell us, which is a basic marketing fail on her part. She sang eight songs with her guitar, to almost universal apathy. I mean, we clapped politely, but that was it. A bit of googling in the interval revealed that her name is Diana Anaid. I see what you did there.

And then the main act. On came Adam Ant, and proceeded to play the whole of Kings Of The Wild Frontier,* his seminal 1980 album. In order of the original album, natch, from Dog Eat Dog through to The Human Beings, with its unforgettable “Blackfoot, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Crow, Apache, Arapahoe” chorus. We played this album to death 37 years ago, to the extent that most of the lyrics came back to me and I was able to sing along to nearly all of it. And apart from the obvious singles, there are a lot of other good tracks on this album – Feed Me To The Lions, Killer In the Home, and of course The Human Beings.

Notice anything about the band? That’s right, two drummers. This was part of their original sound, and they’re back with it. At times, actually, there were four drummers, as both guitarists picked up sticks for the beginning of Antmusic, and also provided some additional bass drum from time to time. And with Ant picking up a guitar himself for some songs, they did not make the produced sound you hear from the album – this was big four-guitar-band noise!

At the end of the album, Ant spoke to us for the first time – “Hello, (checks hand) Wellington!” etc. Then they set about the second part of the gig, which was basically a greatest hits plus a few of other songs – he even managed to sneak in, without using the “N” word, some new(-ish) material in the form of Bullshit, from his 2013 album Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter. Which we all bought, right? He also mined Dirk Wears White Sox for Cartrouble, and played Beat My Guest, a bonus track on the cassette (hah! Remember them?) version of KOTWF. Other than that, though, it was songs you know and love, finishing up with an audience-participatory rendition of Stand And Deliver. He then came back out for a three-song encore, starting with Goody Two Shoes, then Fall In, and ending with what was pretty much a heavy metal version of Physical (You’re So), as the guitarist went full Guitar Hero on us.

I left the theatre clutching a tour t-shirt, into a rainy Wellington night. And had to walk the length of Manners Mall and Featherston Street to get back to the car. But worth it, so worth it. If you happen to be near Melbourne on Sunday, I highly recommend going!

* Adam Ant belongs to that select group of human beings who have three ears, like Captain Kirk. In his case, a wild front ear.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong is a play that began its London West End run in 2014, and is now touring New Zealand. It’s playing at the Opera House in Wellington, as well as Christchurch and Auckland. As the title suggests, it does not run smoothly. 

For dinner, we headed to fave haunt Zibbibo for steak and risotto. Tasty grub, as usual.

Now read on for spoiler alerts…

The play centres on The Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society’s production of The Murder At Haversham Manor, a 1920’s murder mystery. It starts with a search for a lost dog, and a stage hand desperately trying (and failing) to fix a mantelpiece on the stage set, before the play opens. The sound technician then makes an appeal to the audience to return a missing personal item if they come across it, as it belongs to him. Then the first-time director comes on stage to introduce the play; due to a large bequest they have rather more funds to stage this play than has been the case in the past, leading to such previous productions as The Lion & The Wardrobe; Cat; and James & The Peach.

Finally, the play opens, with the discovery of the body of Jonathon in his private quarters. He is discovered as he is late for his engagement party, due to take place that evening at Haversham Manor. Immediately, things start to go wrong, largely due to the ineptitude and lack of acting ability of the cast. The backstage crew aren't much better, although the stage manager does sterling work with the candlesticks and later takes a fuller part in the proceedings; and it becomes clear that the sound technician has found his lost item. As the set is also working against them, the actors are forced to improvise in order to continue with the play. The main door, in particular, causes the most problems. Most of the rest of the props also fail, in some cases spectacularly. The cast’s consumption of whisky also leads to much hilarity.

At times, we could hardly hear what the actors were saying, such was the noise of laughter and applause from the audience, following a particularly noteworthy escape from the difficulties imposed by their circumstances. The actors obliged by waiting for us to finish and even repeating lines – something they often had to do anyway, as the next actor missed their cue.

As things go further and further awry, the cast doggedly persist to get through to the end, and the denouement of the murderer.

A jolly night out, catch it if you can!

Friday, September 15, 2017


Wednesday night, and time to swap out our usual quiz night for the opening of a new play in Wellington, Anahera, at Circa Theatre.  

We went for dinner at Field & Green, a restaurant that’s been around for at least a year now but we have so far neglected to try. As part of our “let’s go to different places for a change” I thought we’d give it a go. On a blustery Wednesday evening it was pretty well empty apart from us, largely I guess because of its Wakefield Street location not really being a destination space…I mean, it’s all of two minutes’ walk from Courtenay Place. Maybe it gets busier later on. They do a pre-show menu with two choices of entrée and main, followed by a scoop of their own ice cream or sorbet. I had the beef salad to start while Nicola had the cauliflower soup, then we both had the salmon main course. We had to hurry a little as we were getting dangerously close to the 6:30pm start time, but got out and arrived at Circa just as they were opening the doors.

Anahera is a new play, by actress/writer Emma Kinane. It deals with New Zealand’s “national shame” which is the high levels of child abuse. Instead of taking the easy target, however, the play is set in the middle-class Wellington home of the Hunter family – successful businessman Peter, high-flying civil servant Liz, and their two children Imogen and Harry. It’s not an easy watch, as what appears at first to be a case of a missing 11 year-old boy develops into a darker and more disturbing tale. The play is set in three time periods – when Harry goes missing, when Harry is a grown-up and trying to deal with the consequences of his childhood, and later when the mother is dying. Anahera (which means “Angel”) is the rookie social worker who attends the house scene whilst the police are searching for Harry. Her supervisor has been called away to an emergency so she is left to deal with the family on her own. As she starts to uncover what’s been going on in the house she decides to take a stand.

The cast are all well-known actors – Neill Rea seen most recently in The Brokenwood Mysteries, and Jacqueline Nairn from Shortland Street, as well as A Slightly Isolated Dog stalwart Susie Berry. The main character is played by Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, who we’ve also seen previously several times on stage, and Harry by Simon Leary, recently in Weed, as well as Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and Stage Kiss.

As I said, not an easy play to watch. But all the same, you should.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Morning After

The morning after the concert the night before. Our flight back to Wellington wasn’t until the afternoon, so what to do in Auckland for half a day? We’d done all the touristy things last time we were here (Sky Tower, Kelly Tarlton’s, Waiheke Island) and the weather forecast was a bit iffy so we preferred something indoors, to dodge the showers.

First order of business was to visit something we’d spotted from the windows of Ostro the night before: this is an art installation called The Lighthouse, by Michael Pārekowhai. It consists of a house containing a statue of Captain Cook, with neon lights on the walls. You can look in through the windows and climb the staircase, but you can’t get inside.

After that we went to Newmarket to visit an old house. In Auckland this usually means “built before 1990”, but in this case it’s a Heritage NZ building from the 19th century, called Highwic, and now open to the public. We explored the interior, including the boys’ barracks (dormitory) which was faintly reminiscent of school. The builder and original owner, Alfred Buckland, fathered 21 children with two wives (not simultaneously!), and the house was variously extended to accommodate his family. In a move of striking modernity, it has not one, but two, indoor bathrooms. All very interesting and historical.

We’d dodged the showers, and decided to walk down Newmarket to find something to eat for lunch. Unfortunately there’s not much to appeal on Newmarket’s Broadway, so we continued on to Parnell and found a little café called Biskit which suited our needs.

After picking up our bags from the hotel, we made our way to the airport, ready to head home. The weather was closing in again, so we were looking forward to getting back to the better weather in Wellington. As the plane was climbing out of Auckland, there was a flash and a simultaneous loud bang…the plane had been struck by lightning. We thought no more of it, until the pilot came on the PA to tell us that they’d checked all their systems, all was working fine, but they had nevertheless been instructed to return to Auckland to get the plane fully checked out. At this stage there were a number of groans from the passengers, particularly when we were told that it would take us around 20 minutes to get back. In that time we could almost have been in Wellington!

Back on the ground in Auckland, we waited for further announcements, and were eventually boarded again onto a different plane. We were delayed about two hours in the end, but got home by about 8 pm.