Saturday, April 21, 2018

Seven Deadly Stunts

Back to Circa for another Thursday night outing and this time it’s comedy magic duo David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache, aka Rollicking Entertainment. We saw them last year when they brought us Mr and Mrs Alexander: Sideshows and Psychics, so when we saw them on the schedule it was a no-brainer.

This week also sees the short-lived Wellington Night Noodle Markets, whereby various eateries set up mobile kitchens in Frank Kitts Park (not Waitangi Park) and sell foods of various Asian cuisines to the thronging hordes. And throng they did on the opening Thursday night, so we had to queue for a bit before getting pork belly and mushroom skewers from Hot Sauce, followed by chicken crepes from Mr. Circle. We had enough time left over to get to Circa Theatre and get a beverage before the show.

Seven Deadly Stunts opened on Wednesday, and this second night was a sell-out. We were in the second row, and firmly in the centre, so thought ourselves safe from being called out onto the stage to participate, as we had been last year. We got away with it! For reasons I can barely fathom, I don’t appear to have blogged about last year’s show, so I’ll just provide you with a quick update. David and Lizzie are fans of old-fashioned vaudeville, sideshow magic, and do tricks based on the old shows…whilst also providing us with some of the history and explanation of those shows and the people involved in them.

This year’s show does exactly what it says on the tin: they perform seven stunts, with a bit of explanation, audience participation, and comedy thrown in to help. As there’s no actual plot, it’s not like I’m revealing spoilers if I tell you what the stunts are, so here goes:

To begin with, we all stood up and played a game of upstairs, downstairs: this is basically heads or tails, and allowed, after eight rounds, one audience member to be selected as the “volunteer” for the next trick:

Russian Roulette: regrettably(!) the Health and Safety wonks won’t allow them to perform this trick with guns and live ammo any more, so instead they use industrial-strength staplers – the kind used by carpet-layers to, er, lay carpets. One was loaded with staples in front of the audience, then they were placed in a bag and jumbled up. The volunteer had to pick them out, one at a time, and staple David on various places on his hand, arm, and body. Obviously, as she picked each one out and it turned out to be empty, the chances of a loaded stapler increased. After five empty staplers had been discharged, David took the sixth one and stapled a flyer to a block of wood as a souvenir, and handed it to her.

Walking On Broken Glass: Next up, to the strains of Annie Lennox, Lizzie walked barefoot across some broken wine bottles that had been arranged on a tarpaulin on the stage. As she reached the end, she carefully cleaned the sole of each foot with a brush, to ensure no bits of glass remained. She then laid her face sideways on the broken glass, and David stood on the other side of her face.

Straitjacket: This one is literally straight out of Houdini: Lizzie was tied in a straitjacket, then wrapped in chains and padlocks. A screen was raised around her for the first part of the escape – from the chains – so we couldn’t see how it was done. The escape from the straitjacket, however, was performed in front of the audience with no screen. If you’ve ever seen Lethal Weapon 2, you’ll know how this is done.

Juggling Chainsaws: Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So, to make it a bit harder, instead of juggling three chainsaws, which are all the same size and shape, David decided to juggle three objects of different size and shape – a chainsaw, an apple, and a bowling ball. First, he positioned three stunt apples on the stage. To demonstrate that it was a proper bowling ball, he dropped the ball onto stunt apple #1 (it splattered satisfactorily). To prove it was a real chainsaw, he placed stunt apple #2 in his mouth, and chopped it in half with the chainsaw. If that’s not enough, whilst juggling the apple, bowling ball and chainsaw, he took a bite out of the apple and threw it into a bucket held by Lizzie.

Whipcracking: David gave us an explanation of whipcracking, the different types of whipcrack, the science behind it, and a bit of history about Wild Bill Hickok and his travelling shows, before demonstrating the different whipcracks, using the whip to break some roses held by Lizzie...held between the teeth, and other areas. David quipped that although it was dangerous for Lizzie, it was even more dangerous for himself as he was married to her!

Nail In A Bag: Another very straightforward trick, this one, but one that has gone horribly wrong on many an occasion. They revealed a small screen and projected onto it a brief compilation of incidences of this trick going wrong…the audience were invited to look away if they were squeamish. They also told us this trick is so dangerous, it’s been banned by the Magic Circle… "but that’s OK, we’re not members!” (It’s not and it isn’t, in case you’re wondering.)

Fire Eating: The grand finale was some tricks with fire, including eating it. Given their use of fire, I assume that their arms, hands and legs are completely hair-free. (If they weren’t before, they are now!) The major problem with fire-eating is how yucky the low-temperature fuel compound tastes.

And that’s all, folks! If it doesn’t sound like much, don’t worry, as we got a full 90 minutes’ entertainment with all the jokes, exposition and history thrown in. They came out for a bow, and off home we went.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Lie

Now that Winter Is Coming, Thursday night is once more theatre night, and we are looking forward to the 2018 season at Circa Theatre. This week, we went to see The Lie, a new (for New Zealand) play by French playwright Florian Zeller. He was the man who also brought us The Father, which we saw last November. His other plays include The Mother and The Truth. I’m detecting a theme here.

Circa Theatre has recently rebuilt and upgraded their café and foyer, so as we had a 6:30 start I thought it would be prudent not to stray too far from the environs, and we opted to give the new café a try. I had the slow-cooked beef stew and Nicola had the halloumi. The stew was of the “I could do this better at home” variety, unfortunately…they should have taken the opportunity to upgrade their menu (and possibly chef) at the same time. Ah well, lesson learnt.

The play centres on two couples: Paul and Alice, and their friends Michel and Laurence. On the eve of a dinner party, Alice confides to her husband that she saw Michel kissing an unknown woman on the street earlier in the day, and she wants to cancel the party as she feels uncomfortable knowing this and concealing the truth from Laurence. But they’re too late, and the doorbell rings. The dinner party is excruciating, as Alice leads them all through a hypothetical “what would you do if…?” based on what she’d seen earlier.

The play has been criticised as contrived, and some even question the necessity for the final scene (as you should have worked out what was going on by then anyway). Nevertheless, we enjoyed it (simple souls that we are). It starred the usual suspects from the Wellington scene – Gavin Rutherford, Andrew Foster, and Bronwyn Turei are regularly seen at Circa, whilst Claire Dougan as Alice is a rarer bird.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Blimey! I’ve left this one a while! We went to see Switzerland at Circa last month. This is one of the theatre’s headline plays for the beginning of 2018. It’s an imagining of the final days of Patricia Highsmith, celebrated author of The Talented Mr Ripley, and even more celebrated pain in the arse.

As the Entertainment book year draws to a close, I scanned the app to see what we still had outstanding, and found, to my surprise, that we’d not used the Zibibbo discount. That’s easily rectified, and I booked us in for dinner. As usual, the food was up to standard, and also as usual, the maitre d’ recognised us but couldn’t remember our names. His is Gareth. I think.

The play is a two-hander, featuring two old hands from Circa, Catherine Downes as Highsmith and Simon Leary as Edward Ridgeway. Edward has been sent by her publisher to see the reclusive Highsmith in her retreat in Switzerland, to try and cajole a last Ripley book out of her. In fact, he volunteered for the job, as he’s a huge fan. Naturally, Highsmith takes exception to him, her publishers, and the world in general, and tries to throw him out. Although at first he seems pretty weedy, he eventually shows himself to be made of sterner stuff and makes a deal with Highsmith, which allows him to stay overnight.

Spoilers? You want spoilers? OK, it turns out that all is not quite as it seems. Well, duh! As the scenes change, Ridgeway grows in confidence, and this is reflected in his better sartorial sense with each change – from dowdy New York publisher-nerd to dapper confidence trickster. By the end, he is getting the better of Highsmith in their verbal duelling, and this leads to the final denouement. Which I won’t spoil.

A jolly fun night out, go see it if you get a chance.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Waiheke Island

We made a day trip to Waiheke when we were in Auckland for Christmas 2015, and decided this time to have a longer stay, and hire a car rather than rely on the somewhat infrequent bus service around the island. We caught the ferry over, and called our car hire company, Waiheke Island Motors. Which turned out to be a guy calling himself Julian, although I suspect he was probably Juliano, as he looked and talked South American.

Julian directed us to a rather old Nissan Maxima which was, frankly, in a bit of a state. None of the big car hire companies operate on Waiheke, as it’s too small, and there are just a couple of local operators with a fleet of ageing vehicles. This particular one had the seat adjustment bar broken off completely, so I couldn’t move it back at all, and spent the weekend driving around like an idiot with my knees up by my elbows.

Nevertheless, we set off and found our accommodation in Onetangi easily enough. We had time for a quick check-in before setting out for the evening’s dinner, at The Shed at Te Motu, a vineyard that we’d noticed passing on the way in. It was about five minutes’ drive away. They were doing a set four-course dinner with wine matches, and it was all very tasty and well presented. The wine waiter was a Californian chap called Brian, and he was very knowledgeable about the wines he was serving, which included a 1999 Te Motu – a blend of cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc. Not one that is normally available to the public, so I made the most of it.

The next day we set out early for the beach and a morning swim, before heading to breakfast at Charlie Farley’s, one of two cafés on the waterfront. We weren’t in a massive hurry as most vineyards don’t open until about 11am, so after a leisurely start we drove round to Passage Rock vineyard, which is nestled above a little bay on the south of the island. Unfortunately there’s no access to the sea as it’s all cliffs round that side of the island. We tasted several wines and chatted with the winemaker, an English woman who’d lived and worked in France before moving to New Zealand. We discussed England and cheese, especially the unavailability of certain varieties. The wines were very good, as they are the most awarded winery on the island – in retrospect, it may have been a mistake to start there!   

We hung around at Passage Rock taking photos, as the next winery on our itinerary didn’t open until 12. It wasn’t a long drive to Poderi Crisci, which, as you might guess from the name, is an Italian-influenced vineyard, growing some varietals which aren’t available anywhere else in New Zealand – such as Arneis, which has a smell like burnt matches or gunpowder, and is supposedly very good with fruit. We didn’t have any fruit. An acquired taste, no doubt, and probably needs to be served in the right setting to get people to properly appreciate it. The tasting room, La Locanda, is separate from the Italian restaurant, which was soon filling up to bursting, as it was a sunny Sunday lunchtime. We left them to it, and drove to Casito Miro, another European-inspired vineyard that we’d visited last time we were on Waiheke. They were full too, but managed to get us a table after a 10-minute wait. We had a lunch of tapas there, but, given the crowds, decided not to try their wines again. I seem to recall from last time that their tasting is a bit desultory as well, with no real opportunity to discuss the wines with the maker, so I didn’t feel we were missing out.

After a hard morning’s tasting we decided to head back to Onetunga for a relaxing afternoon.

We still haven’t been to all the wineries on Waiheke, so next year we’re planning to do two Shakespeares and spend more time on the island in between.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Julia Caesar

The Pop-up Globe is open for business in Auckland again this year, and we decided to visit and make a long weekend of it. We’d originally planned to see The Comedy Of Errors, but there were only three shows, all mid-week. We revised our plans in consultation with Nicola’s hectic chorus diary, and decided on Julius Caesar on a Saturday matinee showing.

We flew up on Friday and spent the day in Auckland, taking a walk around the preparations for the Volvo Round The World yacht race, which was due to have a stop in Auckland starting that weekend. However, due to no wind last week, they were stuck at sea, and, at time of writing, had still not arrived. They are now expected on Wednesday 28th.

In the evening we went out to a restaurant called One Tree Grill near Cornwall Park, which contains One Tree Hill. I see what you did there. They have a wine cellar with a glass ceiling, which forms the floor of the bar area of the restaurant, so you walk over it and look down as you enter the place. They did good modern food to the required standard, although I was a little confused at the end when they asked if we’d like to tip our waiter, as we seemed to have been served by the entire staff of the restaurant throughout the meal…so which was “our” waiter?

The following morning we breakfasted at Imperial Lane café, a bit of a favourite of ours when we visit Auckland. We had a bit of time before heading out to Ellerslie race course, so we took in the Maritime Museum for an hour or so. Luckily we’d left plenty of time to get to the globe, as there was a bus replacement service for the first two stops of our journey, which turned a 10 minute trip into a half hour. We arrived and got ourselves a cheese platter and some wine for lunch – once again sponsored by Marisco wines, so I had  King’s Bastard chardonnay.

Julius Caesar is one of the most performed Shakespeare plays. How to freshen it up? Why, role reversal, of course! All the males are played by women, and the two women’s roles (Porsche and Lamborghini…no, wait, Portia and Calpurnia) are played by men. They were rather overegging it by having them dressed in sackcloth and having their hands chained. The text needed to be changed quite a it too, to accommodate the reversal, although they kept “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”; nor did they feminise the names. Other than that, they stuck resolutely to the script, although some lines were missed. (notably “the ides of March have come”…why cut that?) We were seated in a royal box on the mid level, so were directly over the stage on the right. As usual, the arena was full of “groundlings”, who were, presumably, warned about the possibility of being splashed with blood, as the gore was distributed liberally during the various stabbings, spraying out into the audience.

We’d been in a bit of a quandary about our luggage, which we’d left at the apartments where we stayed on Friday night: the manager said he’d be closing the front desk at 5pm and we needed to be back before then to reclaim our bags. The play was scheduled to finish at 4:15 so we thought it might be a bit tight. We’d booked a taxi to pick us up fro the racecourse and whisk us back to the apartment. As it turned out, though, the play was all over by 3:45, and we found a taxi waiting, and got back in plenty of time. We then walked round to the ferry terminal and set out for Waiheke Island.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Comedy Of Errors

Wellington Summer Shakespeare has been running for many years now. We’ve been going to see their productions for the last three of those, including All’s Well That Ends Well last year, and Love’s Labour's Lost the year before. The venue has also been a bit of a moveable feast as well – this year they’ve moved from the Civic Square location of last year to the Reading Car Park. I guess it’s all a matter of logistics and money? The Reading car park, a former multi-storey affair that was pulled down after the Kaikoura earthquake damaged it irreparably, is an unlikely venue for Shakespeare…but what the hell. We went.

I’d booked us a matinee performance on Sunday, so we headed into town in time to find a parking space and walk around to the venue. Nicola had been busy officiating at the Round The Bays half-marathon earlier in the day, but we had plenty of time. The seating was arranged in the corner of the carpark – thankfully shaded, as the temperature is back to summer again. We took our seats in the fourth row, and waited for the comedy to begin.

The Comedy Of Errors centres around two twin brothers, not quite separated at birth but certainly at a very young age, and their manservants – also twins. To confuse matters further, both sets of twins share the same names, Antipholus (the protagonists) and Dromio (the servants). When Antipholus of Syracuse arrives at Ephesus, he has no knowledge that his brother has lived there for a number of years…with hilarious consequences.

The cast are a mixture of experienced and new actors, some of whom we’ve seen in various productions at Circa and BATS through the years. At various points they ad-libbed – when a motorcycle went past, or a helicopter landed at the nearby heliport on the dockside – which helped things along. It was a comedy; it contained errors; but, as is usual in Shakespeare comedies, it all ended well.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Caps vs. England

On the final day of Andrew and Zoe’s visit, we went to see the Black Caps play England in the tri-nation T20 competition. Firstly we got them all packed up and ready to go, as we’d be dropping them at the youth hostel for their final night in Wellington, because they had an early start for their the following morning.

The match was played at Westpac Stadium, so we parked up near parliament and walked to the stadium, getting there with about 20 minutes to spare. Our seats were up in the nosebleed section, but we had a good view as we were almost square on to the pitch.

New Zealand lost the toss and were put in to bat by England. They duly started putting on the runs, with good innings by Guptill (65) and Williamson (72). De Grandhomme was promoted up the order to bat at 4, as he’s known to be able to put on a lot of runs in a short period. He came in when Guptill failed to reach the boundary with another attempted 6, and was promptly out first ball. Despite this, and with Williamson holding it together for the 4th wicket stand, they reached 196,  which looked like a defensible total. In T20 these days you need to be up around the 200 mark to feel safe!

England came out swinging, and despite the early loss of Roy at 14/1, they kept up with the run rate for most of the match. Unfortunately they leaked wickets - although not as much as we'd have liked, with two dropped catches - and when down into the lower order batsmen, the total started looking less achievable; in particular when Trent Boult came in for his second spell and started cleaning out the tail-enders. They needed 25 from the final two overs, which is not impossible in T20. But it proved too much for the remaining batsmen, and they eventually fell short by 12 runs, handing victory to the Black Caps.

We drove back to the youth hostel and dropped off Andrew and Zoe, first making sure that they had beds for the night! That ended their adventure with us in Wellington, and they caught the ferry the next day to continue in Abel Tasman, West Coast, Kaikoura and Queenstown.