Sunday, December 2, 2018

Puss In Boots

 Christmas is coming…and with it, pantomime season. Normally we shake our heads at the dearth of “proper” plays to see at Circa during the silly season, but this year we decided to embrace our inner villains and go and see the panto. “Oh, no you didn’t!” “Oh, yes we did!”

This year’s offering is Puss In Boots, adapted for a Wellington audience. It starred a number of Circa regulars, including Gavin Rutherford in the role of Mrs Miller, the traditional cross-dressing leading lady. There was the traditional “behind you!” and “Oh, no you didn’t!”, a number of song and dance routines to well-known tunes, and jokes tailored to Kiwi audiences: the Marquis of Makara, a dish of cat-a-tui, dumpster diving in Kelburn.  It was all jolly good fun, and everyone ended up living happily ever after.

As it is ostensibly a kids’ show, it started early at 6:30, so we decided to have dinner afterwards. We went to old favourite Zibibbo, for main courses and pudding. Delicious as always, and long may it remain so…wait…what’s that? Closing?!?! You can’t close!

It’s true. Zibibbo will close at the end of December, for a refit in January, followed by a new concept in February. Watch this space to find out what’s happening to one of our favourite restaurants.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Last year, we went to see The Play That Goes Wrong. We enjoyed it immensely, so when it was announced that Peter Pan Goes Wrong would be coming to Wellington, we booked it straight away. A play which often involves people flying about the stage on wires? What could possibly go wrong with that?

First, dinner, and I’ve been pestered by various websites to which I subscribe, to try the new restaurant, Spring Kitchen, in Wellington’s new Hilton hotel. This is on a landmark site, in what used to be known as the Harcourts building or T&G building. This building has been quite troublesome for the owner, as it’s a heritage building so couldn’t be bulldozed, as he wanted. Following the Seddon earthquake of 2013, the building was assessed for earthquake safety and found wanting. It was abandoned by its former tenants – various government agencies – and stood empty for a long while, until the agreement with Hilton which included strengthening and refurbishment. The restaurant, Spring Kitchen, is a modern Indian fusion restaurant, of the style championed by Chetan Pangam at 180° restaurant in the Copthorne on Oriental Parade for many years now. I had a chilli tandoori salmon followed by a steak with masala kale and mash; while Nicola had the mushroom cappuccino followed by tandoori chicken cannelloni. You get the idea. It was good, but if we hadn’t been on a special offer I don’t think I’d have paid those prices.

Down the road, then, to the Opera House, and we took our seats for the performance. We were taking bets on what would be the first thing to go wrong…this turned out to be an electrical explosion when the narrator was exiting the stage after the introduction. The play follows a fairly predictable format: things start to go wrong with the set almost immediately, and the cast start to improvise to get around the problems. SPOILER ALERT: Peter Darling attempts to hang his jacket on a coat hook on the door, only to find that it’s not real, but painted on. The electrical set which revolves, and the fireworks used for special effects, are particularly problematical, as are the props, sound effects and recordings used during the performance…the spoon causes particular issues.


As the play progresses, things get worse: one of the actors, the daughter of the director, is chronically stage-shy, but is forced on anyway. She ends up with a broken leg after a piece of scenery falls on her, but returns from hospital in the second act with a cast on, only to suffer further calamities, eventually finishing the play in a wheelchair. With hilarious consequences! When Tinkerbell is accidentally electrocuted, the cast immediately look for the first-aider, who, it turns out, is…Tinkerbell. With the set falling apart around them, and the revelation of off-stage shenanigans between the principal actors, the script gets shoved aside as various scores are settled. The speed setting on the revolving set breaks down, and the actors are whirled around at increasing speed, jumping from set to set to try and stay on stage.

Eventually, the set stops revolving and a conclusion is reached. There’s a full-cast rousing all-singing  dance number at the end, and it’s all over. We laughed so much our faces ached! Looking forward to next year’s offering – a brief shufti at their website would appear to indicate that The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is the next cab off the rank.

Friday, November 16, 2018

David Byrne

David Byrne, erstwhile singer and songwriter of Talking Heads, is touring the world with his new album American Utopia. Unlike some bands I could mention*, his world tour includes Australia and New Zealand. Not only that, by New Zealand he means “other cities as well as Auckland”! Yes, he’s playing Wellington. It would be churlish not to go and see him.

First up was support act, Kimbra. I’m not really aware of Kimbra other than as a name, but she is apparently quite successful, in a modern way with the young folks. She played eight songs, including some from her new album. I’m not rushing out to buy it on the strength of this performance.

Now, I know some Talking Heads songs from way back in the 80s, but since they dissolved in 1991, I haven’t really been following what David Byrne has been up to. But, as you’d expect, he’s been busy. Not just musically, but also in film, writing, collaborating (notably with Brian Eno), and musicals. American Utopia is, however, his first solo release in nigh on 14 years.

I’ve never been to a Talking Heads/David Byrne show before, so I don’t know if what he did was normal. I was expecting him to sing songs and have a band. And he did, it was just the way that he did it that was different. You see, in a “normal” gig, the members of the band play their instruments, usually tied to one spot by a guitar lead or other electrical connection – especially the drummer, who you expect to sit behind a set of drums. This was manifestly not the case here. All the musicians were mobile. There wasn’t a lead in sight, all the instruments were connected wirelessly. And they sang, and danced, whilst playing their instruments, in a highly choreographed way.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “How did the drummer manage to dance around, with a huge drum kit?” Well, they’d come up with a solution to that. Instead of one drummer, there were five (and sometimes six – one of the band was a multi-instrumentalist), and they each had one, sometimes two, items of percussion to strike. Between them, they made up a drum kit, and were able to march and dance around to their heart’s content.

Which is what they did. As I mentioned, this was a very choreographed show, and as well as Byrne himself, there were two backing singers/dancers, a keyboard player, bass, guitar, and one general purpose musician, who swapped instruments as needed – sometimes additional guitar, sometimes additional percussion. Naturally, this set-up freed them up to do all kinds of exciting things.

Did I mention what they were wearing? They were all kitted out in matching grey suits. And all barefoot, as there was a lot of dancing to be done. The lighting, too, broke with traditional ideas of what lighting at a gig is – for the first six or so songs they played under bright white lights only, before introducing any kind of colour into the mix. The set list was a mixture of old and new – some Talking Heads in there, but not necessarily ones that I recognised, until we reached the culmination of the show, when they strung together Blind, Burning Down The House, and Road To Nowhere. A lot of the set was from the new album, which I have now ordered and am awaiting arrival.
So that was David Byrne. Probably the best gig I’ve been to for a number of years. It’s well worth checking out if you get the chance!

* Yes, Duran Duran, I’m talking about YOU.


 Our first day in Sydney, and the weather forecast was for rain. Undaunted, we set out under cloudy skies, in search of breakfast…and found it fairly quickly down the road at a café on Clarence St. Duly sated, we set out to explore the indoor options for the day.

We started at the Australian National Maritime Museum, which was showing a film made by James Cameron about his voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, Exploring The Deep. We had a quick mosey about the museum first as the next showing wasn’t for half an hour. After that, it started to rain, so we ran out to The Endeavour. This is a replica of the ship sailed by Captain Cook in the 18th century, built by Alan Bond. The ship regularly sails with crews who pay for the privilege. But it was in port at the moment, so we joined a guided tour of the vessel, where various guides gave us information, mostly about his Australian adventures, and also the conditions for the crew and officers on board.

Ahoy, matey!
We’d spent quite a bit of time on board, and it was still raining, so we crossed the Darling Harbour bridge to get some lunch at The Port, snaffling their lunch burger special. We then walked up the harbour to visit the Sydney Aquarium. I’ve been there before, but they’ve now opened up the penguin enclosure more so you can see them properly, taking a short boat ride to their enclosure. They also have fish, and sharks in a tank that you can walk under and through.

In the evening, we went for dinner at a Greek restaurant that we’d located nearby, Medusa. They were serving Greek food in a more modern way and setting. It was pretty good, but there was a load of it. Afterwards, feeling a bit knackered, we headed back to our hotel for an early night.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


We’d just about exhausted all the possibilities of Noosa. On our final day, we drove down to Maleny to go to the Botanic Gardens and Bird World. After buying tickets to the next tour in half an hour, the first order of business was to get covered in birds!

Covered in birds!
These birds are tame, and an experienced handler decorates you with them. Once on, they stay pretty much where they’re put. Many of them are recovery birds so not able to be released into the wild, or even integrated into the general population in the aviary.

Inside the aviary, our guide told us what birds he had and how to behave around them. In particular, make sure you look where you’re going so you don’t step on one on the ground! The first house contained smaller birds – finches, some varieties of pigeon, and others. The next cage was the parrots, cockatoo, macaws etc – many of whom would land on you, sometimes without warning. One of them was very interested in my backpack and travelled around with me for a while.


After that we wandered around the botanic gardens for a bit before spurning the rather basic offerings of the café to find something more suiting to our needs in the town of Maleny. This we found in an Italian restaurant who were able to supply us with caesar salads. We carried on down to the airport, dropped off the car and awaited our flight. We’d needed something substantial for lunch as our flight times and arrangements left us with little dining time when we arrived in Sydney. As it was, the flight was delayed a further hour, so by the time we arrived we just wanted to get to the hotel and go to bed.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island, or K’gari as it is now known, forms the northern part of the Great Sandy National Park, named with typical Aussie literalness. This stretches from Noosa to Rainbow Beach, then on to Fraser Island, which is the world’s largest sand island, and features rain forests, creeks, and freshwater lakes. Due to the nature of the sand, it retains water like a sponge, and is said to be able to survive a 20-year drought. Many of the lakes on the island are “mirror lakes” caused by the surrounding sand being below the level of the water table, so water simply seeps to the surface.

It’s a bit of a trip from Noosa, so we were picked up at the ungodly hour of 6:05, and again took a tour of the various accommodations of Noosa to collect other passengers. This took longer than usual due to detours and road closures in place for the triathlon. Nevertheless, we finally hit the road and set forth to Boreen Point again, to board a purpose-built battlewagon four-wheel drive transport. This then drove us up to a petrol station, where they let some of the air out of the tyres (all the better to drive on sand), then onto the ferry to cross over to Fraser Island.

Finally on the island, we stopped for morning tea before continuing along the beach, then into the interior. Our destination was Lake McKenzie, the largest of the freshwater lakes on the island and a popular tourist venue. It took us a couple of hours to get there, as the track was an extremely bumpy and pitted sand track, which made me feel a bit seasick at times. We were exhorted to look out for dingoes, as Fraser Island is one of the few places which still have pure-bred dingoes in Australia. We were given instructions on how to behave in the event of seeing a dingo (don’t run, don’t feed them (instant $400 fine), don’t show fear, be assertive). We didn’t see any.

On arrival at Lake McKenzie we went for a swim in the lake and photographed the picturesqueness, before having a lunch of a chicken and salad roll. Beer and soft drinks were available to buy for cash, but as we were on a completely cashless trip, these were unavailable to us. After lunch we went for a 2km walk through the rainforest where we again saw no wildlife other than a goanna.

The rest of the trip was the reverse of our journey out – bumpy ride, ferry, put air back into the tyres, drive back to Boreen Point. At Boreen Point we had a short stop – just long enough to get some pictures of the kangaroos, but not long enough to get a beer – before reboarding the bus and getting back to our hotel, this time managing to be the second-to-last drop-off.

In summary then: a 12 hour bus ride to swim in a lake, have a chicken roll, go for a walk, not see any of the famed dingoes. The rest of the time spent in a bus. Won’t be doing this trip again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


 On Saturday, Noosa was full of people involved in the triathlon and other related events, so we got the hell out of Dodge. We planned a drive into the hinterland to take us away from the crowds.

Our first stop was the town of Cooroy, home of the Noosa Botanic Gardens. We took a walk around there, on the lookout for bird life, and immediately spotted some moorhens on the lake, as well as what was once known as the purple swamp hen, which now goes by the more dignified name of Australasian swamp hen. Here in New Zealand we know it as pukeko.

Australasian swamp hen - aka pukeko
We also spotted some insect life.

And a catbird, which sounds like a cat.

We then drove on to our second stop, Kenilworth, where we stopped for lunch at the Kenilworth Dairies. They make cheese, and offer cheese tastings to the passing punters in small cubes which you stab with a cocktail stick to taste. As I was posing for a picture of me with cheese, a kookaburra, who had clearly planned this, swooped in and nicked the cheese right off my stick in front of me! He then sat on the wall and ate it, looking smug. This is what he does every day, I guess.

We had a platter of cheeses and meats, and then decided to round it all off with freshly made gelato.

Next on the agenda was two parks with waterfalls. The first was the Mapleton Falls National Park, where we took the Wompoo walk around the forest, spotting a yellow robin along the way.

The final stop was a bit more arduous, as we went to Kondalilla National Park. This involves a long downhill to the waterfalls and waterhole – a journey which most people seemed to be making in swimming gear, we noted. We’d left ours in the car. D’oh! We got to the bottom where people were disporting themselves in the substantial waterhole at the foot of the falls.

Of course, walking downhill has a downside…you have to walk back uphill. We climbed and climbed and climbed, taking a shortcut back to the carpark so we didn’t have to walks so far. Even so, our phones (which track our daily steps) were inordinately pleased with us that day!

We drove home along the Bruce Highway, washed the dust from our feet, then made it to Maisie’s Seafood & Steakhouse for a well-deserved steak dinner.