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.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Midnight Oil

Durn Dun DUN! Yes, we’re off to Auckland to See Midnight Oil, as they deign to cross the ditch to two (count’ em!) venues in New Zealand. In their native Australia, they play such places as Alice Springs (pop. 27,972) and Coffs Harbour (pop. 70,000), but they can’t visit New Zealand’s capital? No, Auckland or Christchurch it is, and as the Christchurch gig was on a Monday night, we opted for Auckland.

We got a morning flight and, after checking in at our Adina apartment opposite the Spark Arena, we went to the War Memorial Museum to see the current exhibition of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, on tour from London’s Natural History museum. Pretty much all of it is now professional photographers – the captions contain phrases like “I set up the camera trap in the desired location and after 6,000 exposures over 3 months this was the best picture”. Yes, the picture is great, but is this photography? There is still some amateur photography in the Young Photography sections, and fortunately the number of “tiger splashes through river” photos seems to have diminished.

As the gig started at 7:30, we opted for an early dinner at nearby restaurant Ostro. This is in a block called Seafarer’s Buildings on Tyler Street. I had the seafood options, with seared tuna followed by hapuka (groper to you), while Nicola had beef carpaccio and mushroom gnocchi. Very good food, and the maitre d’ admired my t-shirt as well (it was this one).

A short walk took us to Spark Arena, and I grabbed a t-shirt before we bagged our seats – far end of the arena, facing the stage. The support band were from Wellington, and called The Nudge. They seem to have been around a while.

Then on came The Oils. They opened with Redneck Wonderland – setting the tone of the rest of the gig, this is a reminder that they are, primarily, a rock band, and you’re not in for a quiet night. The set list was specially modified for New Zealand, so Peter Garrett informed us in one of his between-song chats, and included Shipyards Of New Zealand (“yay! They mentioned New Zealand!”). But as any aficionado of The Oils will know, they vary the set list from gig to gig anyway – indeed, they used to have the famous “wheel of fortune”, that they would spin to select what would be played. Whilst they played songs from early and late in their career, the emphasis was on their most successful middle period, with three quarters of the material coming from four albums. They finished up their set with a powerful non-stop run-through of their most well-known songs, from Power And The Passion through Beds, Blue Sky Mine and Forgotten Years, before coming on for an encore including River Runs Red, Dreamworld and Best of Both Worlds.

We left with ears ringing and throats sore.  After two missed opportunities, I’ve finally seen Midnight Oil live!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Pickle King

Last time we were at Hannah Playhouse (for The Marriage Of Figaro) I noticed that they were advertising a forthcoming production called The Pickle King. It is a comedy about love, death, and preserves. That’s enough to get me hooked, so I bought some tickets, and off we went to watch it on a rainy Tuesday night (even though lyin’ Renée had promised sunshine).

We’d originally planned to have dinner at Rockyard, but their booking system seems to have let them down so we went next door to Papa Satay House and had a dinner of satay, prawns and curry. At the end of the dinner they were unable to satisfy my request for a short black, so instead we tried their special Malaysian tea, teh tarik, which is a hot, sweet milky beverage which I won’t be ordering again. Other than that the food was fine.

We hurried around the corner in time to take our seats, and then the play began. The Pickle King was first performed 15 years ago, as what was supposed to be the final collaboration (of three) between Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan. 15 years on, they’re still working together as Indian Ink, and bringing new stuff to the stage. The play opens with a pianist playing in a hotel lobby, as various guests, dressed in white masks and having no dialogue, come and go for about five minutes. The sound effects indicate that there is a strong wind blowing as each comes through the door, one with an umbrella clearly shredded by the Wellington wind. Eventually one of the guests is successful in summoning the receptionist, Sasha, and the play begins properly. The play revolves around almost-blind Sasha, who is fiercely resisting the attempts of her aunt Ammachy to marry her off to anyone who will take her; Jeena, the hotel porter who is a qualified doctor in India, and studying to get recognition from the New Zealand medical council; and a hotel guest, who signs in as Mr. Reaper (initial G. “G for George!” he laughs) and calls himself The Pickle King. Three actors play all the parts, doubling up as Ammachy, hotel guests, the cook Raoul, and the priest; whilst Graham the pianist, who has no lines, is the only one who stays the same throughout. He provides background music, but is often addressed throughout the play – not least to provide “hold music” when Sasha is dealing with customers on the phone.

All of the characters except Graham wear masks of some description throughout; from the full face masks of the hotel guests, Raoul, and Father Matthews, to the partial masks of the Pickle King and Ammachy; down to the noses worn by Jeena and Sasha. Along the way they deal with immigration issues, love, death, and industrial disasters. But it ends well, so I guess all’s well.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Sterling Night Of Truffles

The final event of Wellington On A Plate for us this year was A Sterling Night Of TrufflesSterling restaurant is another newcomer on the Wellington dining scene. It is associated with, but not owned by, the new(-ish) Park Hotel on The Terrace, in what is becoming a newer business model for hotels these days: rather than owning a restaurant outright, they allow the restaurant to benefit from their guests, but have an autonomy which means they don’t have to offer the usual bland hotel-restaurant fare.

ASNOT is, naturally, a menu based around truffles. Our guide for the evening was Gareth Renowden, of Limestone Hills truffle farm in the Waipara valley. Truffles are now available in New Zealand, as several growers have now established farms to grow the various types of truffle. Gareth claims to be the only grower of four different types of truffle in New Zealand – black, white, Burgundy and winter black. Between courses he told us about the history of truffles, the different types, how to find them, and how to use them. He subjected truffle oil to abuse, telling us it’s a faint shadow of the real thing. He also said dogs are better than pigs for finding truffles, for two reasons: whilst both pigs and dogs will want to eat the truffles they find, it’s a lot easier to stop a small dog than a 60 kg sow; and a 60 kg sow doesn’t fit well in the back of your 2CV.

The first course, amuse bouche, was a duck liver parfait rolled in truffle. We were sharing a table with another couple, and unfortunately we wolfed these down before it occurred to me to take a picture, so you’ll have to be content with a description: they were black balls of deliciousness. I’d gone for the wine matches as well so washed it down with a tasty Elephant Hill chardonnay.

Next up was the entrée of seared scallops with a white soy and truffle dressing. The wine match with this was an interesting Wooing Tree Blondie – a blanc de noir, i.e a white wine made from grapes traditionally used for red wine. In this case it is pinot noir, with the juice left on the skins for almost no time at all, resulting in a very pale pink colour. The nose was very floral – reminiscent of a gewurtztraminer, with a hint of strawberries.

The main course was a spatchcocked poussin with black truffle, served with three coloured carrots and kale. The truffle in this case is stuffed up inside the skin of the poussin, to infuse the meat with its flavour as it roasts.

The final course was chestnut millefeuille with bianchetto (white truffle) ice cream. The chestnut cream is quite a savoury flavour so this was not an overly sweet dessert. The Ned noble sauvignon blanc is quite a sweet dessert wine, so I felt that this was a bit of a mismatch…a misstep at the final hurdle. Other than this, I thought the wine matches were pretty good.

So that’s our WOAP adventures over for another year. The only remaining option will be to try the winning burger once that’s announced later this week.