Thursday, April 28, 2016

Brine Storm

The International Comedy Festival is upon us once again, and we’ve booked to see a number of performers. There’s the usual mix of well-known TV presenter-type comics performing – Rhys Darby, Urzila Carson and all the 7 Days regulars; but as we’ve enjoyed seeing people who’re a bit less well-known in the past (Worst German Ever and Eastend Cabaret last year, for example), we (I) decided that we’d go see a few unknowns. A while back I booked Guy Williams, who’s pretty well-known these days for his antics on Jono And Ben, but the rest, well, a theme started to emerge. You may spot a pattern over the coming weeks.

But first, the ever-important before-party: dinner at Boulcott Street Bistro. I’ve been to BSB many a time, especially in 2013 and 2014 when our offices were temporarily relocated to a building directly opposite: we’d organise impromptu lunches (and, indeed, some promptu ones) to take advantage of their $20 lunch deal. BSB is also the home of the T Rex Burger, the winning entry in 2012’s Burger Wellington competition. But we’ve not been there in the evening for mumble-mumble years, so, armed with our rapidly-expiring 2015 Entertainment subscription, we headed there for an evening of full-on debauchery. I mean, dinner.

First up, to the cocktail list, and my eye was immediately caught by the Heisenberg Martini. Given my current facial hirsuteness (in imitation of Walter White), how could I resist? The cocktail contains some of the standard ingredients of a martini (gin and vodka both) but also a dash of sherry and white chocolate, which gave it an interesting taste. Garnished it was, with three blue cheese-stuffed olives. An interesting cocktail, and one bound to cause uncertainty wherever it goes. I veered from the usual with my starter – a goat’s cheese and beetroot salad, then stuck with tradition and went for the eye fillet, followed by chocolate mousse – very Paris Hilton (rich and thick). Nicola had the seared tuna starter, arancini balls and banana caramel crepe.

After moving the car to a more convenient location, we walked the short distance to BATS Theatre, there to see Alice Brine perform Brinestorm. Alice informed us early on that she suffered from ADHD, and after about 15 minutes of being distracted by various things, got around to telling us what it was actually like to have ADHD, and her adventures with Ritalin. She was diagnosed late whilst at school, because she didn’t fit the usual pattern of ADHD, as she (a) wasn't male, and (b) didn’t throw chairs at teachers. Finally, she was prescribed Ritalin (or “methamphetamine”, “speed”, “P” as it’s known to everyone else) and learnt all the jargon about being neurotypical or otherwise. “If you haven’t heard the term “neurotypical” before, it means you are”.

At this point she unveiled her “brinestorm” – a large confection of cardboard on which she’d written down some of the things in her head. There were a lot.

She then regaled us with tales of her childhood, university life, flatting with 6 other women – a big piece on use of the bathroom mat here - and living with ADHD for the 40 minutes in the morning before the effects of the drugs kicked in. We found out about banjo strings in ways that we really didn’t want to know, and what people from the Hutt do when they’re in trouble. It was all delivered in a rapid-fire stand-up style, with the occasional haiku thrown in for good measure. Her definition of the haiku stretched a little beyond the conventional, it would be fair to say.

Alice Brine is relatively new on the stand-up scene, but I hope she’ll be around for years to come. If you get the chance, get to see this show.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Waiting In The Sky

It’s Saturday night, so it must be David Bowie night.

Astute readers who pay attention to current affairs may have noticed that David Bowie shuffled off this mortal coil earlier this year. So what’s this? A tribute concert, obviously.

We headed into town early to try and find a parking space. We were thwarted in this ambition, so had to pay for parking in the multi-storey. Undeterred, we went for a quick dinner at The Tasting Room, before trotting up Courtenay Place to St James Theatre to see Bowie: Waiting In The Sky, a tribute concert by New Zealand and Australian acts including Eddie Rayner (Split Enz), Finn Andrews (The Veils), Jordan Luck (The Exponents), Alistair Riddell (Space Waltz), and Zaine Griff (Human Instinct). I trust you’ve heard of all these megastars. Yeah, me neither. Also, introducing Olympia and Skyscraper Stan, apparently.

Despite never having heard of any of these people, they were all accomplished musicians, and, importantly, were all able to bring something to the unique style of David Bowie’s singing voice. They mostly picked songs which suited their own vocal range.

The concert started a bit clunkily. Lazarus, from his final album Blackstar, had everyone politely applauding whilst looking at each other in a WTF? kinda way. This was followed by Space Oddity, but then Sorrow? OK, I get why you’re choosing these songs, but are you sure? After that it improved, with Olympia giving us Starman, and then it was pretty much hit after hit. They included all three singles from Let’s Dance, and Cat People, but nothing of a newer vintage than that after the opening song. Significant omissions included Fashion, Scary Monsters, and John, I’m Only Dancing. Also, none of his collaborations made the cut, despite having topped the charts twice with them.  But they managed to cram in a good lot of classics, and rotated the strike well. Once again, unusually for Wellington audiences, there was dancing in the seats (d'you see what I did there? ;-) ).  

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Stranglers

That’s an early draft of the song which went on to become The Stranglers’ paean to heroin use, Golden Brown. Well, no it isn’t…I just like the confluence of the lyric with one of Wellington’s premier eateries. Where else could we go for dinner before seeing The Stranglers?

The gig didn’t start until 8:30 so we were able to relax and do the full a la carte, no need to be rushed into the pre-theatre menu. I had Bluff oysters and the fillet steak, whilst Nicola had pāua ravioli and crispy skin gurnard. What can I say? They never fail to be anything other than excellent. For pudding I had the apple tart with accompanying cocktail, a gingembre mandorla, made with brandy, ginger and amaretto:

We then walked along Cuba Street to the Opera House, to see The Stranglers perform. They do so without the assistance of Hugh Cornwell, former singer and guitarist who left the band in 1990. Original members Jean-Jacques Burnel on bass, Dave Greenfield on keyboards, and Jet Black on drums, are now augmented by Baz Warne.

The support act was Ed Kuepper, apparently an Australian punk rocker (The Saints) of similar vintage to The Stranglers. He played some of his songs which were, no doubt, familiar to his followers.

At around half past nine, the lights went down again and The Stranglers kicked off. And I do mean kicked off. They came out fighting with Toiler On The Sea, Straighten Up, and (Get A) Grip (On Yourself). At this point Baz stopped for breath and said "hello Wellington", and invited us all to get up off our arses, before observing that we'd already done that! Very unusual for a Wellington Opera House audience, I thought - they usually sit still and politely applaud. After that "old school" start, I figured they were going to get some of the classics in before hitting us with the "N" word. But in fact, they didn't do any such thing. Whilst not a  "heritage" act, they didn't distinguish between new material and the older stuff. True, the set leant heavily towards the 70's with over half the songs coming from the first four albums, but there were representative songs from pretty much all their intermediate albums, including the most recent. A lot of them were the singles, particularly the early stuff, but there was a lot of album tracks as well - standouts such as Tank, Curfew and I Feel Like A Wog. Early singles were well represented - Peaches, the inevitable Golden Brown, Nuclear Device, Nice 'n' Sleazy, and Duchess; but later singles such as 96 Tears, Strange Little Girl, European Female didn't make the cut. Apart from slowing down for Golden Brown and Always The Sun, it was pretty well a high energy, high octane set. 

The first encore was the two cover versions with which they've had single success - Walk On By and All Day And All Of The Night. The second encore was the anthemic Go Buddy Go, and they finished up with No More Heroes.

We spilled out into the night (this party had gone on past 11 o'clock!) and headed home, slightly deafened by the still-reverberating chords from Jean-Jaques' bass-playing. Definitely the best gig I've been to this year! (Checks blog...only gig I've been to this year.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Jekyll & Hyde

A Slightly Isolated Dog are putting on a production of Jekyll & Hyde at the moment at Circa Theatre. I’m vaguely aware of the story Strange Case Of Dr. Jekykll And Mr. Hyde, as it is more formally known – it involves potions and alter egos, but that’s about all I knew. Time to find out more.

But first, inevitably, dinner. One of our favourite restaurants, Muse On Allen, has moved to larger premises on Victoria Street and is now known as Muse Eatery And Bar. There’s been a notice in their window for the past month saying “Opening in March”. As I walked past it the other day the notice had been changed to “Opening 1st April”. Perfect! I booked a table for 5:30 and we went there straight after work.

The menu has changed a bit since their “On Allen” days, with more choice on the starters and an addition of pasta options. I had the beef croquette to start, followed by the lamb rump. Nicola opted for a tuna ceviche and prawn linguine. On the dessert menu, they had a dessert burger consisting of a brioche bun and chocolate “burger”, strawberry jelly “beetroot”, and a mango and coconut “egg”. How could I possibly resist?

Not a real burger
After dinner we walked along the waterfront to Circa Theatre, in time to be greeted by the cast. This is an audience participation show, and they were selecting their potential victims possible collaborators early. The production is very much in the modern style, with minimal set and props; a blonde wig (Dr. Jekyll) and black wig (Mr. Hyde) denoted who was playing the central characters, but this was not fixed on a specific actor – everyone played each character at some point (as also did several audience members, when co-opted to do so). All the actors were speaking in cod French accents, for reasons that were left unexplained. We were all issued with window frames and instructed in their use, to stay indoors when Mr. Hyde is stalking the streets of London…wait, no, that’s Courtenay Place. And what’s all this talk of cars? Yes, the setting has been moved to present-day Wellington. So what’s with the French accents?

The story (spoiler alert) is that Dr. Jekyll, a pillar of Victorian society, does good deeds. He has a dark side (dramatic music – heads turn), but he pushes it down, pushes it down. The story follows of how he has developed a potion to transform into Mr. Hyde, but later transforms without the aid of the potion, firstly in his sleep, then later whilst awake. he drinks his potion to transform back to Dr Jekyll. Aware that he is unable to control his transformations, he eventually becomes a recluse. He decides that the only way to rid the world of the depraved Mr. Hyde is to kill himself, and promptly throws himself under a car.

The actual story is not the most important part of the show, however. What is really good is the way the cast interact with the audience, and also talk over each other, argue, get distracted and sidetracked, before eventually bringing it back on course. It's exhausting just being in the audience! Some members of the audience are given parts to play, with the actors whispering their lines to them first.

The cast are all regulars of the Wellington scene. Andrew Paterson was seen as Isaac Newton in Isaac’s Eye, Jack Buchanan in The Mystery Of Edwin Drood and Hayley Sproull as the musical Miss Fletcher Sings The Blues. And doubtless other stuff that I've missed.

The show is quite short - there's a drinks break, but you don't leave your seats for it - pre-ordered drinks are brought in - but such is the nature of the show, it seems like you've been in there for an action-packed couple of hours. This show is a lot of fun - go see it!