Sunday, May 15, 2016

Started At The Top

The comedy festival is coming to a close. Before I decided on the theme for this year’s festival selections (did you spot what it was?) I’d decided that Guy Williams would be a good person to go and see, having seen him on Jono & Ben.

What I’d forgotten was that I’d also booked The Ten Tenors for the same night a month or so previously. It is my habit to book these things when they are first advertised, often several months in advance, to avoid disappointment (these shows do sometimes sell out in Wellington – we’re not that apathetic!).  Fortunately, Guy was doing an early evening slot at 5pm, whereas the next show was at 8pm. Phew! We could do both, and grab some dinner in between.

Guy Williams’ show, Started At The Top, is in homage to rapper Drake with his song Started From The Bottom. Guy notes that he is white, male, middle class and privileged, so naturally he started from the other end. His show is very similar to the kinds of stuff he does on television, including a long section on the TPPA where he shows how ignorant people are of what it is and what it means…and even how many countries are involved. The people he asks about this are MPs, as he accosted them at Auckland Airport. His point being that it’s easy to make someone look stupid when you stick a camera in their face, and news reports of protestors who don’t know what they’re protesting about aren’t the only story. He also riffed on his favourite subjects – being tall but no good at basketball, fulfilling dreams, and emails from his mother.

So this year we’ve been to see five women comedians/actors/performers, and one bloke. I’d never heard of the women before, and selected them more or less at random, based on availability and the short blurb on the festival website. Guy Williams I have heard of. And I’m sorry Guy, you weren’t the best, funniest, or most original act we’ve been to see this year. B-.

I’d originally planned to have a tapas-style dinner at Basque, which is just round the corner on Courtenay Place. But when we stuck our heads round the door all the tables were taken. A quick rethink took us to Yakitori and Sake Bar, where we had a Japanese dinner of – yes, yakitori and sake (me) and sashimi and chicken hotpot (Nicola). We then strolled in leisurely fashion up the road to St James Theatre, where the Ten Tenors were performing.

Now you’ll have heard of The Three Tenors (Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo). They were big in the 90s, and gave concerts of popular arias from opera. I thought that what we’d be seeing was going to be much the same, but with ten instead of three. From the look of the audience, it appeared that they were expecting much the same sort of thing.

That was not what we got, however. The show mostly consisted of covers of pop songs. Mostly not even very good pop songs. They did do a medley of Neapolitan opera in the first half for about 10 minutes, and Nessun Dorma as the encore, but in between they were mostly doing stuff by the current (and not-so-current) crop of boy and girl bands. They threw in a couple of New Zealand songs  - classic lullaby Hine e Hine, and Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over. The highlight was probably the opening of the second half - Bohemian Rhapsody. This is a song that's entirely suited to their style.

The performance, singing and staging was all very professional but I couldn’t help feeling that we’d been somewhat shortchanged. I was expecting a lot more opera, and we didn’t get it. I don’t know who selects their songs, but someone needs to have a word. They did a Bowie tribute with Heroes – a song entirely inappropriate for their voices.

So that was Saturday night in Wellington. The comedy festival is over, roll on the food festivals!

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Last night was the final cheap Wednesday  of the NZ International Comedy Festival and we’d booked in two shows to make the most of it.

It was a rainy, blustery night in Wellington – typical autumn weather, windy but not cold. After parking the car in Courtenay Place for a quick getaway, I realised I’d foolishly left the tickets in my desk drawer at work. It was too far to walk back, but we managed to find a handy internet place to print them out again from Gmail. Phew! Unfortunately we’d wasted a lot of time by this stage so we dived into Egmont Street Eatery for a quick but tasty dinner before scurrying up the road to VK’s Comedy and Blues Bar – in the place that was BATS Theatre’s home away from home whilst their original building was being strengthened.

At the venue we chatted with Tor and Gavin who were also in the audience. Then Angela Barnes hobbled onto stage – as she explained, she’d hurt her foot in an argument with Mount Eden. Angela Barnes is an English comedian who does a good line in self-deprecating comedy. She was doing sit-down rather than stand-up because of her leg. Part of her show deals with the subject of ugliness and expectations of beauty, having suffered at the hands of nasty girls at school. She also told us about her father, who owned a sex shop. Well, someone has to! She illustrated her show with photos and a short film she’d made and put on Youtube, and also discussed her article in the Guardian, and the feedback from it. All good stuff, and very entertaining. This all explained the show's title "Come As You Are", as she played out with the song by Nirvana. We couldn’t hang around much afterwards, though, as we had to head off to The Fringe Bar in Allen St for our next instalment of the evening…

The audience set-up was a little different here. Instead of the serried ranks of seats, it was arranged cafĂ©-style with tables and chairs. We selected a table near, but not right at, the front, in the expectation that we’d be safe from any audience participation being foisted on us.

This turned out to be a schoolboy error. First, no-one occupied the two front tables - the show had a disappointingly low turnout, possibly due to the weather. I assume they put out tables based on ticket sales, but not even the ones they’d put out were fully occupied. And on a night like this, passing trade was likely to be sparse. As it was, we were effectively in the front row. Not that this mattered.

Tessa Waters’ show, WOMANz, is strange. It’s part performance art, part comedy, total audience participation, and most of all, FUN! She starts off with the birth of the world from a coupling between a rock and a star, and then gave us a demonstration of stagecraft and art. All whilst wearing a leotard and sequin-encrusted sports bra. Fairly early in she demonstrated how to do her favourite dance move, which she explained was like rowing, then asked me to get up and demonstrate my dance…so I invited Nicola up to the front and we did a quick six-turning-basics waltz for her. This, she told us, was amazing! In doing her show over 200 times no-one had ever done that! She then invited other audience members to do their dances, and we were treated to Becs’s box, and Sam’s sit-down dance. She then got us all up on our feet to do a dance medley incorporating all these elements into our performance. Everyone got up and enjoyed themselves.

It’s really hard to explain how and why this is fun. Maybe this will help:

All of this is delivered in a cod Eastern European accent, for a reason that is never explained. After the show she greeted everyone as they left, thanked us for coming, and was generally enthused. We wandered out into the Wellington night, somewhat dazed and confused, but smiling. We'd seen two very different shows, both good in utterly different ways, Both are on until Saturday, but if you get the chance to only go to one of them, I'd pick Tessa Waters. Go see her! You'll emerge a changed person. 

That pretty much ends our adventures in the comedy festival for this year. Did you spot the theme?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Promise And Promiscuity

As you might expect, the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, which is in full swing at the moment, is mainly focussed on stand-up comedians with the occasional double act or group thrown in for good measure. But there are also some other things going on. One of these is a new musical by Jane Austen (and Penny Ashton) called Promise And Promiscuity, performed at the Circa Theatre. With a title and pedigree like that, how could we not go?

As you might expect, the show, a one-woman performance by Penny Ashton, is loosely based around the novels, manners and mores of characters from the works of Jane Austen. It features Miss Elspeth Slowtree and how she finds a husband. Penny Ashton also plays all the other characters in the production, including her mother and sister, her snorting cousin, aunt, and other incidental characters. Many of the lines and scenes from Austen's novels are worked into the narrative, although sometimes subtly changed, such as the use of Lower Huttington Grove, the writer Wilbur Smythe, and the absolute authority on manners, Miss Kimberline Kardashian. There are also many references to modern-day issues such as pay inequality, "but I'm sure that won't be the case 200 years from now" as Miss Slowtree frequently quips, in asides to the audience. Interspersed with the narrative are several humorous songs and at one stage, audience participation is required from an unfortunate chap in the front row.

The show lasts about 70 minutes with no interval. In the programme the notes read: Writer/Performer/Publicist/Producer/Production Design/Concept/Bonnetter: Miss Penny Ashton (I'm quite tired).

If you know your Austen, you will enjoy this production. If you don't know your Austen, you'll still enjoy this production! If the closest you've got to Austen is Bridget Jones's Diary, you'll still appreciate it.

 At the end of the show, Penny gave a quick speech about the production, and exhorted us to tell all our friends. This is running at Circa until 21st May, so if you get a chance go and see it. Later in the year she's taking it to Canada and Edinburgh,

Afterwards she was available for photos and also selling her fridge magnets, which we thought worth the $5 cost:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Quarter Life Crisis

Another cheap Wednesday, another comedy night. This time it’s to the Cavern Club on Allen Street, there to see newcomer Louise Beuvink with her show, Quarter Life Crisis.

As is traditional, we went out for dinner first. This time we headed up to the 7th floor of the Copthorne Hotel on Oriental Parade, to dine with views out over Wellington Harbour in their One 80 restaurant. Generally speaking, hotel restaurants are mediocre, but Wellington does boast a handful of decent ones: Hippopotamus at the Museum Hotel is the standout, but One 80 has always provided us with above-average fare, and we’ve been back a few times since I first sampled their Ostrich burger during Wellington On A Plate 2013. (Artisan would also join that list if they could get their wait staff to do some actual service.)

We walked back to the Cavern Club with a bit of time to spare, and grabbed ourselves seats near the back. Louise Beuvink came on stage, and immediately offered us directions to the toilets, as these are located…behind the stage. She then started telling us about her life. It probably comes as no surprise that she is 25 years old, and has made the heroic presumption that she will live to be 100. This, she admitted, was only because it gave the show a catchy title: 30% of the way to 83 doesn’t quite trip off the tongue so well.

One of her key messages was how she’d had to re-learn some of the things she’d been taught when younger. Her childhood ambition to be a Spice Girl having been thwarted (she read us the letter she sent to the Spice Girls, aged seven at the time), she gave us a short version of her life at various schools and how she ended up at Otago University. The “start again at a new school” story was particularly vivid, as she improved the School Ball experience for just about all present. She also confessed her fear of the noise made by plane toilets, then digressed on to the Mile High club, which provided quite a bit of amusement, as the only two audience members who would publicly admit to membership were gently coaxed to give a few more details:

Louise Beuvink: “Was it with your partner, or a random person?”
Mile High Club Member 1 (male): “Random”
MHCM2 (female): “Random”
LB: “Which airline?”
MHCM1: “Emirates”
MHCM2: “Yes, Emirates as well”
LB: “When was this?”
MHCM1: “Last April”
MHCM2: “Last April”
LB: “Where were you flying to?”
MHCM2: “Don’t say Dubai, don’t say Dubai”

Fortunately for her, it wasn’t Dubai.

Now, I don’t know how much of that was set up in advance, but it was pretty good.

Other highlights were telling us how she’d rejected various careers based on the advice of her father: “there’s no money in that.” Eventually she ended up at an advertising agency, and hated it. Setting herself free and becoming a stand-up comedian was another behaviour that she had had to re-learn.

The finale of the show was a long and winding tale about how she met her boyfriend, and how he puts up with her shit. Including, presumably, her telling the story of how he puts up with her shit. Now we all know. If you want to find out what kind of shit he has to put up with, go see this show!