Thursday, November 9, 2017

Brian Cox

Brian Cox, famous telly scientist and presenter, has been touring with his talk on astrophysics and related subjects for the last year and a half. This spring, he brought it to New Zealand.

Tor had organised the tickets, and after a careful inspection and confirmation that the venue was indeed the TSB Arena, we decided on Shed 5 as a mutually satisfactory dinner venue. We rocked up early at 5:45, in time to have a cocktail before the usual fine seafood fare on offer. I had a crab and lobster tian followed by groper, and Nicola had bruschettas with salmon and tuna, followed by seafood risotto. We didn’t have time to hang around for a dessert as they’d been a bit tardy in bringing out the mains, so we then crossed over the square to join the queue to enter the venue.


Brian Cox came on stage, and introduced his subject. He’s a polished performer, clearly used to public speaking, and gave a clear introduction to his talk, before getting into the meat of it. In this he was assisted by his co-presenter of The Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince, who provided some comic relief in between the serious bits. Robin Ince, you’ll remember, was the presenter of Cosmic Shambles which we saw earlier this year. Get us with the science-y stuff!

The talk ranged from Einstein’s theory of relativity, and how it is the basis of modern cosmology, to recent discoveries about planets and moons in our solar system, including the Ice Fountains of Enceladus (sounds very sci-fi), which houses conditions found in the early development of Earth around the time that life began here. Other subjects included the fate of the sun in the far future, the Crab nebula, and the length of time it will take for the universe to finally suffer heat death (don’t worry, it’s a long way off). After the break, he took questions from the audience, which had been submitted by twitter or the old-fashioned way, on pieces of card. These ranged from “What’s your favourite planet?” (this one) to “How far will the James Webb telescope be able to see into the past?” (all the way).

All fascinating stuff, and with digressions into philosophy and the nature of science – such as how he has to modify this talk as the science has changed since he started. He manages to explain complex scientific concepts without dumbing it down or patronising the audience. And he didn't mention D-ream once. A very enjoyable evening!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Father

The Father is a play originally written in French by Florian Zeller in 2012 as, unsurprisingly, Le Père. It is translated into English, and performed at the Circa Theatre. The cast contains a bunch of the usual Wellington acting mafia - Gavin Rutherford, Harriet Prebble, Bronwyn Turei and Simon Leary; with the lead roles played by Jeffrey Thomas and Danielle Mason. The play deals with dementia, as the central character tries to deal with what seem to be – to him and to us, the audience – a series of confusing vignettes.


The central premise of the story seems to be that André, suffering from dementia, is resisting having a carer in his Paris flat, provided by his daughter Anne. Anne no longer has the time or resilience to deal with her father’s illness, and wants to move to London with her lover, Pierre. Or does she? Is this all just part of a plan to get André out of his flat and into a home, so she can have the flat? As the scenes come and go, the same characters are played by different actors, and given different names, which adds to the confusion. Over time, the appearance of the flat and furniture also changes – has he moved in with Anne? Some of the scenes are replayed, sometimes exactly, sometimes subtly differently. Time doesn’t move in the linear fashion we take for granted. As André’s world closes in the furnishings and décor of the flat become a uniform grey, as one by one, the pictures and furniture disappear. The fate of Anne’s sister, Elise – referred to throughout, but never seen onstage – is also gradually revealed.  The play gives a sense of isolation and also the antagonism of André, as he is determined that the world is conspiring against him.

There is no tidy ending, no denouement. It ends with a whimper, rather than a bang.