Saturday, July 24, 2021

Elling

Circa Theatre is back in full swing with its winter season. One of the main productions is Elling, a play based on a book by Ingvar Ambjørnsen. It’s set in Oslo, and is about the lives of two middle-aged men in a loony bin. It stars some of the usual stalwarts of Circa, including Gavin Rutherford and Bronwyn Turei


But first, as always, dinner. Field & Green is a regular pre-theatre haunt, being within easy walking distance of Circa and convenient for parking. We arrived at 5:00pm for an early dinner of fish goujons and confit duck (me), and soufflé and gnocchi (Nicola). All delicious. We both finished with their excellent ice creams, and left with plenty of time to reach Circa. Whilst waiting, and as is almost inevitable in Wellington, we bumped into people we know – one from Zealandia, and our ex-next-door neighbours from our time in Ira Street. New Zealand only has two degrees of separation.

The play starts off with the two protagonists in the asylum, but pretty soon it transpires that they are being turned out into the real world, or at least into a flat in Oslo, provided for them by the Norwegian government. They are visited by a fairly odd social worker, who threatens and cajoles them into trying to live an ordinary life. Challenges such as buying groceries and sitting in a café are faced and overcome.

It’s all an uplifting life-affirming comedy as these two characters cope with the day-to-day problems in their own unique ways. They end up making friends, and having relationships, and are finally given the all-clear by the authorities: they are now considered “normal”.

We left, feeling duly uplifted and affirmed.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Delta Strain

Once more unto the breach, dear friends…


New Zealand recently opened up travel bubbles with Australia and Cook Islands, allowing two-way quarantine-free travel between these countries. Unfortunately, Australia is not quite as Covid-free as we’d like to think, and last weekend a traveller from Sydney arrived in Wellington, had a helluva good time, and then departed back home on Monday; he started to feel ill, and subsequently tested positive for Covid. This has led to Wellington being moved up to Alert Level 2 from Wednesday until Sunday, with a review on Sunday to assess the situation. Sydney, meanwhile, is in a lockdown due to an exploding cluster of the highly-contagious Delta variant, which has now increased to over 100 cases. New Zealand has temporarily suspended travel with New South Wales.

 

How to have a good time in Wellington

We were due to fly to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands on Thursday; but with the announcement at lunchtime on Wednesday, it seemed less than 100% certain that we would be able to go, especially as we’d visited the Te Papa Surrealist Art exhibition on Tuesday, one of the “Places of Interest” that the infected person had also visited; even though we’d gone three days later. I checked with our local testing centre and they said we didn’t need to get tested (Nicola is vaccinated anyway).

As part of the travel arrangement with Cook Islands, you have to fill in a contact form with details of where you’ll be staying, etc. It also asks if you’ve been to any Places of Interest. We duly completed this, listing that we’d been to Te Papa and the advice we’d been given about testing by Wellington DHB.

At this stage, there was no suggestion, or indication, that we couldn’t go. I’d also spoken to Air New Zealand, who’d given no hint that they wouldn’t carry us. However, through an abundance of caution on our part, and the fact that we’d had no contact from Cook Island Ministry of Health, we decided to postpone our travel plans. Fortunately our accommodation refunded us, and we have flight credits with Air New Zealand.

The following morning, 13 people who’d travelled from Wellington were removed from the Cook Islands flight NZ940 – the flight we would’ve been on – because they’d been in Wellington. So it looks like we made the right decision.

But I was fuming. Why did they wait until PEOPLE WERE BOARDING THE PLANE before taking action? The organisation is a complete shambles. In response to a story in Stuff, I wrote an email detailing this. The Stuff reporter contacted me the next day and asked whether I was still planning to travel, to which I said “yes”. But this wasn’t the story she wanted to write, so I didn’t get quoted. Instead she wrote about how people had no confidence in the travel bubble. People from Wellington have since been permitted to travel to Rarotonga if they haven’t listed any Places of Interest…so why were these 13 denied travel? In response to being badgered, Air New Zealand have finally refunded their airfares from Wellington and contributed to their accommodation costs overnight in Auckland. But if they knew this already, why didn't they act sooner? What a shitshow.

It now appears that the Sydney traveller wasn’t infectious, as no cases have subsequently been detected in Wellington over the last four days, despite extensive testing. We’ll be able to rebook to travel, but have now missed the crucial “kids are still in school” window that we’d been hoping for. Ah well. I'll check out accommodation and flight options again tomorrow.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Surrealist Art

Te Papa are holding an exhibition of Surrealist art at the moment. This is likely to be very popular, so we decided that a Tuesday morning would be a good time to go along as it wouldn’t be as crowded as at the weekend. Our best-laid plan included breakfast at The Larder, then we headed into town and parked at Te Papa. 

As expected, there weren’t many people there, and we were able to make our way through the exhibition, spending as much time as we wanted. The exhibition documents the Surrealist movement, how it grew out of the Dadaist movement, which itself was a response to the horrors of trench warfare in World War One. They had many significant paintings and other works on loan from around the world, including several by Salvador Dali, the best-known proponent of Surrealism. There were also some sculptures, books and films, and a display which recreates the painting Not To Be Reproduced by Rene Magritte:


 

There was also this famous sofa: 

So if you want some serious art, go see this exhibition.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys has been a successful musical in the US, UK, and around the world for a number of years. This touring production in New Zealand has been playing in Auckland, and has now come to Wellington. What’s not to like?

First, of course, dinner. We haven’t been to Loggy B’s for a while so thought to head along there for a pre-theatre dinner. They’ve changed up their offering since Covid, and now offer a prix fixe menu for $75, with three options of starter, main and dessert. It’s still cooked to Logan Brown quality, of course, but they don’t have the full à la carte they used to offer. As fashions in dining change I guess they have to do what they can to stay in business. That said, we had no problem deciding on what to have – the pāua ravioli is still on the menu, and will probably never leave.  And it was delicious.


We arrived at the Opera House in good time for the show, and took our seats in the stalls. The show is told in four parts, from the point of view of each of the four main protagonists – the original members of the Four Seasons. It starts in New Jersey, where a band eventually forms (some early members drop out), they’re occasionally a threesome as one member is banged up in prison, and eventually Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) introduces Bob Gaudio to the band. The show documents their early life, problems with debts, gambling, drugs and women, as well as playing some of their best-known hits. Of which there are many more than you think, as memorable song after memorable song is belted out by the accomplished cast of singers, dancers, and musicians. Thoroughly enjoyable, and if you get a chance to see a production of this (it’s finished now in New Zealand, sadly), you should go.

The next day I was working at Zealandia, taking a tour. I was chatting to one of the guests (I only had two people on that particular tour) and it turns out he was the lead saxophonist of the show! I should’ve asked him for Frankie’s autograph.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Paradise, Or The Impermanence Of Ice Cream

Indian Ink are back, with a  new show titled Paradise, Or The Impermanence of Ice Cream. You’ll remember them from such past productions as The Pickle King and Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, both of which we enjoyed.

It was on at Te Auaha again, so I took the opportunity to nip up the road to Choice Bros for one of their wagyu burgers. This is a place that I have haunted regularly of late, as they’re open of a lunchtime, and make a tasty burger. Other places also make tasty burgers, but fail to open at lunchtime (yes, Grill Meats Beer, I’m looking at you). It’s usually deserted when I go there, but it turns out that it’s a popular evening spot (I guess that’s how they’re still in business) and I could barely find room to sit! Still, burger consumed and washed down with a Starman, I made my way back to Dixon Street.


Paradise… starts with the arrival on stage of Kutisar, with a loud thump. He’s prostrate on the lump thingy in the middle of the stage. Alive? Dead? A vulture lands on his chest, and pecks at him. He laughs and brushes it away. The vulture pecks again, more painfully this time, and Kutisar opens his eyes, yelps and leaps to his feet! The vulture flaps away.

Where is he? He steps off the painted area in the centre of the stage, and is immediately consumed by flames. He jumps back to safety, and tries the other side of the stage – freezing ice storm! He goes to the back of the stage – cacophony! He can’t go forwards (audience in the way), so he’s stuck there.

Via a series of flashbacks, we explore his past life. This involves meeting Meera at a Mumbai nightclub, and their lives intertwine, with her overbearing uncle, mad aunt and the recent death of her controlling grandfather, as well as supporting parts from a moneylender and Dr. Prakash, curator of the local museum. And a vulture. An actual, live vulture (OK, a puppet). They are all part of the Parsi culture, and Meera is distraught that her grandfather’s remains aren’t being eaten by the vultures in the Tower of Silence.


Did I mention this is a one-man show? The vulture is operated by a puppeteer, but all the other parts are played by Jacob Rasan, who has adopted Freddie Mercury prosthetic teeth for the show (Mercury, aka Farrokh Bulsara, was also a Parsi), and even sounded like him at times.

As we’re struggling with the symbolism of the vulture in the play, we find out more about Meera’s life, and why she’s now running her grandfather’s kulfi shop. The plot thickens when Kutisar is taken to a cattle dump by the moneylender, where rabid dogs roam (literally; there’s a serious rabies outbreak in the city), and there is but one, lonely vulture, which sickens and dies before their eyes. Kutisar takes the corpse back to Dr. Prakash, who performs a post-mortem to discover the cause of death.

At this point we begin to realise that the vulture symbolises…vultures. The play is actually about India’s vulture crisis. As we come to the end, Kutisar’s soul is released into paradise, and the vulture dances. He’s a really good dancer.

Indian Ink have once again delivered the goods, and I look forward to their next production. 

 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Austen Found

The NZ International Comedy Festival is drawing to a close, and one of the highlights of recent years has been the presence of Penny Ashton, who has regaled us in the past with her take on Austen, (Promise & Promiscuity) and Dickens (Olive Copperbottom). This year, her show is called Austen Found.

With a slightly later start time of 8:15pm, we decided to head into Hataitai for dinner at BambuchiSan, which is what Bambuchi morphed into a couple of years back. I thought it had closed as a result of Covid-19, but it turned out the notice that they placed in their window earlier in the year was merely to announce an extended break, and they’re back in business. They do modern Japanese-inspired food, and very delicious it was too…definitely try the beef cheeks! As we had plenty of time we ploughed into their desserts – the Snickers slice was particularly good.


We found a place to park and walked to BATS with still a bit of time to spare, so had another drink and did the crossword. The foyer, crowded at first, soon emptied as the show in the Dome was announced and nearly everyone headed upstairs. Shortly after, our doors opened and we took our seats.

This show was slightly different to Penny’s previous productions…it was an improv. First up, she got a suggestion of a title from the audience, having first picked a word at random from a book. We ended up with the title Sacred and Scandalous, and it was to feature Margaret Scattybottom, a zebra, a rose garden, and a library. Also unlike the previous shows, she had some assistance in this one, with Lori Dungey playing half the roles, and Jason Smith on piano to help with the songs. The story basically follows Pride & Prejudice, and features pushy mothers, younger sisters, and gossiping villagers, as well as a seemingly-obnoxious new tenant of “The Beehive”, Henry Courtenay of Courtenay Place. Margaret initially dislikes Henry, but through a series of contrivances, set to song, decides to abandon her prospective career as a bride of Christ and ends up becoming the bride of Henry instead. Hooray! All set to song and with many comic interludes, including a long-running gag about taking herself in hand.

All the shows have sold out, but they’ve added an additional show on Saturday night, so if you can get along to that, it’s highly recommended!

 As with previous performances, at the end of the show Penny sells fridge magnets afterwards. Usually they’re $2 each, or three for $5, but this year, due to a delivery failure, they’re $2 each or two for $5. “Maths was never my strong point!” simpered Penny. A bargain, nonetheless.



 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

General Admissions

We’re in the middle of the NZ International Comedy Festival and, due to the Covids, whilst they’re keeping the “international” in their name, there’s precious little in the way of internationality about it this year. Now, I love New Zealand comedians as much as the next guy. That’s not very much, apparently. We have one or two megastars, but they’ve mostly buggered off overseas to find fame and fortune, leaving the stalwarts of 7 Days and similar shows to take up the slack. Even some of our homegrown talent aren’t putting on a new show – nothing from Rhys Darby or Hayley Sproull, for example.


One who is putting on a show is Sera Devcich. We haven’t seen much of her recently, and she explained why almost as soon as she arrived on stage. She’s had a baby, and she shared some of the details about that. Overshared, possibly. She also gave us some information about irritable bowel syndrome without which I could have happily lived the rest of my life. But she did so in an amusing way, and she generally regaled us with stories about her life, whilst also engaging the audience in some of her routines…to the slight discomfort of some. There was a long involved story about a home-made glow-in-the-dark dildo which had us all in stitches.

It wasn’t a long show, but very funny. We’d taken the decision, due to timings of Miss Daisy duties and the show’s start, to dine afterwards instead of our usual pre-show dinner, and decided to go somewhere we hadn’t been before: Panhead Brewery’s pub on the corner of Tory Street. The food there was good pub grub, nothing exceptional but a well-made burger is always welcome. And Panhead beer, of course, which is pretty good.