Sunday, November 26, 2023

Dara Ó Briain

It’s raining comedy in New Zealand! Hot on the heels of Bill Bailey comes Ireland’s finest, Dara Ó Briain. As you can tell from the picture, his tour is ending in New Zealand, not beginning.

Dinner first: we booked The Old Quarter, a modern Asian place on Dixon Street. They specialise in Vietnamese food; they also specialise in serving you quickly and turning over tables. We made a rookie mistake of ordering our drinks and food at the same time, and the food started arriving before our cocktails were ready! Next time, we’ll order cocktails and not do the food until they’ve arrived. All of it was delicious, however, and we even had time for a dessert.

It’s just up the road from St James Theatre, so in a matter of moments we were in the foyer with time on our hands. On this occasion we had eschewed the cheap seats and booked into the dress circle (there’s also a grand circle), and settled in for Dara to begin.

When Dara Ó Briain does stand-up, he doesn’t have anything on the stage, except a stand with some water on it. This, we found out later, has its drawbacks. Much of his show is stream of consciousness, and he disappears off on to wild tangents before dragging himself back to the story he was telling. He also did some audience interaction, meeting people in the front row and basically taking the piss out of their jobs (there was a hypnotherapist, an animal experimenter, and a civil servant, amongst others).

Anyway, he’s pleased to be back in Wellingon, if only because the Cable Car is working now. On his first visit in 2019 it was out of action, being repaired. “But don’t worry, there’s a replacement bus service”, said the attendant. Dara then explains “I don’t have a meeting at the top of the Cable Car that I have to get to, I just wanted a go on the Cable Car.” But now he’s happy.

The second half of the show takes a different tack. After first regaling us about the joys of visiting a theme park, with rollercoasters and the like, mere days after undergoing knee surgery, he realised he’d missed out a bit of his show. He ran off stage to collect his exercise book, and started leafing through it, eventually pulling out a swathe of papers. He then proceeded, for around half an hour, to give us a harrowing tale of the privations suffered under Irish law, by anyone who was adopted. And why they were adopted. This all came from having watched a film called Philomena, which he heartily recommends, as do I. Because (spoiler alert), it turns out Dara is adopted, and he detailed the Kafkaesque Irish bureaucracy involved in getting information about the woman who “gave you up” for adoption. Like many Irish phrases, “giving up for adoption” is a euphemism that disguises the horrendous truth (cf. “The Troubles”) that these women had their babies taken from them forcibly, and often sold to Americans. Yes, sold. This was in the latter part of the 20th century. It’s a very moving story, and fortunately one with a happy ending, which is not the usual outcome.

But it’s all a bit of a downer. This is supposed to be a comedy show! So Dara then brings us back with an upbeat, uplifting story about an audience member in Canada, to cheer us all up! And then he leaves the stage, before coming back for an inevitable encore about how he was asked for a seven-minute segment to trail his show, and how this was impossible, because it takes him an hour just to say “hello”.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Bill Bailey: Thoughtifier

That old card Bill Bailey has gotten into the habit of starting his tours in New Zealand. It’s a sad fact of life that many acts, both comedians and music, will start off their tours in Europe & America, and don’t get to New Zealand until (sometimes) several years later. Not so Mr. Bailey, though…in fact, at one point during his show, as he railed against the incompetencies of UK politicians, someone heckled him “Emigrate!”, and he shared his serious thoughts on how he’d considered moving to New Zealand at one point. He loves New Zealand!

But I digress. Obviously, you want to know where we went for dinner beforehand? We went to Mr. Go’s, a perennial favourite, who have now relocated to larger premises on Eva Street. The food, however, has remained to the same high standard, and we had my favourite, Korean chicken wings, along with broccolini, dumplings, and “typhoon shelter” prawns – because they’re like a typhoon for the taste buds!

Bill (we’re mates) was on at the Michael Fowler Centre, which has a bigger capacity than St James Theatre...and also, crucially, more comfortable seats! Nevertheless, he’d had to book an additional night – we were on the second show of the two, on Monday night. I’ve since spoken to some people who went on the previous night, and there were definitely elements of our show that weren’t in theirs – a testament to his ability to ad-lib and concoct hilarious moments without needing to just stick to a script. Many of his quips were tailored specifically for a New Zealand audience, including constant digs at Palmerston North, and always referring to this gig as being in “Wellington and the surrounding areas”.

As ever, the show involves a lot of music, and this time round he’d come equipped with MIDI balls. These are bouncy balls, wirelessly connected to a computer, which play a sound whenever they are bounced or hit. He distributed some of these to the audience (in the front row, natch), to play the drum line, whilst he played the guitars on another pair of balls himself. Obviously, there's a comedy moment to be had about playing with one 's balls. Another instrument he introduced was the laser harp – a series of laser beams are the strings, and he plays it by “plucking” them – a note is played when he interrupts the beam. He also plays more traditional instruments, including walking around the house and doing everything in the death metal style. Also, a madrigal interlude based on Henry VIII’s meeting with Anne of Cleves – clearly a comedy goldmine! And a rendition of Habenera from Carmen, with subtitles which he felt more accurately reflected the content of the aria; with the assistance of Deborah Wai Kapohe.

Another area he explored in some detail was the emergence of AI. He has built some AI clones of himself and asked them questions, and also deals with some ChatGPT live on a screen. He’s unconvinced by the idea that AI will be taking over the world soon, and demonstrates why.

As ever, two hours of howlingly funny, intelligent comedy. If you can get to it, do – he’s playing the UK and Ireland from February next year.



Monday, November 6, 2023

Dracula’s: The Resurrection

What is Dracula’s? According to its website, it was “born in a dark, dingy Melbourne laneway in 1980, and four decades later has sold over five million tickets…leaps like a feathered zombie show girl - from the crypt!” In Australia, it has a fixed venue on the Gold Coast, with a dinner and a show. For the tour, there’s no dinner – although their signature cocktails were available, served in blood bags. It’s best described as a comedy gothic cabaret show. What’s not to like?

It’s on at St James Theatre for three nights and a matinee, and has also toured the rest of New Zealand. Before the show, two of the cast are patrolling the foyer in full makeup and costume, interacting with the audience. The show started with a bang, and a rendition of Sympathy For The Devil. The show contains “strobe lighting, haze, fog/smoke effects, simulated pyrotechnics, strong language, partial nudity, and adult themes”. As well as the cabaret elements, there was a circus-style act with aerial silk, and a lot of singing and dancing. The performers are all very technically accomplished. The more comedic acts included one with two men and two bath towels…and nothing more. The first half ended on the song When I Was A Sperm.

The second half continued in the same theme, and finished with a musical medley, beginning with a puppet version of Bohemian Rhapsody, then live versions of Let’s Go Crazy and Let’s Dance. All jolly good fun, and we emerged blinking into the afternoon sun.

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Importance Of Being Earnest

The classic Oscar Wilde tale has been on at Circa Theatre for the last few weeks. Nicola got the ushering gig for its pre-penultimate night, so I went along too. 

It’s not a short play, so the start time was brought forward to 6:30pm. This limited our dining options somewhat, so we decided to dine off the new Circa restaurant menu. I’d been disappointed with their fush’n’chups the last time I was there, so this time opted for the chicken burger. It’s not brilliant.

When you tackle a classic like this, you’ve got to add a twist. The last version of this I saw was with Judi Dench, who tackled the famous “a handbag?” line with quiet restraint instead of the usual histrionics…so that’s been done. The quirk added by this production is in the casting: Algernon is played by Isobel Mackinnon, and Gwendolen by Ryan Carter. The part of John Worthing was played by Andrew Paterson, who we know as a member of A Slightly Isolated Dog as well as other roles, and has been a regular at Circa over a number of years. Also departing from most other productions is the maid Merriman’s rendition of Life On Mars, which I don’t remember being in the original.

It’s all splendidly done, and everything works out in the end. Sorry, should’ve said “spoiler alert” there.


Sunday, October 15, 2023

Election Day

We’re coming up on re-election day

New Zealand has been having one of its general elections recently. They happen every three years here, which is quite often. When the election comes around the Electoral Commission advertises for casual workers to deliver the election – around 20,000 people get involved in the whole process. Nicola and I decided to give it a go this year. 

We applied online and were duly invited to an interview/assessment to see whether we were suitable and for which roles. We both ended up being OSVIOs, which is Ordinary/Special Vote Issuing Officer. It’s our job to complete the voting paper (what used to be called a ballot paper) for each voter as they come to us; telling them how to mark their vote (if necessary), and where to put the voting paper when they’d finished.

Unlike some countries, voting is open for two weeks before the final Election Day, so voting places (what used to be called Polling Stations, but this is too difficult for some people to understand) are open and need to be staffed. We both attended training in the weeks before so that we would have a clear idea of what we were doing – you can watch so many videos and online modules, but there’s nothing like practising doing it for real. Nicola was allocated to work in the Miramar Community Centre, which is just down the road, and I was in Hataitai Community House, which is a bit further away, necessitating a drive. In the week before election day, I was working for five days, then did the final ED on Saturday. This is a long day, as we start at 9am instead of the usual 10am, and go through to 7pm instead of 4pm. But at 7pm, it’s not over. In the days leading up to ED, we’d finish up with a reconciliation to total all the votes issued that day to a running total – a process that normally took half an hour. On ED, however, we have to count all the votes for each candidate and each party, and send those to Electoral Headquarters. On ED I’d been moved to Miramar Community Hall so I was in a bigger voting place than I’d been used to. Additionally, we had three electorates for which we were counting votes there, and each one needs to be processed separately.

You remember that bit about “where to put their voting paper”? It’s up there, at the end of paragraph two? Yeah, that’s too hard. So when we were first starting the count, we had to open up all the ballot boxes and make sure that they contained only those votes for that electorate. You’re way ahead of me on this one, aren’t you? Of course there were some in the wrong boxes! After we’d sorted that out, the counting proper could begin. This is a long process, but once it’s complete the manager gets on the phone to headquarters and relays his results…which then get fed through to the TV stations and news networks.

We finished up around 11:15, signed out, said our goodbyes and “see you in three years!”es, and got home. My back was aching and I was still buzzing, so I watched the results show with a glass or two of muscle relaxant before I hit the hay.



Wednesday, September 27, 2023


As members of the Friends of Te Papa, we are often invited to participate in talks or other events arranged by FoTP as part of their fundraising efforts. Occasionally, we even accept! 

This tour was to explore the geology of Wellington city, and was led by Hamish Campbell, formerly of GNS. We were advised to bring outdoor and waterproof clothing as we would be going outside on what turned out to be a cold, windy, somewhat drizzly day.

We arrived at Te Papa to board our coach at 9:45, and set off around Wellington’s coast – i.e. the route we usually drive to and from Wellington! – with commentary from Hamish. He distributed maps of the city, oriented such that the edge of the map was parallel with the Wellington Fault and the whole of the harbour could be included. There was lots of stuff about faults, and subduction, and plates. The rock in the Wellington region is uniformly greywacke base rock, a type of sandstone.  Our route took us around the bays and along Shelly Bay road – the first time we’d been up that way since the fire in June this year. All those lovely heritage buildings destroyed. So sad.

Our first stop was at the Wahine Memorial in Seatoun. The memorial itself is built from greywacke of various different colours – fifty shades of greywacke! The different colours reflect the fine-ness of the particles that made up the original sedimentary layer, and also the amount of carbon included – the more carbon, the darker it appears. Hamish also asked us to consider where the pebbles on the beach had come from – not the sea, as it happens, but almost exclusively delivered by man.

From here we drove along the south coast towards Red Rocks. The tarmac road runs out after passing Owhiro Bay, so from there we went on foot to admire some of the rock formations in what used to be a quarry. The fault lines are clearly visible in the rock, and the shift between the layers of strata show the subduction and bending of the rock under extremely high temperatures deep underground, which have now been brought up to the surface. 

This is all your fault

We ate our packed lunches on the coach at this point, it being generally too cold, windy and rainy to eat outside. From there we drove up to Karori, with the intention of getting up to Wright’s Hill to see the whole of the Wellington fault from the vantage point. But the weather was against us by this time, and we scratched the idea after a cup of coffee, as there would have been nothing to see under these conditions. We therefore drove on to the final stop on the tour – a church built in the 1960s, the Futuna Chapel. This is included because it contains three unusual types of stone: an altar made of red South African granite, serpentinite in the floor, and the marble used for altars around the rest of the chapel. Hamish told us about serpentinite and the difference between it and pounamu (greenstone or jade); and also about his adventures in finding pounamu, and the research which eventually led to a unique way of identifying pounamu using radio isotope dating, which is the only reliable way to positively say where a piece of stone has originated; strontium/lead decay is the method used.

That about concluded our tour, and we drove back to the city centre. They asked us where wanted to be dropped off (as the route was going past some people’s homes), so I hopefully raised my hand and said Miramar, but they weren’t going for that, and we alit at the bus station to complete our journey on the No. 24 bus.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Tim Finn

Tim Finn, brother of Neil and integral part of Split Enz and later joining Crowded House, is back playing gigs around New Zealand. We’ve seen Neil on a number of occasions over the last decade or so, but this is the first time that Tim’s broken cover, so of course we went!

First, as always, the obligatory dinner. Recently we’ve been frequenting much the same haunts, principally due to their proximity to Michael Fowler Centre, or wherever we’re due that evening. But tonight we cast the net a little wider, to revisit a place we’ve not been to, I think, since pre-pandemic times: Pravda. This has morphed into a specialist steak restaurant these days, but they do also have other options. They’re also doing a pre-WOW set menu, but we decided to forgo that in favour of a steak. Unfortunately when I asked the waiter about oysters he told me they’d sold out, but we ploughed on regardless. I had baby octopus and hurunui fillet, Nicola had burrata and squid. Still a class restaurant, I’m happy to report.

A short walk took us back to Mickey Fowl’s and this time we were seated in the upper section, at the back – best seats in the house! The support band, Flip Grater, came on and gave us a short set of seven songs which all sounded the same. 

Then time for the main act. The house lights go down, the stage lights go up, and the musicians all take their places; on comes Tim, to a tremendous roar! He trips up, and the whole place goes dark and quiet. What’s happened? The lights return, and “Oops!” says Tim. “That was my mistake”…and they immediately rip into My Mistake. I see what you did there!

The rest of the set followed a roughly chronological order, with the first half made up of Split Enz songs, before heading off to solo material and three songs from Crowded House’s Woodface (Tim wasn’t a founding member of CH and only joined for their third album). At the end, they came on for an encore of two more Split Enz songs and another solo number, Staring At The Embers, from his debut solo album. The title of the tour, The Times And Lives of Tim Finn, seemed to imply a retrospective of his entire oeuvre; what we got was nearly all from the early part of his output, and nothing since 1991’s Woodface. Whilst the prospect of “heritage acts” using the dreaded N-word (for “New Material”) can strike terror into the hearts of audiences, I wouldn’t have minded hearing some of his more recent work as well as the classics. But he gave a good set over 1¾ hours, and definitely had a good time!