Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Olive Copperbottom

As the comedy festival comes to a close, we took in our last show of the festival. Again, a performer that we’d seen before, in the shape of Penny Ashton. Last year we saw her produce Promise and Promiscuity, in collaboration with Jane Austen. This time round, she’d teamed up with Charles Dickens to create a new musical, Olive Copperbottom.

We went to dinner first at Portlander. This is the (mainly) steak restaurant in the Wellington Rydges hotel, and I’ve been there a couple of times before and found their burgers to be tasty during WOAP. In the evening they’re a bit pricey, but we were armed with our Entertainment discount to bring things down to a more manageable level. The food was good (but not brilliant) and the service distinctly dodgy. And I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks this place has gone downhill somewhat. I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to go back.

Olive Copperbottom is a one-woman show performed at the Circa Theatre. The evening’s audience was a little on the small side, and we were encouraged to sit in the first two rows of the smaller, Circa 2, auditorium. No matter. We were in the front row, and were often called upon to respond, although (fortunately) not to actively participate in the show. The story revolves around orphan Olive and her adventures in the orphanage, her career on the stage after leaving said orphanage, and the discovery of who she really is. In this respect, very much like a lot of Dickens’ other plots. Naturally, there’s singing and dancing, and topical references thrown in for good measure. The characters’ names also follow Dickensian tradition, with Mrs. Scabbybits being a particular standout.

At the end of the show she exhorted us to tell all our friends about it, and also publicised her fridge magnets for sale in the foyer (“you’ll have to walk past me to get out”, she told us). But we didn’t need the hard sell as wanted them anyway, to add to our collection from last year.

Penny is taking Promise And Promiscuity to the UK later in the year, so all my UK readers (both of you) please take a look at her website and see if there’s a show near you! If you’re a Londoner (and maybe it’s because I am one), then the Greenwich Theatre is the place to go.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Tessa Waters Over Promises

The Comedy Festival Greatest Hits rolls on, and for part two of Wednesday night’s entertainment, we went to see Tessa Waters Over Promises. Last year, we saw Tessa on a windswept, rainy night at the Fringe Bar, in the company of maybe a dozen other people. Tonight, however, she was at the Propeller Stage in the BATS Theatre, and it was fully booked.

One of the features of Tessa’s shows is audience participation. To prepare ourselves fully, we selected seats in mid-row, where we were unlikely to be called out and onto the stage. Sure enough, she restricted her victims to front- and second-row audience members, and those on the ends of the rows. Phew! No need to get up and waltz this time!

Her show followed a similar format to last time, but with new moves: a mix of comedy, dance, exercise, and mime. She got an audience member to mime throwing her some mime hula hoops, then mimed hula hooping. This is actually funnier than it sounds. In fact, the whole show had us in stitches. At the end, she got everyone to shout out body parts for her to do a dance with, then put the whole thing together into one ensemble dance…then got everyone to stand up and do the dance with her. There’s just no getting away from that audience participation.

It is a bizarre performance, but it’s also very uplifting and feelgood. I don’t think she over promises at all.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hand To God

We’re doubling up on the entertainment tonight, with a double bill starting at 6:30 at Circa Theatre and a performance of Hand To God, followed by another of NZ Comedy Festival’s Greatest Hits, a return to see what Tessa Waters has been up to in the year since we saw her last.

The first item to be dealt with was, of course, dinner. With an early start we couldn’t go anywhere too swanky, so decided to go to for a curry at Great India. We haven’t been there for a while and they’re a reliable all-purpose Indian restaurant.

Hand To God is a puppet show. Wait, what? Didn’t you just go to a puppet show? Why yes we did, and thank you for remembering. That was a ventriloquism show, though, whereas this is more a glove puppet show – like the muppets. But not like the muppets, in that the content is considerably darker. And it’s on during the comedy festival. Indeed, it is advertised on the comedy festival’s website as a show to go and see. So we went.

Hand To God isn’t a comedy show. OK, it has its blackly comedic moments, but mostly it’s a show about death, grief, coming of age, child abuse and religion. With puppets. Sounds like a bundle of laughs!

The action centres on a puppet club in the basement of a church in a small town in Texas. These are a thing in America, apparently. Americans are weird. Margery, recently widowed, has been asked to run the puppet club, whose members include her son, Jason. His puppet, Tyrone, becomes possessed by the devil, and high jinks ensue. The puppet says the things that Jason can’t say, to the girl he fancies in the club, to his mother, and to club delinquent Timothy. Jason tries to “kill” the puppet, but it comes back to life, and it’s not until he’s dealt with his feelings about his mother that he can finally remove the puppet from his hand. As I said, it’s not a comedy.

Monday, May 8, 2017

No One Puts Briney In The Corner

We do seem to be repeating ourselves a bit this year with the comedy festival. It’s a bit of a NZ Comedy Festival Greatest Hits, with artists that we’ve liked from previous years. So far we’ve seen Paco Erhard and Alice Brine, and later we’re seeing Tessa Waters and Penny Ashton. We will manage to see some new stuff, honestly (not least, Mr. & Mrs. Alexander earlier in April).

Alice Brine has come up in the world since we saw her last year and has now appeared on Seven Days, New Zealand’s topical news quiz, a couple of times – definitely a sign that you’ve arrived. Her new show has moved down from the upstairs Dome, where we saw her last year, to the main Propeller stage.

First up, a spot of dinner. We decided to visit our friends in Vista as we’ve not been there for dinner for a long while (we usually patronise them at the weekend for lunch). They do a short menu of well-cooked bistro-style food.

Alice Brine’s show, Nobody Puts Briney In The Corner, starts with a short film in which her face is superimposed on that of Jennifer Grey from Dirty Dancing, and also some shots of her trying (and failing) to perform some of the moves from the film.

And then we’re into the show proper. Alice introduced us to the three main events in her life since we saw her last: moving to Auckland (she’s a Hutt girl originally), an associated change in her relationship status to single, and Becoming A Feminist. She became a feminist by accident last year, when a Facebook post she wrote “went viral” as the marketing kids say. That is, it was shared many times over and reached a much wider audience than she was expecting. This led to her gaining a lot of followers who, no doubt, expected more of the same from her.

This was the status:

Alice has spent the best part of a year trying to live up to expectations so that she could use this material in her show…with some varying results. She detailed these to us in, er, detail. And as last time, she had us in stitches with her pithy observations of human behaviour. Especially her own. Everything from asking for permission on a Women’s March, free toilet roll and some distinctly sketchy dating decisions get the treatment. And for the final instalment, treatment was definitely needed.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How To Be German

Yes, the comedy festival is back, and with it, our favourite German comedian (it’s quite a small field here in New Zealand), Paco Erhard. Paco, you may remember, was the Worst. German. Ever. in 2015, and now he’s back with a new show in which he promises “I can make you German” in five easy steps. This may not have been a state of affairs to which I’d previously aspired, but what the hell, I thought I’d give it a go.

First, of course, dinner. I’d tried to book St John’s Bar via their online booking system, but it insisted that they had no tables at 5:30 and 6:00pm, so I abandoned that idea, and instead we went to Cuba Street fave, Plum CafĂ©. We’d not been there in a while and I had an outstanding Entertainment book offer burning a hole in my phone, so that was my next choice. OK, it’s a short walk to the venue from Cuba Street, but nothing we can’t manage, even on a wind- and rainswept Wellington evening. They did a very nice pork belly with Israeli couscous, washed down with a Martinborough Riesling.

We crossed over to The Boatshed for the evening’s entertainment. Not normally open to the public, the venue was set up with a marquee atop the building, which was serving wine, beer and pizza. This was a “holding pen” for the audience before the doors were opened just before 7pm and we were able to take our seats in the top-floor room of the rowing club. The venue is normally used for weddings, functions and corporate events, but tonight was set out with theatre-style rows of seats. Given the space available and the number of tickets sold they could have set it up with tables and chairs, but hey…nitpicking.

Paco came on stage shortly after 7:00pm, and proceeded to inform us about the first step to being German: punctuality! His show is an exploration of all things German, other nationalities, and the difficulties of admitting to being German when meeting, for example, anyone Jewish. He asked if any Germans in the audience could raise their hands (“No! Not like that!”), and finding a token English person in the audience to be the foil for all his English jokes. Some of the material was the same or similar to when we saw him two years ago, but he’s expanded his repertoire a bit further. He covered some of the same stories about his schooling, learning about the Holocaust in history lessons, maths lessons, geography lessons…

There aren’t really five steps to becoming German, because we all start from different places, and anyway, which type of German do you want to be? He detailed several stereotypes, both as experienced by the world outside Germany, and those experienced by other Germans inside Germany, of which we may have been less aware. His show was longer this time around, but he is going to need some new material at some point to progress up the comedy ladder. We all left feeling slightly more German than when we’d entered, apart from maybe the Germans, who probably felt more smug.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Outside Looking In

The New Zealand comedy festival didn’t officially start until 29th April. However, some acts are here as part of it and have scheduled their runs to coincide at least in part, with the comedy festival. One such act is Ed Byrne, here to perform his Outside Looking In tour.

Autumn has definitely arrived in Wellington now, and it was a windy and damp evening as we trotted along to Wellington’s second-best seafood restaurant, Shed 5. Whether it is first, second or third best depends really on how you rank Whitebait and Ortega, but this is where I put it. Second-best in Wellington is still pretty good, however. We had scallops and calamari to start with, followed by the risotto and snapper. All dishes cooked excellently, and we had neither the time nor the inclination to stay for a pudding before heading off to the Opera House for a 7:30pm start.

We were there in plenty of time…and yet the doors weren’t open. What was going on? No explanation from Opera House staff was forthcoming, as they opened the doors with about 5 minutes to spare. We took our seats, and then waited, and waited. Finally, at around 7:45, Ed Byrne came on stage, and apologised for keeping us waiting. Apparently his flight had got all the way to Wellington before the driver decided that the weather was too dodgy to land, and so…flew back to Auckland. After a wait for another flight, he finally made it on the second go round at a landing, and hared it over to the Opera House. I’m assuming he probably stopped for a breather before coming on stage. Anyway, that’s the story he told us, and I have no reason to suspect that he’s lying.

He then gave us the rest of his show. Observations on his life, really, in the way that comedians do, with quite a long section on diarrhoea, and things that people had said that made them too stupid to stay in a relationship with. “Clear left” is the one that sticks out in my mind. Also obligatory is the comedic gold provided by children, six and four (“we’re not big on names in the Byrne household”). He also gave us a long and involved story about a corporate gig he once did, where he walked off “to the sound of my own feet”. Feet were also the subject of the finale of the show, which revolved around his son’s choice of trainers and the imposition of another parent’s values at kindergarten, and how that was resolved.

The show doesn’t have the theme or structure of an Izzard or a Bailey show. It was funny, but you have to strain to remember why, exactly. Although I laughed like a drain, it’s not quotably funny.

It also wasn’t hugely long, with no encore, so we were out and home by around ten. I switched on the telly to watch Seven Days on +1, and saw…Ed Byrne on the panel. This was followed by First Laughs, hosted by Urzila Carlson, and featuring…Ed Byrne. Fortunately, not doing a routine from the show, so a little extra bonus there.