Downstage closes

September 18th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Downstage has announced:

The Board of Downstage Theatre today announced its decision to close the company.

The decision comes following the announcement by Creative New Zealand not to fund Downstage in 2014.

Downstage Theatre Trust chair, Allan Freeth, said today that the Board had not taken the decision lightly.

“Downstage has a fifty year history of bringing outstanding theatre experiences to Wellington audiences.”

“In recent years the theatre has pursued a new model – based on partnerships with artistic companies, taking risks on new works, and creating a supportive environment for artists.

“It is not possible to continue this work without adequate and stable funding.”

Mr Freeth said the Board acknowledged the many achievements of the individuals and artists who have worked with Downstage over the years, and the professionalism and hard work of the theatre’s staff.  In particular, the Board acknowledged the contribution of CEO and Director Hilary Beaton.

Downstage has been an institution in Wellington, and it is very sad to see it close. I’ve seen many great plays there, and so many people have contributed to it over the years.

The only consolation is that Wellington is at least well served by other theatres such as Circa, Bats, Gryphon etc. But it will be a shame to lose the custom made Downstage building from theatre – unless of course another theatre buys the building.

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Richard Meros salutes the Southern Man

November 29th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

On Tuesday night I went to Downstage to view Richard Meros salutes the Southern Man. My review of the previous Meros play on his desire to become Helen Clark’s young lover is here.

You get greeted at the door by Richard Meros (played by the talented Arthur Meek), and once you are all settled in, Meros begins his one hour presentation on how the Southern Man is the salvation for the NZ economy.

He starts by ascertaining the intellectual level of the audience and asks everyone with a Bachelor’s degree to stick their hand up. Only in Wellington could well over half the hands be up, and then you’re asked to keep them up if you have Honours, a Masters and finally a Doctorate. Again I suspect only in Wellington would you still have over half a dozen hands still up.

Those of us without degrees (such as me) were asked to translate the down to earth language for the intellectual elite :-)

The powerpoint presentation that is at the heart of the show has been masterfully put together. There is some nice choreography as Meros ducks behind the screen so he is in silhouette, and he ducks under and around various images as they fly in.

Meek is an adept performer and a boisterousness audience shouted out occasionally, and he worked that all into the performance.

The central premise of the show is that the New Zealand economy is facing disaster. and the answer to our problems lies with the mythical Southern Man who is compared to actual mythical heroes such as Hercules.

The show is funny and engaging, albeit not as side split-tingly funny as the Helen Clark production was. It’s an amusing journey through many New Zealand stereotypes and even sacred cows, with a tinge of politics weaved through it.

The script is put together by playwright Meros himself, director Geoff Pinfield and Meek. In a q+a after the show (Meros appearing in silhouette to protect his actual identity – which worked well until Pinfield called him by his actual first name!) they spoke about how they put the show together, and what it means for the liberal Clark loving Meros to now be idolising the Southern Man.

A lively quick show, which was a lot of fun. It’s on until Saturday night.

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Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man

November 15th, 2012 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

Richard Meros was the creative force behind – On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover. I blogged in 2008:

When I first heard about this play, I thought I would rather play lawn bowls than go see it. But then just as the season in Wellington was ending, I started to hear good things about it. …

I was pissed off I missed seeing it. But then it opened in Auckland. So I extended one of my trips to Auckland to stay on for it. And it was fucking hilarious. Don’t be mistaken by the title into thinking you will not enjoy this is you are right of centre. There were National MPs in the audience laughing as hard as anyone.

So while past performance is not guarantee of future success, I have high expectations for his latest work – especially as Arthur Meek stars again. The video above gives you an idea of what it is about.

The play is on at Downstage from Thu 22 November to Sat 1 December. Downstage are offering a discount for Kiwiblog readers. If you book your tickets online, then use the discount code “Kiwiblog” and you get each ticket $5 cheaper. This means you can get adult tickets for some nights for only $35.

 

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Paper Sky

November 5th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Despite having only landed back in New Zealand that afternoon, and having not slept for 30 hours, I trotted off to Downstage on Friday Night to see Paper Sky.

I found it one of the most creative plays I have seen. The plot is basically a love story between the reclusive writer and the young neighbour – but the strength of the play is how it is portrayed.

The main character, Henry, is portrayed by not just Emmet Skilton (Almighty Johnsons) but has three comic shades played by Veronica Brady, Alison Bruce, and Justin Haiu. They play out his inner turmoils to huge comic delight. It is hard to describe in mere words how well they do it, but it is a visual delight.

The other visual delight is the set. It is a movable feast, that is very much part of the play.  Rooms get made and unmade. Houses are formed. The physicality of the actors, the mobile set, the sound and the lighting all combine to a great performance.

Julia Croft plays the perky Louise, the next door neighbour who just will not be deterred. Henry’s alter-egos throw all sorts of barriers at her, and she (literally sometimes) climbs over them to try and bond with Henry. Croft was a natural in the role, and managed to portray a character who is both shy and unworldly but also determined.

There’s other great parts to the show – the paper creations, the sub-text around the book Henry is writing etc. Again, it is hard to capture these in writing because unlike many plays where the strength of the play is the dialogue – this play has relatively little dialogue – it is a 70 minute visual treat.

Theatreview has a glowing review also.

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The Intricate Art of Actually Caring

May 28th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Went on Friday Night to The Intricate Art of Actually Caring at Downstage. This is a quirky New Zealand play which was a lot of fun. The first thing that strikes you is the three overhead projectors on the stage. It was like being in a timewarp. But the OHPs worked as a great device to not just take up through the chapters of the story, but with hilarious effect when used to show a boss sacking Jack.

The show is about Eli and Jack (played by themselves). The plays start’s in Eli’s room and Jack wonders about how thinsg come to be. He thinks every object has an amazing life story about how it came to be in that flat, with a camel rug especially captivating him. This then moves on to exploring their heritage and wanting to travel to Jerusalem to visit the grave of James K Baxter, Eli’s great uncle. So they do a road trip to Jerusalem.

The road trip is a classic Kiwi experience. You have the possum road kill, the painful parents they stay with, the arguments and the poetry. There are plenty of laughs and good Kiwi black humour.

Having been to Jerusalem myself, I especially enjoyed the descriptions of it, and the final scenes set there.

There is (as usual) a darker side to the play, with the death of their friend on his 21st birthday hanging over Eli and Jack. This is part of the context to their discovery of caring about heritage and where we come from, and what we do.

Probably a play more targeted at a younger audience, especially with a plethora of swear words featuring, but I saw Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon there enjoying the play, so all ages can appreciate it.

The director was Eleanor Bishop, who also has a production currently at Circa. A rare thing to have two active productions at the same time. She oversaw a good pace to the film, where you never feel things are dragging on. Each chapter is different from the one before, to keep you interested.

Overall an excellent play which makes you laugh and think in equal measures.

Readers may also enjoy the review at the excellent Theatrereview.

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Live at Six

April 14th, 2012 at 1:14 pm by David Farrar

Had a great time last night at “Live at Six” at Downstage. It is an invigorating mix of interactivity and technology, that wonderfully depicts how our television broadcasters differently deal with a scandal involving one of their own.

The play formally starts at 8 pm, but if you turn up early to the Downstage bar from 7.30 pm, you see the “scandal” in question. You’re even invited to record it yourself, and upload it.

This is the video I shot of a “tired and emotional” Jane Kenyon collapsing in the bar of the Qantas Media Awards. Kenyon is the lead anchor for One News. Helping her up is Nick Dunbar of 3 News, who used to work with her at One News.

Do be warned that if you do turn up early to see the incident, then you may end up featured quite prominently on the screens in the theatre itself. Yes, they use the actual footage from that night, rather than the same stock footage. This is very impressive when you consider they have just a few minutes to do it in.

Then when the play starts you see the news teams of TVNZ and TV3 at work in deciding how to report the story. Is it even a story that someone fell over in a bar? Well it is, because the video gets placed on the Internet, and is all over the blogs (they even have a line when they realise it is now up on Whale Oil).

TV3 of course is gleeful at the story. Michele Amas plays news boss Sue Austin and she is absolutely ruthless, yet endearing, in exploiting this to the hilt. A highlight is when Kenyon, played by Jessica Robinson, goes on the roof of TVNZ for some fresh air (she can’t leave the building). Sue yells for them to not just get a zoom lens on her, but to make sure they get a camera down the bottom in case there is a splat to cover.

As you get the idea, it is a very cynical, yet hilarious (and some would say accurate) depiction of the media. They also use social media very effectively in the show. You see blogs, Stuff, You Tube, Tweet Deck, Skype etc. But they manage to use them in a way which they are natural parts of the plot, not just gimmicks to show they are with it.

Tim Spite was hilarious as 3 News news reader Gordon Miller. He was happy to go along with anything his boss proposed, unlike the conflicted Nick Dunbar (played by Derek Fontaine) who is friends with Kenyon and wants her treated fairly.

On the One News side, Donogh Rees was captivating as corporate executive Karen Adams. A former news presenter herself, she was now the woman managing the crisis for TVNZ, and was a first class manipulator. Phil Vaughan played Tim McGregor, Kenyon’s immediate boss, who wanted to do the right thing, so long as it didn’t muck his day up too much. Jessica Williams was great, as usual, in the lead role.

You also had the strange competitive friendship between the two news editors, played by Eli Kent and Barnaby Fredric.

The show was pretty much flawless. The script was excellent, and the actors were superb. The running time at just under two hours was just right, and they had the interval at just the right point. While most of the focus was on the character interactions, the plot has a couple of very nice twists at the end which you don’t see coming.

Their use of technology was excellent, and it is a tribute to their support staff, that they managed to do it with no hitches.

It was my first Downstage play since they had a six month hiatus. A great production to lead off with, and an excellent night’s entertainment. Highly recommended for a fun night out.

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I, George Nepia

September 11th, 2011 at 3:03 pm by David Farrar

I, George Nepia is on at Circa for another six days until 16 September.

Now if you don’t know who George Nepia is you’re probably not one of those watching the Rugby World Cup. Nepia played for NZ is both rugby union and league. He is most remembered for playing all 32 games on the 1924 of the UK, and the All Blacks winning all 32 games, leading to their nickname of “The Invincibles”.

They beat Ireland 6-0, Wales 19-0, England 17-11 and France 30-6. Nepia was aged only 19, and his auto-biography on which the play is based revealed his doubts on the boat over whether he could live up to such legends as the Brownlie brothers.

He did. Some called him the first global superstar of rugby. Some say he remains the best fullback in history. The South African Rugby Union made him a Vice-President for life in in Wales just before his death, he got a a standing ovation from 30,000 Welsh in Swansea.

The play was written by Hone Kouka and Jarod Rawiri played Nepia. He was an inspired choice, both with a certain physical resemblance, but also with his ability to capture the emotions of Nepia.

Rawiri plays both the older Nepia (in fact technically the dead Nepia) and the younger Nepia. He takes you through not just the rugby tour but the story of his life.

Director Jason Te Kare turned the script into a moving play. The story flowed nicely, and the play was almost too short at just 75 minutes.

This won’t be a play for everyone. It’s not a comedy or a thriller. If you have never heard of George Nepia, then it might not be something that works for you. But if you have heard of the invincible George Nepia, and want to see a good portrayal of the man behind the rugby player, then you’ve got six days left to do so.

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On the Upside-Down of the World

August 26th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Went with Ukraine Girl to Downstage on Wednesday to see Arthur Meek’s On the Upside-Down of the World.

The first things that strikes you is the set. There are around 40 tall ladders on stage. And somehow they are not leaning against anything, making you wonder what keeps them up. Eventually you work out they are bolted to each other, so they are like a big frame. My mind did start recalling college physics and wondering how much weight would be needed on which ladder to make the whole thing collapse!

While the ladders were not an integral part of the play, for me they worked. It allowed Laurel Devenie’s character of Mary Ann Martin to emphasise her pleasure or distress as she went up or down the ladders.

So who is Mary Ann Martin, and why is there a play about her? She came to New Zealand at the age of 25 in 1842, following her husband William Martin who came out in 1841 to be the first Chief Justice of New Zealand. In fact at the time, the only Justice of New Zealand.

The play has a strongly political theme, as did Martin’s actual life. When she first came to New Zealand she saw Maori as savages to be converted to Christianity and became well regarded by many Maori due to the hospital she set up. But over time the friendly relations with Maori frayed and eventually severed, with the focal point in the play being the son of a Maori chief she fostered as her own.

The land wars of the 1860s severed the Martins not just from Maoridom, but also from most of their European friends, as they though the actions of the then Government was unjust and provocative.

Now some may read this and think the play is just a politically correct rewriting of history which portrays Maori as all good, and settlers as all bad. It doesn’t. The play is based on the actual history of that period, and primarily the book “Our Maoris” written by Mary Ann Martin. It is worth reflecting that the actions of the Government in the 1860s was judged harshly not just by today’s standards, but at the time by the first Chief Justice and his wife.  If you want a short summary of the Taranaki war, Wikipedia has one.

But despite the political overtone, this was not a play about Maori v Pakeha. It was a play about one woman, and her journey. A sole actor play is always a challenge, but I have to say Laurel Devenie not just rose to the challenge, but mastered it. Her performance was so outstanding that she got a rare standing ovation from most of the audience. That’s the first play I’ve attended in some years where that has happened.

The back story to the play is interesting:

She called her book Our Maoris, which today seems a patronising and anachronistic title.

But as director Colin McColl points out, language is fluid and when Lady Martin used the term it was with affection and respect.

Now she has made the journey from book to stage courtesy of playwright/actor Arthur Meek who found a copy of Our Maoris at a second-hand bookstall a couple of summers back.

Meek says its provocative title coupled with its cover picture of “the most depressed looking kuia ever” meant he had to buy it. He expected it would be a dry and possibly depressing read, but instead he found an uplifting story which revealed one of the great pioneers of our colonial history.

Arthur Meek succeeded in turning the book into a play which is equally uplifting.

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C’Mon Black

June 10th, 2011 at 4:16 pm by David Farrar

Had a very enjoyable Thursday evening in Wellington. Had dinner at Ortega Fish Shack and my God the food was divine. Had prawn tails followed by the most lovely gurnard. One could easily get addicted to this place.

Then went to Downstage to see C’mon Black. It’s a Roger Hall production, so I was expecting to enjoy it, and I did.

Gavin Rutherford plays Dickie Hart, a Kiwi farmer who leaves the farm and the shiela behind for a once in a lifetime trip to South Africa for the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Rutherford excelled in the role, and kept the audience laughing throughout as he relived what happened on that tour.

The nice thing about getting to go to around 20 to 25 plays a year is that I’m now starting to recognise the different styles of the various actors, producers, directors and writers. I reckon in a couple more years I’ll be able to do blind testing, like they do for coke and pepsi – no looking at the programme, and try and guess who the producer and director was!

C’Mon Black, reminded me somewhat of Le Sud. They were both so good at sending up different cultures. Le Sud took the piss out of NZ, Maori and French cultures. C’Mon Black takes the piss out of NZ and South Africa, and occassionally England. Rutherford manages to capture both the Kiwi farmer, and the South African tour guide so well.

The funniest moment would have been when Dickie phones home, asks about the cows, the farm etc and then only at the end asks the wife how she is. Then as he hangs up he curses he forgot to ask about the dogs.

The play brought back vivid memories of following the Cup from New Zealand. The reminder of Jonah as the giant that crushed the English and was so feared to tackle. Some firm even offered money for anyone who could tackle him. Rarely has there been a team that looked so unbeatable as the All Blacks in that match.

And then there was that final – where so many All Blacks were still sick from food poisoning, no tries were scored, where it went to extra time and then the Boks won with a drop goal. The agony was played out on stage masterfully.

This has been a somewhat stressful week as work pressures have been non-stop and my “to do before next week” list hit double digits. So the play was a very well timed way to unwind and relax, helped by some drinks afterwards at the Tasting Room also.

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The Black Friars

May 6th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The blurb for USO at Downstage is:

A modern day story on an epic scale, USO is a story about growing up in South Auckland and the pressures Pacific Island youth experience living there. Lincoln must deal with the conflicting desires of his family, friends, girlfriend, school and peers in order to survive. USO explores the tensions between friendship, brotherhood, betrayal and loyalty.

It sounds like it will be rather moralistic and overly “worthy”, but in fact the performance was heaps of fun, and really engaging. It was like watching an episode of Glee set in Wesley College.

I have become a big fan of the Black Friars, who are a South Auckland based Pacific Island theatre company. They capture that Polynesian humour and sense of mischief so well, while also telling a story that many in New Zealand could relate to.

They are only on for three days at Downstage, so if you are free tonight or tomorrow you may be able to get tickets. It’s a fairly short show at 80 – 90 minutes, but make sure you stay on afterwards for Q+A with the Friars. I almost found that the best part of the evening. The banter between them is as good as on Seven Days, and the audience was totally engaged.

This was again one of the shows I wasn’t sure I would like, but absolutely did. They also tour around schools. If you ever see the Black Friars performing near you, give them a try – I suspect you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

Of and I am not making this up, but one of the actors is a near dead ringer for Wellington central National candidate Paul Foster-Bell. Paul must have some Samoan blood hiden away in him :-)

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Downstage Meet the Artists

April 11th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

As well as reviewing “The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again” at Downstage, I also got moderate the Meet the Artists session on Tuesday.

I was a bit nervous about doing it. I’m pretty used to public speaking, but normally it is on areas I am a bit of an expert on. When it comes to plays, I am just an enthusiastic attendee.

I got to see the backstage to Downstage. It’s actually incredibly small. There’s so many props and costumes they use during the show, that it get pretty cluttered.

I thought the forum went quite well. It was actually quite fun being able to ask the cast whom their favourite roles were, and also talk about how they came up with the ideas for the various gadgets in the show. The final question was to Tim Spite, the director/writer (and actor) about how he judges the success of a show, apart from ticket sales. I liked his answer which basically was when all the different elements (the cast, the plot, the set) work together in harmony. It was a good answer, as that was what stood out about the show.

Most of what I now do, I never thought I would. At 18 I wanted to be a doctor. I never thought that one day I would be a pollster, a “political commentator” and also an “arts reviewer”. I was actually involved in the drama club at school – but mainly because we got to hang out with the girls from our sister school :-)

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The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again

April 5th, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Went to the opening night of The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again at Downstage. It’s a first class production that gets everything right, and was hugely enjoyable. The plot, the cast, the set and the gadgets were all superb.

It’s a wonderful parody of James Bond, with a Kiwi setting.  If you’re a James Bond fan, you’ll love this play – and even if you’re not watched any James Bond movies, you’ll still find it a hoot (Auckland Girl who went with me has never seen James Bond but loved the play).

The play is set in 1985 and Agent 009 (Stephen St Clair) is dispatched to New Zealand to gain a perpetual motion device, which threatens the world’s energy industries. Hence the French, Russsians and Australians are also hunting for it.

The play starts with a wonderful combat scene, that was almost more Kill Bill than James Bond, followed by several minutes of some very naughty and untraditional James Bond credits, using shadow figures. Their use of shadow figures at various stages of the play, is very well done.

It’s a very Kiwi play, with Rotorua motels and geysers, the Silver Fern train, and even a guest appearance from David Lange. Lange, hilariously, wants the perpetual motion device destroyed as if it survives there will be no need for nuclear power, and then New Zealand will no longer be special as the world’s only nuclear free country.

The play has a number of Bond like gadgets which are a delight. By far the best is the tent with a “spare man” in it. Just trust me, that you’ll be almost crying with laughter as he is activated.

Nick Dunbar plays Stephen St Clair. The other three actors play a variety of roles each but primarily Darlene Mohokey is the beautiful and sexy Dominique Le Fleur, Bryon Coll is inventor Gerald Boke and the spare man, and Tim Spite is the rogue agent 008. They performed their main roles with ease, and were comic genius in some of their minor roles.

The set design was also excellent. I loved the Rotorua motel, and the car was so cute, Auckland Girl wanted one for herself.

As with many of the plays from Tim Spite and SEEyD, there are some political messages and themes in the show. The nice things about his productions is they are done with subtle grace, so the play remains enjoyable, even if you are not in political alignment with the message.

After tonight’s performance of the play, I’m moderating the “Meet the Artists” session on stage at 8.30 pm. This is where the audience can ask the cast and crew all those things you’ve wanted to know, or discuss some of the themes that ran through the play. Not sure if there are any tickets left for tonight, but whether tonight or any time before 24 April, I recommend you see the play if you want a good night out,.

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Love You Approximately

February 18th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Went with a couple of friends to Love You Approximately at Downstage on opening night on Wednesday.

I loved the premise of the show – a long distance cyber-romance between Imogen in New Zealand and Pere in Spain. And Pere was literally in Spain – the play was conducted over Skype with webcams etc. The actors who played Imogen and Pere have never actually met in real life.

Imogen and Pere’s relationship seemed all too real at time. Poor Pere was the one who had to face rejection by blurting out to his Imogen that he wanted to be more than just friends. And Imogen was indecisive and emotional going through phases of positivity and negativity.

Lara Fischel-Chisholm played Imogen. Shortland Street fans may remember her as Anita (Ben’s sister) Goodall. I thought Fischel-Chisholm did very well portraying Imogen, and bringing to life what was a fairly ordinary script. She made her character very real and believable.

My biggest criticism of the play is it didn’t make a strong emotional connection. You want to either be laughing, or angry, or sad, or suspenseful as a play progresses. At best, the play was interesting. You did want to see how it ended, but there were no real suspense or high drama.

The play was enjoyable. I doubt it would appeal greatly to non Internet natives, but proficient users of webcams and Skype should enjoy the play, and see how much it might mirror real life for them.

It was good to see an innovativeplay that made good use of technology. The two leads even became virtual flatmates for a while – leaving their webcams connected to each other and on 24/7. Quite a neat idea if one didn’t have data charges!

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Apollo 13 at Downstage

October 7th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Apollo 13: Mission Control will be performed at Downstage from 30 October to 18 December.

Attending will be a fun experience, as the audience get to participate and make certain decisions.

As part of the promotion for the show, Kiwiblog has five free double passes which can be redeemed for tickets in the first two weeks of the season.

Below are five questions about Apollo 13. If you are the first person to supply a correct answer in the comments, you win one double pass.

Do not answer more than one question. You can only win one pass. If you answer multiple questions, then you will not win anything.

If you are not in a position to actually use the tickets, then please don’t answer.

Okay, so the questions are:

  1. How many seconds, in total, was the duration of the Apollo 13 mission (take off to landing)
  2. What is the name of the ship which picked up the crew of Apollo 13 after they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean?
  3. A more formal designation for the Apollo 13 mission was Eastern Test Range #XXXX – what was the four digit number designation
  4. One of the crew was later elected to the US Congress. How long did he serve for?
  5. What is the fastest velocity or speed obtained by an Apollo space craft, in metres/seconds? A clue – it was Apollo 10.

I will update this post with the correct answers and winners. Winners then need to e-mail me their name and address.

ANSWERS:

  1. The duration was 5 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 41 seconds. Each component is 41 + 3240 + 79200 + 432000 = 514,481 seconds
  2. The ship was the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship
  3. The designation was Eastern Test Range #3381
  4. Pilot Jack Swigert was elected to Congress as the Representative for Colorado’s 6th in November 1982. He died on 27 December 1982, a week before he was sworn in
  5. Apollo 10 reached a maximum velocity of 39,897 km/hr which is 11,082.50 metres per second. Almost impossible to imagine travelling 11 kms in a single second.

The winners are taranaki, Graeme Edgeler, J Mex, themono and aucklandmedic. Well done.

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A Deadly Review

October 6th, 2010 at 10:30 pm by David Farrar

Went to see Deadly at Downstage tonight. Beforehand at The Tasting Room, Auckland Girl asked me what it was about.

My response was “a man, a woman, seven deadly sins and acrobatics”.

And in a way that does sum the production up. This was not a traditional play with a plot. In fact there was no dialogue at all (well not in English).

This is not a play to bring the kiddies to. It is very sensual, almost erotic. The first segment has the two performers nibbling and almost devouring each other – it was like an extended foreplay session – but in a very artful way.

The male performer, Rodrigo Osis, has abs that would have even the Queen Mother drooling. And his partner, Virginia Molina, also has a wonderfully crafted body. They do amazing feats of strength on the poles, ropes and swings – at one stage Osis holds himself up purely by wrapping his foot and ankle around the pole.

It was quite a challenge working out for each segment, which of the seven sins they were on. If you attend, you may want to make sure you know them all in advance!

The overall performance is just over an hour, and it was hugely enjoyable. A definite recommendation for couples to go see and enjoy.

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The December Brother

August 19th, 2010 at 12:26 pm by David Farrar

Downstage’s The December Brother was an eclectic mix of performances. There were three productions in one, or four if you include the ad at the beginning.

The evening started with an actor driving a car, and then you realise it is two actors – one is a sort of disembodied head. You see the head yawning and blinking and start to think this resembles an LTSA road safety ad. And in fact it turns out it was a road safety ad – a live performance one. Quite a novel approach, and did make an impact.

The first performance was about a woman finding out she was adopted and tracking down her adopted parents, and sort of linked to the third performance which was about finding out your long lost relatives are – well your step-brother is awaiting trial for killing your birth mother.

They were not particularly funny performances (with the exception of the scene with the aunt, which was slapstick funny), but were meant to be more dramatic, than humourous. I found them pretty good, but they went on a bit long. I doubt I would have gone to see them by themselves.

But the middle performance was the part I went for, and it was gold. It was a reconstruction of the Bain family murders, first showing how David would have done it, and then showing how Robin would have done it.

You could hear a pin drop during these scenes, and I found them quite emotional – the reconstruction of the poor kids getting shot, in some cases begging for their lives.

As for who did it, I think Danyl McL sums it up best:

They’re pretty even-handed; they don’t take sides and the actors make great choices to render both David and Robin’s actions believable. But sitting there watching while Robin Bain enters his house, takes off all his clothes, puts David’s clothes on, walks around the house and kills his family then takes David’s clothes off again, puts them in the washing machine, walks back through the house naked, puts his own clothes on and then commits suicide – let’s just say it removes any lingering doubts.

I actually had to stop myself laughing at one part, just at the sheer implausibility of the Robin did it scenario being played out in front of me. But despite that, it does have dramatic tension.

They used the same cast of four throughout, and they all performed well. Nikki McDonnell, as the adopted Rebecca was especially good I thought.

Overall was a good performance. However I never worked out what the hundreds of bottles on the stage for the third production represented. It looked like the world’s largest urine collection.

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Eating the Dog

June 30th, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Auckland Girl and I went to the première of Eating the Dog by Te Radar at Downstage last night.

It was a wonderful stroll through obscure tracts of New Zealand history, and we spent most of the evening giggling and laughing away. I can’t think of many people who wouldn’t enjoy it, and if you love learning about obscure history you’ll love it.

I’d never seen Te Radar perform before and wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the show. His newspaper columns have never struck me as hugely funny, so I went along unsure about how I would enjoy the night.

Te Radar was excellent. Physically he looks like a ginga-lite version of Carrot Top (the las Vegas comedian). He was dressed to match, and kept the audience engaged through out. While he is a comedian, he wasn’t telling jokes. What he did is effectively take people through a powerpoint history of some amusing and obscure parts of NZ history, with great enthusiasm for the wonderful Kiwi attitude.

It was not comedy of the laugh so hard your ribs hurt type. But it was very funny – there is a wealth of material to laugh at.

I was genuinely fascinated by the history that has been lying around in our regional museums. The Taranaki highwayman of the 1890s was a most unlikely criminal. You can only applaud the former Cromwell Mayor who upon hearing of a vote of no confidence being passed in his absence identified the mover, locked the Council doors, whacked around the mover and then asked who the seconder was. As no one put their hand up, he declared it could not have been a valid motion.

The gold mining submarine was also fascinating, and I intend to view it the next time I am in Middlemarch.

The favourite part had to be the relatively well known Bob Semple tank built from corrugated iron. They reminded me of the 2004 Killdozer.

The play is on until the 10th of July. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Le Sud Mark II

June 2nd, 2010 at 9:05 pm by David Farrar

It isn’t often I will go to a play for a second time, but when offered review tickets for a second run of Le Sud at Downstage, I didn’t hesitate.

My August 2009 review gave a good summary:

It is a wonderful politically incorrect play that pokes the borax equally at New Zealand, French and Maori culture.

In this political satire, New Zealand does not exist. North Zealand was colonised by the British and South Zealand by the French. The North Zealand Prime Minister (think Jim Bolger and Fred Dagg combined) is accompanied by his two coalition partners (a female Hone Harawira type Tuhoe activist and a young nerdy fiscally conservative Freedom MP) to negotiate new power prices with South Zealand.

The South Zealand Prime Minister and Deputy are classic Frenchmen and women, with all the traits captured well. Their other Minister reminds me of Tuku Morgan – a likeable pin striped suit wearing, golf playing Maori who uses his culture to rort money whenever possible.

As I said, it is a very politically incorrect play, and the audience was laughing throughout. Not only was French, Kiwi and Maori culture mocked but in one auducious scene the North Zealand PM greets the President of the United States in a unique way.

While the basic premise and plot of the play was the same as last August, there was a lot of new dialogue. With mentions of the PM’s vasectomy, Tuhoe claims and oil spills, it was as current as you can get, and still bitingly funny.

It remains the best political play I have been to for years. I can recommend it to anyone, including those who (like me) saw it last year.

Now as it happens, I have 15 free double passes for Season One of Downstage, through the Scoop Media Network. It isn’t guaranteed you can use them for Le Sud as space is limited, but first in first served.

The first 15 readers to ask for a double pass in the comments will get one.  I’ll e-mail you to arrange delivery if you are one of the first 15.

UPDATE: And we now have over 15 people who have put hands up. It is the 1st 15 comments below. I will e-mail people tomorrow.

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Joel Salom’s Gadgets

May 11th, 2010 at 10:00 pm by David Farrar

Just had a very entertaining evening at Downstage watching Joel Salom’s Gadgets, which is part of the comedy festival. It is on at Downstage until Saturday.

Salom reminds me of a cross between Jim Carrey, and Mr Bean. Physically, he is a delight to watch with his frantic antics. He is literally a comic. His two sidekicks work well with him, and between them they are a great act.

His show has a lot of juggling in it from ping pong balls to flaming torches. He is a very accomplished juggler, and he also manages to stuff multiple ping pong balls into his mouth, which must be painful.

The highlight for me was Erik the robot dog/god. You will love Erik, both when he looms large on the screen, and in real life.

There is a fair bit of audience interaction with Joel. Be careful if a spotlight shines on your seat! And the juggling musical laser display at the end is impressive.

The only negative for me was the initial segment with the ping pong balls stretched on a bit too long. But it was a minor minor flaw in a very enjoyable performance. I can happily recommend it for people who want a fun evening with lots of laughs.

A minor gripe, not associated with the performance, is that the seats were not assigned (possibly only applied to this first night) which means we were encouraged to turn up early to get good seats. However those who turned up and entered early were told to go to the back of the theatre, and sit in the sides, not the middle. So the “reward” for getting there early was to be shunted to a corner at the back. Not very logical.

Was very amused that the pair next to us overhead me joking to my companion that I would not buy an engagement ring until I was 65, as it will be much cheaper once I retire (based on the three months salary rule). They took it rather seriously  and started lecturing me on not being such a cheap bastard :-)

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Vernon God Little

February 6th, 2010 at 4:08 pm by David Farrar

Vernon God Little was the first play at Downstage that I didn’t really enjoy. There were parts of it that certainly were very funny and had me laughing, but not enough.

The play had 21 cast playing over 50 roles, and focuses on Vernon whose best friends kills 16 bullies at his school, and them himself. The media turn Vernon into a scapegoat, and he flees to escape a possible death penalty as an accomplice.

Most of my issues are with the plot itself (taken from the book), rather than the production. In fact some of the youthful cast from the Long Cloud Youth Theatre did an excellent job in playing their characters, and I would happily see more of their productions in future.

The play was billed as a biting satire of the America we love to hate. Now I love satire – Le Sud was an excellent example of satire at its best. But I thought this got closer to caricature than satire.

The trouble is almost all the characters were “ugly” Americans, and you (or me anyway) need some characters who are likeable.

I also found the play too long, with a convuluted story. The interval didn’t come until 90 minutes into it, and I had to check the programme to work out if this was the end or not. Upon finding we were only half way through I slipped out – the play just had not gained my interest enough, plus I was at risk of being towed if not out by 10 pm (I must check production times in advance in future).

Possibly not by coincidence, I find that Wikipedia says about the book:

Out of 4,000 Britons polled, 35% of those who started reading this book did not finish it.

I seem to be one of the 35%. As I said there was some very talented and funny acting achieved by the cast, and I did enjoy much of it. Possibly it is my own sensitivity to perceived anti-americanism that meant it didn’t resonate with me, and others could well rave about it. I understand an an intellectual level it was in fact trying to combat anti-americanism, but somehow it just didn’t work for me. Maybe if I had seen the second half, it would have.

However for a very different take, John Smyth at Theatre Review gives it high praise:

It’s a long but well-paced production, full of sound, fury and dark comedy that finally delivers the goods, not least with a well-crafted twist that ensures we don’t leave the theatre bereft of hope. While Vernon God Little has been validly described as the new generation’s Catcher in the Rye, its broad satirical theatricality also recalls Dario Fo.

I’d be interested in feedback from others as to how they found it.Or have you read the book and what did you think of it?

Thanks as always to Downstage for the review tickets.

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An Adagio Christmas

December 5th, 2009 at 10:03 pm by David Farrar

Just got back from Downstage, where I watched An Adagio Christmas.

The performance was very silly, but very very very funny. It was a superb hour of entertainment, and I really can’t think of anyone who would not enjoy it – from kids to grandparents.

I won’t talk about the plot, because there isn’t really one. It is more a collection of acts, woven together with humour and skill. Instead I’ll rave about the company.

Mason West and Rowan Heydon White were the two circus artists. They do everything but fly through the air as they use poles, ropes and scarves to perform. They both have incredible muscle strength and do stuff that really should be impossible such as holding themselves almost at right angles to the pole with their arms. Any thought of women as the weaker sex would disappear after watching Rowan.

Angela Green was wonderful in her myriad roles from strugling author (her metaphors make you groan) to bolshie puppet.

Jenny MacArthur appeared to be a grumpy old woman, but transforms literally into a fairy. She was hugely entertaining.

Asalemo Tofete was the big guy who was the butt of several (politically incorrect) jokes.

And Rosemary Langabeer and William Henderson provided the zany music.

Part of why the show was so enjoyable, was that you could see the company were enjoying it also. It was funny, cheeky, a bit sensual, and very manic.

Downstage could offer a money back if you don’t like it guarantee on this show, and be confident they won’t have to pay out a cent.

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Collapsing Creation

November 9th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

In a fit of good timing, the review night for Collapsing Creation at Downstage was the night before I flew out, so went along at 6.30 pm. They started early so people could make the fireworks afterwards at 9 pm.

Collapsing Creation is about Charles Darwin, and has a cast of five. Darwin himself, his wife (who incidentally was also his cousin) Emma, Alfred Thomas (an all too zealous supporter based on Alfred Wallace), John Roberts (his former agent who turns on Darwin as the consequences of his theories become clear) and the comic servant, Joseph Gardiner who brings much light relief.

The Roberts character is based primarily on Robert FitzRoy who served as the second Governor of New Zealand, after Hobson. FitzRoy captained the HMS Beagle, which with Darwin on board, visited New Zealand in December 1835.

The play is more a drama, than a comedy (but there are many light moments). The star for me Catherine Downes as Emma Darwin. She played so well this devout religious wife, whom nevertheless supported the work of her husband despite the revelations of his theories of evolution, and his eventual agnosticism.

It is hard to imagine today, when not even the Pope literally preaches creationism, what it was like in 1859 when Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species was published. He was a latter day Galileo in some regards.

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This cartoon (credit Wikipedia) from 1871 is typical of much of the reaction to Darwin.

But the play is not so much about the larger battle over the book and is theories, but more about the relationships between the five cast members. Not just Charles and Emma, but his friend turned opponent, and his supporter turned outcast.

The play last two hours, and could be a bit shorter. The first half hour was relatively slow moving, but overall it was a very enjoyable play.

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Biography of my skin

October 9th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I went to the premier of Miranda Harcourt’s Biography of My Skin at Downstage last night. It was (largely) a one woman show about Miranda’s life, but written by her husband.

I was a bit apprehensive going into the play, as I wasn’t sure if I would like it. I tend to prefer plays with character interactions, with a plot, with surprises. I was not sure that I would find anything interesting or amusing about the life of a actress as seen by her husband, and would have to write a review about how it was boring tripe (I get free tickets for the purpose of review).

I needn’t have worried. It was superb. I loved it. Most of all I had forgotten what a wonderfully talented actress Harcourt is. There is such a difference between an actor or actress who is good, and those who are great. Harcourt’s voice and presence dominated the stage. Not everyone can do a one person show, but she definitely can.

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Miranda is not quite alone on stage. We see video interjections of various friends and families, and I also advise people to keep an eye on the suitcase. It is not just a prop!

At times the play is very poignant, as we see photos of her father dying of cancer, and spreading his ashes. Even sad moments can turn humourous though as Harcourt tells the tale of trying to get the Karori Cemetery to cremate her son’s (named Peter after he father) placenta to mix it in with his ashes. You want to both laugh and cry. And I won’t even tell you my reaction at the video of her giving birth via c-section. But it all forms part of a memorable play.

At the heart of the play is the love story between Miranda and her husband Stuart McKenzie. It is never soppy, and often hilarious. The highlight must have been her reciting of when a cop pulled Stuart over for driving without his seatbelt on. By the time the cop got to the car, the seatbelt was on, and the offence was denied. And then the cop asked Miranda if he had been wearing it, and she told the truth. She gets evicted from the car, as he tells the kids in the back seat (including the one month old) that Mummy has to walk home as she had been bad.

I hope readers forgive the spoiler, but it gives a great example of the play. We also hear about her younger days when her and a friend would rob a bar by having one of them make out with the barman, while the other helped themselves.

The play is called Biography of My Skin, and you do get to see a fair bit of Miranda’s skin, as she changes outfits on stage. I think Miranda is around 47 years old, but let me tell you her body was the envy of every woman in the audience aged over the age of 25, and the admiration of every man aged over 16! She is a stunning beauty.

A moving part of the play was by coincidence very topical. It was about the guilt when Steve Williams killed step daughter Coral Burrows in the Wairarapa in a manner not dissimiliar to a film they produced, in which he had been an extra. Williams killed her after he had been up all night smoking P.

The play runs at Downstage until the 31st of October. I found it a great night out, and from the audience reaction so did everyone else.

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Good Night – The End

September 14th, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Myself and Auckland Girl got to see the opening night at Downstage of Jo Randerson‘s “Good Night – The End” play, as I got two tickets for review purposes.

It was a quirky little play, based on the interactions between three Grim Reapers during their off duty time between shifts.

The first thing I noticed was the wonderful set, with the stage as a 1970s style house with garish colours, and skulls wallpaper. And the opening is nice and dramatic with one of the grim reapers appearing suddenly and pronouncing doom in a mega-amplified voice.

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The play is essentially about the interactions between the three Grim Reapers, with some comic interludes with their Italian supervisor.

There isn’t a lot of a plot to the play (there is some, which I won’t give away) – it is very much based on the character interactions. It struck me at times as a cross between Seinfeld and Kath & Kim. Lots of random, funny conversations that don’t lead anyway, but are still amusing.

Randerson herself plays the grumpy uptight Harvester of Sorrow. You also have the slightly dim and overweight Unavoidable Destiny and the geeky (and male) Transitional Friend. They abuse each other, play pranks on each other, and live a very mundane life for Grim Reapers. Randerson’s character is also dodging the affections of her Italian boss.

Overall it was an amusing evening. I thought the play did go on a bit too long though, especially as it was hard to tell if one was getting near the end. A few patrons actually ducked out before it ended. A pity for them, as the last couple of minutes of the play were wonderful, and worth waiting for.

The best parts for me was the finale, the set, the basic concept of three grim reapers in their spare time and the ability of the actors who played their characters so well. I did however find the script a bit lacking, but that might just be my fairly literal approach to drama where I like clear beginnings, middles and ends.

The play continues on at Downstage until the 3rd of October and started on the 11th of September. It was an enjoyable way to celebrate my birthday.

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Le Sud

August 5th, 2009 at 11:16 pm by David Farrar

Just got back from seeing Le Sud at Downstage. It is a wonderful politically incorrect play that pokes the borax equally at New Zealand, French amd Maori culture.

In this political satire, New Zealand does not exist. North Zealand was colonised by the British and South Zealand by the French. The North Zealand Prime Minister (think Jim Bolger and Fred Dagg combined) is accompanied by his two coalition partners (a female Hone Harawira type Tuhoe activist and a young nerdy fiscally conservative Freedom MP) to negotiate new power prices with South Zealand.

The South Zealand Prime Minister and Deputy are classic Frenchmen and women, with all the traits captured well. Their other Minister reminds me of Tuku Morgan – a likeable pin striped suit wearing, golf playing Maori who uses his culture to rort money whenever possible.

As I said, it is a very politically incorrect play, and the audience was laughing throughout. Not only was French, Kiwi and Maori culture mocked but in one auducious scene the North Zealand PM greets the President of the United States in a unique way.

The play was most topical also. They obviously updated it in the last 24 hours as there was one scene where the Tuku Morgan type character is advising someone down South on how to sell his property to his wife, and then rent it back at double the previous level.  Was all in good humour.

Best of all Palmerston North also got mocked, but I can’t say how as that would give away too much of the plot.

The first five minutes I didn’t find very good – mainly because there was a lot of French speaking at first. I was worried I was not going to get most of the jokes and enjoy it, but soon after that it really hit its strides and I was so glad I went along.

It’s a political satire but you don’t need to be a political junkie to enjoy it. Anyone who vaguely follows current affairs will find lots to laugh at.

The cast played their roles well. Nick Dunbar and Heather O’Carroll were more French than the French. O’Carroll especially could have passed for a native Frenchwoman just by the way she walked in, in the opening scene.

The play carries on at Downstage until the 22nd of August. I can thoroughly recommend it as a play you don’t want to miss.

My thanks to Downstage for the tickets, for the purpose of review. Without them, I might not have got around to going, and that would have been my loss.

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