The BMW i3

April 1st, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Earlier this month BMW lent me an i3 to try out for a week.

The BMW i3 won the AA New Zealand Motoring Writers Guild Car of the Year title in 2015 – the first electric car to do so. It has also won the World Car Design of the Year Award and the World Green Car Award.

The first thing you notice driving the i3 is you don’t need brakes. It is effectively a one pedal car. Unless you need to stop very suddenly, you just release the accelerator and within a couple of seconds you’ve stopped. When you release the accelerator, the i3’s kinetic energy is regenerated by the vehicle to recharge the battery., which slows the car down.

It takes a while to get used to the inertial pull, but once you do it is more relaxing than a normal car.

The acceleration is rather wicked. You can reach 100 km/hr in 7.2 seconds and you almost bounce out of traffic lights.

The car can go for around 200 kms before needing charging (takes around four hours). So not a car for cross country travelling, but great for around cities. It also has a small two nine litre fuel tank as an emergency backup which recharges the battery.

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Like all BMWs, it is more a computer on wheels than a car. It even has automated parallel parking. You just pull up next to a car, hit a button and it will reverse into the park for you. Superb. It has all the normal built in GPS, bluetooth etc.

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The doors open in opposition directions giving a nice view of the interior. The dashboard and video unit are all quite low down, so that you get an enhanced view through the windscreen.

The i3 costs around $80,000. However the cost of the electricity is around one fifth of the cost of petrol (my estimate), so over time it becomes more cost effective. Also there are no road user charges for electric vehicles (for now).

I have little doubt electric cars are the way of the future, especially as the technology gets better. As a get around town car, I loved it. Beautiful design and smooth driving. Not having to brake all the time was a real plus.

Hillary Clinton/Young Lover

February 11th, 2016 at 5:00 pm by David Farrar

Around seven and a half years ago I was fortunate enough to see Arthur Meek’s hilarious play On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover.

A revamped version of the show called Hillary Clinton/Young Lover is on at Circa. It has a similar premise – the earnest Richard Meros doing a powerpoint presentation on why Hillary Clinton should take a young lover, and why it should be him.

Meek is excellent as Meros. He has a charisma and enthusiasm which shines through.

The audience were highly engaged and laughing through the show. Meros asks the audience to put their hands up if you have a degree – only in Wellington would three quarters have their hands up. And then as he asks them to remain up if you have honours, masters and finally a PhD, there were still a few hands up. That forms part of the play with one of those representing the smart people, and someone uneducated being picked to represent the uneducated (which was me that night!).

The humour is fast and furious, but not too over the top. Very clever use of images on the powerpoint such as bananas and kiwifruit got lots of giggles.

Meros is at his best as he deals with the numbers to whittle down the number of potential lovers for Hillary Clinton from 7 billion to one – him. The criteria for eliminating certain countries such as Canada and Australia was great.

It’s a one hour show, and lots of fun. Definitely worth seeing if you never saw the Helen Clark one, and if you did see it, you’ll still find enough new material to enjoy this one also.

It’s on until Saturday 20 February.

Rating: ****

Star Wars VII The Force Awakens Review (major spoilers)

December 19th, 2015 at 9:17 am by David Farrar

J.J. Abrams delivered. As one reviewer said, this is the Star Wars film you are looking for. It is the best of the series and I predict will break pretty much every box office record on the planet.

The detailed review with spoilers is over the break, along with thoughts on all those unanswered questions.

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Morepork Home Security

December 16th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Back in May I asked on Facebook:

Any recommendations for home security systems. Not looking for a monitored solution, but ideally one with a loud alarm when triggered, a video camera you can view on your smartphone to see what is happening, and ability to turn the system on and off remotely via your phone. If you have a system like this, interested to know who you got it from, what it cost and how happy you are with it.

I didn’t want a system that when there is a false alarm you pay $100 for a callout fee and even worse that if there is a real burglary it takes 20 minutes for someone to turn up just to check if it a burglary and then call the Police.

I got some names of good alarm and security companies and had a couple come up to do a quote for what it would take to have such a system. The price was close to $10,000.

But then I got lucky. A mate who works for Spark told me that they would soon be releasing a product that sounded like what I was after.  And a month or so later, we got put onto the pre-release trial for Morepork.

A couple of days later a box turned up by courier with our security system. I was slightly nervous about installing it ourselves, but figured we’d give it a go.

They have a video and text installation guide that was really simple to follow.

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First up was the control panel. This is what makes the noise, and controls the sensors. And it has a backup battery so that even if someone cuts the power it will still work. It can communicate with the sensors if they are within 200 metres of it. You need to have spark mobile phone coverage as it connects to the Internet via mobile.

The setup was simple. Plug it in, enter an initial code, tap the test button and then change the default code. That’s it!

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Next are the sensors. The default package has three, but you can get extras for $40 each. You just affix them to doors and windows where the two elements are normally aligned. If the alarm is set and the door or window is opened, then the alarm goes off.

You can also set them to notify you if you leave a door or window open for more than x minutes. This is really useful I’ve found.

You just follow the guide to affix them and then the control panel tells you they are working. Each one took less than five minutes to do.

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Then you install the image sensor. You get one with the package and additional ones are $130 each. The logical place for these are areas where someone may try and enter by.

This takes a bit more work to install. You have to hold them at various heights and angles and then through the web interface get it to take a photo to check it is capturing the right area. We did have a small glitch installing this one, but Morepork has an online chat support line and they sorted the problem out quickly for us.

The camera works day and night (is infrared) and will take a photo when triggered as it is also a motion sensor. You can view these photos almost immediately on your smartphone.

So if an alarm goes off, you can near instantly see if the person who set it off is someone you know.

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Finally you have the video camera. Again you get one with the package and additional ones are $180 each. This was the most challenging to install, and we did have some problems as were on the trial. But the support people were great again and sorted it.

Basically you need to get the video camera connected to your home wireless, and then once that is done plug it in somewhere where you are likely to have people going through.

If the alarm goes, it will record two minutes of video automatically. Also you can immediately access it via a smartphone and view the video feed in real time. The camera is also infrared so works at night.

Being able to check the video feed at any time is great, especially when you have kittens!

In addition to the image and video sensors, you can also get motion sensors for rooms where you don’t want images (say bathrooms) but do want to detect movement. Also you can get a smoke alarm added to the package also, so you get notified if it goes off when you are not home.

The smartphone app

The app is the best part of it. So easy to use. You can use your phone to do the following:

  • Set and deactivate alarm
  • Check image sensor
  • Get live video feed
  • Set up multiple users, with their own codes (good for guests)
  • Notify you if you leave home without setting the alarm

You can actually set up almost any combination of alerts based on time of day, activity, lack of activity etc.

Summary

There were a couple of glitches with set up, but the support team sorted them out very professionally.

The system is exactly what I was looking for. A great combination of motion sensors, image and video monitoring and instant access through a smart phone so you can decide what to do. If it is a burglar you can call 111 straight away, plus you may get photos or video of them.

I’m on a year’s free trial, but will definitely be carrying on when it is up. In fact am about to order a couple more sensors and a another camera.

The quote I had from a security company was close to $10,000. With Morepork it is $500 for the package and $30 a month for service. So over a year $860. and then just $360 a year going forward. If you want the ability for security guards to turn up to an alarm, that is another $20 a month – but I reckon 95% won’t need that – more for those away from their phone a lot.

I’m really really happy with it. Doing it all through your smartphone makes it so easy, and being able to check out what has happened when there is an alarm is great. It’s given me huge peace of mind, and for a lot cheaper than I thought would be possible. Incredibly happy that someone from Spark put me onto this before it launched as if they hadn’t, I probably would be $10,000 or so poorer by now.

A Christmas Karel Capek

December 9th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A wacky and funny 90 minutes Christmas production at Bats Theatre.

The Bacchanals produce a fast moving, self deprecating show which is a combination of A Christmas Carol and Dr Who.

It starts with Bri and David playing themselves, having a lonely meal. Bri just wants a fridge for Christmas, or maybe even David. David though wants something else – a robot. He designs one, and calls it Bri. How does human Bri and robot Bri get on? What happens when human Bri also builds a robot?

As a huge fan of Isaac Asimov, I was pleased they referenced his three (or four) laws of robotics, namely:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Bri alters the first one though to be “A robot may not injure a human being, unless they are a dick“. Is this significant?

Eventually the two main robots get joined by a cast of many, including C3P0 and a Dalek. Also Father Christmas appears.

There’s lot of in jokes – at themselves, at Circa, at Ray Henwood, at Theateview. They break the fourth wall continually, and engage the audience.

For most of the show you wonder if it is a series of gags, but in the final scenes they bring it together well with a nice moral message.

I found it a great way to unwind at the end of a working week. Recommended for anyone who likes youthful humour and robots.

Rating: ****

Robin Hood The Pantomime

December 1st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’d previously seen Circa put on Robin Hood pantomime, five years ago, so was interested to see if the 2015 version would be much the same, or quite different.

It was quite different. Of course the main characters are the same, but a very different plot and themes.

Gavin Rutherford starred again as Mother (Trelise) Hood, Robin’s affection starved mum. Simon Leary played Robin and Nick Dunbar was The Sheriff. I thought Dunbar was the stand out performer, who excelled as a pantomime baddie.

Acushla-Tara Sutton played Maid Marian, Jane Waddell was Hattie (friend of Mother Hood) and Lady Muck. Finishing off the cast was Jonathan Morgan as Rumble (Sheriff’s henchman) and Friar Tuck plus Andrew Patterson as Little Andrew, Abbott Tony and King Richard.

There were some parts of the pantomime that were very well done. It was a game of two halves, with the second half being must better and faster paced that the first half. A clever highlight was having King Richard being Richie McCaw. Very topical and witty.

There were lots of laughs, but slightly fewer laughs than jokes. I found the first half tried a little bit too hard to have a joke on everything political. Even the most dedicated political watcher will hardly recall what Gerry Brownlee said about Finland a couple of years ago. The art of a pantomime is to have it as a show kids can love, but with some good humour for the adults also. But the mix wasn’t quite right. The 75 minute first half didn’t have that well developed a plot, and could have done with more character development.

The second half redeemed the play. It was fun and fast moving and despite knowing the good guys would win, did have you wondering how things would unfold. Overall did enjoy the play, but would cut 15 minutes out of the first half if possible.

There were some clever aspects to the show. Having Andrew Little as Little Andrew worked well, especially as the Merry Men rob the rich to give to the poor. Also having Abbott Tony as Friar Tuck’s boss was a nice wordplay, and got some Australian accent into the show.

It is on at Circa until Saturday 9 January 2016.

Rating: *** 1/2

A Collection of Noises

November 4th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A Collection of Noises is a one woman show at Bats produced by Alexander Sparrow, whom wrote and starred in the very funny De Sade (2014 Fringe Festival).

This was a very different play, although still at the some what disturbing end of the spectrum.

It’s a Grand-Guignol inspired psychological horror about a troubled school age girl who has a bizarre relationship with her mother, but also gets betrayed by her best friend.

The set when you walk in, looks like a stalker’s lair. Dozens of black and white photos of the girls hanging up.

At first Alice (Georgia Latief ) talks about her mother  and just deceased grandfather, but mixed in with that is the situation at school, and her lack of date for the school formal. She talks directly to the audience at times, accusing us of being almost being voyeurs.

As the betrayal by her best (and only) friend occurs, the focus turns more on their relationship and you see the thin line between love and hate. It becomes apparent it will end badly for someone, but whom and how?

It was a very dark production, and superbly acted. You do get engrossed in the plot, and have many moments of suspense as it builds towards the climax. But be warned – this is a dark production. It won’t be for everyone.

My one criticism would be that I would have liked to see the rather twisted relationship with the mother explored more. It seemed to have great potential, and while it was important to the show, I think even more could have done with it.

It’s on at Bats Theatre until Saturday 7 November 2015.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Ache

November 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I saw Ache at Circa on Saturday night. A very enjoyable play you could relate to about the dating scene in Wellington.

Richard Dey and Renee Lyons play the main characters, a man and a woman in their 20s who meet at the bar of a wedding. A chance encounter but not their only one. He’s uninspired and she’s just back from London. She’s also tottering in some ridiculously large heels.

Over the next 75 minutes they also meet up at a sushi restaurant, a police station, an art gallery, the beach and again at a wedding. Some of them unplanned, some planned.

The set design is very elegant and flexible. A few boxes being moved changes it from one scene to the next.

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Dey and Lyons are joined by Amy Usherwood and Jack Buchanan who play multiple other roles from whiny girlfriends to police officers. All for actors are excellent and give a memorable performance.

You can see the comedic talents of director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, and her knowledge of Wellington. As a Wellingtonian both the set feels very real, but also the encounters. Many of us have had the “meet someone interesting” at a function and not sure if you’ll see them again, along with the situation where you think both are interested but not both available.

The play was written by Pip Hall, the current President of the Writers Guild.

A very fun play that the young and young at heart can enjoy.

Rating: ****

Gifted

October 15th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Gifted is the story of two famous literary figures, and the 18 months they spent living together – Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame.

But it is no love story, unless you include Sargeson’s boyfriend Harry Doyle. But there is a strange bond between Sargeson and Frame – tense, respectful and perhaps even some paternal love.

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Sargeson is played by Andrew Laing and Frame by Harriet Prebble. Both excelled in their roles. Prebble managed to conver the fragility of Frame, but also her strength and intelligence. Laing captured the urbane Sargeson to a tee, and showed charisma and vulnerability.

Simon O’Connor complemented them as Harry Doyle. He had a strong resemblance to the real Doyle, and managed to play a fairly unsympathetic character convincingly.

The play is what you would call historical fiction. Frame did stay with Sargeson, in his army hut on his property, from March 1955 to July 1956. It was known that their relationship was tense at times, but also that she completed her book while there.

The set includes Frame’s hut, Sargeson’s living room and garden, and his hedge. Oh, yes two typewriters also – which are constant companions in the play.

I wasn’t sure if the play would interest me greatly, but after around ten minutes I was hooked – purely on the strength of the acting. This isn’t a play of suspense, wondering how it would end. It was about enjoying the interactions of three such strong and strange characters.

Frame would often storm out on Sargeson, and refuse to talk to him. However he would find cryptic notes around his house, which were communications from him. His joy in finally deciphering them was superb, but the final note is left ambiguous.

You also sense the frustration of Sargeson as he is writing little at the moment, while Frame is feverishly working night and say – even breaking his rules about no typing after 1 pm. He is a literary giant and mentor, yet this strange young woman challenges him like he hasn’t had before.

Gifted runs at Circa until Saturday 31 October. If you are a fan of NZ literature, this is not one to miss.

Gifted Rating: ****

The bookbinder

September 28th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Bookbinder is storytelling at its finest.

What first strikes you when you enter Circa 2, is how the theatre has been transformed. You can’t even see the stage when you enter. Instead you go down a corridor of books until you finally emerge onto the intimate set. The bookbinder’s office is in one corner of the theatre and the seating has been arranged at a right angle on two sides of it.

Ralph McCubbin Howell awakens from his desk, and proceeds to tell the story of the former apprentice. He plays the bookbinder, the apprentice, the  old woman, the young woman and even the Haast Eagle. Yes – a Haast Eagle.

Over 55 minutes he pulls you into a story, and into the story within the story. It is a story with purpose, and sometimes without purpose. After all sometimes you just can’t make an omelette!

Howell is a master of story-telling (and play writing), and gets both his vocal intonations and facial expressions just right. He dominates the stage. You get sucked in, wanting to know what happens next, and how the story ends. A godo play has to be emotionally engaging, and this succeeds.

He is backed up by an incredibly effective use of props. Various lamps are used to great effect, and some of the books themselves display their stories in three dimensions. Great creativity.

Howell works with director Hannah Smith (they are Trick of the Light), and the creativity that has gone into the play reflects their joint contribution. The props, the lighting, the sound and the story all blend together on the intimate stage.

You can see why it won best theatre at last year’s NZ Fringe Festival and also an award at the Sydney Fringe Festival.

It’s on until Saturday 10 October 2015 at Circa, both in the evening and also at 11 am.

Rating: ****1/2

The Travelling Squirrel

September 14th, 2015 at 4:35 pm by David Farrar

Robert Lord was a prolific NZ playwright who wrote at least 19 plays from 1971 to 1992, when he died.

The Travelling Squirrel was written in 1987 and produced only once in 1994. It has been resurrected for Circa this year, directed by Susan Wilson.

Despite the passage of almost 30 years, it is not at all dated. In fact it seems better suited for today, than possibly the 1980s.

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The play is essentially about a couple, Bart and Jane. Bart is an unsuccessful writer and Jane a very successful TV star. They are played by Paul Waggott and Acushla-Tara Sutton, who have some real chemistry together.

Bart would like nothing better than to have a quiet night in with Jane, enjoying a “picnic” (code for getting it on, based on their initial meeting when they picnicked next to each other). But Jane needs to get her profile up and attend society parties in New York.

The parties are hosted by gossip columnist Wally, played hilariously by Gavin Rutherford.  His lusting for the hunky waiter Daryl, provides much comedy.

You also have Jane’s social climbing friend Julie, performed by Carrie Green. Sarah is the brash illustrator played by Claire Waldron and Terry the arrogant publisher who has more interest in Jane than in Bart’s book.

But where does the title come from. Well Bart talks often to a squirrel in Central Park he has called Roger. And most days he invents great tales of what Roger has been up to, sharing them with Jane and others. Bart projects himself onto Roger.

He finally finishes his book, but the publisher is not interested in a collection of prose. However the tales of Roger the Travelling Squirrel are another thing, and suddenly Bart is on the verge of becoming a literary blockbuster, while at the same time Jane’s career is in trouble.

The second half of the play focuses on the changed dynamics as Bart is the one heading out to the parties, and Jane is the struggling one.

Will their relationship survive? Will either of them be successful? Who will Daryl end up with?

The play was two hours long, and kept a good pace. The acting was excellent, and there were lots of laughs. However I did find the plot not as good as it could have been. The ending was slightly predictable, and less than satisfying. There wasn’t any great moral lesson, just a possible redemption. Still a very enjoyable show though.

It is on at Circa until Saturday 2 October.

Stars: ***1/2

Edge

June 10th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Edge, at Circa, is a one person show by broadway star Angelica Page, and she is a star.

We have many good actors in NZ, but Page is in the global league. Her performance was riveting and stunning. You can see why she won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actress. She has a mastery of the stage which is compelling. A slight narrowing of the eyes can convey so much. A slight change in pitch speaks volumes.

The play is about the life of Sylvia Plath, set on the day of her suicide aged 30. It’s a very sombre and gripping play. Page narrates the life of Plath ranging from her childhood to her death.

Plath, a Pulitizer Prize winner, was married to UK Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. A lot of the play focused on their relationship. He is the charming urbane womaniser, she is the neurotic masochistic victim. She is mentally unstable – her first suicide attempt was at age nine. Later in life she has electroconvulsive therapy.

An enduring controversy has been how much Hughes is to blame for her death. He left her for his mistress (who later also committed suicide, in the same manner as Plath). There were accusations he abused her, and for 20 years her gravestone was constantly vandalised to remove his name from it.

Page makes Plath real. She is funny, brittle, sad, mad, and strong at varying times. You get a picture of her loves and fears. It made me want to go buy the biography of Plath that the play is based on.

By coincidence there was a Q+A with Page after the play, moderated by Ran Henwood. A fascinating 45 minute discussion on Plath and the play. Questions ranged from whether Plath really intended to kill herself (she had many previous unsuccessful attempts which might have been cries for help) to what did people who knew Sylvia think of the play.

This isn’t a play that will appeal t everyone, but if you like dramatic solo performances, then this is as good as it gets.

It is on every second night at Circa, alternating with Turning Page (the story of Page’s famous mother), so is on Fri 12, Sun 14, Wed 17 and Sat 20 June.

Stars: ****1/2

Second Afterlife

May 30th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Second Afterlife at Circa is a very smart production that resonates with the social media generation.

The play starts with a flat party. Most people are partying, but Dan is too busy facebooking the party, to actually be enjoying it. We all know a Dan! I was once a Dan!

The next day we see the various flatmates emerge (including from under a sofa!) and we learn Dan (Michael Hebenton) has hooked up with the dreadful Sadie (Mahalia Sinclair-Parker), much to the annoyance of flatmate Bea (Bronwyn Ensor), who appears to have a crush on Dan.

But this is not a Neighbours type soap opera. In fact the flat is soon left behind as Dan decides he has had enough of social media, and tries to delete his Facebook profile. This is harder than many would imagine, and as Dan battles with Facebook, he gets drawn into the Second Afterlife – a sort of Internet limbo where he is confronted with the memories of his past – both real and online.

Dan’s guide in the afterlife is the perky and slightly annoying The Guide (Ruby Hansen). Is she friend or foe as she leads him from You Tube to Bebo to Word of Warcraft to finally Facebook.

Dan’s friends Simon (Michael Trigg) and Ethan (Matthew Staijen) pop up regularly, along with Sadie and Bea. You learn more about all of the characters as the play progresses through its 75 minutes. Special mention must be made of Sinclair-Parker who really does well making Sadie that self-obsessed girl at school we all knew!

The set and lighting deserves praise also. You have two to three dozen (fake) computer monitors all hooked up through a very visual web. And each of them has an image projected onto them. It must have been incredibly challenging to set up and co-ordinate. Also very good was the music and sound effects by the on stage operator. Some of his whispers into the mike were the funniest scenes.

What I especially enjoyed about the play was the ending, as Dan realises who has really been there for him the whole way through. Not quite the ending you might expect, but very funny and satisfying.

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The play also had several fight scenes, ranging from Fight Kitchen to Air Guitar to World of Warcraft. The scenes were really well done and a highlight, managing to be both realistic and funny.

A very enjoyable play, that will appeal to the social media generation.

Stars: ****

Lysistrata

May 26th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Lysistrata is a very old play, performed by a very new cast, at Bats Theatre.

The play was first performed 2,426 years ago in Athens, produced by Aristophanes – a comic playwright who wrote 30 plays. 11 of them survive today.

Lysistrata is based on one woman’s (Lysistrata) effort to end the Peloponnesian War, by persuading the women of Greece to stop having sex with their husbands to force them to negotiate peace. I guess the flaw in the plan should be that they’ll probably just start having sex with each other (they call it Greek style for a reason!), but we’ll overlook that.

The play is put on by The Bacchanals, in a 90 minute production.  The cast of 12 skillfully interlace a very old comedy, with some modern references. It combines into a very fun show.

Ancient Greek comedy is very dirty and far from subtle, and so was this production. It most definitely is not a play for children or people offended by large artificial penises and/or profane language. It also has some nudity.

The nude (well topless) scene was slightly discordant for me. I’ve been to lots of shows with nudity with no problem, but in this show I slightly know the actress concerned, and when it happened I near-automatically started looking everywhere around the theatre except at the stage.  It was interesting how you react differently to nudity of strangers and someone you know.

The show is pretty faithful to the original, but has a feminist and pacifist theme running through it. You don’t need to agree with the politics, to enjoy the show – in fact quite the opposite.

It’s on in the Dome at Bats Theatre until Saturday 6 June. Makes for a fun bawdy night out.

Comedy Festival: Spyfinger!

May 6th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Went to Spyfinger! at Bats last night. Was my first time there since their massive renovations (thanks Sir Peter Jackson) and it looks great. A larger and better located bar and multiple venues.

Spyfinger! is a parody of spy films, and they carried off their show with charm and a near zero budget. They are to theatre, what Southpark is to animation – done on the cheap, but very funny.

Instead of using actual special effects, they just verbalise them. So when in Iceland, and playing an Icelander they just say “Icelandic, Incelandic, Icelandic”. It actually works and is very funny.

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It’s a cast of three – Hannah Banks, Alex Greig and Paul Waggott, directed by Uther Dean.

In a sixty minute performance they entertain through a series of puns and scenes. Some highlights:

  • The villain showing the various torture methods, including torture by revealing Games of Thrones spoilers. The look of anguish on the hero’s face is priceless.
  • Managing to work into the script a reference to the title of every James Bond movie ever made
  • The skydiving scene – played out on the floor
  • The final line of the show
  • The references to ponytails
  • The slow motion fight scenes

It’s a fun wee show that doesn’t take itself seriously. If you’re a James Bond fan, you’ll enjoy this. It’s on Saturday 9 May, every evening at 7 pm.

A Servant to Two Masters

May 5th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Circa’s production of A Servant to Two Masters has been my favourite show to date of 2015.

The play was written in 1743, and was adapted by award winning playwright Lee Hall in 1999. It may be 275 years old, but it is still hilarious.

The play has nine characters. They are:

  • Beatrice, whose brother was killed by her lover Florindo – played by Kathleen Burns
  • Pantaloon, who is searching for Beatrice – played by Richard Dey
  • Clarice, who was engaged to Beatrice’s brother – played by Acushla-Tara Sutton
  • Silvio, now engaged to Clarice, played by Jack Buchanan
  • Dr Lombardi, father of Silvio, played by Stephen Gledhill
  • Pantaloon, father of Clarice, played by Patrick Davies
  • Brigjella, an innkeeper, played by Gavin Rutherford
  • Smeraldina, Clarice’s maid, played by Keagan Carr-Fransch
  • Truffaldino, the servant to both Beatrice and Pantaloon

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Photo from Circa

The star of the show is of course Truffaldino who desperately tries to earn money and feed himself, while serving both masters. He acts, sings, juggles and performs superbly. A very physical performance.

But the show is not just about Truffaldino. You have no less than three love stories in play, plus some grasping parents. Also of course is whether Beatrice’s disguise as her dead brother will be discovered.

The play runs for 140 minutes (with an interval) but not once did it seem slowly paced. In between the comedic elements, the plot advances at an intriguing pace.

Simon Leary as Truffaldino is the star of the show, but the whole cast performed really well, and Ross Jolly’s direction had the play flow very smoothly. Special mention must also be made of Kathleen Burns who excelled in playing Beatrice pretending to be her brother.

As I said my favourite show to date of 2015, and one I can recommend to anyone who enjoys a great comedy. It may be 275 years old, but good comedy is timeless.

 

Don Juan

April 29th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Don Juan in on at Circa until 23 May.

It’s a cabaret style show mixing atmosphere, singing and acting like a good cocktail. Talking of which, they actually serve you cocktails in the theatre during the brief interval, as part of the show (if you pay for one in advance).

Five actors perform the life of the legendary womanising Don Juan.

It’s a high energy performance with a huge amount of audience interaction. Some of the audience actually sit on chairs on the stage, and get pulled into the show.

The cast play a troupe of Lily, Julie, Maurice, Philippe and Ginger. They each have their own story, and again some interact with the audience. Philippe has a crush on a university lecturer and Ginger’s ex is in the audience, and both add comic to the production.

I found the show a wee bit slow to get into, but after around the first 15 minutes I really enjoyed it. The five actors all have really really good singing voices, and they way they interact with each other to tell the story of Don Juan is a credit to the show’s direction.

Possibly now a show for older audiences, but a very enjoyable production for the young and young at heart.

The mystery of Edwin Drood

March 31st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one of the largest productions I have seen at Circa, with 34 members of the cast (and one dog!).

It is a globally successful musical that has won five Tony Awards, and had long runs at West End and Broadway.

The name of the play, and its basis, come from Charles Dickens. It was his final novel, and he died before he finished it. Playwright Rupert Holmes turned it into a musical with a twist – the audience decided how it ends.

It is what you could call a meta-show – a show within a show. The New Zealand cast play a music hall cast performing the Dickens play.

There are 11 principal parts, being:

  • Chairman of the Music Hall Royale – Gavin Rutherford
  • Edwin Drood, murder victim – Awhimai Fraser
  • Rosa Bud, betrothed of Drood – Barbara Graham
  • John Jasper, uncle of Drood with a crush on Bud – Jack Buchanan
  • The Princess Puffer, opium den matron – Jude Gibson
  • Rev Septimus Crisparkle – Lloyd Scott
  • Neville Landless, a suitor for Bud – Ben Paterson
  • Helena Landless, sister of Neville – Flora Lloyd
  • Bazzard – Alan Palmer
  • Durdles – Andy Gartrell
  • The Deputy – Frankie Cur

I thought the entire cast performed very well. Barbara Graham has an exceptional singing voice and excelled. Awhimai Fraser also stood out with her performance as Edwin Drood. But all the principals performed both acting and singing well.

Also worth a mention was the 20 strong ensemble. They gave the performance a real cabaret feel, and many of them spent almost the whole performance on stage, responding to the events of the play.

The directing, music, set and lighting were all done very well, combining to create a very captivating production.

The audience participation is a highlight – ranging from the characters introducing themselves before the play starts, to voting on how the play ends, with members of the ensemble tallying up the votes from different parts of the audience.

You get to vote on how the mystery detective is, who the killer is, and which two characters should have a romantic ending. I won’t reveal who our audience voted but I will will reveal who I voted for – which was Helena to be the detective, Rosa to be the killer and the romantic couple to be Neville and Helena (heh).

I often get restless if a play goes on for more than 90 minutes or so. This production is 140 minutes long (with an interval), but not once did I feel it was dragging on. The plot advances at a brisk rate, and the songs are so enjoyable, time flies. You could tell the entire audience was loving the performance, and there was a huge ovation at the end.

Highly recommended for an entertaining evening out.

The Pianist

March 12th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I loved this show.

Thomas Monckton was like a combination of Mr Bean and Jim Carrey. it was great, and he was hilarious.

Mockton plays a pianist who wants to make a triumphant appearance and then perform on the piano. But over the next hour everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

You don’t even see him for the first few minutes as you just see the figure trying to break through the curtain. You’re laughing out loud at the clawing motions you can see.

Then when he finally gets out, watch out for the chandelier, the piano legs, the cover, the lighting – well just about everything.

Monckton doesn’t speak the entire play. His antics and facial expressions are more than enough to keep you amused – along with his somewhat spiky hair.

The sound and lighting combine with great timing to make the show spectacular. And the lighting operator even plays a part more directly in the show – which was one of my favourite parts.

The audience also get involved at various stages.

It is the funniest show I have seen for years. You really don’t stop laughing. It was nice to have such simple uncomplicated physical humour. A great way to unwind after work or at the weekend.

I really can’t imagine anyone, whether aged 10 or 80, not enjoying this show.  It’s been performed in Edinburgh and London and is now back in NZ.

Yep, Still Got It

March 2nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Yep, Still Got It is on at Circa Two until Saturday 21 March.

It’s a one person show by Jane Keller, who delights and excites the audience for 75 minutes.

Keller is facing retirement and unsure what to do, so she decides to hire a life coach. After her life coach recommends various unsatisfactory options such as being a phone sex operator, Keller decides to become a life coach herself – a job anyone can do with no training!

The rest of the show is spent with Keller playing herself as life coach and her various clients. It is a great mixture of dialogue and singing. Keller is fantastically talented as she sings risque lyrics, combined with facial expressions that have you laughing almost non stop.

Michael Nicholas Williams accompanies Keller on the piano, to his normal excellent standard.

Keller is a master of comical delivery. Not only does she deliver 75 minutes of laughs,but she has to memorise a huge number of songs and verses. Only once during a very long song did she falter, but her grace in asking Williams for a reminder was so smooth, it detracted nothing from the show.

My only complaint is that so many of the problems we heard from clients were so funny and interesting, I would have liked to hear more about what her advice would have been. Regardless a very funny show, that appeals to young and old.

Wake Up Tomorrow

February 23rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Wake Up Tomorrow is on for a week at Circa as part of the Fringe Festival. It is far removed from traditional theatre, as you might expect from the Fringe Festival.

Wake Up Tomorrow is primarily set on a plane and and a large cast entertains you with multiple scenes and plot threads. Some of them are related, and some are just there for fun.

The production is in collaboration with Active, a service for youth with an intellectual impairment. They provided the ideas for the plot, and make up the vast majority of the cast.

The 60 minute show was very heart warming, with many moments of laughter. The central plot was focused on whether Agent 009 would identify Spyfox before he could cause harm.

The show was a bit disjointed. While probably deliberate, some scenes did not seem to mesh well with others. This was probably a creative tension between letting the cast explore what they could do, but it did somewhat diminish the viewing experience. In the end it wasn’t so much a show with a plot, but rather a show about imagination. The Olympics scene at the end I found especially amusing, due to its ridiculousness.

All of the cast did well in bringing their vitality to the stage, and pulling off a show that both they and the audience enjoyed. Janiece Pollock, who played Bella and Kwame Williams-Accra as Spyfox were especially good.

The show also made good use of four dancers who performed dual roles in moving props on the stage, and helping move the show along.

Overall it was a cute and inspiring performance which I’m glad I got to see.

The Demolition of the Century

February 3rd, 2015 at 6:06 pm by David Farrar

The Demolition of the Century is a clever but frustrating play at Circa. It’s a cabaret style experience with a neat mixture of narration and singing.

The play is created by Duncan Sarkies who also is one of the two performers. Sarkies reads out a series of extracts or vigenettes from his novel of the same title. They are followed or sometimes blended with nine musical numbers performed with excellence by Joe Blossom (Sean O’Brien).

The novel is about Tom, who we are told is an insurance investigator who seems to have lost his job, his ex-wife, his socks and his 10 year-old son. The first extract pricks your curiosity as a dead horse becomes part of the mystery.

Blossom composed three of the nine songs he performed, and used a mixture of an electronic keyboard and various guitars. He’s a great performer and you enjoy the music, even if you struggle to relate at it times to the narration.

Just as we struggled at times with how the music fits in, it was also a challenge to work out how the different extracts all relate to each other. The final extract does help close the loop to some degree, but for much of the play I was in a state of mild confusion.

This was not accidental. Sarkies said “Yes, it’s all part of a much larger jigsaw puzzle, but I won’t be giving you enough pieces to work it out, so just relax and enjoy the mystery.”

For me though, not being able to work it out did detract from the otherwise excellent productions values, set, acting, and music. My partner commented that you want a play to be greater than the sum of its parts, and in this case it wasn’t.

The play did make me want to buy the novel (on sale for $30) as the plot sounded intriguing from the parts I worked out. As an advertisement for the novel, the play was successful. But as an evening’s entertainment, I’m afraid it was less so for me. That may be a reflection of my inability to catch onto some of the subtler aspects of the play, and certainly it got a great reception from most in the audience.

Dead Tragic

December 1st, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Dead Tragic is a hilarious mixture of tragic songs, excellent singing and joyful acting, playing in Circa 2 until 21 December.

A cast of five perform 24 songs which all have a common theme of death – suicides, accidents, murders, crashes and the like. Some of the songs include:

  • Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’
  • Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’
  • Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Billie-Joe’
  • Henry Gross’s ‘Shannon’
  • Johnny Preston’s ‘Running Bear’
  • Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
  • Cher’s ‘Dark Lady’
  • The Cheers’ ‘Black Denim Trousers and Motor Cycle Boots’
  • The Shangri-Las’ ‘Leader of the Pack’

So many of the songs are great ones, I enjoy. The highlight for me was Bohemian Rhapsody which is one of my favourite songs of all time.

The music is performed by the sublime Michael Nicholas Williams. Emma Kinane does take over for one song, while Williams shows off his singing and acting ability also (which was a nice touch getting him out from behind the keyboard).

All four singers do a great job with both the singing, and especially the acting. Emma Kinane and Jon Pheloung especially have a magnificent ability to crack you up with their facial expressions. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Darren Young show off their all round skills to great effect also. The five of them take a couple of dozen songs about death and turn them into a laugh fest of outrageous acting.

The set is a simple design of a giant turntable and an old fashioned radio. But they serve as very effective props.

The lighting is also done very effectively. The five cast all have bright coloured shirts, which resonate with a an effective array of spot and other lights.

All in all a quite brilliant 100 minute show.

Red Riding Hood

November 20th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Had a very enjoyable Saturday night at the opening of Roger Hall’s latest (annual) pantomime at Circa. It was an enjoyable Wellington centric piss take of the old story, which was first published in 1697.

Gavin Rutherford plays the lead role of Grandma Hood with applomb. He is an old hand at playing these roles and his ability to ad lib adds to the humour – especially when he discovers the person he has picked out of the audience at random is also called Gavin.

Carrie Green plays her daughter, Dahlia Hood. Think of a red headed version of Paula Bennett and you’ll get the idea. Her and Grandma Hood are both keen on the same man – Sir Roger Bounder.

Bounder is the villain of the show, played by Patrick Davies. He wants to buy their homes and them turn Zealandia into a housing sub-division so their home values will increase and he makes a profit. The kids happily boo him everytime he is one stage.

Jane Waddell and Jonathan Morgan play Boris and Morris, and provide a lot of the comedic event. They’re ex MPs not on work schemes.

Simon Leary is Lance, the hero of the play – a DOC ranger. He of course wants to stop Sir Roger and win Red Riding Hood’s heart.

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Awhimai Fraser plays Red Riding Hood and excels in capturing her innocence.

Finally Tom Truss plays the wolf, who provides more humour than fear.

It’s a good cast, and a very funny script with lots of jokes for the adults – and many Wellington references.

Definitely a great play to take the kids to, or just to go to yourself if you want a couple of hours of laughs.

Pitmen Painters

October 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Pitmen Painters is a play based on the true story of a group miners in Ashington who went along to an art appreciation class run by the Workers Educational Association. The class soon turned from theory into practice, and the miners became sensations in the art world.

It is written by Lee Hall, who may be better known for Billy Elliott.

The Circa production was very well done, with a deft mix of humour, politics and art. Copies of the original artworks were displayed at various times on projectors.

The miners are deeply socialist, as most miners of that era were. The organiser has a tendency to revert to the rule book at every opportunity in deciding what is and is not allowable, including the offer of an attractive young woman to pose nude for them.

When one of the miners is offered a paid patron, this divides the group. Should one be allowed to stand out? The political theme runs throughout the play, but does not dominate it.

The play is reasonably long at two and a half hours, but it never gets stale. The continual conflict between the miners, but also the appreciation of the rarity of what they are doing, makes the play a very enjoyable experience.

It runs at Circa until Sat 8 November.