Review: Ewen Gilmour’s Midlife Circus – San Francisco Bathhouse Wellington

May 8th, 2013 at 2:30 pm by David Farrar

Review: Ewen Gilmour’s Midlife Circus – San Francisco Bathhouse Wellington

By Dave’s Flatmate

 I don’t know about you but I seriously can’t believe David has become one of those people who seems to be the ‘go to guy’ as the resident New Zealand agony aunt of politics.

I hardly ever see him at the apartment he’s that busy. He’s always out attending things like art gallery openings, MCing events, chairing debates, polling, talking on radio, making shit up and laying his hands on the Young Nats curing them of their belief that John Key is the second coming – evidently that’s Judith Collins.

And now the latest is that it seems all the serious journalists. art critics and reviewers have been marginalised to writing for the wasteland of the NZ Listener’s “Life in NZ’  as David steps up and now becomes NZ’s resident comedy critic.

This truly is the land of opportunity. So, anyway, he comes home and says something like…”Hey C#@t we are going to see Ewen Gilmour’s show tomorrow night, and because you were born and schooled in Huntly, you’ll get the humour and can write the review.”

And that’s the rub, he says it in such a way that at face value it sounds reasonable and logical, yet really it’s like the Emperor has no clothes and no one is going to pull him up about the way he makes vacuous authoritive statements.

Now. For all of the two readers of this ‘My Space page’, the show was held at the San Francisco Bathhouse in Cuba Street Wellington. It’s exactly like the comedy club in Auckland, but a little bit shit.

We grab our seats. Here’s the funny part. I had to pull David from sitting up the front. He said why?

Now, I know, everyone else in New Zealand is in on the joke, but it pained me not to break his little heart and I held back from saying to him…”Mate, a little short four eyed, bald, David Bain look-alike winner will be the first person to be picked on by a comedian in the front row.”

Instead, like the rest of us who cover for Dave, I said….”Mate, if we sit back, we can check out the talent!”  I really should be a Spin Doctor. He bought it, and it saved me the embarrassment of being picked on by Ewen as the red-headed Huntly kid with the mini-me best friend.

Ok, so we settle in and its Bogan central – no one from the beltway is to be seen.

“Dave, want a beer?” I’m thinking as in Rome do as the Patricians do and let’s just fit in. “Nah, grab me a Diet coke”. I gave up providing Dave with any spatial awareness and head to the bar.  

Ewen then comes on stage, and it’s the first time I’ve seen him do comedy. And to be honest, I normally think NZ comedians are crap. But he is a genuinely funny guy. Sure there was plenty of toilet humour, and a few groans, I can’t believe he went there. However there was plenty of downright burst out loud laughing as he pokes at his mid-life crisis.

As for the show, he show covered the whole range of taboos not normally heard in polite Wellington Society. As the blurb says: Tattoos; motorbikes; beer; fast cars; overseas trips; beer; cholesterol; hearing aids; beer; glasses; prostate checks.

So, you can’t complain that you didn’t know what you were up for.

In particular Ewan’s take on his extra curricula activities in hotel rooms was side splitting funny. His dog with ‘that weeping gland’ problem was right down there with cringe, but delivered in the funniest way that even Chris Finlayson would have to admire the comedic artist at work.

Of course he picked on the two guys in the front row. Predictably an IT nerd and some something or othererer (sic) –I sat there smugly thinking how the innocent next to me had no idea what I had saved him from.

Then there were a couple of awkward…do I laugh or not moments. One was about his wife’s death a few years ago. The other was about blow-jobs. I won’t go into repeating what he said, but the sad moment was having to explain to my 45 year old flatmate what a blowjob is. No Kiwiblog Ladies, I’m not an idiot. I didn’t tell him what it really is, I told him it was what hairdressers do to dry ladies hair in the Hair salon.

Could you imagine David with that piece of information at his little fingertips. It would be like Winston finding out Russell Norman is an Immigrant.

The show lasted about an hour, and as I said, it was everything one would expect of from Ewen

And as Kiwiblog’s resident comedic reviewer. I give the show 2 Michelin Stars. Well worth the detour and a fun way to avoid a night at home.

Ewen’s in Wellington tiil the 11th of May at San Francisco Bathhouse

http://www.ewengilmour.com/gigs/

DPF: The show was hilarious. Laughing almost non-stop. I will never ever stay in a hotel room again, that Ewen Gilmour has been near! Note also that my flatmate lies and has invented most of the above conversations!

One of the Kiwiblog readers who won free tickets e-mailed me this morning and said:

Thanks heaps for the tickets would have liked to thank you in person but I had to get my wife home, she had surgery a few weeks ago and laughed so hard she was a bit sore!

Even without surgery, you could hurt yourself laughing.

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Date Weekend with a BMW 320i

April 15th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

By David’s Flatmate

People ask me where are you living these days. Well, due to Heidi Klum not returning any of my many emails, txt’s or skype calls I’ve ended up with David Farrar as my flatmate. Shoot for the ground and you can’t miss I say.

Now, evidently he has a little known/read blog which I think is called “Kiwioil Meathead Captured Cooked”…I’m not too sure as I tend to engross myself in the IRD’s Blog titled “How much do I owe in Child-support to my numerous ex -wives”.

Anyway, I digress. So David’s my flatmate, and flatting with him is like living with a born again Richard Simmons. I’ve known him for well over 20 years and seeing him turn into a Health food zealot often borders on Monty Python-esque humour.

In fact, a typical evening’s conversation from David goes along the lines of….”Hey did you know I ran 673 kms at the Gym, came home, devoured a brussel-sprout and am thinking now I’m thin and skinny I’ll get married”.

Too funny right! I know, but pretend I’m laughing at Southpark which is the only television programme we watch…..he’s none the wiser…… poor man.

So, last Friday night he actually surprised me, I was expecting the normal… “G’day, today I ran 49 billion kms, ate a single uncooked grain of brown rice and am thinking of walking to Antarctica this weekend”…Instead he said “Come look at this I need you to write up a Car Report for me…..BMW have given me this white car and you know a bit about cars, so take it for a drive and write the report.

I said…. “Dave, I’m a good looking guy, I’m single and it’s Friday night…I have options”……He pointed out that I’m an Orang-utan with many ex-wives and that a white BMW was about as lucky as I was going to get on any night.

So, like the cool young hip things we are, we jumped into the latest BMW 320i and went Friday night cruising in Wellington.

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Dave’s driving, and it seems an opportune time to begin the review.

Ok, so this is where we review of the bad stuff first. Like any good motoring journalist you have to put the ‘boot’ (cleverly hidden car pun right there) in somewhere. And as we are both nowhere near ever becoming motoring journalists I think it’s best to get the negatives out the way first.

The first major drawback of the car is that it’s a 320i. And this was compounded by the fact that it had the 320i badge on the back. Sure, it’s true, Dave and I have no shame, but seriously Mr BMW person, you could have saved our dignity and given us something with a big donkey in it. The one saving grace is that it has tinted windows, so we didn’t lose our cool.

Then there is the English lady who was on the Sat Nav. It was like listening to my English mother…she kept mispronouncing Wellington Place Names. So that was worth a laugh. However I don’t blame BMW about that, because after all this really is a Remuera car, and I’m sure the English voice settings are perfect in its natural environment……probably something like…..“Benson Road Cafe, 20 metres, and you have reached your gorgeous trophy wife”. I sooooo miss Auckland.

The next major drawback was that the stereo immediately picked up David’s iPhone song list……. Turn on the car and being accosted by Sonny and Cher’s – You got me Babe was a low moment. BMW, there are apps to jam both Sonny and Cher and the Carpenters.

It gets worse…..seriously.

So Dave’s driving the car right, and he’s trying to sound like he knows what he is talking about.

This is a verbatim record of his observations about BMW’s most popular car; “Fuck, it’s got bright indicators”. “The Brakes work”. “It turns tight“. “It goes fast”. “I like this car”.

So, those were the low points of the drive.

Now for the good bits of the 320i. We know Mr BMW is hanging on our every word so as to use one of our quotes in their next NBR advert.

I take over the driving from David. NB: I will declare my interest in BMW’s…I love them, having owned three in the past.

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This 320i really is a great car to drive. I it just feels at home on the road and nothing phased it at all. We didn’t even bother looking at the instruction manual – mainly because we know that Whale’s a big follower of this blog and would take our man cards off us if we even knew where the instruction manual was.

On the Sunday, we headed off to Petone foreshore to kayak over to Soames Island. However, we get there and it’s cutting up rough…southerly, rain, freezing…a typical Wellington summer day…and we were trash talking how we will make it to the Island.

In between the trash talking I was playing with the entertainment system, audio and sat nav etc. It is easy to use and very intuitive! We even changed the clock settings due to Daylight savings giving me an extra hour in bed. So, all the crap that Jeremy Clarkson goes on about not being able to work BMW’s thingamabob icontrol button system, seems to be nothing more than that of a man clinging tightly to his iPhone 4s and not embracing new technology.

Ok, so it’s blowing a Southerly, the trash talk is getting up there, then Mr Kayak man turns up.

We get out of the snug Beeeemer and are ready to go!

“Ah…sorry, it’s too rough for you to go out there”. Said the Kayak delivery man. Farrar sold out and was back in the car ready to go home. I pushed a little harder and explored the options. The response from the kayak man was soul destroying and a salutatory lesson in listening to the experts…..”Listen, I would go out there but I’m a pro, you aren’t and I kinda like my kayaks”.

So, back into the car and off to Days Bay in Eastbourne in atrocious weather.

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Driving round to Eastbourne in a Southerly is a real test of any driver’s mettle, the car feels solid on the road, and the pounding rain doesn’t phase the car.

After a quick café stop, where David said to the waitress…”Hold the ice, I don’t eat solids” …seriously, I don’t make this stuff up….. we went off driving.

And the driving part is actually fun in this car. The 320i doesn’t feel like its underpowered or lacking in get up and go -I was genuinely surprised. We headed up into the twisting hills of Khannndaaalaaaah….as our Sat Nav woman pronounced it and this car just felt a delight to drive.

Another thing, when driving was that everything felt familiar in the car. As I said, I’ve owned 3 BMW’s and when I jumped in it seemed so easy to know where things are. So anyone who has owned a BMW in the past will quite happily feel at ease in this cockpit. Can I say cockpit? Oh, yeah I can, because I’m not a real journalist and this is a little read blog.

Now, I know that all 2 readers of this blog want to know the more ‘grunty’ stuff about the car…or techy bits. So, for all you detail nerds out there, here are some of the more technical aspects:

  • Engine stuff…have no idea, we didn’t bother lifting the bonnet, but it goes well and sounds quiet.
  • Fuel consumption was care of BMW’s fuel card, so it was fucking fantastic!
  • Co2 emissions ….not sure as we never ever looked in the rear-view mirror.
  • The boot looks like a boot. Dark, uninteresting and no doubt can hold 400 litres of whatever they measure boot space with.
  • Full or space saver spare tyre? LOL, like who cares.  The last time I got a flat tyre was when I was rally driving dad’s Mark 5 Ford Cortina Sport on Waikato Roads.
  • Reverse camera with guidelines and even radar……shows just how close you really are.
  • Lots of leg room behind David when he’s driving.
  • And of course the most important thing that us motoring journalists focus on “Is the car value for money”. I’m of the opinion that if you can afford this car brand-new, then you have a sound grasp of the value of money.

So, Mr BMW, thank you for lending us the latest BMW 320i to test drive.

And judging from the feedback, all 2 out of 2 Kiwioil Blog readers agree this is a great car.

Anyone who wants to read more about the 320i, and I have no idea why, because I’ve said it all and more…here is the link to the official website:

http://www.bmw.co.nz/com/en/newvehicles/3series/sedan/2011/showroom/introduction.html

No doubt will be full of boring advertising speak like…”So you’ve finally made it, why not go the extra step and really finally make it by driving a BMW, you deserve the best, no seriously you do, because you have finally made it…now punch the air”.

So that’s the review, and while having to hand back a cool car, I begin to doubt myself and think I haven’t finally made it, but my melancholy is rapidly replaced as I walk back into the flat and see the child-like delight on David’s face as he beams proudly;

“Hey, did you know that each individual pea is less than a calorie?”

I think how can life not be great!

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Tribes

April 8th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

When a play gets the half time interval, and you are annoyed that there is a break, its a good sign that the play has managed to grip your attention and you want to see how it ends.

Circa’s production of Tribes was excellent. A great mix of tension, humour, light and sound.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The set is a typical living room, with a large screen behind it. The screen is an essential part of the show, where the sign language is translated, and very amusingly sometimes the private thoughts of the cast also.

The play by Nina Raine, originated in London, and has won three major international awards.

The cast is primarily a family of five, all creative. Father Christopher is an academic critic who critiques everything from his children’s boyfriends and girlfriends to the deaf community and Northerners. His long suffering wife Beth is writing a a book that was originally about a marriage breakdown but hilariously also includes a murder mystery now.

The kids are all in their 20s. Daniel and Ruth have both moved back home, and ignore their father’s entreaties to “fuck off” and get real jobs. She is an wannabee opera singer and he is writing a thesis on language. Daniel has some psych issues (his father blames on pot) and hears accusatory voices all the time. He used to have a stutter, and it returns when his brother Billy moves out.

To a degree the show is about Billy. He was born deaf. His siblings are very protective of him. His father has been determined not to let his disability define him and he has learnt to lip read par excellence, rather than use sign language.

The family is charming and engaging in their mild dysfunctionality, and then things get interesting when Billy meets Sylvia. She can do fluent sign language as her parents are deaf. She was not born deaf, but is losing her hearing and becoming deaf.

Now don’t think this is some sort of woe are the deaf, how miserable their lives are play.  It is a play about tribes – the family tribe and the deaf community.

Father Christopher is very sceptical of Sylvia and asks her at one point about the “deaf community”. She replies that it is very hierarchical with people judging you on whether or not you were born deaf, or became deaf, if you can sign or lip or both, etc etc. She also  comments “Plus of course, we’ve all slept with each other” which rarks the family up as Billy has never had a girlfriend.

Jeffery Thomas is excellent as Christoper, Billy’s father. He provokes and frustrates, and provides much humour. Nathan Mesiter also was very good as Billy’ brother. He is both smart and suave and stammering and lacking self-confidence.

The play is 140 minutes long, with a break. As I said at the beginning I found it got me interested from the first scene, and never let go. There are so many tensions that you want to find out where it all leads. There are no saints in this play, just a mosaic of flawed but loving family.

A lot of humour keeps you engaged also. The thoughts on the screen. The asking Sylvia to sign a translation of “Fucking her was like making love to a concrete mixer” was memorable.

When a local theatre takes on an award winning international play, the worry is that they will not do justice to the original. But the production team and cast have shown this is not the case – it was a great play, and well worth seeing.

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Eternity The Film

March 28th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

I went to the Wellington premiere of Eternity, at The Paramount last night.

Eternity is a New Zealand made film by local filmmaker Alex Galvin. It was filmed in New Zealand and Hong Kong. In fact one scene I recognised as being in Hobson Street opposite my apartment, and Old St Pauls and the Wellington Town Hall are also featured. Oh yes the Parliamentary Library also.

The film starts with a gripping interrogation scene and turns into a murder mystery with a twist. The police detective is in a virtual world which has been infected with a virus and has to solve the mystery before the system reboots and the day starts all over again. 

He has to work out not just who did it, but how it was done – which is much harder. He can access two virtual assistants – Helpdesk and Sherlock – but Sherlock is a once only assistance.

The film is around 90 minutes and it absolutely succeeds in grabbing you, and keeping your attention as you want to discover who dun it (my guess was wrong), why, and how.

The special effects are well done, and I loved the music. Also the personal assistant was hilarious (you’ll work out why).

My one criticism is that I didn’t find the lead character was someone you developed an emotional attachment to. You want your lead character to be someone you are rooting for, or against, and that you feel emotionally charged at what may happen to them. I never quite felt it with Detective Manning. That may be deliberate – that the focus was on solving the mystery, more than whether Manning would be reunited with his family or not.

A great little movie which would have done a modern day Agatha Christie proud.

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Mike and Virginia

March 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Mike and Virginia opened at Circa on Saturday night, and it was 100 minutes of almost non stop laughs.

It is billed as a romantic comedy about romantic comedies. The lead characters of Mike and Virginia are both lecturers in film studies and the audience at times are their class. Virginia is the ice queen who tells you how romantic comedies always have an incompatible couple (due to personality, background etc) who implausibly overcome all barriers to show love conquers all, even though it doesn’t.

Mike is the popular wise cracking Kiwi bloke, who is a published author as well as a lecturer. Of course Virginia hates him, and vice-versa and of course they form the focus of their own romantic comedy.

There is some audience interaction, which was also comic. Mike has a thesis that all films have a monster. He goes through various films such as Shawshank Redemption and asks who the monster is. He then gets to Love Actually and asks the audience who is the monster in that film. The woman behind me yells out “the writer” and we’re all in hysterics.

There were five actors making up the cast, and while in some plays there are one or two stand outs, I thought in this play all five nailed their characters.

Gentiana Lupi (you may have seen her in Eagle vs Shark) was the icy Virginia. Her character started slightly one-dimensional but as the play progressed you saw her sense of humour and playfulness.

Will Hall (Kip from Shortland Street) was perfect for laid back wise cracking Kiwi bloke Mike.

Jennifer Martin was hilarious as the young and beautiful but rather clueless student poet who falls madly in love with, well I won’t give the plot away. But you’ll love her performance.

Stephen Papps and Perry Piercey play the respective best friends of Mike and Virginia – their characters are Harry and Sally!

Papps’ Harry shares his nuggets of wisdom in a very droll fashion and generates aughs a plenty. He just fits the role of down to earth tradesman so well.

Piercey’s Sally is an actor, and gets possibly the best lines of the play. I won’t give too many plot details away but one part of it is how they are meant to be just friends with benefits but Virginia freaks out when Mike holds her hand at one point. She heads home alone complaining to Sally that Mike is getting too intimate. Sally responds with “You’ve had his dick in your mouth with no problems, and you’re complaining that he held your hand!” – classic.

The music and sound effects were done incredibly well, adding to many a dramatic moment with comic effect.

Mike and Virginia was hilariously good fun. Is on until 20 April, and well worth seeing.

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Talking of Katherine Mansfield

March 10th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve lived in Thorndon for around 20 years, and in the area of Thorndon that is within 100 metres of so of the Katherine Mansfield birthplace. Despite that I only visited her birthplace for the first time a few weeks ago.

I never studied Mansfield at school, and don’t actually know her story and her works as well as many New Zealanders. So the Circa show Talking of Katherine Mansfield seemed a good opportunity to get to know her better.

The 80 minute show is by Catherine Downes, who is a Mansfield expert. She’s been playing her for over 30 years. The play is a mixture of Catherine talking about Mansfield’s life and reading out some of her writings.

I found it a bit slow to engage initially, but perked up with the recital of Leves Amores and the references to The Thistle Hotel in Thorndon. And from there we learnt of her outraged father who was happy to have her go back to London after she published such scandalous (for the times) prose.

You learn about her relationships and influence on so many other leading literary figures such as D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and of course John Middleton Murry. Murry is not the most sympathetic of figures as you heard about how he would write to Mansfield complaining how hard her dying was on him!

This isn’t a play for everyone, but if you are a fan of Mansfield or just wanting to know about her, it’s a pleasant introduction to her work. Downes has a real passion for Mansfield’s work and she doesn’t just act off a script but engaged the audience in her recital of Mansfield’s life and works. I suspect every night the show is slightly different.

The lighting in the show is worth a mention. The final scene where Katherine dies is done beautifully and to powerful effect as her face fades from view.

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Beep Test*

March 4th, 2013 at 10:43 pm by David Farrar

I was sitting at home waiting for poll data to come in and my computer reminded me I was due at Beep Test* in half an hour. I thought to myself “What the hell is Beep Test*” and then remembered it is a Fringe Festival production I had been invited to attend and review.

So I quickly headed down to the Thistle Hall on Cuba Street and entered the hall. The first thing I noticed is that (apart from John Smythe) I was possibly the oldest person there. This is quite different to many theatre outings when I am almost the youngest :-)

As I sat down I couldn’t work out who and what was or was not part of the show. There were drinks for sale, and also people making sandwiches next to them. Were the sandwiches for sale also or part of the show? (was the latter) There were a group of people doing exercise warm ups. Were they actors or audience or both?

So I sat down reasonably confused, and having no idea of what it would all mean.

At the end of the night, I’m not sure I was any wiser about what it all meant, but I did enjoy a cool night of frenetic fun. It was classic fringe festival where you are equal parts amused and bemused.

If you spend too much time trying to work out why she is wearing a gold cocktail dress on top of her gym gear, you’ll go mad. You just enjoy that she is, and somehow it works.

Normally in a review I’d give an outline of the production, but I don’t want to give too much away as the fun is in finding out what happens next. But a few details.

The main event so to speak is seeing the two actors (Simon Haren and Isobel MacKinnon from Binge Culture) run from end to end of the hall as the robotic voice tells them to. The pace gets faster and faster and you get quite enthralled at seeing how long they can last. But it isn’t just them, audience members are encouraged to take part also and around 20 start off doing it. And they don’t just run – they bounce off the walls, they do high fives, and more.

That wasn’t the only audience participation (the whole show is about audience participation). One unlucky soul gets picked to go up onto the sofa for a multi-choice interview, again against an ever quicker count down. I was unfortunately the chosen one in this case and had to answer a dozen questions such as whether at school I was popular, weird or other (I said all of the above). Then as the clock runs out, the two hosts end up leading the audience in dancing and somehow Isobel and myself spend a couple of minutes doing a Tom Cruise impression holding hands and jumping up and down on the interview couch in best Oprah style. Very hilarious and surreal. Luckily for the couch this production wasn’t a year ago :-)

There’s other fun segments also such as the maths tests and the stand up comic routines. The whole show lasts an hour, and was an excellent way to live up an otherwise boring weeknight.

Not everyone is into fringe humour, but if you are this is a great fun show to go along to.

I enjoyed it so much, I am almost considering going back on Thursday. Not so much to see the show again, but because I regret not taking part in the running segment. I reckon I could have lasted until the final few. Mind you they were saying that one of the guests at a future show is a marathon runner so best you don’t try to keep up with him!

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Django Unchained

February 21st, 2013 at 6:10 pm by David Farrar

Went to see Django Unchained at the Empire Theatre in Island Bay. A great little theatre, which was well patronised. A nice place to see a movie, and then dinner afterwards at Original Thai just down the road.

Anyway – to the movie.

It is classic Quentin Tarantino. The corny music, the oversized text, the blood and splatter, the lethal protagonist.

If you liked Kill Bill, you’ll like Django Unchained.

Jamie Foxx stars as Django, but my favourite character was Dr King Schulz played by Christoph Walz. An elderly softly spoken German who surprises often.

Leonardo DiCaprio excels as a charming but nasty slave owner. And Samuel L Jackson is unrecognisable as the “house nigger” who hates Django.

There are heaps of scenes where you will laugh out loud, and a large number of great gun battles.

It is a wonderful spaghetti western. Highly recommended if you like Tarantino’s work.

My only complaint was no strong female character.

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This graphic from Vanity Fear shows the death toll and method for each film.

 

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Kings of the Gym

January 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Kings of the Gym had its premiere at Circa last night. It was fabulous fun, with some stand out acting.

The play is set at decile 2 Hautapu High School, and pokes lots of fun at education bureaucracy, political correctness, Destiny Church and even Novopay gets the odd mention! The set was very authentic, with even the fluorescent tube lights in the office reminding you of your own school days.

Ginette McDonald plays Viv Cleaver, the school principal. The principal, referred to as Cleavage by the PE HOD Laurie, is a politically correct bureaucrat who is obsessed with improving the NCEA grades and making sure her friends in the education bureaucracy think highly of her. It is a tribute to McDonald’s skills that she doesn’t just make Cleaver a caricature – but actually turns a pretty unsympathetic character sympathetic.

McDonald has some comic gold lines, and is just superb.

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Paul McLaughlin portrays his character perfectly.  Laurie drives Cleaver mad. He mocks the curriculum and files it in the bin. He states how the PE curriculum mentions well-being 73 times, and winning just once – to stress it is not important. His idea of a class is to play soccer. He’ll often delegate the ref to someone else so he can watch TV and bet on the TAB.

But Laurie is a likeable rogue, and his kids all love him. In fact one of them has become the 2nd teacher in the department, and has seemingly thrown away any ambition and his degree, to be a mini-Laurie. That is Pat, played by Richard Dey. The chemistry between Dey and McLaughlin helps make the play so excellent. The looks they give each other, the hassling, and especially Laurie’s expression when he finds out the girl Pat likes is already engaged. Many comic moments.

You never see the kids on the stage, but they are used to humanise the characters. Cleaver and Annie are horrified that the Vietnamese student is called “Chopsticks” by Laurie, despite he fact that is the name he prefers. He is so good at soccer he is told he must play left footed. Laurie also tells the kids they must have at least three girls on each team, otherwise the boys will win. Hilarious, harsh judgement calls.

But Dougal is the student you hear most about. If he scores a goal, it is worth five points as Dougal has Downs. At first you think such statements are so insensitive, but you later hear how he helps Laurie after school stack up the gym equipment (even though Laurie can do it quicker by himself) and realise behind the gruff, Laurie is hugely protective of Dougal.

Acushla-Tara Sutton plays Annie, the student teacher. At first she is just an over eager high achiever who insists on goals for every class. She is also a top sportswoman, and on the verge of making the Silver Ferns. But the real tensions comes when it emerges she is a born again Christian, and a member of Destiny Church (they don’t call it Destiny in the play – but it obviously is). The real tensions come when in biology class she refers to there being two schools of thought on where humans came from. She also sets up a church youth group, and has some of the students make purity pledges.

The play isn’t mocking of Christians, or the church. In fact she plays tribute to how they helped her, and the real message of the play is about tolerance.

There are some great one liners such as how pregnancy and STDs are the only two areas where the school over-achieves, and a line by the principal about how if one particular female student abstains for even a week, that will reduce the chlamydia rate. Many laughs through the whole play. The first half was a bit more tense at times, while the second half which had the big plot twist and the eventual happy ending had more of those laugh out loud moments – not the dignified giggles – but the forced laughter as it was so hilarious.

Kings of the Gym was a terrifically funny play which made for a great night’s entertainment. Dave Armstrong has produced a very New Zealand comedy that has near universal appeal.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 2 – First Impressions

January 11th, 2013 at 12:46 pm by speters

 

Recently Telecom were kind enough to send me [note author is Stuart Peters, not DPF] the new Samsung Galaxy Note 2 to play with. These are my first impressions of the device.

The first thing that struck me on opening the box was just how ENORMOUS this phone is – 80.5 x 151.1 x 9.4 mm apparently. I’m not sure if it’s the biggest smartphone on the market but it’s certainly the biggest I’ve ever seen, and dwarfs the iPhone. In fact my immediate thought was that it was far too big, and would be a pain to carry around all day. On this I have been pleasantly surprised – the Note 2 is reasonably slim and light (182.5g), and I haven’t had an issue carrying it in my pocket.

The upside to the size of the phone is the fantastic display. I understand the Note 2 is being marketed as a sort of hybrid device that combines the functionality of a phone and a tablet, and the impressive 5.5-inch (140.9mm) HD Super AMOLED display (the iPhone 5 has a 4-inch display) is key to this. I thought the iPhone was easy to navigate but the extra space that the Note 2 provides makes navigating the device an absolute delight.

I was surprised to find the trim and battery cover are entirely made of glossy plastic, with no metal surfaces. The plastic battery cover feels flimsy and cheap when you remove it (I thought I was going to break it the first time I took it off!), but seems solid enough once attached. While the Note 2 is undoubtedly well-constructed and the phone feels robust in the hand, the full plastic case still feels a bit cheap and nasty for such a high-end phone. The glossy plastic case is also a fingerprint magnet!

This was my first experience with an Android, and the UI was initially a bit daunting. The Note 2 runs a modified Samsung-specific version of Jellybean, the latest (I think) Android OS. I can’t comment on how the OS compares to other Android systems but it certainly doesn’t hold your hand quite as much as Apple’s iOS does! On turning on the phone I was immediately presented with the option to pick “Basic Mode” or “Easy Mode”, without much explanation as to what each offered. I initially went with Easy Mode, which I later realised automatically populates your home screens with what it thinks you will want access to. I switched to Basic Mode fairly quickly and found that much more useful.

Actually manipulating the device is brilliant, the touchscreen is highly responsive and everything happens smoothly and fluidly. Having used Androids belonging to friends to send texts and the like, I’ve always found them highly frustrating to manipulate compared to iOS. The Note 2 is the first Android that seems to match Apple for smooth navigation, and might even better it.

I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen of the Note 2 so far, and will be posting further thoughts on the device once I’ve had more time to play with it.

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The Life of Pi

December 21st, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Russell Baillie at NZ Herald reports:

As he sat on a wharf bollard to have his photo taken, Ang Lee eyed the Waitemata below with a slight grin.

Maybe it was because the Oscar-winning director, who was in Auckland yesterday, has spent a good deal of the past few years at sea – or in a giant wave tank replicating it – as he filmed Life of Pi.

The movie is a spectacular 3D adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable Yann Martell bestseller which tells of the adventures of a teenage Indian castaway sharing a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker.

The film is great. I saw it a couple of weeks ago at a fundraiser for the Wellington branch of the Sensible Sentencing Trust along with around 150 others.

The reservation many had over the film, was that you will know from the beginning that Richard Parker is a tiger.  But that does not detract from the film.

The animal shots are incredible in 3D. Richard Parker looks magnificent, but everything does. The storm is amazing, the lost island beautiful and the other animals almost human like. The only issue was that the 3D was not done correctly in the first two minutes, and most of the audience were taking their glasses off and on trying to work out what was happening. May have been an issue on that copy only, but anyway was all okay after a couple of minutes.

Definitely a great film to see. Despite the fact you know how it ends if you have read the book, there are some nerve racking scenes on the life boat.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

December 15th, 2012 at 9:39 pm by David Farrar

Just got back from seeing Part I of The Hobbit films.

The 48 rate frame speed is quite incredible, especially combined with 3D. It definitely does take around 10 minutes to get used to it, and the early scenes with the dwarves seem almost unreal and you wonder if it is CGI. But then when you get some NZ scenic shots, you realise how amazing it is.

The movie starts with a history of the dwarf kingdom under The Mountain and the coming of Smaug. You never see Smaug, just his tail and devastation.  His full glory will be in Part II. The scenes of Erebor in its glory are amazing.

The Bag End scene is very faithful to the book, and a lot of fun. It did drag on a few minutes longer than necessary in my view, but overall the movie was well paced for what it got through in 140 minutes.

The troll scene was quite comic, and in fact there were many laughs during the movie – tinged with a bit of darkness.

The wargs were absolutely terrifying, and Jackson’s battle scenes remain unsurpassed.

Radagast the Brown was generally okay and funny, but I can see how one reviewer said he had a tinge of Jar Jar Binks about him. But they pulled him back just in time. His rabbit powered sleigh was absolute genius though. Radagast plays a key role in uncovering the growing evil at Dol Goldur, which will be a major aspect of Part III I am sure.

The dwarves are difficult to distinguish at times, despite their physical differences. The best guide to their different personalities is actually in the Air NZ monthly magazine.

Saruman and Galadriel play minor roles which add little, but help set up Part III also. Azog makes a great baddy, and you see how Thorin got the name Oakenshield.

The highlights are the scenes in the Misty Mountains. Great battle and running scenes. Barry Humphries excels as the Great Goblin and Andy Serkis captures Golum in all his complexity. I especially like it where Bilbo spares Gollum’s life, as this is so significant later on.

Seven of us viewed it, and everyone loved it. Can’t wait for Part II which will have a lot of action also – Beorn, Wood Elves, Giant Spiders, Bard and Smaug.

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Te Papa Game Makers Exhibition

December 14th, 2012 at 8:18 pm by David Farrar

Sometimes being pseudo-media has its perks, and today was one of them. I got invited to a media preview of the Game Makers exhibition opening at Te Papa tomorrow.

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I got the high score (to date) on Missile Command. The photo isn’t great quality but in person the old arcade games are in great condition, and playing them all again was like being back in the 1970s!

The Te Papa website will be showing high scores for the various games, so people can beat their mates.

But this isn’t just a large spacies parlour. They are full of info on the actual creators of the games. We may all know a game is Atari, or Nintendo – but what do we know of the individuals who created them. Their games are a form of art, which has impacted our culture a lot.

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More memories.

IMG_0823This dance game will do doubt prove very popular.

But again it is more than just a collections of games. Don’t get me wrong, heaps will flock there for the ability to play old favourite ganmes for hours on end for just a $16 admittance fee. But there’s a lot of fascinating history on the games and their makers also.

Note if you are planning a long session, they have no toilets in the exhibition, or food and drink, so make sure you are well fed, and emptied, before you go in. The doors open at 10 am.

IMG_0828The exhibition space is pretty  large, so hopefully won’t get too cramped.

It brought back so many memories for me. The playing of spacies at the fish and chip shop while waiting for our orders. Then as we got older, the parlous in town.

And you know what, playing on the PC or an isomething isn’t the same as those old classic arcade games. The big screens. The simple icons. The graphics on their walls.

A great exhibition for young and those no longer so young!

 

 

 

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A Christmas Carol

December 12th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I suspect while almost all of us know the basic themes of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, few of us have actually read the novella. What we know is the change in Ebenezer Scrooge after being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

It has been made into no less than 28 films, at least 36 different stage productions and the story is deeply embedded into English and American culture.

The production I saw at Circa last night was different to many, as it was a one man show, with Ray Henwood narrating the book and playing all characters. Henwood not only looks the part, but sounds it also.

Most will know Henwood from his role in the fabulous Gliding On series. Henwood is also one of the founders of Circa.

There is no ad libbing in this play. Every word of dialogue is from the original novella. For someone who has never read the book, I found it deeply satisfying. Henwood has a gravitas that was made for the production and was supported by a simple yet effective script, some wonderful period costumes and sympathetic lighting.

The play is not just a reading. Henwood gyrates between narrating the story at the lectern, and acting the roles across the stage.

If you’re never read the full story of A Christmas Carol, this is a great chance to have it performed in front of you over a couple of hours. It is on until 22 December.

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The ImpoSTAR

December 7th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

When I saw Jason Chasland perform with the Beat Girls at Circa, I blogged:

So how do you beat the Beat Girls? Simple – you add in Jason (Jay) Chasland.

Chasland was a rock and roll star.  At first glance you might think he is an unlikely star being not very tall and slightly chubby. But my God he was a great performer. He sang and crooned the songs marvelously, and had a real charisma and presence about him. His Ray Charles parody was side sidesplittingly funny. Chasland alone would be worth going to see.

I got my wish. For 75 minutes last night at Bats Theatre Chasland did a solo show that was terrific.

Chasland has incredible vocal ability. He can sing in the style of pretty much everyone – from Elvis to Julie Andrews to Lady Gaga to Johnny Cash. We saw and heard all those and dozens more last night.

Not only does he sing as them, but he mimics them so well. His facial expressions are priceless, and he dives in and out of his six suitcases on stage to grabs wigs and clothes galore.

The audience was in near non stop laughter and applause, and as the end of the show he got a rare standing ovation. It really is a great show, and a fun night’s entertainment for almost anyone. He performs until 15 December.

While Chasland is the star and solo performer, I must mention also the excellent use of lighting, props and dry ice to create an excellent environment. The show came together so well.

Especially loved the Barbra Streisand act, as he came out in darkness, and at first all you could see was her nose as he started to sing.

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Cinderella – The Pantomime

December 4th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Saw Cinderella on Sunday afternoon at Circa. I’ve been to Circa’s annual pantomime for a few years, but this was the first time on a Sunday afternoon so the ratio of kids to adults was around 1:1. In previous years it has been an evening session with only a couple of dozen kids. This meant the audience noise level was extremely high – but in a good way.

The Rutherfords steal the show with their comic abilities. Lyndee-Jane narrates as the fairy godmother (and occasional queen) while Gavin plays Bertha, one of Cindererella’s evil step sisters. But not so much evil, as just desperate and needy :-)

Lyndee-Jane was superb at making both adults and kids laugh, and had many great one-liners. It’s nice to see they revise the play a bit almost daily, because they even got the All Blacks loss that morning into the dialogue. I also loved her “i-wand” which would sometimes need charging to work!

As usual, a fair number of political jokes, and King John, was King John Key and Mayor Celia and her bike got a few mentions also. The fun thing with pantos is they have jokes for the adults, and fun for the kids.

Panto regular John Wraight plays the elderly eccentric father, and also doubles as the King. Jon Pheloung plays Grace, the other step-sister.

A crowd favourite were the odd couple of Dagma (Emma Kinane) and Swedish Schwen (Paul Jenden). They performed all sorts of odd jobs, and had their own love story. Their costumes, like all of them, were wonderfully well done (by Jenden himself).

Every show needs a villain and Sean Allan performed the role admirably. He was booed by the kids everytime he appeared. Also his costume of tight tight leather pants can’t pass without comment. P Girl commented (not sure if it was admiration or revulsion!) that they left nothing to the imagination! They could almost need to be classified by the Censor’s Office!

Richard Dey played Price James and was suitably dashing.

Cinderella was played by Chelsea Bognuda. She has an incredibly polished singing voice, and her vocal pieces were some of the highlights of the show.

It was a great fun show for adults and kids. The kids get to yell and cheer and boo and even go on stage for a bit. The adults get left alone in the main, but one or two unlucky patrons do get targeted for extra fun.

Circa has a very stable panto team now. Roger Hall writes them, Susan Wilson directs them, Michael Nicholas Williams does the music, and many actors return each year. A very successful winning formula.

The play lasted two hours, with a 15 minute interval. It runs until 23 December and is a good Christmas treat for the family.

John Smythe at Theatreview also reviews it.

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Christmas at the Beehive

December 1st, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I went to see Christmas at the Beehive at Bats last night. It ends tonight, which is a pity as I think heaps of people would love to see it.

I only heard about it on Thursday, and purchased a ticket yesterday to see it at 9 pm. The theatre was packed, including a few ministerial staffers I noticed.

There are 17 actors and a number of MPs are lampooned. John Smythes’ review sums it up well:

‘Tis Christmas at the Beehive and all is not well 
The charm of John Key is losing its spell 
Winston is restless, his spirits on rocks 
As dead David Lange cracks hearty and mocks.

The three living Davids seek leadership traction 
As bright Grant Robertson taps through the action 
Jacinda Adern is a party-girl stressed 
That Nikki Kaye’s party is thought to be best.

Paula Bennett brings news John Banks’s been arrested 
The Johnny and Bill show is now sorely tested 
“Jihad!” cries Chris Finlayson, frocked up to go 
To the ballet or opera or NZSO.

Hekia Parata strides through her crises 
Rendering her leaders quivering micies 
Mistletoe, though, does make them quite frisky 
While Sir Rob Muldoon takes drams of Win’s whiskey.  

Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples 
Have to work hard at not losing their marbles 
While Hone Harawira hovers above 
Fluffing his feathers, both eagle and dove.

Spreading the love with gifts for a new way
Is Russell Norman with Metiria Turei 
While all through the house wafting tinsel around 
Is her worship the mayor, Celia Wade-Brown.

Kanwal Singh Bakshi and Su’a William Sio 
Find common ground: gay marriage? A no-no! 
The Pope happens by midst the gay marriage thing 
Just wanting the masses to kiss his ring.

Todd McClay and John Campbell complete the live cast 
‘Though many more names get a serve or a blast. 
While patchy there’s brilliance enlightening us all 
I say get along: it’s a laugh; have a ball.

The Lange and Muldoon characters were great – captured their voices and personalities so well. Paula Bennett’s character was hilarious. When John Key tells her to sort out WINZ, her answer is “I’m all over WINZ like a cougar at the rugby clubrooms”.

The duet by Bakshi and Sio has you in stiches.

Any MP who watches it is sure to be offended by the character portraying them, but enjoy all the other characters! No one escapes unscathed.

The Pope even make an appearance, backed by the Imperial Death March music from Star Wars.

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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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The Tigers of Wrath

November 6th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve been looking forward to the Tigers of Wrath for a couple of months. The publicity blurb is:

Beijing, 1974 – Trish and Pauline are Maoists on a New Zealand Students’ Association trip to Red China. Also on the trip is Oliver, a radical would-be writer.

Twenty years later Trish is a second term labour MP, plotting the dumping of Labour Party leader, Mike Moore.

I was not disappointed. It was a great play. Political geeks especially will love the second act – but it will appeal to a wider audience.

You first see Neenah Dekkers-Reihana as a young Chinese revolutionary brandishing a wooden rifle. Then we’re in the bunkroom of Trish and Pauline.

Pauline and Trish are fighting as only comrades of the left can – over purity. Trish wants to see the Great Wall of China, but Pauline lectures here that they are not here as tourists – they are here to learn Maoism and spread the revolution.

It soon becomes clear Pauline and Trish are lovers, not just comrades. Heather O’Carroll plays the staunch Pauline and Kate Prior plays Trish.  After a flaming argument, Heather storms out and the long haired Oliver (played by Nathan Meister) enters to check if Trish is okay.

The resulting scene is comedy gold. Oliver ignores her demands to go away, and tries to make apparent that he also likes Trish. After commenting on how remarkable her eyes are, and being challenged by her on what he means by that, he says “They are beautiful like two street lights outside a brothel”. She spends many minutes ridiculing him on this, and Prior does a superb job of portraying Trish as playful and vulnerable. She reacts better to another of his cheesy lines and they eventually bond over discovering they both have the book Middlemarch as their favourite read.

Act II is 20 years later in 1994. Trish is now a Labour MP married to Oliver, a lawyer. Neenah plays their teenage daughter, and she adds great comedy value to the act. We see Trish plotting with a colleague on rolling Mike Moore to replace him with Helen. The dialogue is absolutely credible, the list of who will vote which way pretty spot on, and the critique of Moore hilarious. They had actual quotes from the past such as Lange saying Moore is a pinball machine designed by a colour blind person. Also a great quote of how Michael Cullen is the sort of person who enters a revolving door behind you and comes out in front.

The line that got the most laughs was after Trish’s phone call, when she goes back to asking Oliver if he is cheating on her. She calls him a sell out as he is no longer doing work helping migrants for free, but is now an immigration consultant. He responds by proclaiming “Well what the hell is the Labour MP for New Lynn doing living in Herne Bay”. Huge laughter from the audience, as most (including Labour MPs there) correctly concluded that that line was not necessarily directed at Trish!

Act III in 2009 sees Oliver run into Pauline in a Mangere pub. They have not seen each other in 35 years and this is the first time they appear on screen together. Finally she recognises him as the “cunt who stole my girlfriend”. I won’t give the rest of Act III away, but its a good finale to the play.

The actors all performed really well. Quite a challenge to portray the same character 20 and then 35 years later. But the use of wigs on Oliver and a nice corporate suit for Trish helps them do the job.

An interesting profile on playwright Dean Parker in the Listener. He says he never went to China himself as he was a Trot not a Maoist! He obviously has some good sources in Labour as Act II was all too believable.

A very enjoyable play with some great acting which is a must see for political geeks.

Theatreview liked the play also. It is on until 1 December.

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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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Exit Wounds

October 22nd, 2012 at 12:35 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Australia has lost another soldier in Afghanistan.

This is the 39th Australian soldier to have been killed in the war in Afghanistan since 2002.

The soldier’s next of kin have been notified.

Australia currently has about 1550 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

In August, the ADF suffered its darkest day since the Vietnam War when it lost five soldiers in two separate incidents.

This included two soldiers in a helicopter accident in Helmand Province and three soldiers in a  “green on blue” attack north of Tarin Kowt.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith will speak from Sydney later this morning.

By coincidence I read yesterday the book Exit Woundsby Major General John Cantwell. The synopsis sums it up:

As a country boy from Queensland, John Cantwell signed up to the army as a private and rose to the rank of major general. He was on the front line in 1991 as Coalition forces fitted bulldozer blades to tanks and buried alive Iraqi troops in their trenches. He fought in Baghdad in 2006 and saw what a car bomb does to a marketplace crowded with women and children. In 2010 he commanded the Australian forces in Afghanistan when ten of his soldiers were killed. He returned to Australia in 2011 to be considered for the job of chief of the Australian Army. Instead, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Exit Wounds is the compassionate and deeply human account of one man’s tour of the War on Terror, the moving story of life on a modern battlefield: from the nightmare of cheating death in a minefield, to the poignancy of calling home while under rocket fire in Baghdad, to the utter despair of looking into the face of a dead soldier before sending him home to his mother. He has hidden his post traumatic stress disorder for decades, fearing it will affect his career.

Australia has been at war for the past twenty years and yet there has been no stand-out account from these conflicts—Exit Wounds is it. Raw, candid and eye-opening, no one who reads this book will beunmoved, nor forget its imagery or words.

I highly recommend this book.

The section on the Gulf War was fascinating. He was a Major and meant to be a liaison officer between the US and British forces, which meant travelling all over the place to liaison points, to find no one there. Several times they almost got killed by friendly fire – and once found themselves 20 kms in advance of the coalition forces, meaning that had to drive towards the coalition forces from the Iraqi side.

Also he describes the scenes of bodies buried in the ground as tanks with blades had crushed all in their sights. That was the start of the nightmares.

In Iraq in 2006 he was a Brigadier or one star general. He dealt regularly with senior Iraqi leaders and his stories of their duplicity and betrayal are eye openers. He also has several near misses with death and see first hand the results of a massive bomb. You get a feeling of what it is like having 100 or so people a day die, mainly civilians.

Then in 2010 he was a Major General and the commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan. He disobeyed orders to go out on patrol with some of his men, and again there were many close calls with death. However it was the 10 Australian men who died that hit him hardest, and the scenes of him fare-welling them after he has formally identified them are incredibly moving.

Generals are not meant to admit that they can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and Cantwell’s book has probably done his fellow soldiers a great service in allowing them to recognise and get treatment also if they need it. It is hard to imagine anyone being totally untouched by the scenes of carnage Cantwell describes. One can only imagine how much worse great slaughters such as WWI were.

 

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The Mourning After

October 21st, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Ahi Karunaharan writes and stars in his one man play, The Mourning After.

The play is the story of Shekar, a Sri Lankan born in New Zealand. His father has just died, and he wants to travel back to Sri Lanka to spread his ashes. He also has the mystery of a photo of a beautiful woman, who is not his mother.

Karunaharan plays a multitude of characters, and uses his acting skills artfully to argue backwards and forwards with himself. Changes in posture and accent inform you as to who he now is. Karunaharan has a presence and charisma which dominates the small stage.

It took me a while to work out the plot, but it is worth persevering for. After battling his relatives in New Zealand, Shekar arrives in Sri Lanka. His family house is the only one left standing after the Boxing Day tsunami.

It is a house of mystery. Uncle Somu, the adult in the house, relives his days of glory as an extra in an Indiana Jones film. The young Raju provides comic relief and does a wonderful crow call. Malicious Aunty Saroja is the village gossip and then there is the women shut in the room.

The set is minimal, but effective, and director Miria George uses sound and light well in telling the story of Shekar.

I have to be honest and say that this sort of play isn’t one that grabs me. It was artistically done very well, and Ahi Karunaharan is a superb and charismatic actor. The plot revelation was just a bit too obvious I found, and I never found myself fully engaged on the emotional level.

That isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy the play. It was entertaining and many of the characters were entertaining and appealing. A one actor show is a challenging task, and Karunaharan rose to it.

There are also reviews on the play at Theatreview.

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The BMW X5 M50d

October 19th, 2012 at 4:45 pm by David Farrar

I blogged in August how I ended up driving BMWs on snow for a day. It all came about from BMW NZ asking me if I’d like to review one of their cars. In the nano-second it took to me say yes, I mentioned a ski trip planned for September, and so resisted the temptation to grab a 7 series, going for a BMW X5 M50d.

Above is the promo shot. The one we got through Jeff Gray BMW in Wellington is below.

Five of us travelled up from Wellington in it, meeting four more friends travelling down from Auckland. The X5 fitted in five people easily, and the boot area is actually pretty huge. It fitted in five suitcases plus some extra gear. The roof rack was for the three pairs of skies, two snowboards, ten boots, six poles etc!

So how was the car overall? I’ll get into details down below, but I have to say that far and away it was the safest car I have ever driven. X5s are not cheap, but I now understand why people will pay that much for a car, if safety is a concern for them.

Stats

I’m not someone too fussed on the stats of a car, as I prefer to go on how it actually feels to me. But for those who do like the numbers the X5 is a 3 litre V6 triple-turbo diesel with automatic 8-speed transmission. It has 380 horsepower and 740 Nm torque.

Safety

First thing I noticed in the car was that the speedo wasn’t just on the dashboard but a digital display of your speed is reflected onto the windscreen in front of the driver. This is actually massively helpful as it means you can see your speed, without ever taking you eyes off the road ahead. In a powerful car where you can accidentally exceed the speed limit by cruising, this means you won’t. Any speeding will be quite deliberate.

Also when the GPS is switched on, the instructions for the next turn are also displayed on your windscreen. I love GPS navigators but having to look at them from time to time can be a bit dangerous. When the instructions are directly in your line of sight, it means you never take your eyes off the road ahead.

In terms of actual driving, it handles magnificently. You know how sometimes you may go around a corner a bit too fast and feel the car just struggling for control a bit. The stabilizing technology in the X5s meant that not once did the car feel like it could even potentially be out of control.

Speed

I need to be careful here. When talking about speeds I will say we did 1×9 kms an hour. For the purposes of the NZ Police, the Ministry of Transport, the NZ Transport Agency and Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee x = 0, so we never did  over the tolerance of 109 kms an hour.

Others may insert their own value for x and find they may not be wrong.

One of the best things about the X5 is how safe and easy it makes overtaking. It accelerates from 100 kms per hour to 1×9 kms per hours in barely a second. You fly past the car you wanted to overtake and are back on the correct side of the road so promptly the ongoing traffic is still hundreds of metres away. I’m not suggesting we did any over-taking which we would have not done in other cars – you never want to be on the wrong side of a miscalculation.  What I’m saying, is that the just makes over-taking less of a stress – you just decide it is safe to go, floor it (not literally as otherwise you will take off), and bingo you’re back on your side of the road.

As previously mentioned, it handles corners very well.

Computer

The X5 is not so much a car, as a computer with wheels. In a couple of years with the help of Google, it will probably drive itself. A lot of cars now have cruise control and the like – a very good way to avoid speeding tickets also. They’ve designed it so you can do most of what you want to from the steering wheel, so no fiddling with the dashboard. Also as everything is via the one computer, they play together nicely. If you are playing music from your iPhone, and the GPS has instructions for you it pauses the song while it tells you of the next turn.

The rear view camera that shows you the angle you need to reverse into a tight area is bloody handy. Also it has sensors to warn you if you are both going to reverse or move forward into an object.

Oh yeah, most of the computer commands can be done by voice also. Don’t need that so much when travelling with others, but definitely useful if by yourself. All part of just having that safety focus.

Other features

The heated front seats were bliss after a day’s skiing.

Driving up both Whakapapa and Turoa was a cinch. I’d previously tried an X5 (with snow tyres) on actual snow and ice, so on an actual road (albeit one with some snow) was very unstressful.

After Turoa closed early on the Sunday, we decided to head back via a very scenic route – the Whanganui River Road. Was beautifully scenic, and a few of us are talking about canoeing it over summer. The photo above shows us stopping to enjoy a view. The road was a good one to test the X5 out on – not always sealed, wet and windy.

So was there anything bad about the car? Well the person in the rear centre seat said it was a bit uncomfortable (as that seat often is), and working out how to open the glovebox actually required an engineering degree (or a phone call to BMW – there is a not so obvious button for it). But as you expect with a car in this range, it is hard to find a lot of faults.

Would I personally pay $170,000 for an X5? Don’t be crazy – I’d pay off my mortgage first.

But if in a few years I was earning enough money to afford a car in that price range – my answer would be hell yeah. As I said, I’ve never felt safer in a car – even when driving at 1×9 kms an hour :-)

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The Truth Game

October 16th, 2012 at 5:00 pm by David Farrar

The Truth Game was a fun drama based in a newspaper newsroom. The playwright and author, Simon Cunliffe is a former deputy editor of the ODT and this shows in the perspicacity of the play, which is on at Circa until 10 November.

The play starts with a corporate businesswoman lecturing a room full of newspaper people on how media need to deliver what consumers want etc. She us using all the annoying jargon (such as synergies) you can think of, and it is a credit to Janine Burchett that she made Belinda such a detestable figure. You almost wanted to throw things at her, and cheered when an audience member (later revealed to be lead actor Frank Stone) calls out bullshit, and then storms out calling her a wanker.

Photo by Stephen A’Court

The curtains then part to reveal a massive set. A newsroom office stretches out, looking just as you imagine a newsroom would look. And they do an impressive split screen with an editor’s office upstairs. Alan Lovell plays Frank Stone. He’s the 30 year veteran who is at war with his corporate bosses, and is the Acting Editor, and likely permanent Editor.

The adroit Jessica Robinson plays news editor Sam Hunter, and  somewhat estranged romantic interest of Frank. The star of the show for me was Brian Sergent who played the loveable old duffer Ralph (pronounced Rafe). Ralph is the walking thesarus sub-editor, editorial writer and 40 year veteran. Paul McLaughlin plays General Manager Paul, who tries to act as a buffer between Frank and the owners. He has told Frank that to become editor he has to sack Ralph, to keep costs down.

Finally there was the young Acushla-Tara Sutton who literally rollerbladed onto the set as the young cub reporter. She gets off to a bad start with Frank, as she talks about Facebook and the like. As she reveals her mother worked on the paper over 20 years ago, you wonder about whether she may have a connection to either Ralph or Frank. Ski Bunny Girl and I both guessed, but got it wrong.

At the heart of the show, was the much debated proposition about whether media should be about hard hitting important news that matters, or providing what customers wants. Frank represented one extreme, and Belinda the other. Cunliffe and director Danny Mulheron have done a good job at dramatically portraying the dilemma. Personally I think they are both right. Media should focus on important quality news, but they also can’t ignore what their readers want. No use being purist and having no readers.  Sam’s character probably best represented the pragmatic middle option.

The best scene for me was when a major development happens in the Middle East, and you suddenly see a newsroom at its best. Focused and multi-tasking to tell history as it happens. Four extras from Whitireia’s Stage and Screen complement the main six characters as they rush to make their deadline. There is nothing quite like a newspaper office near deadline.

We both enjoyed the play. It had plenty of laughs and the central focus on the role of the media is a topical one. Rafe and Belinda were especially good characters that you loved and detested in equal amounts. The part that didn’t work so well for me was the relationships. The Frank and Sam relationship was almost a distraction, and the mystery around Jo’s mother was also not a critical part of the plot. I think the script would have been better to really focus on the main tension of the battle for what news should be, and the work relationships. More could have been done there.

As I said, overall an enjoyable play which will appeal especially to those interested in the media.

Helen Sims at Theatreview has also reviewed the play.

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Manawa

October 1st, 2012 at 5:04 pm by David Farrar

I saw Manawa at Circa last Wednesday. It was an unusual experience as I enjoyed the acting and the script but basically rejected the fundamental premise of the play!

The play is about two inmates. One is Jimmy King,  the country’s youngest murderer, and the other is Mau Vaiaga who is awaiting trial for eating a Kakapo!

The Jimmy King character is based on Bailey Junior Kurariki. Kurariki was convicted for manslaughter of Michael Chow, when he was 12 years old.

Jamie McCaskill wrote the play, and played the Jimmy King character. He was entertaining, intriguing, a non stop likeable talker. You felt significant empathy with him.

And this is whey I struggled with the play. I had a very hard time linking the Jimmy King character to Bailey Kurariki. I can’t imagine in real life Kurariki is anything like Jimmy King. I recall the story about Kurariki giving a “long and often incoherent response”, and nothing like the smooth talking Jimmy King.

Kurariki also seems with little remorse, having recently said he is “just an innocent black man“.

So a play which is about showing the “softer side of Jimmy” was always going to struggle to work for me.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some very good aspects to the play, which I’ll get to. If the play had been more generic, and not so obviously modeled on Kurariki, I think I would have enjoyed it far more. There is a risk in typing it to an individual. I sent much of the time thinking “When are you going to mention the poor pizza delivery guy”. Now of course the character was only modeled on him – not meant to be exactly him, but I just couldn’t get past that.

So what did work for me? Well the three actors were superb. Jamie McCaskill as Jimmy King was almost too successful at bringing him to life and showing his softer side. His ability to talk non stop to his fellow cellmate without even a grunt in response was very well done.

Natano Keni played Mau Vaiaga, the Kakapo eater. He was basically set up, but got reviled up and down NZ for eating the Kakapo. Even convicted killer Jimmy was calling him the most hated man in NZ – which was a insightful piece on how Kiwis react with more horror sometimes to crimes against animals, than each other.

Kali Kopae played lawyer Waimanea Huia. I’ve enjoyed her singing ability as a BeatGirl, and she equally impresses as an actor. Her character was more interested in the publicity from the clients, than the clients themselves.

I won’t give away the plot too much, but there is an interesting twist at the end. As I said the acting and script were good, and I certainly had many a wry chuckle during the play.

But at the end of the day, I’m just not someone open to seeing the softer side of Bailey Kurariki. That may be more about me than the play of course!

John Smythe at Thatreview also reviews it. He comments:

Did I mention it is hugely funny? The laughs come primarily from shock, at the truth of the characterisations and what they do and say. Each character, no matter how incidental, speaks with a clear and distinctive voice. And (apart from the concerns mentioned above) no matter what they do and how outrageous it is, we understand why.

It was hugely funny. I did enjoy the play. I just didn’t agree with its premise.

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