Travels & Culture – November / December 2015

Surprised myself with how much is possible in four weeks without feeling super busy. Weekend trips to Abel Tasman, Great Barrier Island and Wellington, last six theatre shows of the season, half a dozen books read, couple of awards ceremonies, and a few other things, on top of starting a new job, while still doing my previous job…

Places
Made my quarterly trip to Wellington to catch up with friends, and enjoy brunch at my favourite café, Maranui. Rented a bike for the windiest cycle of my life, along the south coast, battling with the invisible elements, changing rapidly down the gears to just retain a semblance of forward motion. Had time to kill so redid Wellington’s greatest hits – Te Papa, Great War Exhibition, National War Memorial, Botanic Gardens, New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Wellington City Art Gallery and the Cable Car Museum. First time up Brooklyn Hill though, glad I didn’t attempt to cycle up it!
DSC07195 DSC07273 DSC07167Taumanu Reserve, was worth a look around on a sunny Sunday afternoon, though Pylon Park would have been a more accurate name. If you’re interested see Taumanu Reserve, Auckland’s newest beach.
DSC07804 DSC07756Great Barrier Island was a 20km warm up for the tramping season ahead, getting back into walking up the sides of mountains in variable weather conditions with a 15kg pack, and staying in huts which for some reason I just love. Mt Heale Hut was a good one, with stunning views (when the weather allowed) and an unusually well equipped kitchen, though no toilet paper, always best go tramping prepared! For the full story see Aotea Track, Great Barrier Island.
DSC07480 DSC07590The 41km Inland Track in Abel Tasman National Park was the real deal, climbing over 1,000m on the very long 28km day one. Day two was only 13km but still required getting up at 5.45am to finish the track in time to catch the bus back to Nelson airport. The last hour where these photos came from was good (though actually on the Coastal Track), the previous eleven hours battling through tree roots was more just good exercise. For the full story see Inland Track, Abel Tasman National Park.
DSC08215 DSC08245Books
Finally read The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro 1989 Booker Price winning novel, which was beautifully written, with a very controlled tone befitting the narrator, if overall slightly odd. Game Control by Lionel Shriver is probably the second best novel written on population control, after John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, and was a typically confrontational and unflinchingly thought-provoking read. Colm Toibin’s Homage to Catalonia was interesting in places, mainly on the various artists who lived there (Picasso, Miro, Dali and Gaudi) and the legacy of Franco. The Carpet Wars brought back memories of 2001 (understandable given that it was published shortly after in 2002) when the War on Terror had a degree of novelty. Fans of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries will be shocked by The Rehearsal, her first novel which is much closer in tone to Lionel Shriver, though more surreal, particularly in the half of the book set in a drama school. Brilliantly written if unconvincing dialogue for teenage characters, this was a great read, just very different to what you might have expected.

Theatre
Culture Nov Dec Theatre
Auckland Theatre Company’s annual musical Guys and Dolls was well produced, sung and acted, but unfortunately irredeemably dull. Thankfully Twisted, at The Basement two days later, was the complete opposite, being hilarious, intelligent and thoroughly entertaining. It deservedly sold out its entire run before it even opened, let’s hope it returns again next year.

Tiny Deaths was little gem upstairs at The Basement, if a little tough on the neck with the 270 degree staging requiring some seating adjustments. Made up of 11 loosely connected monologues, including an itemised day in the life, being a human bomb, and falling in love with a tape worm, colossal squid, garden gnome, and flash stationery. Somewhat extreme, very funny and ultimately meaningful, with some beautifully crafted dialogue, though it engaged my brain more than my heart. Love and Information was less successful as an ensemble play, never really adding up to more than the sum of its many parts (16 actors and over 100 scenes), though there were some insightful moments.

Hudson & Halls Live! wasn’t particularly deep or meaningful but was thoroughly entertaining, with Todd Emerson and Chris Parker brilliantly portraying the bickering but loving couple. Great staging at The Herald with a working kitchen, and in character mingling during the interval.

Jesus Christ Part II, the Basement’s annual Christmas show was my last play of the year, though I’m going to see it again before it finishes it’s run on the 19th December. Half of it was that rare thing, an actually funny musical, with “I’d Do Anything For You Jesus” (approximate song title) being a painfully hilarious if somewhat graphic high point. The other half was trial by improv of a who’s who of the Auckland Theatre Scene, with Liv Tennant playing Jesus the night I saw it, having missed Lucy Lawless and Amanda Billing on previous nights. Made the top three of my Best of 2015 – Theatre.

Cinema
Spectre was disappointing, falling well short of the high bar set by Skyfall, returning to formulaic Bond by numbers. Quantum of Solace 2 would have been a more appropriate title, it was that (un)memorable. 99 Homes was an intense, if ultimately annoyingly formulaic, drama about house foreclosures in Florida in 2010. It was a lot more interesting than that makes it sound, with a star making turn from Michael Shannon, reminiscent of Gordon Gecko in Wall Street.

Events
It was the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand Music Awards, and my third and probably last. Really enjoyed my first in 2012 with Kimbra and Six60 cleaning up, while 2013 was a bit dull but nothing compared with the 2015 awards. Despite the best efforts of host Taika Waititi and a typically storming performance from Gin Wigmore, it was an endurance exercise in random award categories (Best Children’s Music Album, Best Worship Album) ensuring that seemingly no one involved in the New Zealand music industry went home empty-handed. Great for them, less enjoyable to watch…
IMG_2579 IMG_2576They could learn a lot from the Auckland Theatre Awards, a hugely entertaining evening in the beautiful Winter Gardens downstairs at The Civic. Few speeches, and fewer lists of nominations, with rapid fire awarding giving. The people’s award prizes went directly to the winners rather than the laborious clapping associated with the long walk to and from the stage. Kura Forrester was a hilarious host, and I particularly liked the director off, three directors giving live stage direction along the lines of “More Mexican!”, “Less Mexican!”, and “Push and pull!”.
DSC08298 DSC08300Second month I’ve been to Reading Between the Wines, an excellent idea from Auckland libraries to engage us slightly younger folk by bringing a bunch of interesting books to a bar (which could be loaned), and letting discussion ensue. I picked up Three Stories by J.M.Coetzee, the ideal library loan as it’s only 70 pages, would be an expensive hardback per page.

Chris Cornell was in fine form at the ASB Theatre, in particular his covers of One (a mash-up of both the U2 and Metallica songs with that title), Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, and Princes’ Nothing Compares 2 U, plus selected songs from his huge back catalogue of Soundgarden, Audioslave and solo albums.
IMG_2663 IMG_2671Art
Pah Homestead is showing three great exhibitions at the moment. Elusive Earth: Refined Images of Antarctica features images as stunning as you’d expect, Helen Mitchell: Tattoo Aotearoa New Zealand presents a fascinating view of body art, while Auckland Studio Potters: Fire & Clay 2015 shows the versatility of the medium. They’ve also got some rather good carrot cake in the café…
IMG_2584 Pah HomesteadOnly made a couple of life drawing sessions this month due to Monday theatre but pretty happy with how I’m drawing at the moment.
IMG_2629 IMG_2630

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