Friday, 1 May 2009

Brand new beer

Last night I was drinking the freshest beer in a pub in Wellington. I know because Dion Page, one of the brewers of Tuatara’s latest drop said so.

He also said that they move slowly – like a tuatara – and they haven’t released a beer in seven years. This latest is a cracker. (No, actually, it’s a beer.)

It’s called Tuatara Helles which is apparently a German style of beer that is very easy to drink. I find it to be so.

It seems that some people find Pilsners too bitter and hoppy (I’ve yet to find a beer that is too hoppy, but that’s just me) so the chaps at Tuatara have presented them with this sweeter, brighter version, which is described by the Malthouse staff as ‘more commercial’ but not in a bad way.

Made with New Zealand-grown Hallertau and Saaz hops, Tuatara Helles makes good use of what are termed the noble hops – I love that expression and I love the aroma they give off. Dion tells an amusing anecdote about trying to add them at just the right moment but being foiled by a gust of wind and a boiling geyser - I guess you had to be there.

The beer has ‘a decent burst of early malt sweetness and then late crispness for balance’ – so says Neil Miller and he knows about these things. I thought it has a slight flavour of banana bubblegum, but again, that could just be me.

It is light gold in colour and so clear as to look like it has nothing to hide. However, Dion warns that although it purports to be 5% abv, it is considerably more than that. He won’t say how much more.

We’re driving home, so we have to regrettably leave the beer behind, hopefully for another day (unless it all gets drunk, which is possible). I could go a session on that stuff. Cheers!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Epiphany in rehearsal

Our first Twelfth Night rehearsal was a read-through, which is fairly standard procedure. Our second was another read-through but this time we had all translated our own lines into modern English. I found this really interesting and there were several lessons learned. Here are three of them:

1. Because people were only translating their own lines, some didn’t think about the speeches that followed. Some of the comic interchanges don’t work if a person hasn’t thought to use a word that the next person puns with. This proves the fundamental way a play works – that all the dialogue is interconnected and no one person, whether they be the lead or the comic relief, can consider their speeches in isolation.

2. Many had thought that the modern read-through would be shorter than the original, expecting the traditional Shakespeare speeches to be unnecessarily wordy. In fact, they were the same length. Modern speech may be much more economical, but it is also less colourful, having lost many idioms and phrases.

Things the sixteenth century peasants knew are no longer common knowledge. Words such as cuckold or cockatrice require lengthy translation, such as ‘man who has been betrayed sexually by his wife and another man, so now has horns growing out of his forehead’ or ‘fabulous beast hatched by a snake from an egg laid by a cock, with a serpent’s body and the legs, wings and head of a cock, which can kill people just by looking at them.’

Sure, sometimes the classical allusions may spin things out a bit, but they also enrich and delight, not to mention reveal an insight into the character and create a bond with the audience. After all, there is an argument that culture is based on shared stories and mythology.

3. This play is funny – the humour comes through clearly and it is not all visual, as some people contend. When people drop the ‘thee’s, ‘thou’s and ‘marry sirrah’s to make it flow in their own accent and vernacular (Shakespeare did not have the squeaky snipped vowels of the antipodes in mind when he penned his dialogue, which is why his plays can sound so awful here), they can really appreciate it.

"He’s a very fool and a prodigal" becomes 'He’s a right flash wanker' and it speaks to us as the bard intended. Of course, some of it defies translation, particularly the iambic pentameter and the rhyming couplets. There is a reason it has passed into the canon of literature and the litany of cliché.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.”

Monday, 27 April 2009

There'll Always Be An England

Happy as a Sandbag, Wellington Repertory Theatre
n Community Centre Theatre, 21-26 April

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this show – it is a revue of 1940s skits and songs depicting war-time life in England – but I was very pleasantly surprised. It pays homage to the fighting spirit that saw a nation through times of loss, hardship and deprivation. Through skits about topics ranging from the Home Guard to the ammunitions factories, warmth and humour are served up alongside nostalgia.

The basic choreography and simple directing (Ewen Coleman) focus attention on the stories. There are scenes of air-raid shelters full of courting couples and evacuees trying to wet the bed so that they will be sent home to their parents. There are American GIs who are ‘over-paid, over-sexed and over here’, and women working hard on the land.

Moments of humour are represented by radio programmes and stand-up comedians; Max Miller is played fabulously by David Adams in his flamboyant suit. David also plays Hitler, which is slightly unnerving – not least because he is Neville Chamberlain less than a minute later.

The make do and mend spirit is alive and well, with a recycling spirit that would do today’s eco-warriors proud. Rationing and creative cooking is gently mocked in an excellent skit performed by Felicity Cozens who manages to look truly ecstatic at the sight of an onion. Wilton pie, made without meat but vegetables such as carrots to aid night vision, is not such a thrill it would seem.

I’m not sure which of the men delivers the Churchill speeches, but they are intensely stirring. The words, ‘We shall never surrender’ or ‘This was their finest hour’ bring an instant lump to the throat, just as Hitler’s speech, projected onto a screen on stage, settles a chill on the heart. There are also tears to be shed at the vignettes of loss – when Julie Homan sings the ‘Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife’ shivers run down my spine. It’s not just the lyrics – that woman can sing! The dramatic piano solo of the Warsaw Concerto (played by Saar Cohen-Ronen) is equally moving.

Originally the show was written for ten parts, but this larger cast of nineteen spreads the talent around. It is unfair to single out specific actors as the whole ensemble works well together. Susan Page, lighting operator, told me she felt a sense of camaraderie develop during the season. Despite the sadness and reticence, the shared emotion finds a voice in the 1940s sing-a-long. The music hall favourites are sung with brio (You are my Sunshine; Knees up Mother Brown; Roll out the Barrel) and it’s a delight to see the audience members join in.

The patriotic numbers are belted out without a hint of ridicule or derision. It is generally unacceptable these days in this country to be proud to be English, but hearing those songs (There’ll always be an England, Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory, The White Cliffs of Dover) made me feel exactly that.

I’m grateful to Wellington Repertory for presenting this show without sneering irony. I’m grateful to the men and women who suffered so much for future generations to enjoy their hard-won freedom. And I’m grateful for being given the opportunity to remember with respect.

Bless ‘em all