We need to talk about America…

Not that we haven’t been doing just that for the last few months, but there’s so much to say. America fascinates and repulses me. I couldn’t live there – not just because I would eat all the food – but it is a fascinating place to observe, and we are fortunate to generally be able to enjoy its cultural output, both high and lowbrow. So naturally I was intrigued when I spied Claudia Roth Pierpont’s American Rhapsody in a bookshop in Auckland. I immediately went to the nearest library, hopped on the wifi and requested a copy (btw – aren’t libraries great?).

Cover of American rhapsodyIt’s a funny book, endeavouring to “present the the kaleidoscopic story of the creation of a culture.” Lofty intentions indeed! However, it is more of a collection of biographical and critical essays about a range of major players in American culture. The first two-thirds of the essays – which include Wharton, Fitzgerald, Hepburn and Gershwin are perfectly okay, but it’s the final third where, for me, the book truly comes alive. Orson Welles‘ and Laurence Olivier‘s (not from the US but that’s not the point) approaches to acting and Shakespeare are compared and contrasted. What is naturalism, how – and should – America tackle Shakespeare? These themes of naturalism and an American theatrical tradition are continued in an essay on Marlon Brando.

Cover of James Baldwin: Early novels and storiesWe are reminded that Brando was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and the last two essays cover novelist James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone who – to my shame – I didn’t know much about at all. Reading about these two African-Americans and learning more about the the nuances and iterations of the wider Civil Rights movement is inspiring me – to read their words and listen to their music and make an effort to further understand America’s painful history.

So, I’ve come away from this book thinking about acting and how we express our country through our cultural creations, and also with some new inspirational figures to look to. We need them.

The Gig Guide: January 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Kids

Music

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

Brave

Last Friday I was invited to the Aranui High School Music Block as the “library representative” to BRAVE- Daisy Poetry Promenade and her very special guests. Being the uncultured and not very creative heathen that I am, I wasn’t in the slightest prepared for this mind-blowing space collaboration of Samoan heritage, arts, music, and the poetry of Daisy herself. Just to put things into perspective, I know Daisy in a rugby-sense, that power that she exudes so effortlessly on the rugby field is ever present in her art, music, and this poetry promenade.

Daisy - Photo Credit: Joseph O'Sullivan Photography
Daisy. Photo Credit: Joseph O’Sullivan Photography

There were six stages in the promenade, our group of 60-odd was split into two groups and as we passed each other from stage to stage you could sense both the anticipation of the next space and excitement fizzing over from the last visited space.

In the first space: Vasa (vasa is the Samoan word for sea or open ocean) – Daisy’s family took centre stage with husband Seta Timo picking a traditional Samoan hymn on the double bass, followed by daughter Hadassah – all of seven years old – relating her experience as a second-generation NZ born Samoan in the poem “I am a teine Samoa.” Daisy and Hadassah spoke of the fibres of their lives being interwoven like a fine mat, this for me, was the perfect analogy of the richness and beauty of the whole performance.

The different stages wove the strands of Daisy and her life thus far, showcasing the musical Pasifika talents of Christchurch including DJ Infared – fresh off an international DJ tour, Christchurch’s premier session band – The Judah Band, Nathan Phillips, Zion Tauamiti, and some massive gospel talent with Lady Julz representing South Auckland. Each stage was threaded together by Daisy’s poetry, and there was also an emergence of new poetic talent incorporated in Annabel Ariki and Maddie Mills of Cashmere High School.

The integration of the Samoan culture was something to behold, captured by Joseph O’Sullivan and John Ross. O’Sullivan and Ross emboldened some of Christchurch’s pe’a, malofie (pe’a or malofie is the Samoan tatau – tattoo –  for men) and malu (Samoan tatau for women wearers – including Daisy) to tell the tales of their tatau through videography and photography. The moving full-length contents of these interviews and some of the images will eventually be gifted to high schools in Christchurch to include in their Samoan Language curriculum.

In parallel to Daisy’s oratory capabilities, the last stage was a re-enactment of a si’i alofa, which is a gift giving ritual that takes place at a wedding or funeral. The si’i alofa is usually a place where the chiefly Samoan language is spoken, they speak poetically and in metaphors and make reference to history, myths and legends, and the natural world. Like the si’i alofa, in the words of Daisy herself, at the centre of it all is love.

This collaborative space project was enabled largely through the love of many people; people that share a love for the arts, Samoan culture and ultimately the drive, vision and love of one woman, Daisy Lavea-Timo who is well beyond Brave. This show is one that will no doubt be shared on all creative platforms and stages not just here in Christchurch but further afield.

Read more

Cover of The Elocutionist Cover of Ua tālā le ta'ui

Killing Jokes

The Court TheatreSome reasons to see The Ladykillers at the Court Theatre.

  • The cast. You’re in safe hands with these old hands. Actually they’re not old hands, they’re experienced hands. And experience counts. It’s unfair to single anyone out they are so uniformly good, but Rima Te Wiata as Mrs Wilberforce, “the wraith in a pinny” is outstanding. Especially her feet. They have a life of their own. You’ll have to see it to see what I mean.
  • The bits of business. Stepping on a scarf, straightening a picture, being hit on the head with a rotating blackboard – yes it’s slapstick but there is still a place in the theatre for slapstick done well. Surely.
  • The parrot. You never see him but you don’t need to. Imagining a diseased washing-up glove is better (or worse) than seeing one.
  • The script. Based on the Ealing classic film of 1955, the play is written by Graham Linehan, who wrote or co-wrote  Father Ted, Black Books and The IT crowd. No more needs to be said.
  • The set.  It’s a  masterpiece of ramshackle precision used to great effect by actors who never put a foot wrong. And it’s so very Christchurch.

A real treat in a cold winter.

Happy birthday, Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio Marsh would have been 119 today. This world renowned crime writer and theatre director was born Edith Ngaio Marsh in Fendalton on 23 April 1895. Her father, a clerk, built Marton Cottage at Cashmere in 1906. This was her home for the rest of her life, although she spent significant periods in England.

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-], CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038

Many people know of Ngaio Marsh as the crime writer. But she also enriched the cultural life of Christchurch with her devotion to theatre production and mentored young people with dramatic aspirations.

Ngaio made a huge contribution to the community, and it seems appropriate her name lives on in a theatre – the Ngaio Marsh Theatre at the University of Canterbury (sadly closed due to earthquake damage), as well as in the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

For more:

Jane Austen – the musical

cover of Sense and sensibilityJane Austen has certainly spawned a huge industry – including many movie and television adaptations,  Zombified JA and modern rewrites of her novels by well known writers. I enjoy the films (most) but don’t usually go in for any of the books (Janeite purist?) although I did recently read Jo Baker’s Longbourn with some enjoyment.

Last year we celebrated 200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice.  Now Kiwi comedienne Penny Ashton has launched Promise and Promiscuity – a Jane Austen inspired musical – upon the unsuspecting public. Christchurch audiences can see it for two nights – April 11 and 12 – at her old school, Rangi Ruru, which is celebrating 125 years this year. Penny claims to have safely negotiated a tour of Canada and parts of New Zealand without being beaten up by zealous Janeites. More details on Penny’s website  or iticket.

Death of a queen of crime

Photo of interior of Ngaio Marsh's houseOn February  18, 1982, writer Dame Ngaio Marsh died  at her home in Cashmere. She was one of the famous Queens of Crime (along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers) who emerged in the 1930s.

What isn’t so well known is the  impact she had on the cultural life of Christchurch and New Zealand as a theatre director and nurturer of a generation of acting talents through her involvement with the Canterbury University College Drama Society and other touring productions. (Mervyn Thompson and Sam Neill were among those who acted in her productions)

She also wrote an autobiography Black Beech and Honeydew which is a snapshot of life in early C20th Christchurch for a particular class of people.

Christchurch City Libraries has a Ngaio Marsh collection featuring her work in many different languages. We also have a small collection of photographs, and of course plenty of her works to read.

Her home in Cashmere is now open to visitors. These photographs give an idea of what the house is like inside.

Recent necrology, March 2012

A list of notable people who have died recently. A modest list this month including a radical feminist poet, a great bluegrass star and the composer of songs for much loved movies like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Matinee idols and opera stars

photoDid you ever wonder what our forebears did for amusement? Was early Christchurch a cultural wasteland, bare of entertainment apart from the male preserve of the pub? Surprisingly the answer is no. There was a Theatre Royal in various guises from 1863, which hosted both amateur and professional theatricals.

A quick look through Papers Past reveals visits from such luminaries as English actress Mrs Scott Siddons in 1877 and opera diva Nellie Melba in 1903.

1905 bought something a bit different in the form of the Giantess Abomah known as the Amazon Giantess and the African Giantess, who traveled all over the world as the tallest woman in the world.

Hilda Spong star of screen and stage performed in 1912.

In 1914 a rather dishy matinee idol Julius Knight starred in A Royal Divorce.

There were in addition various Shakespearian plays, as well as musical productions by local opera societies and touring companies. Gilbert and Sullivan musicals were popular, along with choral recitals and the occasional full blown opera. There seem to have been several opera societies on the go – The Christchurch Opera Society was reborn several times, and The Christchurch Amateur Opera Society and Sydenham Opera Society seem to be operating at the same time.

At times the theatre was as heavily booked as we are used to it being, leaving no gaps between different performing groups. Nor did the Theatre Royal have the show all to itself. In 1879 for example, both the Gaiety Theatre and the Oddfellows Hall were also running shows, as this advertisement demonstrates. Even Lyttelton got in on the act, although their entertainments are a little harder to decipher from this distance.

Not too bad for a small town at the bottom of the world.

Listening to ART

CoverAn early morning Sunday treat was listening to the OverDrive audio recording of ART. This award-winning play is about the breakdown of the long-standing friendship between three men when Serge buys a totally white painting for 2oo,000 euros. Marc is outraged at his extravagance  for a picture of nothing , whilst Yvan’s  attempts to placate them both only serves to aggravate the situation.

Their escalating disagreements are highly humorous and entertaining and raise questions about “What is art?” and “What is friendship?”.

For a very visual person, I did struggle slightly with recognising which of the three actors was speaking. However, the experience of being able to download the audio of such a high quality production to an MP3 player to play out loud was really excellent.

Enabling hubby and I to go to the theatre without the hassle of babysitters, and without even getting out of bed!