Bernadette Peters in Concert, Sydney, Australia

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Bernadette Peters is touring Australia and dropped by the Theatre Royal for three nights as part of her concert tour. We vascillated at first about going (revoke our show queen passports!) but grabbed seats for an additional show that was added on a Friday night (after she’d performed Wednesday and Thursday).

I remember Bernadette Peters from television as a kid, but it was after I arrived in London in the last 90s that I heard her name, spoken breathlessly by show queens. She’d returned to the stage and had particularly made a mark in Sondheim’s shows ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ and then originating the role of the Witch in ‘Into the Woods’. Aside from seeing videos, I’ve seen her twice on stage. Firstly, in an odd version of ‘Gypsy’ which  I wasn’t wild about, and was sort of bummed out that I hadn’t chosen to instead see Vanessa Williams in ‘Into the Woods’. Then, in ‘A Little Night Music’, I remember a stunning performance and finally understanding what the song ‘Send in the Clowns’ was about, both in terms of the character it was sung by as well as the emotion behind it.

Seeing her at the Theatre Royal was a bit of a thrill, and also felt like a privilege. I’ve always found this particular theatre rather downtrodden, with a strange eclectic mix of shows. It’s certainly not the Sydney Opera House. But in this context, with pretty good seats, and a small venue, it felt particularly intimate. I seem to recall the NYC theatres I saw her in before as massive…

It also felt very old-fashioned, in not a bad way, from the romantic Rogers and Hammerstein songs to the ancient musical director with fantastic thick white hair, from the drummer who was one of the Mouseketeers and the small Australian orchestra to Peters’s spectacular sparkly lavender dress that looked like it could have been on the verge of a wardrobe malfunction with a high slit right up the centre, but was far too well made for that.

I myself am hoping that I have the same energy and verve at 66 years old, though there are few people of any age that matches Peters’s va-va-voom, the famous tight red curls, sultry voice and curvaceous figure. The voice, of course, is the most important, and with such range, a bit of fun and quite a few delicate musical choices, she sang a whole range of show tunes made famous by her and others. I found ‘Johanna’ from Sweeney Todd and ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’ from Follies particularly lovely, loved her renditions of two Peter Allen songs, as well as the way she used them to connect to her audience, and ‘Send in the Clowns’ was as lovely as the first time I’d heard it from her. ‘Being Alive’ was unexpected (for me) as an encore; it was fun to hear her sing ‘Children will listen’ from Into the Woods. She’s a consummate entertainer and performer, and knows just the right amount of patter and how to connect to the audience, though the weird routine about trying to sell one of her country houses was… unappealing.

I’d think we would be in the minority to admit that we didn’t necessarily feel touched by the performances. To me, it feels like she’s one of the most fabulous actors around and can add all of the right parts of emotions to each part of a song, a word or a note that adds up to a spectacular rendition, but the songs are performed rather than felt. But I did feel a warm fuzzy feeling with her closer, a lullaby that she’d unusually written herself.

The other conclusion I came to during the concert was that Australian audiences are rather unsophisticated. Or is it this bad all around the world? A couple behind me would start talking as soon as the applause started but wouldn’t manage to shut up again before the next song started. A chirpy woman next to S. was clearly trying not to sing aloud along with Bernadette, but couldn’t help herself. I often feel during concerts and movies like people feel they’re in their lounge rooms, chattering away with no concept that there are OTHER PEOPLE IN THE ROOM. You could drive a person crazy, indeed.

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Perfume: Heaven

I don’t think I ever paid any attention at all to scent until my mid-twenties or later. I had a bunch of allergies, to pollens and dust, and my nose was always a bit congested. I never considered wearing a cologne though, yes, I did wear a deodorant from an appropriate age. It wasn’t until I was 27 or 28 when two things collided. I went to visit my friends Ian and Brian who were living for a while in the Bahamas, and on the way, I read Patrick Susskind’s amazing novel, Perfume. A beautifully written book that describes smells so powerful that they drive people to the most dramatic deeds: well, I would have to start inhaling sometime. Then I arrived in sunny Bahamas, and found out that aside from getting a magnificent tan, eating edible conch, and hanging with my friends, there was little to do except wander in an out of duty-free stores that sold, maybe you’ve guessed already, cologne (and alcohol).

I tried a number of them, and perhaps embarrassingly settled on one of the most common and obvious, Calvin Klein’s Obsession, which I’ve heard they’ve since changed the formula for. I still remember that rich sweet almond flavour. I rather liked it at the time.

But this post is about Heaven. Sometime after arriving in Sydney, a group of friends from the gay and lesbian choir were talking about cologne, and a woman said, ‘I know one which would be great for you. Some women use it too as a unisex fragrance, but I think it’s really beautiful and unusual.’ Being somewhat prone to wanting to be unusual, I found it, liked the scent, and bought myself a bottle of Heaven by Chopard.

Heaven

It’s strange that I can’t quite describe what I liked about it, or why I liked it so much. Once, I remember down at Darling Harbour, a woman stopped me and asked, ‘Is that Heaven?’ I was momentarily embarrassed, thinking I’d applied too much, but she said, ‘No, I absolutely love this scent.’ It was flattering.

On the very amusing website, basenotes, there are only a few reviews, 3 positive, 1 neutral and 2 negative. Both a positive and negative review say that there’s nothing else like it, and both a positive and negative review say that it’s dull. More specifically, it is described as ‘a bright, lively scent with excellent longevity and sillage’ and ‘a typical early-90s … cross between Eternity CK and Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme’. It apparently has top notes of bergamot, lemon, rosewood and lavendar, middle notes of jasmine and cyclamen and base notes of musk, amber, cedarwood and tonka. But as I told you, I don’t have a strong sense of smell.

After my first bottle of it, I was shocked to find that it had been discontinued, and it was harder and harder to find. This bottle above was my third and last, and I bought it online for a rather inflated price, but the thing is: it didn’t smell like the previous two bottles so I don’t know if it was counterfeit or had gone ‘off’ somehow. Out of obstinate bloodymindedness, I used the whole bottle up, over the last years, even though I didn’t love the scent anymore. Throwing away the bottle feels like saying goodbye to various stages of youth as well as the need to be different, all through that blue glass haze of a bottle with indentations of angels’ wings.

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Vale Peter Ashman

This past week, we lost an extraordinary kind, generous and funny man to cancer, who played important behind-the-scenes roles in international LGBT organising and activism, in a quiet, understated life of contributing to human rights. I’d not been so conscious of the fact but with his passing, I realise I’ve had few professional mentors in my life. He was a great mentor to me, and a friend.

2009, Visit to Peter at his home on Rector Street in Islington

2009, Visit to Peter at his home on Rector Street in Islington

David, who told me the news, asked how my writing is going. I told him that I answered the same question the night before at a party, where I explained that while I still get published occasionally, I’m not actively writing. Years ago, I had stories, words and a viewpoint that I wanted to get out to the world. But after being published, my drive to write fell away. Being in a happy long-term relationship and happily settled in life has also not been particularly good for my writing or music, which often came out of sadness or dissatisfaction. The tragic artist, that was me. David laughed, and said that I should live back in Brussels, where we met. It would be good for my writing – the joke being how unhappy I was when I lived there from 1994–96.

There is humour in explaining that I’m not writing and then sitting down, driven to write, for the news of Peter Ashman’s death, rather suddenly, to pancreatic cancer drives me to want to put these words out to the world.

When I moved to Brussels in 1994 to work for the International Lesbian Gay Association (ILGA), Peter, along with David and Micha, and later Chille and Tom, were the small group of people who provided me with the support to keep the office running; they kept both me and the organisation alive. Peter had been deeply involved with ILGA (I believe he was one of the founders) and he still played a quiet role in keeping it financially solvent, facilitating project funding and more. He and David had interviewed me for the job of coordinator in New York City at the ILGA conference in the summer of 1994. I remember he made a comment about Brussels which I didn’t understand at the time, but later saw that he was acknowledging it could be a difficult place to live in and like.

The mentoring that I received from Peter (and David and Micha) was not only about the history and ins and outs of ILGA, but about how to handle or avoid prickly gay and lesbian activists, how to work across cultures, how to live in Brussels and, well, how to live in general. It was my first job, my first time living overseas. I slowly learned to dress better, the components of having people over for a nice meal, how to be a good dinner guest, how to run the office by myself, work with project funding, manage a board and work with volunteers. I was twenty-five, and had no idea how young I really was.

David, Micha and Peter at Belgian Pride, 96 I think.

David, Micha and Peter at Belgian Pride, 96 I think.

Peter wasn’t really a father figure, more like a friendly uncle. From the viewpoint of a young Canadian, Peter was a wonderful English stereotype in combining reserve with dry wit. I had no particular concept at the time of what designated upper and lower British classes but thought that his warm voice and accent indicated good education and an established family, worldly and travelled. His eyes seemed to sparkle when he laughed, which was often, indicating pleasure or amusement with company, or a situation, or it seemed to me, life itself as he seemed happy with his work, the world and his place in it. He was private, unshowy and seemed to have no ego-driven need to be the centre of attention, preferring to work behind the scenes. I don’t think he would have necessarily been displeased to be the subject of a tribute such as this; but would have had the same sentiment as how I heard he’d downplayed the severity of his illness: he didn’t want a fuss made over him.

Peter was a wonderful role model as someone working for advancing human rights, not a grassroots protester but working through organisations, networking and a lot of intelligence. He was smart and strategic without seeming calculating or cunning and would delight in explaining, for example, the contrasting style of British activists in ILGA changing decisions to match a circumstance with the Nordic priorities of a deliberate and slow consensus-building.

He talked to me seriously, after only a few months at work. I had few friends and little life, so had thrown myself into work. ‘You’re no good to the movement if you burn out. You need to have a long career and not work so hard, and all the time.’ I took his words to heart, and from that age, work hard when necessary, but never overwork and value my leisure time.

He had a calm, measured and undramatic approach to work, an example that I didn’t necessarily follow in years after, but a good model to have. I’m not sure that I ever recall seeing him rattled or upset. He could certainly show sadness and concern at a situation, but always had a quiet confidence in making things work.

He also extended friendship to a young Canadian while in Brussels. I think I might have amused him with my naivety. He shared extremely fine wine with me at the occasional dinner party, and I introduced him to my parents over dinner when they visited me in Belgium (We dined at In T’Spinnekopke. My Dad is taking the photo as he’s not in it).

Introducing my friends in Brussels to my parents in 1996

Introducing my friends in Brussels to my parents in 1996

When I was ready to leave Brussels, after just over two years, I decided to move to London. In the generous offer that he made to me, I always felt there was not only his natural concern and generosity but a recognition of the challenge I’d had living in Brussels in a difficult job. ‘I’ve a house in London, and it would be wonderful if you could live there. I’d stay occasionally, and sometimes my friends would stay in the extra room, but I like having someone I know live there.’ He helped me transport my life in Brussels in the back of a station wagon to his home in Rector Street, a cute two-floor house in Islington. For two years, I had the cheapest rent of anyone I knew with the most space. At the end of my time in London, the money that I’d saved from this generous favour gave me the leeway to head to Australia and look for work with a financial cushion.

This theme of generosity and care is probably what I’ll remember most of Peter. It was on what he’d built his career and volunteer work, in the broad sense in his professional and volunteer work with gay and lesbian rights, with human rights, working beyond national boundaries at both an international and European level. But of course, what I noticed was at the personal level. Years after I left Brussels, when we’d catch up, he’d tell me about winding up his work with the European Human Rights Foundation. I remember his clear concern and priority was that each staff member would be OK, whether in a new job or on the right pathway. He would tell me about each of them, as if he’d been put in charge of their care. I remember that he was often taking care of people, though with advice, guidance and a gentle push rather than a handout. We were made a family of sorts, those graced by his caring.

I last saw Peter about five years ago on a visit through London in 2009. He was glad to see me happy and settled and basically grown up. I was happy to see him in his Rector Street home, which had been nicely renovated, to hear about him in a happy relationship with Poramate and that he was happily living in London doing consulting work. I’m happy we took the photo above on that visit. After that, I think we exchanged only a few emails; life these years has less news and less to report.

Peter really was an important influence in my life and I think of him with warmth and much gratitude. His passing allows me to reflect on a pivotal time in my life and the guidance and kindness that he showed during it. My condolences to Poramate and Peter’s family, and all of his friends in our shared sadness. Farewell, Peter, and thank you.

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Book Review: Camilla Gibb’s Mouthing the Words

Mouthing the WordsMouthing the Words by Camilla Gibb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Funny. I’ve had a couple of books that are taking me ages to read. But I found a copy of Camilla Gibb’s Mouthing the Words in a crazy op shop on Redfern Street (for one dollar…), was intrigued and finished it in two days. Published in 2002, at a time when I was paying attention to new voices in Canadian fiction, I remember hearing good things about the book… so have been meaning to read it now for over a decade.

I enjoyed it. The best thing about the book is Thelma, spiky and funny and traumatised, the main character, and I did enjoy following her journey from childhood to adulthood. I liked the sense of movement, growth and possibility while not understating what she’d been through and the affects of her childhood sexual abuse.

It is a relatively slim book, and I found the characterizations of the minor characters a bit undeveloped. I wanted for them to be a bit more rounded or interesting; yet, perhaps it was a reflection of how the narrator related to the world too: at a distance. I was worried that some of the tropes of childhood sexual abuse were too familiar: anorexia, multiple personalities, a character who is abrasive as defence. I also nearly shouted at the page that with so much evidence of the abuse that no one except the narrator would mouth the words, and deal directly with what happened to her. It’s in the backdrop that the abusive father is sent away, is possibly jailed, is kept away from the daughter… but keeps coming back. That other people know what happened but can’t seem to say anything or provide support.

But the character of Thelma kept on becoming more original and interesting throughout the book: I was engaged with the way she started to form friendships and look into her sexuality and step outwards into the world. Meanwhile, the terrible effects of the abuse and society and her family’s inability to provide support or address the issue seem like they could be terribly true and I have the feeling this book will be staying with me for a while.



View all my reviews

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Theatre Review: Falsettos, Darlinghurst Theatre

 

Photo: Helen White

(L-R) Elise McCann, Margi de Ferranti, Anthony Garcia, Stephen Anderson, Katrina Retallick, Ben Hall, Tamlyn Henderson and director, Stephen Colyer. Photo: Helen White

A new production of the musical Falsettos is playing at the Eternity Playhouse by Darlinghurst Theatre for this year’s Mardi Gras season, and I hope they play to full houses. It’s an outstanding cast with amazing direction and staging, and raises what could be just an odd, historical musical to something very touching and universal.

Falsettos is one of those musicals you hear about, if you are profess enjoyment of musicals and are gay and are romantic or dramatically inclined. It is a musical that addressed AIDS, winning a Tony Award in 1992 and the prime achievement of William Finn, whose other hit was the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (the book was by James Lapine, who wrote the book for one of my favourite musicals, Sondheim’s Into the Woods). Falsettos also has two heart-stopping ballads, beautiful, tragic and romantic, ‘What more can I say?’ and ‘What would I do?’.

Still, these songs confused me a little. There are lines in the ‘What would I do’ that are so specific to the musical’s narrative that they sound strange sung outside of it, and the lines in ‘What more can I say?’ were uncomfortably frank and naff: ‘it’s hot, just like you read about’ and ‘I sing a rondelay, what more can I say?’ I wasn’t sure whether I ‘got’ Finn’s songs. A number of years ago, I saw a review of William Finn’s songs at the Sydney Theatre, and a few of the songs stuck with me by how over the top they were. They took the mellow out of melodrama. One was sung to a dying parent, who in this staging of the song, actually died during the song (in a wheelchair no less). Another, meant to be perhaps a version of ‘Someone to watch over me’ was sung by a parent who had died to their child, and was monstrous: No matter where you are and what you’ll do, I’ll be watching from my grave.

I say this because this production of Falsettos really made me appreciate Finn’s songs and songwriting. The songs in Falsettos are complex and somewhat operatic, too complex for me to appreciate from flipping through the show’s songbook on our shelves (S. is a real fan of it), and they also really need to be put into the context of the show. So when well-performed, the drama of them (and humour, of which there is much) is appropriate. Under Stephen Colyer’s direction, lines which seemed to me “cute” or too culturally and time-specific on the page were part of great songs sung by memorable, quirky characters.

Ben Hall and Tamlyn Henderson in the Darlinghurst Theatre's 2014 production of Falsettos. Photo: Helen White

Ben Hall and Tamlyn Henderson in the Darlinghurst Theatre’s 2014 production of Falsettos. Photo: Helen White

I’ve seen many of the musicals Stephen Colyer has directed including Torch Song Trilogy and Kiss of the Spiderwoman. Two particular strengths never fail to impress me. One is that he gets outstanding performances from every one of his actors. In Falsettos, it feels that he had particularly strong actors to begin with! But there’s never a minor character. Everyone gets their chance to shine. Everyone is giving the most honest performances possible, and in a way that is engaging and impressive.

Margi de Ferranti is pitch-perfect as a lesbian doctor, Elise McCann adds the right subtlety to her caterer partner to be funny but not overblown. Ben Hall sings and acts as well as he is ridiculously handsome (I know that sentence doesn’t really work). Katrina Retallick’s ‘I’m Breaking Down’, sung while doing a step class is a tour de force. Stephen Anderson’s Mendel is perfectly sung and my partner S. particularly liked his acting. I’d forgotten what a monster the character Marvin is in the first act before Tamlyn Henderson shows his transition to a more mature and loving man in the second. Special mention to Anthony Garcia. Didn’t musicals and plays used to have much older actors playing child characters, since they couldn’t find someone of the right age with the requisite talent? Anthony never hit a bum note, showed huge acting shops and charisma, and is only 13 years old. We sat next to his proud papa at the preview, who was crying, even more than my partner, at the the musical’s end.

Colyer’s other strength is in his staging. His sets are always spare, where he employs simple but effective theatrical tricks to create the right environment and setting but keep the focus on the story and actors. But then he re-envisions and recreates songs and scenes to give them energy, bring them new life or even bring them up to date. He doesn’t allow any of the songs to be sung in a static way but I didn’t feel that he ever overcomplicated them either. A few of Falsettos’ numbers are particularly culturally specific (Four Jews in a Room Bitching) or stagy and it feels like Colyer is very technical in the way he dissects songs, deflects attention from weaker lyrics, and enhances the songs dramatically through his choreography and staging.

Years ago, I saw another production, an amateur one, at an unnamed theatre. Because Finn’s music is so complicated, in lesser hands, the music can seem awkward, even discordant. In a similar way, the characters can feel culturally unfamiliar (In Canada, I had far more friends than here in Australia that have had Bar Mitzvahs!), and dramatic notes too big. The staging of a final dramatic scene in this production allowed it be both poignant and powerful and yet understated, especially compared to the previous version I’d seen: a full-on hospital deathbed scene. In Colyer’s capable hands, he pulled out the emotional truth and universal themes of the musical to allow us to think about the way we create our complicated families of choice – all the while touched, entertained and entertained by outstanding actors (and the musical director, carrying the entire musical weight of the show on his grand piano). S., me and my niece-in-law and nephew-in-law from Perth were all really happy to have seen it.

Please go see it! Support local theatre and the amazing artists involved.

P.S. This was the first time we’ve seen a show in the new Eternity Playhouse. What a beautiful space and amazing job. Kudos, City of Sydney.

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Restaurant Review: Marque, Sydney

Dinner at Marque was a long time in coming. I’d tried their Friday lunch special a few years ago, but never made it for dinner, even though I lived in the same building complex for over a year, many years ago. Two special occasions combined, an anniversary and a dinner, seemed an appropriate excuse, so off we walked, all of five minutes away from our apartment to go to one of Sydney’s most celebrated fine dining restaurants.

It was dark and cool and stylish inside, and it really didn’t seem the right occasion to take photos of every course. Instead, you could make do with the menu, if you’d like…

Marque MenuIt’s funny though. I remember the very first time I received a menu after a proper degustation, at Tetsuyas when it was in Rozelle, and it was such a surprise. It felt very special, whereas now it seems to be the standard thing to offer (meanwhile as degustation menus hit a peak and have been less and less popular the last few years as Sydney opts for slightly more casual dining).

This is also to say that we feel very jaded having eaten at so many fine dining restaurants, not only in Sydney but around the world. The novelty is certainly not there anymore. Suffice to say, the service was top notch and we appreciated the sommelier’s detailed descriptions and his passion for the matching wines, which seemed perfectly paired.

An absolute highlight was the Sauternes Custard served in an egg shell, which I’d read about in reviews. I also thought the Smoked Eel, so finely sliced with such texture and flavour for such a wafer, matched with Parmesan Gnocchi and Pumpkin was lovely as was the sweet, almost dessert-like Fraser Island Spanner Crab with Almond Gazpacho, Almond Jelly, Sweet Corn and Avruga.

I also very respect a chef who’s not shy at challenging his diners. Case in point, the Moreton Bay Bug (delicious) with Candle of Fire Radish (OK) and Saltwort, a plant that lives near the ocean in salty climes. Looks beautiful…

Saltwort

But yagh. I didn’t like it. Chewy and not so pleasant. S. didn’t mind the sharp mustard flavour in the wafer accompanying coconut and mango; I found it too strong. I found the quail dish prettier than it tasted.

Quail with miso circle

We both agreed that the Lemon Aspen, a native berry that was brined, was pretty weird, sitting in its cultured cream and whey caramel. Also (and I remembered this from the lunch years ago), a bend towards earthy, burnt and charred flavours, rather than the sweet or oily.

It was a lovely experience with food carefully thought out and much technique shown. It requires diners not to be passive but to be adventurous and engage with the experience. I can certainly understand why it’s gotten so much praise, this restaurant, but, as you can tell, not a rave review from me. One of those times when the taste buds of the chef and myself don’t match up perfectly through no fault of either one of us.

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Restaurant Review: Spicy Sichuan, Haymarket, Sydney

Image taken from their website

Image taken from their website

I’ve wanted to try this restaurant for ages, but it’s not the type of place to just go with your partner. Finally, with my pal’s rent-a-crowd of 8, a great number for a Chinese meal, we got to head down on the night of the Chinese New Year parade.

Before we went, I looked at various reviews, including Terry Durack’s, and was a little confused. Expect bad service, I knew. Durack recommended having the hotpot downstairs instead (a suggestion we’ll take up another time). And I got the overall impression that it was pretty good but you might not know how to order the right dishes.

Guided only by one dinner guest who said “No offal” which eliminated a surprising number of dishes, I was allowed to take charge of the menu and swept through the Menu-on-an-ipad, placing checkmarks on whatever looked good.

Indeed, it was very good. The lamb ribs in cumin had so much flavour, juicy, fatty and unusual. A chili chicken had the interesting addition of cubed lotus roots. A beef in cumin was not bad. The whole table loved their version of Mapo Tofu, as well as the slightly sweet eggplant hotpot, and the crispy shelled prawns. The steamed vegetables were the same as anywhere as was the fried rice. The craziest dish was a large glass baking dish filled with pieces of tofu, fish, chilis and pepper, served with two candles underneath to keep it bubbling. It had a numbing rather than spicy chili (the sichuan peppercorns, I believe), with a taste, earthy and slightly charred, that I don’t remember ever trying before. All up, we found the food really tasty and interesting, not a dud among any of the dishes.

The service was sweet but par for the course in a Chinese restaurant, inattentive, to the point of having to wave arms wildly or just go up to ask them for things. But we didn’t mind. A rather lot of bottles of white wine went well with the food and put us all in a jolly mood and I think all of us agreed that the restaurant would be well worth trying again. All for $35 a head, without tip!

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2013 in lists: concerts, shows & books

The year in concerts, shows (musicals/theatre/dance) and books!

CONCERTS

  • Sing the Truth, State Theatre (January) - Welcome 2013. Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright. Quite a triple-bill, but the surprise for me was Lizz Wright. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a voice quite like hers.
  • David Byrne and St. Vincent, State Theatre (January) - I can’t believe that in my 40s, I’m seeing heroes of mine from my adolescent days. I wasn’t enamoured by St. Vincent, she was only OK, but David Byrne is a GOD. When he sang ‘Home’, ‘Road to Nowhere’ or ‘Burning Down The House’ there was nowhere else I wanted to be in the world.
  • Kings of Convenience, Opera House (February) – What a surprise. I’ve never seen everyone get up and dance for so long, and the music isn’t that dancey. The singers were charming, and the goofy guy kept everyone laughing the whole time. Really original music and a great crowd. Go Norway. 12 points. 
  • Jens Lekman (February) – Loved.
  • Tina Arena (February) - Well-loved by her audience.
  • Rickie Lee Jones (March) - OHMYGOD. Review up on site.
  • Eric Whitacre (March) – Beautiful choral music.
  • Shawn Colvin (April) – I last saw Shawn Colvin in a big concert hall in London. Loved her, but definitely not intimate. So, to see her perform solo at the Basement, a handful of feet away, was incredible. Wonderful musician and wonderful songs. Not much banter! Really cool. And to be introduced to her opening act, Melody Cole, was great – very talented young Aussie singer-songwriter. Will be looking out for more from her.
  • Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples (April) – Amazing voice and presence and songs – I’ve always liked Bonnie Raitt. It’s strangely not the kind of music that I normally click with but I’ve always been immediately drawn into her voice and vibe. And Mavis! My god! A female gospel James Brown, I didn’t really know anything about her before this concert, but she was like a primal force, the id, and rocking the stage at 73. (Bonnie at ten years younger was also an amazing sex bomb, not to take away from her amazing musical talents)
  • Cassandra Wilson (June) – What I’m musing about these days is that every singer that I’ve ever really really loved seems to come through Sydney these days at one time or another. It’s such a privilege and delight to be able to hear artists live that have been a part of my life. Cassandra and her amazing voice, and great band, were marvelous. I’m going to go buy the rest of her CDs now. I’m behind!
  • Kristen Chenoweth (June) – God, I loved her, really I did. She is a PERFORMER. But the baby photos were a bit much.
  • Idina Menzel (June) – Between Galinda and Elphaba, I probably like Galinda better and my better half liked Elphaba. Stunning voice, and I found it very touching when she sang songs from Rent.
  • Cyndi Lauper (September) – An absolutely terrible opening act that I’ve blocked from my memory and then Cyndi singing the entire album of ‘She’s So Unusual’. I forgot how weird the second half of that album is. She is fearsome, I also forgot that, and shows no sign of mellowing with age. I think I expected to be touched more by this concert, since songs like ‘Time after time’ are so important to me, but it was more spectacle. Everyone got up and danced to everything recognisable, which was fun!
  • Olafur Arnald, The Basement (October) – How is his music so sad and beautiful and emotional? I started crying and wondered: is sadness Icelandic?
  • Michael Jackson, The Immortal World Tour by Cirque Du Soleil – Allphones Arena (October) – Moments of beauty, joy and inspiration… and deeply weird.
  • John Legend, Sydney Opera House, December. Man, the level of excited estrogen in the audience was through the roof. Enjoyed it. A bit culturally lost with some of the songs, but supremely talented.

SHOWS

  • Torch Song Trilogy, Gaiety/Darlinghurst Theatre. The greatly talented Stephen Colyer directing, I really enjoyed this production.
  • Mrs. Warren’s Profession, February, Sydney Theatre Company. We saw a preview performance. Thought the text itself was slightly old-fashioned, but I enjoyed it.
  • Shen Yun Performing Arts, Capitol Theatre, February – my pal David thought that some Chinese dancing and culture would be fun. Little did we know, it was a Falungong performing troup, protesting against the Chinese government and featuring weird trippy flying people. I was kind of sympathetic to their cause beforehand (and don’t think they should be persecuted and banned) but I wasn’t quite convinced by their weird beliefs.
  • Justin Vivian Bond, Carriageworks. I loved seeing him years ago as part of Kiki and Herb, and I do think Bond is a charismatic and interesting performer. But this was terrible. Bond needed a musician to back him up – his/her (there was some reference to getting rid of gendered pronouns) piano-playing (and forgetting half of his song) was cringe-inducing.
  • Driving Miss Daisy, Theatre Royal – yes, Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones were great, but the script (which won a Pulitzer apparently!) seemed sketchy and dated.
  • This Heaven, Belvoir. Wonderful new Australian talent with a powerful play. Nakkiah Lui is a name to watch out for.
  • Carmen, Opera Australia  – my god, what a beautiful setting and spectacular show.
  • Dance Better At Parties, April, Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 2 Theatre. Haven’t we watched this concept before, both in movies and in theatre?
  • War Horse – Lyric Theatre. Theatrical magic…
  • One Man, Two Guvnors, May. Hilarious. The lead actor was amazing.
  • Anh Do – The Happiest Refugee Live! The State Theatre – As much as anything, I think he’s an interesting cultural figure in Australia today, to come from a poor refugee background and make a career in comedy out of it, at an anti-refugee time in Australia, is important. And he’s funny.
  • They’re Playing My Song! Theatre Royal. God, this musical is out of date.
  • The Maids, June, Sydney Theatre. Terrifying. Interesting staging and production. I’m not sure how people can share the stage with Cate Blanchett, she’s such a big presence, and Isabelle Huppert, struggling with a wordy script not in her native language was, in an unfair position here. Elizabeth Debicki was amazing though.
  • Angels in America, Parts I & II, Theatre Royal. One of my favourite plays ever… and what a production. I couldn’t believe all these Aussie actors pulling off perfect American accents. So well done.
  • Blue Man Group, Sydney Lyric, August. I’ve always been interested in seeing these guys. Craziness.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Sydney Theatre, August. I studied this at 16 in college, so to see it so many years later, live, was good. If only I wasn’t so tired at the time. Amazing script, great performances and staging.
  • Romeo and Juliet, Sydney Opera House. October. Amazing show, performances, and reimagining. Loved it.
  • Waiting for Godot, Sydney Theatre Company, November. Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh. Great performances as expected. Since I studied it… and saw it a few years ago… seeing it again, I was thinking: nothing happens in this place. Is it necessary to see it multiple times to find that out (aside from the great performances…)?
  • Vere (Faith), Sydney Opera House, November. I loved that this was an Australian play with Australian references and of-the-moment jokes, and the lead performance is touching. First half was amazing, but I thought the second half didn’t match, some of the emotional truths blunted by slapstick and the one-dimensional fundamentalist Christian characters. Too easy targets these days, I think.
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Theatre Royal. A fun musical with energetic performances. Feels like they had a bit of a hard time pulling in the crowds and I think they deserved a bigger audience.
  • Atomic, a new musical, NIDA, December. Hmm. Odd subject matter, Leo Szilard, one of physicists whose work contributed to the atomic bomb. In fact, lots of good subject matter, but the play tried to cram in so much, it really lost its punch, in spite of some pretty good music, a great little orchestra and wonderful, energetic performances (the cast in general had amazing voices). Cut about a third of the play, do some rearranging and I think this musical has legs.

BOOKS

Somehow I stopped keeping a list last year… and am now looking through my shelves to see what I read. A mostly complete but possibly incomplete list then…

2013

  • Jonathan Franzen’s Strong Motion (Fiction) – See review on this website
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies (Non-Fiction)
  • Berndt Sellheim’s Beyond the Frame’s Edge (Fiction) – See review on this website
  • Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam (Fiction)
  • George Saunders’s Tenth of December (Short Fiction)
  • Shawn Colvin’s Diamond in the Rough (Autobiography)
  • Tabish Khair’s The Thing About Thugs (Fiction) – See review on this website
  • Eduardo Galeano’s Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone (Creative Non-Fiction) – See review on this website
  • Chandler Burr’s You or Someone Like You (Fiction) – See review on this website
  • Jennifer Egan’s Emerald City (Fiction)
  • Benjamin Law’s Gaysia (Non-fiction)
  • Bill Bryson’s Down Under (Non-fiction/travel)
  • Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead (fiction)
  • Contemporary Asian Australian Poets, eds. Aitken, Boey & Cahill (poetry)
  • Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? (Autobiography/Comic)
  • Matthew Inman’s How to Tell If Your Cat if Plotting to Kill You (Humour by the Oatmeal)
  • Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! (Fiction)

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The Current Lists: 2014 (Books, Concerts, Shows)

Aha. New organisational system for 2014…

I’ve organised the old lists into separate archival posts either by the year, or before that…

This year, I’ll just keep updating this post until it’s time to start a new post for 2015.

Concerts and Shows

  • Sarah Blasko and Appleonia, Heavenly Sounds series, January. Those women, they can sing. Hot and stuffy church venue though, a little unbearable.
  • The National, Sydney Opera House Forecourt, January. I saw them at the Enmore three years ago, a great show, and perhaps with more energy being in a smaller venue with louder volume (I understand they weren’t able to play very loudly at the Opera House what with sound restrictions). But with the crescent moon, a perfect Sydney night, the Opera House, lit in a glorious blue and then mysterious yellow behind us, a fantastic set of video projects behind them and a new album to add to their oeuvre, and I liked it even better. We were standing in a great position and there was room around to move. I was rapt.
  • Falsettos, Darlinghurst/Eternity Theatre, February. Review up on this website.
  • Sweet Charity, Hayes Theatre, February. Amazing lead actress, imaginative staging, some hit songs and some dated material.
  • The Drowsy Chaperone, Hayes Theatre, March. What a fun, silly show. And how do these small shows manage to get so much talent? The young actors graduating from WAAPA, NIDA and the likes. Is this the Glee effect or something? Ten years ago, I went to amateur productions that usually had a few better actors and some terrible ones and ho hum direction. Now, there are semi-professional shows bursting at the seams with talent, it seems every month! The two young leads here, Hilary Cole and Brett O’Neill, have such sweet voices and great acting chops. 
  • Baths, Oxford Art Factory, March.
  • Bernadette Peters, Theatre Royal, April.

Books

What I’m currently reading in 2014

  • Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners (short fiction)
  • Spencer and Schenker’s The Fast Diet Recipe Book (recipes/food/health)

Read!

  • Luke Fischer’s Paths of Flight (poetry): Quiet and painterly, I’m not sure I’ve come across this voice in my forays into Australian poetry, the first-person philosopher with references to artists, philosophers and writers of old, poems mostly set in nature, travel or deep in reverie.
  • Margaret Atwood’s Postitron (episodic e-book fiction): Ah Peg. Canada’s gift to world literature doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, either in output or chutzpah. While the themes of these three short novellas cover similar territory as her other dystopic futures, they are still fun and imaginative to read, and not repetitive. It felt to me like she was having fun writing to this genre, doing mini-recaps in each one in case someone has not read all three, and then leaving us waiting… for more.
  • Camilla Gibb’s Mouthing the Words

Movies

Hmm, have never kept a list of movies but… why not see how it goes?

  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Philomena
  • American Hustle
  • Frozen

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Restaurant Review: Geranium, Copenhagen (Pt 2)

Ready for the second half of your Saturday lunch. Let’s dig in, shall we?

"Dillstone", Horseradish & Granita from Pickled Cucumber

“Dillstone”, Horseradish & Granita from Pickled Cucumber

This was meant to be a surprise until you tasted it (fish as I recall). For some reason, I loved this one most of all, the presentation, the surprise, the texture and the flavour.

As you can see below, sometimes, the presentation wasn’t particularly complicated. This gave the meal a nice rhythm and variation, and the flavours sang out in the quietest of dishes.

Milky Cheese and Fermented Carrot

Milky Cheese and Fermented Carrot

On the other hand, the Razor Clams, which really did look like Razor Clams, but had an edible shell, were spectacular for how complicated they were… Great taste, witty imitation, obviously a feat of engineering to create!

"Razor Clams"

“Razor Clams”

This was pretty fun. Moss is tastier than you’d think!

"Vesterhavet" Sea Buckthorn, Heather & Moss

“Vesterhavet” Sea Buckthorn, Heather & Moss

As with everywhere else we went to in ScandiwegiaFinlandia, one of the courses was amazing homemade bread with homemade butter. Amusing since folks are so anti-gluten, anti-carbohydrate and anti-starch these days. These were JUST amazing (and warm and toasty).

Bread with Emmer & Spelt

Bread with Emmer & Spelt

 

Onions, Chamomile & Melted Hay Cheese

Onions, Chamomile & Melted Hay Cheese

Lightly smoked mussels, Radish Flowers and Algies

Lightly smoked mussels, Radish Flowers and Algies

I like how they would talk about a vegetable, but it might turn out to just be a foam, or a sauce or a condiment or some sort of essence of that vegetable. I think here the fermented cabbage was the sauce. I did notice that when they served fish, there was not much flavour, nor was it smothered in butter or a strong-flavoured sauce. It was always quite subtle, paired with an interesting vegetable that actually became the star of the dish.

Pike Perch and Fermented Cabbage

Pike Perch and Fermented Cabbage

Also, at a time when we’re being encouraged to eat less meat, less red meat, and when we do eat it, to eat high quality meat, it was a pleasure that there would only be one or two red meat courses. It made the meat perhaps more tasty in contrast!

Venison, Smoked Lard & Beetroot

Venison, Smoked Lard & Beetroot

Any region that considers lard a food group is OK with me. Now, here was a great surprise. Part of the Geranium experience is that EVERY table gets ushered into the kitchen for a dessert course. There’s a special table at the back.

Observing the mastery

Observing the mastery

Everyone was quiet and concentrating and moving with silence and grace. It was very fun to watch.

Kitchen Man

Kitchen Man

Meanwhile, we had the most amazing dessert with the intriguing description of Woodsorrel & Woodruff, which I think sounds like a new indy band.

Woodsorrel & Woodruff

Woodsorrel & Woodruff

It really was cool to be in the kitchen.

Amused in the kitchen

Amused in the kitchen

Then we had another dessert…

"Fallen Apples", Elder & Dried Leaves

“Fallen Apples”, Elder & Dried Leaves

And finally (hang in there, we’re on the home stretch), prunes in the shape of a tree, a little disk of cold beer and cream…

Prunes, Dark Beer & Cream with Beech Wood

Prunes, Dark Beer & Cream with Beech Wood

A final perfect morsel to finish the evening: a Green Egg of chocolate…

Green Egg

Green Egg

We didn’t eat the pinecones, were given the fantastic menus as we left as well as a little box with homemade candy (black currant & liquorice) and just before I left, the waitress arranged for me to get this photo:

Andy & Rasmus

Andy & Rasmus

I felt a bit starstruck after the amazing meal we’d had. Geranium

I know the internet is awash in photos of food, and that some people find it all a little much but I’ve loved sharing this experience with y’all, and having photos to remember this meal.

Lunch was a great option. Good lighting for photos. And we had a leisurely cycle back to the city instead of falling into a food coma.

I hope you get to experience this restaurant for yourself, offline, sometime in your lifetime.

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