After the success of last year’s Best Belconnen Christmas lights, I had to get back out and again experience one of the things that really makes this time of year feel like Christmas to me. Here are my Top 3 picks for 2016!
Next week marks In The Taratory’s fifth birthday.
It’s a fitting time for the blog to officially take a hiatus.
* I attended The Slip Lane as a guest of the Aspen Island Theatre Company.
It’s a rare occasion that I leave the theatre knowing less about the play I’ve just seen than before I walked in. But that’s the case with locally-based The Slip Lane by Julian Hobba.
Divorcee Matthew (Dene Kermond) lives in four-bedroom house Palmerston – yep, this play is set in Gungahlin. And Matthew has been mulling over a suggestion for a road improvement – a slip lane at Gundaroo Drive and Gungahlin Drive (Extension).
Matthew is so enthused with his suggestion, he heads to Access Canberra – the Service Centre in Gungahlin, no less – to wait to provide his suggestion which falls on deaf ears. While he waits, he meets Missy (Clare Moss) who lives near Percival Hill (a walk I’ve reviewed!) (I presume she’s in Crace). She’s there to complain about a creature she’s seen at night that has bulging red eyes and three heads (and she gets excellent service, with rangers continually visiting but finding nothing). Matthew is happy to come check out what’s going on and allay her concerns – and perhaps romance is on the cards, too.
Matthew ventures out into the nature park armed with Missy’s child’s toy sword. I’m convinced that this creature is going to turn out to be Chris the Sheep and I can continue to relate and enjoy what initially feels like a very Canberran play.
Alas, it’s not Chris the Sheep. It’s a demon and it really does have three heads and bulging red eyes.
Mind you – this all happens in the first 20 minutes of the 90 minute play. What follows next is the demon’s attempt for Gungahlin to secede, Hutt River Province-style; a campaign to make the slip lane reality; an approach to make Matthew a successful Senate candidate in what’s a nod to preference whisperer Glenn Druery; a murder; onesies; and garden gnomes crying blood.
The play swings from light humour to very dark themes; sincere moments to comedic violence. Sure, it’s absurdist – but it’s also overwhelming. The four actors fill the space and the themes, and on top of all their lines in the 90 minute, no-interval play, each delivers at least one solid soliloquy for reasons which I can’t quite grasp.
I’m really impressed with the use of digital backdrops to enhance each scene. Access Canberra really does look like Access Canberra; I can imagine the dripping blue light feature wall in any home built in the last 5 years; and Percival Hill is, I think, a grainy image of Percival Hill which makes it feel quite immersive. It, together with the clever use of lighting, helps centre a play which otherwise tries to do too much.
Date: Thursday, 28 July 2016
Cost: I attended as a guest; tickets are $32-38
Want more? Purchase tickets at thestreet.org.au. It’s on until Sunday evening.
* I attended Next to Normal by Phoenix Players at the ANU Arts Centre as a guest
It’s a normal day in the Goodman household and it’s starting before dawn.
Diana Goodman (Janelle McMenamin) can’t sleep so she’s awake when her cheeky teenage son Gabe (Will Huang) arrives home well past curfew; she distracts ‘boring’ husband Dan (Grant Pegg) – woken by their voices – with the promise of sex; and she offers pathetic comfort to studies-stricken overachieving daughter Natalie (Kaitlin Nihill). As the sun rises and the day officially starts, Diana begins making sandwiches for her family but it’s obsessive and repetitive and obsessive and repetitive and obsessive and repetitive until she finds herself on the kitchen floor, still making the sandwiches. The family collectively recoils before Dan organises a trip to the psychopharmacologist (Joel Hutchings). Diana is bipolar depressive with delusional episodes, and so it has been for 16 years.
It’s been a normal day in the Goodman household.
And while this is how we’ve been introduced to Di’s feelings about her family, soon it’s revealed how her family is feeling and behaving. Daughter Natalie craves attention from her mother yet finds no sympathy for her and feels that Dan has equally abandoned her; she finds warmth in stoner music student Henry (Daniel Steer). Gabe is the golden child who supports his mother’s choices and desires to feel something; to not have her life dulled by medicine. Dan is depressed and tired; Dan knows he controls as much as he can without controlling anything important.
And the catch? (Potential spoiler so this is in white text – highlight over if you really want to read it.) One of these characters isn’t alive.
Next to Normal is powerful, relatable theatre. With a rock – and occasionally comedic – score there’s real risk that it could descend into the absurd or glib. It never does.
This is a musical that’s about competition for presence. Gabe and Natalie compete, unequally, to be noticed; to have their presence acknowledged. Dan seeks validation without ever asking for it. His desire for his presence to anchor Diana is palpable, yet it occurs, achingly, just once when she is in a particularly vulnerable position; he simply doesn’t have the strength of presence to help her. Doctors Fine and Madden use every trick in the book to help make Diana fulfill her presence – to make her present in the here and now, to not drag the past with her. And it’s about what can happen – to anyone, any demographic, any background – when someone is no longer present in our lives.
Each actor is genuinely strong in their roles but Pegg and McMenamin – Dan and Diana Goodman – is the duo that matters and they convince me. Together, the ensemble is musically extraordinary – the last song is perfect – but individually inconsistent. Consistently excellent Will Huang (High Fidelity) seems to be exercising restraint until his final songs in Act II which are powerful and aggressive. Grant Pegg (great in last year’s production of Evita) and Kaitlin Nihill (this year’s Beauty and the Beast) are strong throughout, while I would have liked to hear some stronger voices from Joel Hutchings and Daniel Steer who each appear to be solid but quiet.
Most perplexing of all is McMenamin. While her acting is utterly brilliant and she is a superb casting choice, I dismiss her musical voice early as weak, before being thrown (in a very good way) by powerful ballads – and so this rollercoaster continues throughout the night. I genuinely believe she is excellent – and I hear every few songs just how good she is – but I just don’t hear it throughout and it’s distracting.
For the dark themes it delicately explores, this isn’t a musical that preaches but one that is matter-of-fact throughout. Supporting this is a bare-bones set, which seems purposely designed for the skilled actors to help jumpstart what the scene calls for – a simple, slightly raised platform is easily Natalie’s bedroom in one scene and a pulsing nightclub in the next.
It’s 20 minutes too long – like West Side Story, all the action and the best songs are in Act I (that’s where the similarities end, I promise) – so I recommend a glass of wine in intermission.
But I’m nitpicking, of course. This is one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve experienced in at least 18 months. Sure, it’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning, and that helps. But it’s the fact that – yet again – a local company has pulled off theatre like this with such aplomb that makes it unmissable.
Date: Friday, 8 July 2016
Where: ANU Arts Centre, Union Court
When: On until Saturday 23 July
Cost: An adult ticket is $35; see here for full price details
Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile
* I attended the Buvette Petit Feast as a guest.
It’s a dreary Canberra morning – one that it’s easy to despite but photographers love. The light casts just right. There’s no glare or overshadowing and the pale grey backdrop is just perfect for that picture.
While it’s too cold to sit outside, we’re offered a table near gorgeous lengthy windows at the new Buvette Wine Bar and Bistro at the bottom of Hotel Realm. It’s in the space of the old Mavi (kebab-loving public servants will know what I’m talking about) and another restaurant space where seemed to be to go through a few hands. The result is a dining area which reaches, stretches out; as we walk in it’s not clear where it ends and the numerous doorways remain – closed today (and a tad confusing to know where is the actual entrance), but potentially thrown open in warmer weather.
Our view outside is Autumn’s last echo – sparks of green against burnt orange and roar-red – and we drink it in while we’re served the complimentary glass of Mt Majura rose to start our petit feast.
* I attended Movenpick as a guest
For the uneducated (like I was), Movenpick is an international ice cream brand. It’s one of those franchises people are obsessed with: queuing up outside for hours, sampling all the flavours, and coming back the very next day to try it all again.
And that’s the story of Siddharth Mahabal and Aneeta Singh. While living in New Zealand they didn’t just eat Movenpick but they lived it, and on moving to Canberra figured if there wasn’t a store here already then they had to work hard to bring one here – including opening it themselves.
They did just that. At the launch of Movenpick we heard from the head office how the husband and wife team would regularly contact Movenpick to ask them to consider opening a store in Canberra. They were nothing if not persistent! The good news – for Siddharth and Aneeta, as well as for all of Canberra – is that it worked.
Canberra’s very first Movenpick store is located on the still-expanding Kingston foreshore, down the end where you’ll find Molto Italian. It’s a corner store, luxuriously fitted out with leather couches in the traditional Movenpick colours of black, red and white and curved edges everywhere I look. It’s classy and homely.
One of the best parts of Kingston foreshore is being close to the lake. Movenpick’s taken the bold step of having an outdoor eating area. Given Canberra winters average about eight months, I was skeptical whether this would be successful but Movenpick has been able to stretch out the awning to provide a covered area and they also have these beauties:
They work a treat and have me shrugging off my jacket.
But we’re here for the ice cream! So what’s on offer?
The first thing you need to know is that Movenpick offers free tasting of all its flavours. And there are a lot. And some of the flavours you can’t quite properly grasp until you taste them, so don’t be shy. I try blueberry cheesecake, cinnamon, raspberry sorbet doubled with Swiss chocolate to make a Cherry Ripe-style duo, caramelita, espresso (as a non-coffee drinker this almost blew my head off – the flavour is strong), maple walnut, mint chocolate, chocolate brownie… you get the idea.
The process of creating Movenpick ice cream is something of a feat. Ingredients are sourced from all of the world – Madagascan vanilla pods, cocoa beans from Venezuela – and brought to Switzerland where the ice cream is prepared centrally, before being shipped to its stores around the world. You can’t doubt the Swiss for wanting to achieve consistency in quality product, even if I do wonder a bit about overall efficiency.
Movenpick ice creams are creamy. Really creamy. And the flavours come through strongly – they use natural ingredients and there are no artificial additives, colours or flavours – just like our own local Frugii. My favourite flavours are cinnamon and blueberry cheesecake (these are two separate flavours), but the tasting helps me uncover flavours I was convinced I wouldn’t really like and love: caramelita (with both caramel ripple and caramel bits) and the white chocolate, too.
I start with a double serve of cinnamon and blueberry cheesecake in a cone. But it turns out to be that my only love is sprung from my only hate. Or, to be less dramatic, the delicious blueberry cheesecake (which I love) is slated to replace the cinnamon ice cream (which is beyond devastating!). If you are reading this, Movenpick head honchos, you are making a mistake. The cinnamon is so, so good. (If you think you might like even kind of like the cinnamon I urge you to get in quick before it’s gone forever!)
While I’ve been on my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-esque taste of everything on site, Boyfriend has gone ahead and ordered a plate of the Movenpick macarons: macaron shells filled with ice cream and served with cream and a dash of chocolate sauce. It’s pretty darn decadent with chocolate, salted caramel and pistachio ($12.95).
I think this is one of the best value for money offerings that Movenpick has: the macaron shells are high quality and the servings of ice cream sandwiched in each is essentially three different scoops. I’m not sure what it is about the pistachio but I’m not a fan and neither is Boyfriend – but otherwise the tastes are very, very good.
(Do you like the plates? They’re by Robert Gordon Australia.)
Siddharth insists we try the chocolate waffles. These, along with the apple strudel, are items which obviously have a particular appeal during winter. The waffles are prepared on site according to the Movenpick recipe and they’re made to order so they come out hot and fresh with another two big serves of ice cream and brilliantly-red, sweet strawberries with lashings of chocolate sauce.
This is another very decadent dessert. The waffles are crisp on the edge and overall very cakey in texture. Noting most of my waffle experience has been with frozen ones that you microwave that are essentially hollow inside, this takes me by surprise. Keeping the ice cream and waffles separate keeps the ice cream from melting and lets you choose how you want to eat them, but my recommendation is to pile the ice cream on the waffle so you get the cakey bits, the crunchy bits, the cold bits and hot bits all in one mouthful. Yum! (Save the strawberries until last so you can end feeling healthy.)
While Frugii will always be #1 for me, I’m impressed with what Movenpick has to offer, especially given it’s a franchise. The personal effort from Siddharth and Aneeta can be felt throughout the store and the ice cream flavours are spot on.
(Please keep the cinnamon ice cream, Movenpick. It really is very, very good.)
Date: Saturday, 7 May 2016
Where: Kingston Foreshore, 43 Eastlake Parade
Cost: I attended Movenpick Kingston as a guest; we paid for the ice cream sandwich macarons
Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile
Value for money: Reasonable: as you might expect from a product with ingredients sourced from around the world and centrally prepared in Switzerland, a single scoop is on the upper end for cost – but it is very high quality.
Want more? Check out their Facebook page for more.
Forty minutes from Canberra, Gundaroo is an historic village where there’s a lot to see, eat and drink along its main street – Cork Street. Along the street is the Gundaroo Pub and further up is Grazing and Capital Wines.
Today we’re at the the Cork Street Cafe, an institution on the site of the old police station across the road from the pub. The cafe proper is in the horse tables; a barn of stones and bricks.