First look at Enlighten 2015

26 Feb

There’s no mistaking it: Enlighten is one of the best events in the Canberra calendar. I love the fast moving pictures on Questacon, the reflections of our history on the National Library, and Old Parliament House is always exquisite. Here’s a little of what you can expect to see what it kicks off on Friday night (27 February):

Yes, they are on water!

Gotta get the rain out of the way…

Enlighten is on from 27 February to 8 March, and has a range of events associated with it.

Here’s a little look at what it looked like last year.

54 Benjamin, Belconnen

16 Feb

Five years ago people would have laughed if I’d said Belconnen would soon be home to some of the trendiest bars and cafes in Canberra – or that the service in these places would be among the best. But it’s happened. It’s come to Belconnen. In fact, it’s a close tie between La De Da, Chatterbox and newcomer 54 Benjamin on which has the best synergies with Cheers: everybody (at least the staff!) knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

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Little Oink night menu, Cook

13 Feb

It’s no secret that I love – LOVE – Little Oink.  (Example here.) I love the food. I love that it’s just this unassuming little cafe in Cook doing big things. I love the friendly atmosphere and that there’s a focus on comfort and a design that’s familiar and homely, but it’s not at the expense of the food quality.

Excitingly, earlier this year Little Oink got a liquor licence! Now it’s open later on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and has a new tapas menu to go with it.

We arrive on a Saturday evening before 6pm and the outside tables are already booked up. We sit in the cool inside and inspect the menu. Between 5 and 6 is 3-for-2 tapas. Beers include the Stone & Wood Pacific Ale and the Feral Hop Hog (both $8 for a bottle, served with a glass). Cocktail jugs of thick, slurpy sangria are $20.

The tapas menu is ambitious and exciting; it’s hard to choose just three (so we don’t).

Cheesy risotto balls

Baked brie with pomegranate and wine sauce

Salt & pepper baby squid with mango and lime sauce

The baked brie with pomegranate ($13) is superb and extremely good value – decent portion size, tasty and plenty of lightly toasted bread. It comes out deliciously melted but a little cool – a touch warmer and we would have been blown away. The $12 bourbon-glazed chicken wings with blue cheese sauce are exactly as they’re described – as well as juicy – but I miss a bit more of a crust on the wings. The salt and pepper squid ($14) is moreish, and the risotto balls ($10) are cheesy and buttery (and feel very, very naughty).

The atmosphere and setting as usual is relaxed but it’s still a thrill to have such unique, interesting and – most importantly good quality food and service at reasonable prices – and on a Saturday evening to boot! Little Oink has produced a hidden gem within a hidden gem – but it won’t be hidden for long!

Date: Saturday, 7 February 2015

Where: Cook Shops, Cook

Cost: $107 for numerous beers, 3-for-2 tapas, cocktail jug, and baked brie.

Value for money: High

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? Try their Facebook page. And this previous review. And this one.

Eighty/Twenty, Braddon

12 Feb

I’m late to the party with Eighty/Twenty – named so because of the (appealing) concept of being 80 per cent healthy and 20 per cent naughty. Or, as I like to interpret it: don’t deny yourself the very indulgent, but try to be good most of the time.

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Sweet Charity, Canberra Theatre Centre*

12 Feb

* I attended Sweet Charity as a guest of the Canberra Theatre Centre.

As the light dims in the Playhouse, the Girls, Girls, Girls sign shines as bright and red as the short dresses on the ‘taxi dancers’ flirting before us. And in the first five minutes, we learn everything about the character of Charity Hope Valentine (Verity Hunt-Ballard) – sweet Charity: her ‘temporary’ career as a dance hall hostess (a murky world of being available for men without working in a brothel) leaves her matter-of-fact; her hopefulness makes her gullible; her desperation leaves her clingy and vulnerable – with rather horrific outcomes.

Charity has no qualifications and no clerical skills, but wants an office job. Her dance hall hostess career mires her from future relationships.  When there’s some genuine interest in her, she tries to pay for the interest with her body. This combination of circumstances leads to her being locked in a lift with a nervous, proper man and the fates seem to finally have aligned. Hopefully.

If the storyline seems very simple, it is. And, to draw a crude comparison with Grease, the spunky musical numbers mask messages which might sit as uncomfortably with you as they did with me as I left the venue. Make no mistake: this isn’t an uplifting story.

But the performances. WOW.

The set is bare bones. Apart from the sign it’s largely dominated by a band right on stage, some hanging closets, some chairs, and two wheeled mirrors – reflective on one side, and semi-transparent on the other. That’s largely it. And apart from scenes involving a lake, I’m easily transported to the inside of a train, a ferris wheel, a lift, and the dance hall thanks to the actors’ simple, effective behaviours. It’s very, very clever, and the lack of set distractions means the strong musical numbers are even stronger.

Hunt-Ballard plays such a highly nuanced character so well from scene to scene to scene (not surprisingly, the entire show revolves around her – making her performance even more compelling and thrilling). She’s beautifully complemented by Martin Crewes and Debora Krizak who each assume several characters seamlessly (and very quickly between scene changes). The scenes with Charity’s dance hall friends are the best. Glorious in their stomping strength; heart-wrenching in the vacant expressions, the depressing pragmatism.

You won’t leave the theatre motivated or inspired, but you will be impressed.

Date: Wednesday, 11 February 2014

Cost: I attended as a guest of Canberra Theatre Centre; costs range from $59-89

Want more? Buy tickets here.

Pialligo Estate sneak peek*

9 Feb

* On Friday, 6 February Pialligo Estate hosted a range of ‘social media friends’ at its site in – you guessed it – Pialligo.

You might – no, you should – know of Pialligo Estate because of its award-winning bacon. And it’s not just one any award, but it’s been crowned the best artisan bacon in Australia. (And, in my humble view, it is. Fatty and meaty and just really tasty.) The bacon’s been sold throughout Canberra, including at our IGAs and Essential Ingredient, and has got a bit of a cult following – no surprises there.

I first met Charlie Costelloe at the Capital Region Farmer’s Markets where he was selling the delicious produce, but it wasn’t until we sat together on our Human Brochure discovery event that I learned more about Pialligo Estate and the plans there. So, we’ve been waiting patiently for it to open for a looong time. And on Friday, it officially does. This past Friday, I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at what’s been going on out at Pialligo, and what we should expect.

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High Fidelity, ANU Arts Centre*

8 Feb

* I attended the High Fidelity musical as a guest of Phoenix Players.

First there was the 1995 Nick Hornby book (set in London), then there was the 2000 movie starring John Cusack and Jack Black (set in Chicago), and then came the musical. Most importantly, the musical then came to Canberra, in the form of a production by local Canberra amateur theatrical company Phoenix Players.

High Fidelity is the story of a directionless record store owner Rob (Zach Raffan) and his girlfriend, Laura (Josie Dunham) – well, his ex-girlfriend, having just broken up with him. Rob’s been through all manner of painful break-ups, but this one really stings – especially when Josie shacks up with his former neighbour Ian (David Cannell). With some help from his friends and music (and rockstars themselves), and a healthy dose of reflection on his past break-ups, Rob starts to re-evaluate his life and determine if Laura could still be part of it.

While Rob grapples with his love-life, his two employees Dick (Will Huang, who starred in the excellent production of The Burning last year) and Barry (Max Gambale) – guys who he hired on a part-time basis but have been coming to the store every day for the past four years  – manage the maintenance of the store’s mediocrity by insulting most of its customers, as they pursue some love interests of their own.

I’m struck at first by the clever set design and use of light; little change is needed to easily flick from scene to scene as moveable walls rotate to turn one part of the record store to Rob’s small apartment, or a scene at a gym. The band-shirt costumes are great, and I find myself wondering where this collection has been pulled from.

The production lacks some of the 90s grunginess I’m expecting but it’s easy to overlook this thanks to some stand-out performances. Josie Dunham’s and Amy Dunham’s (Liz, Rob and Laura’s friend) voices are superb: every scene in which they sing is a thrill. Huang and Gambale provide comic relief (along with their own excellent voices), and support Raffan’s efforts. I’m particularly impressed with Gambale: the character is played by Jack Black in the film which is huge to live up to, but Gambale makes the role his own. The tricky part of the show being a musical, however, is that the score is only influenced by classic rock genres – and, to be fair, performed brilliantly, if not a little loudly – meaning the actual music you’d expect in a record store is missing. It’s this which made the film for me, and there’s a vacuum without it.

There’s a lack of chemistry between Josie Dunham and Raffan which is particularly distracting at the end. Rob’s relationship with music doesn’t feel fully spelt out, so the scenes with ‘stars’ including Neil Young lack context and I think could be done away with; they make a long second half feel it. Despite this, the show’s able to be energetic and fun while putting forth the story of really a rather morose character; this energy is borne from what feels like a real commitment to the production from the cast and production team. It’s a commendable show to make for an enjoyable Saturday night.

Date: Saturday, 7 February 2015

Cost: I attended as a guest of Phoenix Players

Where: ANU Arts Centre (near the refec – ish)

Want more? The show runs until 21 February. Tickets and more details can be found here.

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