Dark Mofo 2017

We all know about The Guggenheim Effect, and how an outstanding piece of architecture, housing an amazing array of art, managed to transform a once struggling industrial town in the Basque Country into an international tourist destination. Here in Australia we have the MONA Effect. The vision of David Walsh and his team of curators has managed to put Hobart front and centre on the cultural tourist map of every Mainlander. 

To spread the joy across the Year, we also have MONA FOMA (Museum of Old and New Art:Festival of Music and Art), held in summer – which has become more fondly known as MOFO – and Dark Mofo, which is the reason I find myself in Hobart this June.

Dark Mofo is Hobart and MONA’s celebration of the winter solstice and all things dark, and light. This is its fifth year, and its growing popularity is evident in the packed flight heading out of Melbourne, as why else would you be going to chilly Hobart in the middle of Winter?!

We are eight, eager to experience as much as we can over our 3 days. Our Airbnb house is perfectly located within easy walking distance to all the action. The only drawback being the fact that it sits right on Davey Street, the main drag in town – and even though this is a small city it would seem that the total population of Hobart likes to spend their time driving up Davey Street. The constant sound of traffic roaring past is not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep.  But, this is only a small dampener on our enjoyment of the festivities.


We ease into our stay with a delicious dinner at Peacock & Jones, admiring the Dark Mofo red light theme as we walk along the harbourside.


Friday morning we wander down to Salamanca Place in search of breakfast, and settle on Tricycle Cafe in the Salamanca Arts Centre, blending in with the locals who favour this quaint little spot. Browsing in the shops and galleries that line the precinct finishes off the morning.

Come afternoon we toy with the idea of walking up Mt Wellington, but quickly banish the thought when we actually look at the mountain, and hop into the car instead. And wouldn’t you know it, the cloud descends just as we reach the top. We linger in the chill long enough for a brief parting, enough to get an idea of how magnificent the view could be.


We have a date that night with Paul Kelly and the very sexy Camille O’Sullivan in their show Ancient Rain, but first we must eat, so walk down to Princes Wharf, which has been transformed into the Winter Feast site. Shooting flames and a light forest beckon you into a wharf shed packed with food and drink stalls, and lots of very jolly people enjoying a veritable cornucopia of choice.



In fact, the people you encounter are one of the joys of Dark Mofo. Tasmanians are an extremely friendly bunch anyway.  Add into the mix visitors all there for the same reason, determined to enjoy themselves, and you have the right ingredients for goodwill to all. Strangers happily sit cheek by jowl, striking up conversations about all manner of things (next day we meet one young Sydneysider who had us in hysterics with her dating stories). It is at the Winter Feast that we meet a couple (who we find out met 7 years ago at the Melbourne Cup) who tell us about a fab little cafe, Small Fry,  that we visit later in our stay. The mood at Winter Feast is upbeat despite, and perhaps because of, the crowds. And the food on offer is terrific. 

The Federation Concert Hall is heaving with people. Ancient Rain does not appeal to all. Given it is based on Irish poems and letters, it is hardly surprising that the overall mood is fairly dour (let’s face it, they are not the cheeriest bunch), but Camille O’Sullivan sings like an angel and she draws me into her world – I emerge blinking in the light, slightly in love.

We devote Saturday to MONA, and the opening of its latest exhibition by the Museum of Everything but first a visit to the Salamanca Market, held every Saturday morning. We have great fun browsing the stalls, chatting to stall holders and shoppers alike. 


Catching the ferry to MONA is a great way to start an amazing visit – excitement and anticipation builds as you travel up the beautiful Derwent River.


To quote the MONA brochure: From June 2017, MONA will be crammed to the hilt with an astonishing assortment of artworks from The Museum of Everything: the world’s first and only wandering institution for the untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. It certainly was crammed – we spent about 2 hours just in the Museum of Everything, some of it wonderful, some of it not. But, it was fascinating, and I am intrigued as to how and where they discovered this stuff.



We were on the 11am ferry there and the 5pm ferry back – it is so easy to spend a whole day at MONA, particularly on opening day when there is a passing parade of entertainment thrown into the mix. We need a hot whisky punch to revive us before climbing aboard the Mona Roamer ferry back to Constitution Dock.



Straight off the ferry and into the Winter Feast shed, along with everyone else. Food, drink and a singalong round the fire. 


We could have lingered longer, but Dark Park beckons, so off we trot to admire the laser light show, and enjoy a whisky tasting in the shed.


Sunday morning we head off to the Farm Gate Market in Bathurst Street, via an excellent take away coffee at Small Fry – where we drooled over the menu, and admired the focus and care of the chef in the tiny kitchen.

The market was full of very yummy things – so, we bought most of our evening meal requirements: veggies, fruit pies, cheeses, cream.


Then, down to Consitution Dock to buy the fish:


And, a quick admire of the sculptures at the Dock:


before dumping our bounty to undertake a brisk walk, under grey skies, through Battery Point to the Wrest Point Casino and back. At the Casino we are delighted to see a seal doing a solo swim, just for us.


A quick change and off to the Theatre Royal to see Sleeping Beauty, a collaboration between Victoria Opera and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. I am definitely not an opera fan, but this production is lots of fun – telling the story of Sleeping Beauty via puppets, and singing of course. 


Home then, red wine and our wonderful home cooked meal of local Tassie produce. A very fitting way to end our Dark Mofo experience, as we fly home tomorrow (an experience marred by the Jetstar flight being delayed by 2 hours).

Thank you Hobart, Dark Mofo and MONA for a terrific long weekend. A bientôt.

A Dip into Adelaide’s Festival Frenzy

It has been years since I visited The City of Churches, and I have been saying for just as long “I must go to the Adelaide Festival one day”.  That day finally arrived last Sunday as I boarded a Jetstar flight bright & early, with a ticket to see The Secret River clutched in my hot little hand. The return flight cost a mere $10 more than the theatre ticket!


We arrived in sunny Adelaide around 10am, which meant that most of the city was shut tight. Apparently, Adelaidians are late risers on a Sunday. After a couple of false starts (not only are they late sleepers, we discover that quite a lot of them must also be vegans and/or health nuts as we exit yet another cafe after the lass tried to persuade us of the merits of a coconut milk latté). But thanks to the Hustle pop up on King William Rd we finally get the good coffee fix we needed. Thank you Hustle, you are a life saver.


It is also at Hustle that we discover not only is Adelaide hosting the Adelaide Festival, the Adelaide Fringe Festival AND Adelaide Writers Week all at once, it is also catering to petrol heads with the running of Clipsall 500 – which turns out to be a motor race. Who knew?  We don’t actually see any cars, but suffer from the Clipsall effect via roads blocked off and jet flyovers during the course of the day.

Suitably caffeinated we head further up King William Rd in search of brunch. Pollen 185 is where we settle, and even though it too is a mecca for vegetarians and vegans, we do manage to get fetta rather than some nut based “cheese”! 

We are now ready to hit Adelaide Writers Week, a week long celebration of books, authors and readers, nestled beside the Torrens River under the shade of overhanging trees. There are two stages (East and West), and a massive book selling tent. Eager book lovers shuffle between these three points, revelling in the talks by a diverse range of authors. And, wonder of wonders, it is all FREE (even down to the free water station for thirsty fans). What a gift from the city to the public.


After working out the geography (which way is east?), we settle down to listen to Krys Lee and AS Patric (a Melbourne boy) talk about their work under the title of The Sadness of History. We follow this up with Just Wicked, where I am introduced to two overseas writers – Amy Stewart, who has written a crime series based on real life sisters, the Kopps, and Kate Summerscale, talking about her book A Wicked Boy, a true crime account of two London children who murdered their mother in 1895. They both go onto my must read list.


It is with some reluctance that we tear ourselves away, but promise to return tomorrow. We have a date with a winery and a quarry. Firstly, the winery – Glen Ewin Estate (http://glenewinestate.com.au) is offering patrons of The Secret River a $55 pre theatre meal, so we head out to the Adelaide Hills to enjoy the last of the sun’s rays on the deck of the bistro.


There is a bit of a fig theme happening, from the illustrated placemats to the menu, thanks to the large fig orchard on the estate. Although be warned – no figs appear with the fig and saffron cured ocean trout. The fig juice was used in the curing of the trout, not in the plating up. But, the chocolate dipped figs to end the meal are beautiful to behold.


Now on to the quarry, and what an inspired venue for this moving piece of theatre it proves to be. The play, written by Andrew Bovell from the novel by Kate Grenville, has garnered rave reviews in both Sydney and Melbourne, but watching it unfold in the natural amphitheater of the abandoned quarry, with attendant gum trees, lifts this wonderful play into another dimension. Despite the cold gully wind, the audience was entranced for the whole 2 hours 50 minutes. This play deserves to take its place within the classics of Australian theatre.


Our second day in Festival City starts with a late breakfast at Argo on the Square. Thank heavens we decided to share the dish:


before making a visit to an Adelaide icon – the Haigh’s factory shop! Interesting that Adelaide is home to two famous and well loved family owned businesses, Coopers Brewery and Haigh’s chocolates. 


All food groups now covered it is time to nourish the mind, so we head back to Writers Week. Spoiled for choice we finally settle on The Critics;  Jessa Crispin and Sebastian Smee talking the art of criticism, and their respective books, under the guidance of our very own Wheeler Centre CEO, Michael Williams. Sebastian is an Australian art critic who won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2011 for his work on the Boston Globe. Jessa is the founder of the blog and webzine, Bookslut, and is one of those frighteningly intelligent, articulate and acerbic young women that I quake before. She takes no prisoners – Sebastian Smee included. Invigorating.

Then we move on to crime, again. First up is a Melbourne (or more accurately, Torquay) local author – Jock Serong – talking about his books, Quota and the latest, The Rules of Backyard Cricket, under the excellent questioning of New Zealand author, Kate de Goldi. Both books sound intriguing, and are added to the must read list (this Writers Festival might be free but it is going to cost me a fortune in book purchases!). Our last session is with the Booker shortlisted Graeme Macrae Burnett, talking about his novel His Bloody Project and its predecessor, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. My list grows.

Time to leave the world of books to head off to The Garden of Earthly Delights for much needed alcoholic refreshment, and food. The Garden is an assortment of food trucks, carnival rides & games, and Fringe Festival venues. The vibe is relaxed and fun – a perfect spot to refuel and refresh between gigs.



Our last engagement for the night is a seat in Studio 7 to see Mother’s Ruin: a cabaret about Gin, which proves to be a hilarious musical romp through the history of gin. The only downside was the absence of said gin for patrons to imbibe while enjoying the show. Lots of fun, and those two ladies sure can belt out a tune.



I have thoroughly enjoyed my brief dip into the Adelaide festival waters. So much to see and do; an excess of cultural riches. I have but scratched the surface of what this exhilarating two weeks has to offer. Next time I’ll come for longer.

I ❤️ London Town

I am thrilled to be back in this city, a city I lived in from 1982 to 1985 and left somewhat reluctantly at the insistence of the Home Office, who felt it was time that I returned to the country of my birth. The main hook that brings me back is the friendship that has endured with two lovely lasses who lived in the same apartment block as me – but London itself also calls to me. I love the history in every street; the architecture (old and some of the new); the secret gardens and mews; the shops and their wonderful window displays; the pubs; the galleries and museums; the theatre; the people; the bookstores …….. and so my list goes on. There are of course things I don’t like – the traffic; the crowds of tourists; the train cancellations; the ageing tube system, especially the stairs when you are encumbered with a suitcase; the rubbish out in bags on the street; the fact that I can’t understand anything the bus drivers or cashiers say to me; the frequent grey skies. But, these things are minor quibbles. I can’t even complain about the food now – it’s certainly improved since the 80s, although finding a good coffee remains tricky.

I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, at Gatwick. Not the best welcome as there were hoards of people at Gatwick train station, and train cancellations aplenty. General chaos basically, and I longed for the calm efficiency of the trains in Spain. After being shouted at by a rail person manning the ticket machines “Next”, and struggling to work out which train I needed for Clapham Junction, I finally arrived on the appropriate platform to find that the next 2 trains had been cancelled so had to wait 40 minutes. But, every cloud ……… I got talking to a lady on the platform, the where have you been, where are you from type of conversation. She had been in Corfu for the past 4 days for work (that’s a good job I thought). When she heard I was from Australia she said, I might be coming to Australia later in the year. Business or pleasure, I asked? Well, she said, it’s rather a strange reason. My nephew is marrying Kylie Minogue and they’ve decided to get married in Australia.  That’s right folks, Kylie is coming home to be married this year, and you heard it here first!! Take that Hello magazine. I stuck to her like glue getting onto the train, settled myself opposite, ready for further chats and revelations but she buried her head in a book and refused to engage further. Drats.

The gorgeous Sue and Stuart were waiting for me at Clapham Junction, and whisked me the short distance to their lovely little pad in Battersea. They are a block from the river, and easy walking distance to the King’s Road and other delights.


After lots of talk and laughing we walked to The Woodman, their terrific neighbourhood pub for a very good Sunday roast of half a chicken (literally – it fed not only me but their lovely daughter Alice who joined us later) and all the trimmings. I do love a good English pub.

Walking back along the river we watched the geese with their goslings putter about in the muddy edges of the Thames. There is a large colony of them – Stuart says they come each year to have their babies, then disappear until the next year. Roast goose anyone?

We popped into the local church, circa 17something, to hear evensong – gorgeous voices, playing to a crowd of 10 (not including we three). A spread was waiting at the back of the church, it was obviously a bring a plate event. I was tempted, but still stuffed to the gills with the roast chook. The church once boasted Samuel Pepys as a member of the congregation, and is the resting place for the bones of Benedict Arnold. That’s history for you.


The next day dawned bright and sunny, and I had a date with the Rolling Stones.

A walk across the Albert Bridge


then a wander up the Kings Road to the Saatchi Gallery. It is the Chelsea Garden Show at the moment and like Girona’s Temps de Flors, many of the shops and restaurants get into the groove with their window dressing:


And this floral beauty was battling it out with the tongues for attention outside the gallery:


I found the exhibition fascinating, and easily filled in 3 hours reading all the information, listening to videos, playing with mixing the songs, reading about the guitars, laughing at Keith Richards and falling just a little bit more in love with the scallywag. The end is spectacular – a 3D concert version of Satisfaction (I stood through it twice!). But, I gather it may not be the raging success the organisers were expecting as I had no trouble getting a ticket a few days before, and I came across young people handing out flyers to encourage a visit. You are not allowed to take any photos inside the exhibition, so had to content myself with the lips outside.


Our 3 in Battersea became 4 later in the afternoon when the lovely Joycie joined us from France. It was so very very good to have the 3 amigos together once more (plus Stu of course). Stu proudly sheparded his harem to Club 606 for dinner and a band. No idea what the band was called but there was general excitement amongst the largely female audience as the singer and the pianist are from the band that plays live for Strictly Come Dancing (that is, the show we call Dancing With the Stars). They were very good – playing a mix of funk, soul, blues and jazz. We had a terrific night.


Tuesday morning the three of us went off to Liverpool by train to admire Sue’s new little baby granddaughter, Ava Rose. Sue had booked us into a Quiet Carriage I.e. One where mobile phones and the like are banned. We three, who all like a chat, were of course nattering away to each other. The conductor came around about an hour into the journey to collect rubbish. The very sniffy woman opposite, with her lunch packed neatly into Tupperware  containers, loudly asked the conductor: Is this a Quiet carriage or is it not? Yes it is Madam  but that applies mainly to mobile phones and music was the reply. Well, I think it also means loud conversations as well so it would be good if people took notice of the fact was the very huffy response. We felt like naughty school children, and couldn’t contain our giggles. I thought Sue was going to deck her.

Liverpool was a bit nippy for this Aussie girl, but there was Sue’s Scouse daughter-in-law in a sleeveless frock “sunning” herself on the restaurant deck – in what I considered to be an Artic gale. On my urging we retired indoors for lunch. Amazingly enough, in my 3 years living in London, I had never been to Liverpool so we played at being tourists after lunch. Lunch itself was upstairs in a modern building that has been built near the Mersey docks, and gave us a perfect view of the Peter Blake painted Mersey Ferry:


There are some majestic buildings nearby that escaped the bombings, how I do not know as they would be pretty difficult to miss, but miss they did.

A lot of money has been spent in the past 5 years rejuvenating what was a very run down and bleak downtown area. The docks have been restored and are full of shops (touristy), cafes, offices and a hotel.

Of course, no visit to Liverpool is complete without worshipping at the altar of the Beatles – but first we paid homage to another famous son, Billy Fury.


But then it was nothing but Beatles, including a picture of the lads made from jelly beans!


We finally staggered on to the 7.45pm train, thankfully not in a Quiet carriage – mind you, even we had run out of steam by now,  and were to be found fast asleep, with our mouths open, as the train approached London. It was a big day, but worth it to meet the newest member of the Dowden clan, bless her.

Poor Sue had to work all day Wednesday so Joyce and I were left to our own devices. We had a slowish start as Joyce had to sort out her return journey to Brittany as the French rail workers had decided on Tuesday afternoon to do random strikes and had cancelled her one and only train from Lille to L’Orient the next day, bless them. And of course Eurostar wouldn’t give her a refund on that part of the journey as they were running. Poor love ended up buying another Eurostar ticket, but this time departing St Pancras at 8am, and then having to change trains at Lille for Paris and then waiting for a train to L’Orient. It took her 12 hours to get home. Yuck. Plus it meant that I missed out having brunch with her the next day, double yuck and merde.

Anyway, that sorted we headed off under a grey and gloomy sky for the Chelsea Physic Garden. We arrived just in time for a tour, which was just terrific – thank you Kate. Funny and informative, she really brought this fascinating garden alive for us. It is a beautiful oasis, hidden away behind its walls – a veritable secret garden.



The only problem was the weather – after an hour of wandering the garden we were chilled to the bone, so decamped to the cafe for a warming lunch. Revived, we headed off to the V&A for their Undressed exhibition – the history of underwear, and its influence on and by fashion. 

An excellent London day ended with drinks at a friend of Sue’s, in their apartment overlooking the Thames, the church and the goslings.

Next morning we were up at 5.30 to wave Joycie off. So sad to see her walking off trundling her wheelie bag behind her. The plan was to then go back to bed but of course that didn’t happen, so I was up, washed, dressed, breakfasted and ready to hit the road by 9. I decided to walk from Battersea to Shaftesbury Avenue, so off I set on a glorious Spring day. Wandered along the King’s Road, popping into shops as the mood took me. Past Peter Jones. Through Sloane Square and Eaton Square (more huge Mercs than you can poke a stick at, plus the occasional Bentley and Roller dear). Then on past Buckingham Palace – was that a silly idea, it was changing of the Guard and the place was PACKED with tourists. Had to bring the elbows out to get through the crowd. Into Green Park, where I collapsed onto a deck chair to get my breath (I was the only one sitting in the shade mind you):


Old Bond Street was all frocked up with British flags – for Queenie’s birthday maybe?


A quick pop into Burlington Arcade where there was an exhibition of Vogue covers hanging from the roof:


And then into the Royal Academy for a pee. I didn’t fancy the Giorgione exhibition so kept onwards:


Quick stop into Hatchards, my favourite bookstore, before legging it to Nopi – one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants. No booking but they could fit me in at the bar. I was seated next to another lady on her own, so of course I started to chat to her. She was from New York, visiting because it was her birthday and her husband (lawyer with an international law firm – money no object I’m guessing) couldn’t come in the end. So, I drank to her health and we ended up sharing our lunch! Which was yummy: the roasted augergine , the octopus and then the zucchini fritters. All washed down with a glass of rosé.


I parted ways from my new best friend and legged it to the Wyndham Theatre for the 2.30 matinee of People, Places and Things. Reviews had said the play wasn’t great but the performance by the lead actress, Denise Gough, was amazing. An opinion I agree with – iffy play, wonderful acting. For £17.50 I was a very happy girl. It isn’t a visit to London if you don’t catch at least one play.


It was then on the 19 bus back to Battersea, agog at the traffic and the daring do of the cyclists, who take their life in their hands, particularly around the Wellington Arch. Bloody hell, what a long, but terrific, day.


Goodness being a tourist is Exhausting. I did not bounce out of bed on Friday morning, but the sun was shining, Sue was at work, Stuart needed his office (which was doubling as my bedroom) so needs must. I walked towards Clapham Junction and caught the 344 bus to London Bridge – my destination being the Fashion & Textile Museum for a Missoni exhibition. You certainly get your money’s worth on the 344, thought I’d never get there. There is so much building going on all around the Battersea power station, which is being made into apartments and will essentially be its own village – with a new tube stop. Opposite is the construction for the new American embassy and a residential and shopping precinct. Wall to wall cranes.

I hopped off at London Bridge, right below the gorgeous Shard:


The exhibition was small but how beautiful are those clothes and the fabrics they create.



From there I thought I would have a wander through Borough Market but it was absolutely jam packed with people – horrible. So off to the bus stop I went, only I couldn’t find it. Turns out that the 344 does not retrace its path. I went up various streets, all to no avail. Asked a fellow and he pointed me down one road. Nope. So the next bus that stopped I asked the driver. Had no idea what he said, so got off. He tooted his horn and beckoned me back. We tried again – he said stay on this bus for 2 stops then you can catch the 344. But no luck at stop 2. Another 2 stops he said. No luck. Bloody hell, I thought I’m going to end up at Dulwich at this rate. But a fellow passenger took pity on me and said he was getting off and he was changing to the 344. Well, he was not getting away from me – I clasped his arm and held on for dear life until he got me safely on to that dratted 344!  You may have gathered by now the only drawback of Sue & Stu’s place is no tube, only buses. My saviour was a bit worried as he was getting off before me, but I assured him once on the bus I was fine, he could rest easy, and indeed I got myself home in one piece. Phew.

The day ended with a drink at another local pub followed by a curry at the Indian. Marvellous.

Saturday morning we all had a very slow start to the day. Lovely. Then Stu escorted me to Clapham Junction to buy my train ticket for Gatwick for next week, but not before we stopped for a coffee and a Portuguese tart at a tiny little cafe in the Battersea High Street. At last, a great coffee. Bliss.


Back home, Sue was ready for us to head off to the Farmers Market in the Duke of York Square on the Kings Road. We treated ourselves to half a dozen absolutely wonderful Maldon oysters, washed down with a glass of Prosecco. What’s not to like?


Supplies bought for our picnic supper for tonight we walked to The Surprise pub hidden in the backstreets of Chelsea – another wonderful London pub, with a lovely ambiance and good food.  We were meeting Sue’s friend Vicki, an Aussie bird who has lived in London since she was a child, for lunch. I catch up with Vic each time I visit, so I’m pleased I managed to see her this trip.


We staggered home along the riverside, and ended the day sitting in the waning sun in the little back garden. It has been a wonderful week in London, but tomorrow we are off on a new adventure – the taxi is coming at 7.30am to take us to Heathrow because we are off to the Orkney Islands!!! How exciting is that.

Detroit @ Red Stich Theatre

I saw the new Red Stitch play on the weekend, and have been mulling over my thoughts about it since.  The play is called “Detroit”, written by an American playwright, Lisa D’Amour. It was shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize, so certainly has the credentials yet I left the theatre less than satisfied, and I note views of critics both here and in the States have been polarised into the ecstatic and the lukewarm. I fall into the latter camp, but am not entirely sure why.

There are many threads to the storyline and perhaps that is the nub of my discontent as I felt the threads failed to knit into a cohesive strand.  The main thread seemed to be about the alienation of modern suburbia (a theme reinforced by the set design as we see images of suburban sprawl, ‘ticky tacky houses and they all look just the same’, projected onto the white background between each act). However, other threads included:

  • The personal upheaval created by the economic downturn (Ben has lost his job in a bank, so they are reliant on Mary’s wage as a paralegal whilst he tries to set up his own business and create a new identity for himself).
  • Middle class consumerism (Mary struggles to accept that her new neighbours own no furniture, and uses the opportunity to offload a hated coffee table so she can buy a new one but at the same time dreams of the simplicity of camping).
  • A thin line separates those who have ‘success’ and those who don’t (Mary displays a particular fondness for her wine, which makes her closer to her neighbour Sharon than she is willing to admit)
  • The embracing of opportunities to make a new start, to reinvent oneself and begin a new narrative (for some reason Sharon insists that Ben sounds English, an idea he later adopts with relish).

Brett Cousins shows the vulnerability of Ben and Sarah Sutherland is great at showing the barely suppressed rage at the situation Mary now finds herself in. Ngaire Dawn Fair and Paul Ashcroft play the met in rehab neighbours, Sharon and Kenny, who shift from amiable and trying hard to conform, to something more menacing and out of control.

The ending of this 90 minute play (no interval) comes abruptly and somewhat incongruously, an attempt to tie the strands together that didn’t work for me. However, time spent with this wonderful theatre company is always worth it, even if this was not one of their best.

A night at the theatre

Last night was one of my three MTC plays for the year, “The Weir” by Conor McPherson which won an Olivier Award for Best New Play in 1999. Turns out that I inadvertently went during previews, the official season starts tomorrow.  Let’s hope they iron out some of the problems with the play by then. But, first let me tell you about dinner.

We met at Fatto Bar & Cantina – the restaurant space that curves around the river side of Hamer Hall. It’s a great spot for pre Arts Centre dining – not only because they are used to getting ballet/theatre/concert patrons in and out on time, but also because of the great food, pleasant service and the fact they have a happy hour on selected drinks from 5-7pm!

The restaurant, like almost every place in Melbourne, can get noisy when full but not overwhelmingly so. We were lucky last night as the restaurant was half empty, which made for very peaceful dining. The menu is small but offers a wide enough range to satisfy most tastes: a number of starters, 4 pastas, 5 Mains (Secondi) and a few sides. All three of us ordered the same dish – Crab, lemon, chilli & pangratto spaghettini ($27). It was delicious and we accompanied it with an equally yummy side dish of green beans in brown butter, garnished with goats cheese, almonds & caramelised red onion ($11).

As we had plenty of time, and half a glass of wine to finish off, we felt compelled to share a dessert: a buttermilk pannacotta with rhubarb granita and spiced crumble sprinkled on top ($15). A light, smooth finish to the meal.

And so on to the play, well fed, in plenty of time. The play was staged in the Fairfax theatre within the Arts Centre, a relatively small space – which suits the essence of the play. However, even this space proved to be too large for this production as the stage, and the set, almost swallowed the actors and their words. We were seated in the last row so perhaps those closer to the stage had a different experience but we found it was often hard to hear what the actors were saying.

“The Weir” takes place in a small, cosy pub somewhere in County Ireland, with most of the action happening in the front bar. The actor playing the pub’s owner seemed almost lost behind the bar, lacking presence – at least from our vantage point in Row J.  And, at one stage the actors moved into the lounge area behind the bar, where both they and their voices disappeared from view & hearing.  I couldn’t help thinking how much better the play would have been if had been staged in a more intimate setting, such as the Red Stitch theatre space.

We first meet the young pub owner (Brendan) and two of his faithful old regulars (Jack & Jim), who are shooting the breeze generally and then gossiping about the young woman who has just moved to the village and is being shown around by Finbar, who seems to be a source of some envy for Jack.  Finbar arrives at the pub with the young woman, Valerie, in tow. The play is based in the Irish tradition of story telling. In this case the tales are ghost stories that ultimately hold an unforeseen resonance for the young woman the men are trying to impress.

Whilst entertaining enough I was left feeling so……..  What was the point? The MTC blurb talks about “this gem of a play brings together the great Irish tradition of bar room tales and the theatrical power of story telling.” Perhaps that was the issue for me – the play, or at least this production of it, lacked power. The actors did not seem to own the stage, or the story – and I blame this partly on the space itself and the set. And, why is it called The Weir? A weir is briefly mentioned when they are looking at photos in the back room of the pub, but I couldn’t hear them well enough to grasp if there was any relevance to the storyline (unless the pub is called The Weir?).