The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is coming to Wellington's theatre scene.

There’s something so delightful about going into a theatre show completely blind. I knew nothing about this play, had read nothing about it, all I knew was the charming aesthetic of the publicity photos and the fact that this was a New Zealand premiere.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a true telling of the perpetuity of love amongst terrible strife, but it’s so much more than that. Over two hours a very varied cast invite us into the lives of those living on the island of Kefalonia during its Italian and German occupation in the Second World War.

On the island, Pelagia (Ava Wiszniewska) and Mandras (Richard Corney) are in love, until the the war drags Mandras away. Italian soldier Carlo (Rio Futschek Ryan) has a deep desire for his fellow soldier Francesco (Finnian Nacey), while the war rages on and they’re forced to fight. As the Italians occupy Kefalonia, Pelagia finds her eye caught by the eponymous Captain Corelli (Jonny Marshall), who brings a bit of musical light to the war-scarred land.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is brought to life by its powerful directing. Directors Ewen Coleman and Stanford Reynolds create gorgeous stage pictures within this piece, helped along significantly by the excellent lighting (Devon Heaphy) and sound design (Tommy Joass), immersing us thoroughly in the world of Kefalonia. A scene where Mandras, trapped in the endless nightmare of war, walks through a red-illuminated battlefield, sticks particularly in my mind – excellently designed, scored and performed by all.

The cast brings strong performances to the table, from a wide variety of actors, a significant bunch of whom are still at high school. Wiszniewska gives Pelagia a stubborn fieriness that lends itself very well to the character, Corney jumps between man in love to man scarred with great talent, and Marshall, I’m sure, has all of us nearly falling in love with him by the end.

Alister Williams plays Iannis, Pelagia’s father, with a lovely grounding, speaking a lot of wider truth to the audience in a way that never feels forced or overtly expositional. I’d like to also make mention of the animal roles in the play – the Goat (Georgia Davenport) and Psipsina (Gilbert Levack) – who are delightful to watch – the two actors have stunning commitment and bring excellent physicality to their performances.

A script that is in four languages (English, Italian, Greek and German) is never easy, but for the most part the cast takes to it with aplomb, settling us right within the bounds of Kefalonia in a way that feels natural. The fabulous singing, live music on stage and set design all add to the feeling of the world, and it would be a much less life-filled show without it. The excellent ensemble cast helps the work along too, acting adaptably as townspeople, soldiers and dolphins when the need arises.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a play about love in all its forms, and it shines its best when that tenderness is brought to the crowd. Though I believe that perhaps the play suffers a little in its under-portrayal of the darker parts of the script, the joy and life running throughout the rest is heartfelt and equally heartwarming.

I really liked it. I think you will too.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is being performed at the Gryphon Theatre in Wellington until the 10th of April. There are only a handful of tickets left for the entire season, so snap them up here.

Show contains strobe lighting, depictions of war and violence. 


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Review: The Look Of Love

by Sophie on January 25, 2021 in Music, review

I’ve seen Ali Harper before, at Old St Paul’s in 2012, and I was struck by her humour and professionalism then.  It was a fun night out with my Robot Mum and we both enjoyed hearing songs we knew, and some we didn’t, performed by someone who knew her craft and was super skilled.

On Saturday night, The Look of Love opened at Circa, and I was delighted to be able to take my mum along again.

Ali Harper is a bit of a national treasure – cabaret, acting, musical theatre; she does it all.  But she also creates her own shows and records albums, which I think is pretty baller.   She’s not just a participant.  She’s a BOSS.

The small stage of Circa One was well-lit, with mic stands placed at different points to allow Harper to move around and share her performance with the whole audience.  The live accompaniment were Tom McLeod expertly playing piano and Callum Allardice nailing the guitar.  But Harper knows that Bacharach needs an orchestra, needs a horn section, and needs backing vocals, so she recorded fantastic arrangements, working with the esteemed Tom Rainey, to back it all.

Was it weird to have two musicians onstage and the rest pre-recorded?  Initially, yes.  But it gave her, and us, a lovely intimate dynamic between her and her onstage musos, and as she said herself, she couldn’t have fit (or afforded) the whole cast onstage.  Plus the recording experience meant she was able to produce an album for the show.

The boys were clearly having a good time and both sang as well as playing, McLeod having his own very competent solo time.  Harper is a generous collaborator, and an appreciative one, giving them repeated credit and love for their support and their talent.

So we embarked upon a journey, with Harper providing biographical detail around Bacharach’s life and development as a composer.  She referred to the research she’d done and it was very clear she’d done it with affection and respect.  I love that so much.  How he came up, how he collaborated with his lyricist Hal David, his mostly terrible lovelife, and how he pushed to make his music challenging, interesting, and different.

She also gave great respect to the artists who made his songs famous;  Marlene Dietrich, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin.   Admittedly, her Dietrich impression left me a little cold but that’s just a low damn voice to try to emulate, and while Harper’s range is impressive, it felt a little dense down there.

Sometimes a performer who’s worked a lot in musical theatre can be a little jazz hands and fake smile.  While the production is great and all, it feels like they’re just performance robots going through the programming to elicit the appropriate response.

Here’s the thing, though.  Ali Harper is a freaking extraordinary vocalist with stupendous charisma.  That’s clear, no one can deny it.  BUT she was also obviously having a ball and loving every moment of what she was doing.  She loved her collaborators, she loved the music, and she loved us, the audience.  She was basically there, in the spotlight, looking a million dollars in her sequins, genuinely thrilled that THIS is what she gets to do for a job.  She gets to sing songs that make her happy, for people who get happy as well.  She looked out at us, and no part of her smile was fake.

I don’t need to talk about Harper’s voice.  She’s been doing this for the last 20+ years and she KNOWS her craft.  I saw her 9 years ago and was impressed, but now I’m just speechless.  It felt effortless.  I doubt it was, but DAMN, she just opened her mouth and magic came out.  She drove her mic like NASCAR.  I’m basically on my knees chanting “I’m not worthy!”

Ali Harper got to do something really cool.  She got to make a show, and a REALLY good show, based on a composer who was a formative part of her own life soundtrack.  She was so clearly, and so tangibly delighted to be singing Bacharach’s songs.  She wanted to give him respect and credit.  She wanted to share with us her love of those songs.  She knew she couldn’t replace the artists we hear in our heads when we think of the songs – those artists ARE the songs.  But she paid homage to the creators and the artists, and she also made each song her own.  And when the whole studio was standing up, holding their phones up with the flashlights on (some of us had to show our mums how to put the flashlight on), she was just so full of joy. She was like…. You guys get it.  You love these songs, too!  Let’s sing together!  Isn’t this freaking wonderful?!

Yes, lady.  It WAS freaking wonderful.  And thank you so much.

Ali Harper has a whole-ass month of this show so if you like music, or love, or people, or…   OK, if you hate life, don’t go.  Everyone else, get amongst it.  It’ll make you smile.

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A couple of new(ish) bars

by Joanna on January 19, 2021 in Food & Drink

Hey, remember when we used to be on top of all the openings and closings in town and filled with reviews? Yeah me neither. The ‘ista is old and property-and-business owning now, and we have Twitter instead of our group mailing list. But we can still try!

So to that end, here’s a couple of bars I’ve been to lately that you might also like to know about.

Love Not Lost

From the makers of our beloved Hanging Ditch comes a bar in the Courtney Quarter that’s actually worth heading to that part of town for? Love Not Lost on Allan Street has been a million curry places and maybe also Muse and that truly truly awful Orpheus. Now it’s bar with a solid food menu, full of fancy cocktails and big comfy couches. It opened at the end of last year so the space doesn’t feel quite as lived in as I’m sure it will, but it’s nice to have a bar that prioritises lounging, along with a pool table and two-tops if you’re eating. When we visited a couple of weeks ago, the cocktail menu was Meatloaf (the singer) themed, so they missed a trick not offering a meatloaf burger as well, but what they had on offer was delicious. the menu of love not lost
Obviously I had to order a Dead Ringer For Love to get that pistachio-infused bourbon. I could have used a little more sweetness I think, but in their defense I’ve been drinking a lot of overly sweet drinks over summer. Apparently the ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’ with its tequila, creme de menthe and caramel is a top seller. I love that despite the compactness of the wine list they offer two rosés, which is very smart for summer. My friend’s ‘Life is a Lemon’ was delicious, the sweetness of the melon liqueur and marmalade perfectly balanced with the lemon

life is a lemon cocktail

The menu will be changed four times a year, FYI. I had a dinner booked afterwards so we didn’t try any of the food, but I’ll be back. They say they’re open from 12pm-3am every day so they might prove to be a good late night refuge from the messy throngs on the rest of Courtenay Place. I don’t know for certain though cos we were there at 5pm on a Friday.


Yakisoda is not actually a new space – it’s the mask that BOL at 99 Victoria Street puts on at night.  Although, I’m currently trying to find any trace on the internet that BOL still exists and I’m failing.  So maybe Yakisoda is becoming its permanent skin? There goes what I’d planned to write about how I love popups bringing new things to existing spaces and giving people the chance to try something new while making really efficient use of resources. This also explains why I couldn’t see a BOL sign underneath the Yakisoda one. Ahh having all the knowledge and full story and knowing what we’re talking about, that’s what you come to the Wellingtonista for, right?

But anyway. The interior of Yakisoda is small, and very very simple. There’s a couple of counters to sit at, and a couple of tables with stools, and that’s about it. They’ll bring out candles when it starts getting darker. This is definitely a bar to go to with someone you’re very comfortable talking to, because there aren’t a lot of distractions. You’d also be fine in here by yourself with a book I reckon. The staff are very knowledgeable about their drinks menu and its Japanese/Peruvian inspirations. And the cocktails – oh lorde are they gorgeous. I mean, look at this:

an ice cube at Yaki Soda with katakana burned into it

That’s the Martinique Milk Punch, made with Agricole Rhum – Brown Butter – Peach – Clarified Milk. Apparently they make their ice cubes by heating their katakana stamp and pushing it into the ice cubes. On a hot Wellington day, there is nothing more beautiful than the cold rising up off of this. And the drink! It’s so dreamy and smooth and flavourful. I could have had half a dozen of these and been very happy indeed. Maybe I will next time I’m feeling rich ( $16 is a perfectly normal price for a cocktail, but six of them would not be in my budget). I also tried the ‘Midori?’ which was a perfect tangy balance, and it was very simple and pretty too.

a green tinged cocktail


Once again, I didn’t try the food, but the next hot day may very well call for their Kakigori – shaved ice with yuzu and makrut lime.

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There’s been a hotel on Cuba Street for as long as I can remember.  In sixth form my very daring sex-having friend booked herself and her boyfriend a room at Trekkers Hotel for after our ball at Cuba Cuba (but she ended up getting too drunk to leave the room).  In the mid naughties, we nominated the hotel owner for a TAWA award as super villain of the year and he did not care for that at all. About ten years ago, we went to a Fishhead party there and models said “gosh you’re brave” because we got in our togs and went for a swim, but I’ve been able to swim since I was 7 so I don’t know what’s so brave about that? But anyway. There’s a new owner now, and a new hotel in the form of the Naumi Studio Wellington. And holy crap it looks gorgeous (Photos are supplied because I am a shit photographer).

Naumi lobby

Well, when we say new, we mean the old CQ Hotel has had a massive renovation. And if you’ve spent any time at all in the hotel as it used to be, the new version will knock your socks off.

The multi-million dollar renovation took place over the past 18 months, with a significant halt on developments through Covid-19 lockdown.

There are 115 rooms including spacious junior and executive suites, each room expertly designed with comfort in mind and furnished with a smart screen, Netflix, and by-the-bed device charging ports.The exectutive suite of the Naumi

A grand entrance on Dunlop Street leads you straight to the bar, aptly named Lola Rouge and she is a beauty. Pull up a stool at Lola Rouge, and learn from the barkeep about hotel custodian, Lady Naumi. Her story is the foundation of the hotel and its design. Uncover her secrets and immerse into the curious and quirky tales of Lady Naumi and what became of her sailor lover.

CEO of Naumi Hotels NZ and Australia is Mr Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala who took ownership of the property in late 2018.

“Developing the building especially through Covid lockdown restrictions has been a challenging labour of love, but to see it all come to life and the doors opened is joyful for our family and we hope you love it as much as we do”

“As most locals know, the property is steeped in history, with stories to be shared and told, as well as some that should probably stay firmly locked in the walls” adds Gaurang.

A very green gorgeous lounge

I haven’t stayed there yet, though I am booked in a for a review later this month, but I have stayed at the Naumi at Auckland Airport and loved it and all its quirky Insta-perfect design. I’m sad that the enormous baths haven’t made their way down to Wellington, but I understand that space is a little bit tighter in a heritage building on Cuba Street.  If the rellies are planning on staying at yours these holidays, maybe leave them to it and book yourself a Naumi room instead?

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More posts…

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by librarykris November 19, 2020

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