Hard News by Russell Brown


Oh, Auckland

My brother-in-law unexpectedly turned up from Hokitika on Friday night, on his motorbike. This wasn't a problem: I like Steve, even though we have little in common -- he repairs machinery, I can barely hold a spanner -- and it was a nice surprise to see him for the first time in several years.

Naturally, we got him out to see a bit of the city on a lovely weekend. The first trip was a visit to Motat, which I skipped and which was, even given his mechanical bent, apparently a fairly dispiriting experience. The place really needs a major rethink.

The next morning, though, I took him to Avondale Markets. It's easy to forget what a sprawling, teeming spectacle the place is for anyone who hasn't been, let alone a stranger to the city. He walked alongside me marvelling at the multitude of faces and languages, the fake sunglasses and interesting piles of junk, the strange fruit on sale in the crowded lanes.

There's nowhere else in the country this could happen -- except for Otara, at southern end of the super city. It's an evolving, self-sustaining marvel. Go, Auckland.

There was much more Auckland to be had. On Saturday, I joined some friends at Nixon Park in Kingsland, for the revived Phoenixfest, which was headlined by a reunited Opensouls and flocked by Auckland's funk tribe -- listeners to BaseFM and George FM, mostly -- and their children.

At a time when it sometimes seems the council's compliance arm is intent on shutting down fun as enthusiastically as ATEED wants to tell us how much fun there is to be had in the city, this was an agreeably relaxed event. People danced, basked in the sun or sat in the shade with a few drinks, while Chip Matthews laid down the the afternoon's pulse. Tyra and the Tornadoes belted out a version of Aretha's 'Rock Steady' that made my heart sing.

I didn't really want to leave, but I had to, in order to quickly make dinner so Fiona and I could get along to Q Theatre for the premiere of Part One of Silo Theatre's production of Angels in America, Tony Kushner's epic, sometimes surreal, story of the age of Reagan and the AIDS plague.

The production's preview night on Friday had been cancelled for "technical" reasons and I wondered whether what has been widely billed as a big production had turned out to be just a bit too big. But, no. It was a triumph.

The technical elements of the production weren't all chucked out at once, but built subtly and purposefully towards a full-noise climax, in keeping with the arc of the drama, rather than dictating it. The whole seemed more measured and assured than an opening-night performance had a right to be -- and at no point in a show of more than three hours' duration did the show seem to lose that purpose.

Of the performances, Stephen Lovatt's bluff, coarse Roy Cohn, Dan Musgrove's anxious, burbling Louis Ironson and Gareth Reeves' Prior Walter, sliding into the predations of the disease, stood out for me. 

As Metro's Frances Edmonds writes in her review, it was "a remarkable evening in the theatre." We're going for Part Two next week and I greatly look forward to that. In the meantime, you should think about buying a ticket.

When we got home from Q, I couldn't sleep, so I watched the Blues' uninspiring victory over the Cheetahs. A win's a win, but whatever atmosphere there was at the the ground certainly didn't make it through the broadcast coverage. I think I was definitely better off at the theatre.

Sunday was the markets and -- yes, it's still possible! -- a swim on the 1pm high tide down at Point Chevalier beach. It wasn't crowded and many of those there were the traditional elderly stalwarts from Selwyn Village, but our neighbourhood beach was as much of a delight as ever. Go, Auckland.

On the way, we had the chance to pass the Chev's latest P lab. This one even exploded, doubtless to the great consternation of the occupants of the other half of the fomer state house duplex where it had been operating. The Chev clearly hasn't entirely gentrified.

And then I thought I'd have one more lash and watch Ladi6 play down at Western Springs Park, where Wanderlust, the successful New York-based yoga festival was being staged for the first time. But, confusingly, having been largely free for the day, the festival switched to a $30 paid event at 4pm, when the bars (selling organic wine, naturally) opened. It was a bit baffling and the vibe -- urged along by an annoying MC -- seemed a little odd from outside the fence. But hey, not my tribe.

Elsewhere at the weekend, my friend Andrew Moore put on what seemed like a brilliant event for old-school skaters at the New Lynn bowl and things literally got colourful for Damian Christie out at the Holi Festival in Riverhead.

It seemed like a weekend for it, and it does strike me thatwe've had a few of them this summer. It also strikes me that in most of these events there was some element underwitten, assisted or enabled by local government. At a time when a certain PR person has been running a cynical campaign pitting the dollar interests of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter trust against these forms of community infrastructure, it's as well to recall that a city that couldn't play would be a diminshed place.

So ... how was yours?

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