Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Artistic licence

I've just spent a glorious three days in Wellington, gorging myself on the Arts Festival and generally being a black-bereted, pretentious type. Wonderful. I finally saw Schiller's Mary Stuart - good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as the RSC's production of The Duchess of Malfi with Harriet Walter, which sounds like faint praise but isn't - and also a Swedish circus troupe called Cirkus Cirkor, who were amazing: from the white-painted ringmaster to the (supposed) audience members who suddenly turned out to be able to dangle from ropes above the stage by the power of their calf muscles alone, it was an abandoned, joyful experience - with that faintly sinister edge that all good circuses have. Plus it was set to a live soundtrack of dreamy indie pop by Irya's Playground - the kind of music that David Lynch used for Twin Peaks.

And the films! I finally broke and took a Lord of the Rings tour (I've been so good, but I could no longer resist). Quite a few of the locations were close to Wellington, including (and fans will know what I mean) the place where the hobbits hid from their first sight of a Black Rider - remember those hooves? But the real draw was the Weta Cave, where they've put some of the artefacts on show. It's a glory hole of swords and chainmail, full-size models of Gollum and the Uruk-hai Lurtz, plus the Sumatran rat-monkey (Brain Dead) and some of District 9's guns, as well as a new series of ray guns that might be the basis of a film one day. Basically, it's a film geek's idea of heaven and I LOVED IT. They were even selling Doctor Who merchandise, presumably on the grounds that a nerd with a jones for Lord of the Rings will also be a Who fan. They're right, of course, much as I hate to admit it!

More highbrow was my tour of the Parliament buildings, from the ultra-modern Beehive (which reminded me of the Barbican, all brushed concrete and curves), to the Library, a ridiculous pink-and-white birthday cake of a building in Victorian Gothic, and absolutely delightful to someone with a quirky sense of humour! The tour itself was interesting, though the guide lost a shade of her friendliness when I asked some smart-alec questions about freedom of information (oops). And after that it was on to the new St Paul's Cathedral, a monstrosity in pink concrete, quite the ugliest church I have ever seen. But just as I was recoiling from the evangelical stained glass, this bloke came up to me and invited me into the bell tower. No, not for any nefarious reason, but because he's an enthusiast. He's been ringing bells for 40 years in one or other of New Zealand's seven bell towers, and delights in showing off his knowledge. He and the rest of his crew were going to be ringing a quarter peal for a delegation of visiting campaniles from GB later that day, and I was lucky enough to be passing by as they were ringing that afternoon - I felt quite touched by stardom, knowing one of the band, so to speak.

All that, and Katherine Mansfield's birthplace, the New Zealand film archive (where I saw an NZ cult classic, Goodbye Pork Pie, whose incredibly slow car chases down unsealed and winding roads in a Mini were worth the entry fee alone), the Wellington Museum, the art gallery, Te Papa (New Zealand's national museum) and some lovely second-hand bookshops too. Who said New Zealand had no arts scene?!

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