Thursday, 24 September 2009

Amadeus Tour 2009 - Canberra.

Arrived home Sunday from Hobart via Sydney. Internet access was virtually impossible in Canberra and Wollongong, and Tasmania was too beautiful to ignore for any more than a few minutes at a time. I made a few notes along the way and hope they're coherent enough to incorporate here.


It would be as easy to start the Amadeus diary with a straightforward summary of events from Brisbane to Canberra via Sydney, but that'd would be boring and I can sum it up quickly: Smooth flights, 50 metre bus ride (in two buses) from Sydney terminal to Canberra plane (a Dash 8) and a 38% sugar/55% carbs apple 'streusel'.

Expecting Canberra to be quite chilly, I'd taken my coat onto the plane but it was shirt sleeves weather. We were met by the show's publicist Coralie Wood, a perennial figure in the theatrical community in these parts. She is sometimes called 'The Queen of Canberra'. Our cab reeked of Saturday night vomit and the hotel had not finished preparing our rooms, so we couldn't check in. Luckily, Steven had an open invitation to visit with a friend (Charles) for a colourful Sunday lunch in a suburb called Downer, presumably named for the father of that sibilant popinjay Alexander. We dropped our suitcases in a wee side room of the hotel, picked up some wine and traipsed over to find much merriment and flamboyance. I had a couple of drinks and headed back to the hotel with Tash and Dash.

We stopped off in the barely beating heart of the city, the Canberra Centre. It's a huge mall covering many blocks. There were shops open, but no-one really seemed to be buying or selling. Most of the shops outside the centre were closed, even, to my astonishment, some of the fast food chains, like Subway. It felt as if Canberra was a model town and its inhabitants part of a massive re-enactment. It looked a bit like a city, but all the action taking place was rehearsed and for display only. Very Truman Show. The three of us wandered for a bit and then cut across park and car park to get back to our hotel, The Rydges. I've yet to see one person outside of our company take anything other than a loopy paved route. There are desire lines all over the place, but they must have been blazed by tourists.

It took only a day to feel as if Canberra was some kind of mildly bizarre world. The design was pretty but not conducive to human contact, the people didn't seem to like human contact and the locals' opinion of the town was often reflected in their attitude to others. Nick thinks I'm being a little harsh on the place and it's true that there were some lovely people, most notably our hosts on the Sunday afternoon, the woman who ran the public transport info centre, one of the waitresses at Tossolini's restaurant and the venue staff at the Playhouse, who were just great.

Maybe I am being a bit severe on Canberra. It's quite pretty, there are some lovely landmarks and even the 'ghetto' (as a cabbie described a block or two of flats just out of town) seemed quaint, with bikes neatly hung up on porches and lawns green and tended. It's just that hardly anyone in Canberra outside of politicians seems to want to be there. The staff of a grocery store near the theatre provided the best proof. The day of the first show, after struggling to find the entrance, I stopped in to buy cigarettes and noticed a nice array of rolls, baguettes and sandwiches at the deli counter. No-one was around, but there was a bell and a sign saying 'Please ring for service'. I did so. After a minute, a woman sheepishly appeared and I said something like 'Hiya'. She said 'Yep'. I countered with 'How's it going?' She replied, 'Yep...whaddya want?!' and gave me a look that suggested any further pleasantries would not be tolerated. At least the sandwich was nice.

Over the course of the time in Canberra this short shrift was given quite a few times, so I began to quiz the locals on what they thought of their city. At the same store the next day I asked a different staff member her opinions on Canberra. She said she hated it. When I asked why, she answered so quickly she sounded as if she'd been waiting for the follow-up: 'Because it's boring and there's no beach'.

One day I scouted around looking for somewhere to get my hair cut. The young hairdresser I found (let's call her Kacey, why not?) did a great job (I had this confirmed by some of my company mates at the time and most importantly, my loving partner - a hairdresser - when I arrived home). Kacey asked me if I was from out of town. I said yes and told her I was in a play called Amadeus. She didn't know it. I said, 'Have you heard of Mozart?' She said 'Huh?' 'Mozart...the composer?' Blank stare. A pause, then, 'Is that like some kind of band?' Now it was my turn to go blank. 'Um, no...Mozart was a guy who lived just over 200 years ago, the late 18th Century, he wrote some of the most famous music ever. We're doing a show that's sort of about him.' I thought this might trigger something. Nope. 'How about Beethoven?' By this point I was expecting a no, but what came forth stunned me. ' mean like the dog?'

I had to take a moment to process this. 'The dog from the movie was named after the music guy. He's really famous too. Came along just after Mozart.' For the briefest second I considered blorting the opening of Beethoven's Fifth, but thought better of it. Kacey obviously thought I was mad enough already. In fact, I thought about letting the whole thing go. The last thing I wanted was for Kacey to feel so put upon that her only recourse was to shave an obscenity in the back of my head.

Gamely, or insanely, I pushed on. If two of the most famous musicians in history failed to register, maybe it was time to bring things forward a few years. 'Have you ever heard of Nirvana?' 'Nuh.' Now I knew it wasn't me. But the look on Kacey's face (and whatever odd expression on mine) suggested that I might be playing a cruel joke on her, because she stopped cutting and called out, 'Caitlin? Do you know who - what was his name...?' Quietly: 'Mozart.' '..who MOZART is?' Without a breath, an equally young voice replied, 'Yeah, course! Jeez, Kacey.' 'How about Nirvana?' Even quicker, 'Oh bloody hell, Kace.' Relief. The unseen presence of Caitlin the colleague helped me step sure-footed out of Bizarro World, back of my head unscathed. I should have let it rest there, but stupidly I asked Kacey what kind of music she listened to. She said 'Nickelback'. For those of you unfamiliar with my music snobbery, it's safe to say that when I am looking for the prime example of shit, Nickelback is invariably the first name to escape my lips. Without thinking, I borrowed a line from Mr Burns: 'You've just made yourself a powerful enemy, young lady.' Whatever ground I'd made thanks to Caitlin was now lost forever. I thanked Kacey, paid and left, spending the next few minutes feeling for cusswords in my newly cut hair.

As for the show, it went down a bomb in the capital. The houses were brilliant, due in large part to Coralie's fantastic publicity. It's very hard to plug a show that has a two-day run, but Coralie helped to give us 400+ audiences for both nights.

The Playhouse is a lovely venue and the staff, as I've already mentioned, were just great. The only real issue from the actors' point of view was the depth of the stage. Even though you normally rehearse in a smaller space than that which you end up playing, nothing had prepared us for the gaping maw of the Playhouse. It was huge. The smother (the black curtain that runs along the back of the stage) could have been moved forward, but our tour manager, the inestimable Cat, told us that to do so would have taken a four hour chunk out of an already snug bump-in time. Working in such a massive space often raises concerns about audibility and in our first rehearsal we were all belting to the back wall, but the acoustics at the Playhouse are brilliant so there were no worries that the audience would be subjected to two hours of Salieri, Mozart and the Hapsburg courtiers screaming at each other.

In short, the Canberra shows were great fun and the Canberra audiences were fantastic. In that sense, I have no right to be critical of them or their city.

I can't be harsh on their coffee-making skills either. Canberra was the only town on tour where a bunch of us ate breakfast at the same place each day and for me, it was mainly because the coffee was so damn good. The food was not too shabby either. Hail to the baristi at the ANI (As Nature Intended) Cafe on Marcus Clarke St. If I could I'd drink coffee there for the term of my natural life (F'nar F'nar!)

The main highlight away from the Playhouse stage was a visit to the Australian War Memorial. Nick and I spent a morning there as our time in Canberra came to a close. It's safe to say that, despite the fact we'd both been there before, we were profoundly affected by the experience. If you are visiting Canberra, ink it into your list of things to do.

Apart from one heavy burst of cold twilight rain, the weather in Canberra was lovely and brisk. Thge one time I had trouble with the cold was sitting outside the green room after a show with my knee iced after a little slip on some backstage carpet. The knee thing is going to have to be seen to sooner rather than later.

In all fairness, I did have a nice time in Canberra. It was just a bit bemusing sometimes. But then so is my hometown.

P.S. 'Kacey', this one's for you:

Pixies - The Beautiful Corpse Lives!

There is an Amadeus tour post on its way. Unfortunately most of the trip was Internet unfriendly. We stayed at Rydges hotels in Canberra & Wollongong and they charged 75 c/min for Internet. Wollongong's Internet cafes were closed when I visited and Canberra didn't appear to have any at all. I made some notes along the way but by the time we got to Hobart there was just too much to see. I've made a good start but it's a few days away yet. In the meantime, there is a certain amount of joy to be expressed at the return of my favourite band ever in the history of the universe and beyond, the Pixies.

I heard about the tour from a waitress at a Hog's Breath Cafe in Hobart on our first night there and was able to get pre-sale tickets the following Wednesday via my friend Robbie Motortown. Yay for Robbie!

I've been an unabashed Pixies fan since 1989. I remember hearing 'Gigantic' on TripleZed in 1988 and loving it, despite not knowing who the band was. Back in those days we had no Internet, kids (we had to entertain ourselves) so it wasn't until I heard 'Monkey Gone To Heaven' the following year that I fell in love with them. It would be nearly 20 years before I'd see them live, at the V Festival on April Fool's Day 2007. For my dearest friend Renae and myself, it would go down as a red letter day.

We'd kinda given up on them ever coming back, and satisified ourselves in the knowledge that at least we got to see 'em burn through 23 songs in front of 15000 people (I wonder how many people saw the Pet Shop Boys that day?). Vague hopes of a reprise were dashed last year when I saw an interview with Black Francis where he said that, despite the half-formed plans, notions and to-ing & fro-ing, the Pixies was, in effect, a 'beautiful corpse'.

Huzzah for resurrection! Even though I'd known for months that the band was going to do a little Euro Doolittle tour, I could only dream they'd be back...and I look forward to their arrival with the same fervour I've held since I was a callow, spotty 62kg numbskull.