God bless us, everyone!

Last night I had my first Christmas 2017 gig.  It was the official opening of the delightful A Seussified Christmas Carol at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown. One of the most famous of all Christmas reads is the Charles Dickens famous novella, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas.  The book was written in 1843 at a time when the British people were examining their Christmas traditions from the past, such as carols, and adopting new ones, like Christmas trees.  It was published on 19 December and completely sold out before Christmas.  It was certainly relevant then.  It remains so.  A true classic.

Pic 3 Cast picture.JPG

This play is a Seussified version of A Christmas Carol in rhyme, adapted for stage by the American Peter Bloedel.  It is important to note that A Seussified Christmas Carol is not affiliated, endorsed or sponsored by Dr Seuss Enterprises, as the script makes plain.

However, all the elements of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge are present.  He is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, after which Scrooge is transformed into a better person.

As usual director Francois Theron and his creative team have done a magnificent job with every aspect of the play which is as charming for adults as it is for children of all ages.  Daniel Keith Geddes was responsible for the music, with the set being designed by Sarah Roberts and created by Stan Knight, with lighting by Jane Gosnell, costumes by Sarah Roberts, stage management by Willie van Staden and Liz-Mari Botha being the “Children Co-ordinator”.

There are three teams of children and on opening night the green team (although not as listed in the programme) were on duty.  These are Vuyile Zako, Kaih Mokoka and Asher Steenhoff.  The children in the show do so well.  It really is a pleasure to watch them.

The adult acting team consisted of Daniel Keith Geddes as Scrooge, Nomode Thande Matiwane and Cassius Davids as the Seussy narrators with Nieke Lombard, Jessica Foli, Blaine Shore and Alessandro Mendes making up the entire cast of characters together with the children.

The quirky venue is perfect for this staging and the whole thing is so beautifully constructed.

The pace never flags and it remains a heart-warming pleasure throughout.  I was truly touched by the wonderful spirit of the play and join the cast in wishing all its audiences a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

The National Children’s Theatre is situated at 3 Junction Avenue, Parktown.  The play runs until 23 December 2017.  011 484 1584 is the number for enquiries.

There is also another play “Sparky” suitable for very little ones running at the same time from 5 December 2017 and there is a summer holiday camp running from 4-8 December 2017 under the title “A Doctored Seuss”.

 

 

 

 

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Orient – restaurant review

Orient is a large, stylish, elegant eatery at 4 The High Street, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg.  It has just been (November 2017) revamped in terms of décor and it is tres chic with bright, clean lines and a contemporary feel.

Orient outside

Asia is the largest and most populous continent and is home to many different cultures, each with their own characteristic cuisine.  Orient makes use of several of the major regional styles of cooking traditions – Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese.

We were greeted by a friendly maitre d’, Gary, and shown to our party’s tables.  As we formed a large party the group was settled upstairs.  At times the volume of our party became a little overwhelming, but that’s not unusual in crowds of 100 or more.  It is part of the social structure of a group.

The size of our party is relevant here, because there are very few restaurants that can cater smoothly and efficiently (and quickly) for large parties.   Orient gets 10/10 for their handling of a crowd of this size.  Once seated our welcome cocktails (gin, grapefruit juice and grenadine) were brought to  the table, dry ice mist gently wafting up and out of the martini style glasses into  the  restaurant.

Orient cocktail

Water and wine were poured and despite the fact that there was more than one server dealing with the table, the correct stuff was always refilled.  At one point I knocked a glass over, breaking it and spilling water everywhere, and the handling of the incident was both speedy and unfussed, leaving me impressed with the service rather than embarrassed at my clumsiness.

The menu was a themed tasting menu with the elements of water, air, fire and earth being picked out in the menu.  Each course gave us three items, with the last course having four items.  Then there was a dessert buffet served downstairs in the bar.

What this meant in terms of Western expectations is that the food varied between seafood and non-seafood, back and forth, rather than the Western custom of eating first fish then meat.

The service was slick and rapid, with our plates being changed regularly, together with the disposable (but good quality) napkins provided and the disposable chopsticks.  I would have preferred linen napkins to be kept throughout the meal. I would also have liked wet wipes or a finger bowl at least at the end of the meal, but that is the only gripe I had about the entire process.

Our first course “water” consisted of crystal summer prawn, avo mushroom roll – a pretty confection which simply oozed health food concepts (well, if one doesn’t have issues with prawns and cholesterol) from the translucent rice paper wrapper, as well as salmon and tuna tartar cigars (served cold) both served with a peanut sauce, and hot Nikkei seafood spring rolls served warm.  Of the three I was torn between the summer roll and the spring roll, with the hot spring roll with its delicate creamy dipping sauce edging out the prettier summer roll in all round satisfaction stakes.

Orient spring roll

Orient spring rolls with creamy dipping sauce

The next course followed hot on the heels of the first and our “air” trio was an Asian mushroom pot sticker served piping hot, together with steamed open seafood dumplings, and sweet potato chicken croquettes.  I like the first two very much and the two dipping sauces were both clear soy sauce based concoctions, one of which was pleasantly fiery.  The mushroom pot sticker had the characteristic crispy base and the succulent but not soggy centre that every chef or cook aims at when making the dish. The difference between the pot stickers and the dumplings is largely in texture, the latter being steamed rather than fried. The sweet potato chicken croquettes would perhaps have been a little stodgy if one ordered them as a dish other than a tasting dish.

Orient dumplings

Orient sea food dumplings. Delicious.

Orient pot stickers

Orient pot stickers

So far the food had been excellent and it is difficult to imagine that things could get better, but somehow Orient pulled it off in their “fire” course.  Three skewers, the first being a delicious crispy pork belly skewer, followed by a Robata grilled salmon skewer.  The owner, Ernst, apologised that this was “overcooked” (together with the later duck course) but pointed out that the general South African taste is for the overcooked style.  My partner and I were divided on this one.  I am firmly in the general South African taste category, so enjoyed the grilled salmon greatly.  This was followed by a gingery Nikkei beef fillet skewer which was unbelievably delicious.  I am salivating just at the memory thereof.

Orient pork belly skewers

Orient pork belly skewers.

The “earth” course consisted of a vegetable combo with baked brinjal miso which was full of flavour with a hint of heat, a trio of Asian mushrooms in a creamy sauce and crispy cauliflower lollipops.  All of them were excellent.  Chef My is the executive chef of the group of restaurants owned by Ernst and Michelle throughout the country and his specialty of duck and mandarin pancakes made its appearance.  The pancakes were wafer thin and the duck and mandarin sauce were both excellent and not at all fatty.  This was followed by a ginger fish which was delicious – I think it made use of hake.  The finale was Vietnamese pepper prawns.

Orient ginger fish

Orient ginger fish

A common impression of Asian cuisine is that it is rice and noodle heavy, but we were served a menu of thirteen dishes without a single grain of rice or a noodle anywhere.  Certainly the skewers are a Banter’s delight.

Many of us sat at the table long after the bar with the desserts opened.  I saw a selection of prepared fruits going down which looked magnificent.  A lovely young woman, Thandi from Yenda Yenda, offered complimentary Thai massages (about five minutes each).  This is a delightful surprise treat and was most welcome.

My partner for the evening brought up some caramalised nuts and a panacotta style dessert.  I wondered idly about the fruit, but there really was no more room for even the tiniest morsel.  I had had more than just an elegant sufficiency.

Orient dessert

Orient fruit platter for which I had no room.

I recommend this place highly whether it is an intimate dinner for two or a splashy large group affair.  The service is every bit as excellent as the food and that is very good indeed.  I have chosen Orient as the place I would like to spend my 60th birthday.  It is that good.

Food 10/10.  Service 10/10.  Ambience 8/10.

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Laughing Matters

I am an Alan Committie fan.  He has a quick wit and great take on so many of life’s ordinary things, with a very marked absence of the general political humour (well, Zuma is funny) which characterises so much South African humour.  He is also a master of clean and unsmutty funny.

Alan-committee-laughing-matters

Alan Committie in Laughing Matters

In his latest opus at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre he makes use once again of some the characteristic jokes and gags, not least of which is his highly inaccurate Latin origin of words which has real Latin scholars smiling even more than those of us who know next to nothing about Latin.

Directed by Chris Weare Laughing Matters is set in a padded cell.  With cupboards.  The patter goes off at a mad pace, with Committie picking on various audience members, but always with the gentlest of humour – unless one lives in Blairgowrie (but they mostly just stay at home in Blairgowrie and no one from the suburb ventured out to Montecasino on the night I saw the show).  The engagement of Committie with his audience is one of his trademarks and I always thoroughly enjoy it.  Tristan, the teenager being homeschooled, and who was singled out for special attention looked mildly uncomfortable when Committie left the stage and went to pose  for photographs with Tristan.  But it is all nevertheless kind humour.

His famous alter ego, Johan van der Walt, makes an appearance, much to the amusement of his audience, many of whom know a character much like Johan van der Walt.

Driving in Johannesburg with the endless roadworks was made fun of and audiences could do nothing other than empathise and laugh.

The only material I have seen him do before is his interpretation of modern menu listings.  It amuses me no end and seeing it again was no hardship.

Towards the end of the year, Committie does this wonderful origami depiction of the year 2017.  His creation certain resonated with me for it has been my own “annus horribilis”. 

One leaves the theatre having enjoyed a good laugh.  It is fun and relaxing material brilliantly presented.  So, head off to see it and to laugh about 2017. 

Alan Committie’s ‘Laughing Matters’ is on at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre until 19 November 2017.

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Symphony Seasons for JPO

I know that it is a cliché to say “I don’t know where the time went”, but this is the reality of this time for me.  We are already halfway through the four week symphony season of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra.  This series is being called the World Symphony Series and it is the Spring Season 2017.  It is a personally sad time for me as the friend with whom I attended symphony concerts is emigrating and is no longer available to attend with me, so the end of an era for that friendship.

The season started with the annual combined KZN/JPO concert.  The conductor was the Netherlands born Arjan Tien and featured the now Texas based American  Zuill Bailey on cello in the Dvorak Cello Concerto in b minor, Opus 104.  The symphony was Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique.  It was a delightful, feel good concert.

Zuill Bailey

Zuill Bailey on Cello

The second concert featured the American born, Berlin resident Tai Murray on violin with Martin Panteleev on the podium.  Ms Murray brought us the Beethoven Violin Concerto (his only one) with the gentlest, most serene interpretation I have ever heard.  The sweetness of the concerto was followed by a lively version of Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony.  I have never heard Symphonies 1-5 and 6 and 7 on recording only.  The live Dvorak symphonies have always been 8 and 9.  It was, as expected, a magnificent experience.

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Tai Murray Violinist

The concerts this week feature something fairly new for South African audiences – a female conductor, Marzena Diakun with the well known Mozart’s 40th Symphony in g minor, K550.  The soloist is Belgian pianist Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort playing the Brahms Piano Concerto Number 1 in d minor, Opus 15.

The live symphony concerts take place at the Linder Auditorium in Parktown on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  There are still two concerts to go in the Spring Season and the Summer Season starting at the end of February 2018 will also feature four concerts with Daniel Rohn on violin, Pallavi Mahidhara on piano, Liesl Stoltz on flute and Max Baillie on violin and viola.

For enquiries about the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and their concerts phone 011 484 0446 or e-mail info@jpo.co.za.  The website is http://www.jpo.co.za.

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Field Guide to Succulents – review

  • Title: Field Guide to Succulents in Southern Africa
  • Authors: Gideon F. Smith, Neil R. Crouch, Estrela Figueiredo
  • Publisher: Struik Nature
  • Year: May 2017
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • Recommended Selling Price: R350
  • ISBN 978 1775843672

Succulents

Those of us who were born and raised in Southern Africa are often quite oblivious to the sheer diversity of our natural flora.  We are accustomed to it.  The reality is that Southern Africa is host to one of the richest and most diverse succulent flora in the world, from the gigantic baobabs through to the tiny pebble like desert succulents.

This Field Guide documents more than 700 southern African succulents in a way which is not too unfriendly to the non-botanists amongst us.    It contains all the major elements one expects from such a book written in the 21st century – from sumptuous photographs to illustrate the diagnostic features, distribution maps and information about the conservation status of each species.

Of immense importance to South Africans is the value of our indigenous succulents in water wise  and low maintenance gardens.  I was caught up in the perusal of this book, itching to grow a little succulent garden for myself so as to capture the sheer variety, quirkiness, beauty and artistry of some of these wonderful drought resistant plants.  The lack of practical information for gardeners (the early section of the book devotes two pages to the concept) is possibly the single biggest weakness of the book, but then it is a Field Guide, not a gardener’s manual.  No one book is meant to be all things to all people.

The book’s species information (almost) begins with the much loved “vygies” which brighten many a garden and (almost) ends with pages devoted to the Welwitsia of the Namib Desert.  In between that is a world of wonder.

All round this is a book which will thrill people with an interest in Southern African flora or botany generally.  I always feel a tinge of sadness, when I find a gem like this, that my father is no longer alive to enjoy the book.  It would have given him great pleasure to page through this book, nodding with recognition and puzzling over whether he had seen such a plant or not.

 

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Zuill Bailey on cello for JMS

Zuill Bailey

The October recital for the Johannesburg Musical Society featured Zuill Bailey on cello, together with Bryan Wallick on piano.  It was a dark and stormy night but the auditorium was respectably full, with people really not wanting to miss the opportunity to hear this world class concert.

It was a wonderful concert.  Zuill (pronounced “Zool”) Bailey is one of the world’s leading cellists. However, it is his charisma as a raconteur about his life and music that makes the work so compelling.

He is an educator, and that comes across in his talks.  He is a professor at the University of Texas, El Paso. He shares about his musical family and his discovery of the cello when he was only four years old.  He plays one of two Goffriller instruments dating back to 1693 and he shares how the instrument itself has been adapted by the lengthening of the fingerboard.

The programme was interesting, starting with Boccerini’s Cello Sonata in C Major, followed by Beethoven’s Sonata No 4 in C, Opus 102, No 1 and then Gregor Piatigorsky’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini.  The latter work is a playful look at the mannerisms of other musicians – Pablo Casals, Paul Hindemith, Raya Carbonsova, Erica Mormi, Felix Salmond, Joseph Szigeti, Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, Fritz Kreisler, himself, Gaspar Cassado, Mischa Elman, Ennio Bolognini, Jascha Heifetz  and Vladimir Horowitz.

After interval we get to hear the piece for which Zuill Bailey won the 2017 Grammy for Best Performance – Tales of Hemingway by the American composer Michael Daugherty.  A standing ovation follows.

The encore was Massenet’s Meditation of Thais.

What a wonderful concert this turned out to be.   Zuill Bailey is the soloist on Wednesday 25 October and Thursday 26 October 2017 with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra at the Linder Auditorium at 20:00.  Catch him at one of these concerts if you missed him at the Johannesburg Musical Society (of course, if you heard him at the JMS you will want tickets to hear him again).

The year-end concert for the Johannesburg Musical Society will take place on Saturday 11 November 2017 at the Linder Auditorium at 20:00 and it will feature Gloria Campaner on piano.

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Bourbon tasting

One of the highlights of the Whisky and Spirits Live festival at Sandton Convention Centre on 8-10 November 2017 is the opportunity to taste a variety of bourbons – a chance not to be missed.

Whisky and Spirits Live.png

What is bourbon, and how does it differ from whisky?

Whisky is made from fermented grain mash such as wheat, corn, rye and barley, and is aged in oak casks.  This aging in oak influences the colour of the liquid. Scotch whisky is produced in Scotland and to be called “whisky” it needs to have aged in oak barrels for a period of 3 years or more.

Bourbon is American whisky, strongly associated with the southern USA, and particularly Kentucky, and it must be made from at least 51% corn. Bourbon is matured in new charred oak barrels which aging process contributes to its characteristic caramel sweetness.  However, there is no minimum prescribed period for the aging and even bourbons which have only been aged for three months or so can be found on shelves.  All bourbons are whisky but not all whisky is bourbon.

Amongst the bourbons to be tasted at Whisky and Spirits Live are :-

Sazerac Rye has a light amber/ burnt orange colour. The nose includes sundried peaches and spice with a hint of caramel and oak. Notes of rye grass, peaches and light caramel are not overwhelmed by a huge burst of cinnamon spice. A little oak wood at the end leaves a very clean palate.

Whisky Sazerac Rye

Ok, Bourbon and rye 51% rye as a minimum.

Buffalo Trace is considered one of the world’s greatest whiskeys by Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible.  This Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has an outstanding aroma that is kicked off by a spicy prickle. It is rich, complex, and smooth in taste. It has a satisfyingly deep, gentle vanilla with a spring of mint and rye that offers extra depth and a layer of bitterness.

Whisky Buffalo Trace.jpg

Eagle Rare Single Barrel, 10 years is aged for no less than 10 years. It has early aromas that include gentle grain, toasted honey-wheat bread and tobacco leaf. The finish is long, corny sweet and moderately fiery.

Blanton’s Single Barrel and Gold Edition was named after Colonel Albert B. Blanton, who first bottled his private reserve Bourbon nearly a century ago.  Each barrel was personally reserved and bottled for ambassadors, dignitaries, family and friends, becoming the world’s first single barrel Bourbon.

1792 Small Batch is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon is made from a signature high rye recipe. It has an expressive and elegant flavour profile. Unmistakable spice mingles with sweet caramel and vanilla to create a bourbon that is incomparably brash and bold, yet also smooth and balanced.

W L Weller is a 12 Year Old wheat bourbons. Bottled at 90 proof (known as Kentucky proof) this Bourbon has a soft flavour perfect for sipping. Sweet, with a presence of caramel, honey, butterscotch, and a soft woodiness, it has aromas of lanolin, almond, creamed corn and toasty vanilla, with a long oaky smooth finish.

Whisky and Spirits Live takes place at Sandton Convention Centre from 08-10 November 2017.

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