28 June 2010

Revolutionizing Waterfront Dining: Chef Paul Haitana at Wharfside Restaurant

An experienced chef who has cooked for royalty, Paul Haitana has revolutionised waterfront dining during his time at Wharfside Restaurant. He shares with drama on the waterfront his vision for the cuisine at Circa’s quality dining establishment as well as the recipe for one of his favourite desserts, a quick and easy – and delicious! – Mars Bar Cheesecake.

Wharfside Restaurant Chef Paul Haitana

DOTW: What is your background? What did you do before you came to Wharfside?

PH: I’ve been cooking for 33 years; I started out at the Putaruru Timber Museum when I was six years of age making chocolate, cakes and pies. I’ve worked throughout the world, traveling around as a chef. My highest aspiration was working for the Royal family back in 1989 with Princess Anne’s entourage. I’ve worked at the Regent Hotel, I have had 127 hotels underneath me at one given stage. I have now taken a step back for myself and have returned to New Zealand, starting off small to see where it goes.

DOTW: How long have you been with Wharfside?

PH: I’ve been here for just over five months, since January 2010.

DOTW: I understand that you implemented a new menu when you came to Wharfside. What was your vision for the menu here?

PH: My vision was to make it a little bit lighter, a little smarter. To dress up the meals to the point where they’re as appealing to the eye as they are to the palate. Clean up some of the flavours, keep them a lot crisper so that when you’re dining and you order the lamb you actually taste the lamb not the rosemary or so many different flavours that you don’t know what you’re eating.

DOTW: What is your favourite meal to make, both on your own time and at Wharfside?

PH: My favourite meal of all time for myself would be a pork von strana which is a pork steak with bacon, melted gruyere cheese and a red wine and black pepper jus. I usually serve this with a Waldorf salad and nice glass of wine. Here at Wharfside, my favourite to make would probably be the salmon; it is seared salmon on a bed of lime and coconut rice with baby spinach. And then it’s topped off with a very light, summery mango salsa. It’s an interesting meal.

Seared Salmon, Wharfside Restaurant

DOTW: What challenges, if any, does working at a fine dining establishment in a theatre provide?

PH: Being theatre-oriented, we’re restricted to the timelines by which people dine. Therefore, when they come in, we have an hour to have all of their meals out to them. Which puts a bit of a restriction on the way things are done in the kitchen but with speed and agility and planning yourself out well, it is accomplishable. It’s just not easy.

DOTW: What would you tell someone who had never been to Wharfside? What should people know about Wharfside?

PH: One thing they should now is that the staff here at Wharfside are all very friendly, they’re all very approachable. Be prepared that we are a theatre, so we could have anywhere between zero to 250 guests at any one given time. But it is well worth coming down – the food’s great, the people are great, the atmosphere is great and all of the shows are absolutely wonderful.

DOTW: Why did you choose the Mars Bar Cheescake recipe to share with DOTW readers?

PH: I’ve chosen this one because it’s not so over-the-top. Everyone likes a bit of decadence now and again, and this is a nice way to have it without overpowering your sweet tooth. It has a nice balance between the tart of the lemon zest with the richness of the Mars Bars. And you can swap the chocolate out with any of your favourite chocolate bars.

Chef Paul's Mars Bar Cheesecake

Mars Bar Cheesecake


250 g plain chocolate biscuits
120 g butter, melted

3 tsp gelatine
¼ cup hot water
500 g cream cheese, softened
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon (small), zest and juice
3 Mars Bars (thinly sliced)


Crush biscuits in food processor or with the end of a rolling pin until it resembles fine crumbs. Add melted butter and stir to combine. Press biscuit mixture into base and up sides of a 20 cm springform cake tin. Refrigerate.

Dissolve gelatine in hot water for 3 minutes then beat until thick and white. Add castor sugar and cream and mix well. Beat in the cream cheese, vaniall, lemon rind and juice until smooth and fluffy. Fold in sliced Mars Bars. Pour cream cheese mixture over biscuit base. Tap the cake tin gently to even out mixture. Refrigerate for 3 hours to allow cheesecake to set properly.

Dining at Wharfside

Wharfside Restaurant is open for pre/post theatre dining for every performance at Circa Theatre. Reservations are recommended, please call 801-7996.

20 June 2010

Getting a stamp on Mauritius

Fresh from directing the NZ International Arts Festival success Mary Stuart, Ross Jolly is back to introduce New Zealand audiences to the work of American playwright, Theresa Rebeck, whose cat-and-mouse thriller Mauritius opens at Circa on 26 June. Ross tells drama on the waterfront all about his latest directorial offering, his fascination for Rebeck’s writing and his boyhood stamp collection.

DOTW: Please tell us a bit about Mauritius, what is the story?

RJ: Well, the story involves two half-sisters who inherit a rare book of stamps and included in the collection are the one penny and two penny Post Office stamps Mauritius, which are regarded as the crown jewels of philately. They turn out to be worth an awful lot of money, millions of dollars. The sisters are sort of squabbling over who owns the collection, one of them wants to sell and the other doesn’t, and into this squabble come three rather shady stamp collectors who turn out to be very, very interested in making a lot of money out of the deal. They’re pretty tough and nasty characters. And so begins a high suspense con-game of cross and double-cross. The characters end up in a battle of wits to secure the fabled stamps. This play is a new perspective on the benign hobby of stamp collecting.

DOTW: What was it that drew you to this play?

RJ: I had just come off of directing a very large play: 11 actors in a period piece, Mary Stuart. Mauritius came across as very sharp and modern, and wow, what a playwright Theresa Rebeck is! Mauritius has a wonderfully plotted script with twists and turns and surprises that certainly held my attention and I’m sure will rivet an audience as they wonder what the hell is going to happen next!

DOTW: Obviously, the Post Office Mauritius stamps figure prominently in this play. What do you know about philately, or stamp collecting? Do people have to be familiar with it to understand this play?

RJ: No, you don’t have to be familiar with stamps to understand or appreciate the play. Stamps are just the catalyst for a game of cross and double-cross, they’re just a very valuable “MacGuffin”, if you will, something that everybody wants. It could be a secret formula or gold, but in this case it is a very expensive stamp collection. It’s unusual; Theresa Rebeck found out about stamp collecting online, just surfing about online and was stunned to discover how much rare stamps are actually worth.

As a boy I had a stamp collection and I used to put them into my album with those little hingey things. Anyway, I went away to boarding school and when I came back, my brother had taken charge of my collection. And even though I’ve asked repeatedly, he won’t give it back to me. This is life imitating art! And I’m not sure if he hasn’t disposed of them one way or another for pecuniary gain. But that’s just a little sidebar.

DOTW: As you mentioned, most people think of stamp collecting as a quiet, solitary or benign pursuit. How does the play treat this common perception?

RJ: As I said, the stamps themselves are the catalyst for the con game, so what you have is something that’s rare and valuable. Rebeck gets compared to David Mamet sometimes because of the very rare coin in his play, American Buffalo. But it can be a very rare anything, the keys to the bank vault or something, the thing that everybody wants. It’s the desire; everybody is crazy and scrabbling, desperate for those stamps. And people will go to hefty lengths to get them in a Quentin Tarantino kind of way, violence is not off the menu.

DOTW: You’ve said that Theresa Rebeck has been compared to Mamet; what are your thoughts on her as a playwright?

RJ: I hadn’t come across Theresa before and someone said I should read Mauritius. I thought it was just great. This is a very intricately plotted play, this is playwright who knows what she’s doing. I have learned since that she has written extensively and award-winningly for television, Law and Order, NYPD Blue, and so on. This shows in the writing, her aptitude for plotting and building suspense and getting us to stay on for the next installment and see what’s happening. Mamet’s writing is often very male-based but Theresa Rebeck introduces very strong and detailed female characters, which gives the play a lot more appeal. She definitely knows how to hold an audience’s interest. And she’s also very funny. We’ve got a guy from a writing course sitting in, he’s American, and he was chuckling away during the rehearsal. It’s not because there’s one-liners or gags or anything like that, it’s just the accurate depiction of people: their greed, their funny little motivations, their character flaws and the ploys they use to bamboozle and battle each other and come out on top. It’s very, very amusing to an audience.

DOTW: Are there any particular challenges involved in directing Mauritius?

RJ: I have to be honest, this play is not as challenging as Mary Stuart, which was a huge epic and I truly welcomed the refreshing change to go from a full orchestra to a chamber piece. Like a good chamber piece, everything in Mauritius is very carefully nuanced and balanced, and I like that. And I love working with very skillful writing. This play has fight sequences in it, so I’ve called in the very expert Alan Henry to help us with the tussles and tumbles and fisticuffs, pushing and shoving and all of the above. It has some surprising little David Lynch/Tarantino-esque elements to it, which I found extremely interesting.

DOTW: Tell us a bit about the cast.

RJ: For a director, casting is 70-80% of your job. Your job is so much easier when you have a very good, skilled cast, and I believe I’ve been lucky enough to assemble a very fine cast for this play. They’re loving it and they’re very impressed with the script, as am I. We’re enjoying it, which is always a good sign. Coming to work is a pleasure and a delight. I believe when you get the right cast and the chemistry’s right, magic happens, and I’m very pleased with the results.

DOTW: Mauritius has been received very well by international audiences. How do you think NZ audiences will relate to it?

RJ: I think it will appeal to New Zealand audiences as vociferously as it did to international audiences. The play has been produced internationally with many productions in the U.S., of course, as that is Rebeck’s homebase. I think it is just damn fine entertainment. It is very skillfully put together; I think this is a playwright who really knows what she’s doing. As I said she was somewhat unknown to me before coming across this play, but I’ve gone back and read some of her earlier plays and I’m impressed. I wonder how she hasn’t come into our ambit before now because she is a prolific playwright. She knows how to write a play that will grab an audience’s interest. In interviews we often end up talking about what we think about the play, but putting myself in an audience’s perspective, I think people will have a very nice journey in this play: an interesting journey, a fascinating journey, an amusing journey, and they will be surprised and uplifted. Rebeck says that attending theatre is like reading Dickens, people should have something that is profound but also have a ripper of a time.

Mauritius, Circa One, 26 June - 24 July

Mauritius is on at Circa Theatre 26 June to 24 July. Get your tickets by booking online at www.circa.co.nz or by calling the Circa Box Office at (04) 801-7992.

14 June 2010

A Window into He Reo Aroha

Although extremely busy touring He Reo Aroha around the country and all over the world, playwright Miria George takes some time to discuss this moving musical with drama on the waterfront. He Reo Aroha returns to Wellington audiences with performances at Circa Two 16-26 June.

DOTW: What is the story of He Reo Aroha?

MG: He Reo Aroha is a story of two young lovers who get back together! A classic tale of boy meets girl, they fall in love, break up and then overcome an ocean and get back together!

Kali Kopae and Jamie McCaskill in He Reo Aroha.

DOTW: I understand you wrote the play with Jamie McCaskill, what can you tell us about the process of creating this piece? Where did the idea come from?

MG: He Reo Aroha has been created by five Maori artists, Jamie and I wrote the script together, creating the characters and worlds with Hone Kouka and Kali Kopae. We wanted to tell a story of love, of Maori in love, love of family, love of tupuna, love of friends and the love shared by a boy and girl! Jamie, Kali and Hone Hurihanganui composed all of the waiata and songs that feature in He Reo Aroha.

In many ways, He Reo Aroha is a window into te ao Maori (the Maori world) that is not often seen on main-stages in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is a celebration of love shared by passionate people!

DOTW: He Reo Aroha is a musical, what can you tell us about the music in this show?

MG: He Reo Aroha features original music throughout the show, from contemporary love songs in the English language to Maori language duets that will have you humming away to yourself as you drive home from the theatre! The music is beautiful, emotional, hilarious and written by Kali, Jamie and Hone – these are very talented people!

DOTW: This show has toured rather extensively, both in New Zealand and overseas; how have international audiences reacted to the story in comparison with New Zealand audiences?

MG: International audiences have very warmly received us, from Honolulu to Toronto, our audiences have been very open to the bi-lingual nature of the show – as often the cities we are touring to are multi-lingual. Audiences at home are fabulous – they understand the idiosyncrasies of the characters and sing along with the Maori language songs – although the Hawai’ians could too!

DOTW: As a playwright, what is your inspiration? Are there any other writers/playwrights that inspire you?

MG: I’m always inspired by the people around me – my family and friends can recognize elements of themselves in all of my characters from various plays. I’m inspired by the world around me, by current events – my work needs to be connected with the reality of our modern world to ensure that what I have to say as a playwright is always relevant to who we are as people!

Miria George

DOTW: What are you working on next?

MG: My next play, Sunset Road, is on the brink of a rehearsed reading! It is a script that has been very fortunate to be developed at the Weesageechak Begins To Dance Development Festival in Toronto, Canada – a playwrights festival that workshops brand new work! Native Earth Performing Arts are a First Nation professional theater company that have a 23-year history developing scripts – they have been an absolute blessing to work with!

08 June 2010

Behind-the-scenes: Viewing Video in The Nero Show

Angela Boyd, one of the talented technicians involved in The Nero Show, takes some time to tell drama on the waterfront all about the video element of the show and what it was like to work on this dynamic piece of theatre.

DOTW: What is your role in The Nero Show?

AB: Video designer – I created (or collated) the video footage seen in the show.

DOTW: Video is an important part of this production: there are TVs all over the set and video streaming constantly. What was involved – technically – in creating this aspect of the show?

AB: I went to several rehearsals to get the feel of the show, and did some pre filming to have a basic structure to cut to. I’d then film different segments using greenscreen or a neutral set depending on various ideas we had for the look of the footage. Once the set was in, we filmed the rest of it. Rehearsals were constantly timed so I’d have cue points to cut to – it was a very interesting way of working. There was a lot of research and tests done beforehand to get the look right.

DOTW: The video segments that depict members of the cast look quite authentic to the time period of the show [Check out The Nero Show trailer on Youtube here] – how did you create this effect?

AB: That’s a Colonel Sander’s secret recipe question! I had several different effects and filters to make it look as natural as possible. I’m also an archivist, so it was important for me to get the look and feel right. ‘60s television had a particular feel to it that is quite different to the “whiz bang” cutting and shooting of today. As the show progresses though, the video has a slightly more modern feel to it, that (hopefully) complements the idea that the themes in The Nero Show are constantly recurring throughout history.

DOTW: In terms of the other footage, how did you go about choosing what would be shown throughout the play?

AB: Paul [Jenden] had a very clear idea of where he wanted particular footage to sit during the show, so after reading the script, I spent hours wading through archival footage. I chose footage depending on the mood of the song. It was quite restrictive as I wanted to find footage that had a Creative Commons license – which means you can “remix” the footage per se. The Prelinger Archives were great, because they encourage the reuse of archival footage. The ads that run throughout the show were chosen to highlight the excess of Nero’s family – alcohol, cigarettes and pills. Great family fun, haha.

The cast of The Nero Show gather around one of the set's many televisions to watch Angela's handiwork.

DOTW: In your opinion, what does the video add to the production?

AB: The video footage sits strongly within the context of the show – the show itself is structured as if a live television show, and “The Nero Show” which Seneca hosts is shot in Nero’s mansion, so we tried to structure it so you get the feel of a television show with ad breaks, outside broadcasts, news breaks and such. It was also a comment on the role media has played throughout world history, and how heavily people rely on it – hence the television sets always being on. Still holds very much true for today.

DOTW: Have you work for a theatre production like The Nero Show before? If so, what else have you worked on? If not, what was the experience like for you?

AB: I’ve been involved in producing promotional work for theatre before, but nothing on this scale! Working on film and tv productions, I’m used to tight deadlines, but there’s nothing like a looming opening night to get your creative (read: panic) juices going. It was a fantastic experience that pushed me to learn new things, which is what I always like to look for in different projects. Also, working with Gareth’s [Farr] wonderful music and Paul’s great lyrics definitely helped to get the look and feel of each video segment.

DOTW: What was your favourite part of working on this show?

AB: Sitting in on the rehearsals – I’m still blown away with how quickly the show came together, due to the immense talents involved. I was very conscious of being a distracting force from laughing so much.

DOTW: What will you be working on next?

AB: I’ve got a couple of my own projects in the pipeline, and a couple of archival and editing contracts, but I’m always looking for new projects that push and challenge me!

The Nero Show is on at Circa One until 19 June.