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Reviews

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret | Regional News

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret

Created by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Ben Emerson and Greta Casey-Solly

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret is an all-singing, all-sparkling stage spectacular. This WITCH Music Theatre production pays homage to the magical musical moments of the silver screen, with songs like Singin’ in the Rain, Lady Marmalade, and Sparkling Diamonds (Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend) performed by a stellar cast of 23 fabulously dressed (costume design by Emma Stevens) singers, dancers, drag artists, and even an aerialist.

ROXY doesn’t let up once. While I crave more moments of softness, I’m swept up in the spectacle and blown away by the talent on display. Bailea Twomey’s outstanding Cut, Print… Moving On, Pippa Drakeford’s hilarious Science Fiction/Double Feature (and her entire character for that matter), Aine Gallagher’s moving Over the Rainbow, and Swings Both Ways, performed by Fynn Bodley-Davies and Zane Berghuis (both of whom shine in a band of stars conducted by music director and arranger Hayden Taylor) are all show highlights.

Then there are numbers that leave my jaw on the floor, like Jade Merematira’s Black & Gold with aerial choreography and silks by Jackson Cordery. My heart soars out of my chest and into the palm of Jason Chasland’s hand thanks to what I’m calling the performance of the year, Losing My Mind. Chasland’s The Hot Dog Song is one of the best and raunchiest things I’ve ever seen, with Patrick Jennings upping the entertainment factor as the hotdog vendor.

The ensemble work in ROXY is tight, especially when it comes to Karli Holdren, Björn Aslund, Thomas Laybourn, and Emily McDermott, who are equal to the relentless, dazzling choreography by Greta Casey-Solly, Leigh Evans, and Briar Franks.

Every single performer remains the picture of professionalism in the face of opening night technical problems with mics, feedback, levels… and one drunken audience member who exits mid-song to buy a bag of chips and re-enters mid-song to eat them deafeningly. A huge shoutout to Lane Corby, who doesn’t let the obnoxious behaviour affect her powerhouse rendition of Stars and the Moon. Multiple audience members cause more distractions on their phones, texting and scrolling through Instagram because they were told at the start they could take pictures. I’d really recommend rescinding that permission for future performances.

These teething issues don’t keep ROXY down. I’d love to see it a few nights on as it’s clearly a world-class production that belongs in the hallowed halls of Broadway.

The Power of the Dog | Regional News

The Power of the Dog

(R13)

126 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Jane Campion returns to feature filmmaking after a 12-year wait and proves she can still paint a portrait like no one else. With a pitch-perfect performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as its foundation, The Power of the Dog drips menace from every frame, challenging audiences to read between the lines to find the nuance within.

Based on the novel by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog stars Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons as brothers Phil and George Burbank, well-to-do ranchers in 1925 Montana. George quickly falls for widow and inn owner Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), forcing the brothers to take her effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on board, all of which causes the vindictive Phil to spiral.

Campion has a truly superior understanding of filmic language. Where a lesser director might throw in an unremarkable establishing shot, she will instead let the textures of an environment guide the mood, whether she’s creating unease with the rustle of tussock grasses or letting the sudden striking of a match briefly reveal a sinister smirk. Campion’s script is as elegant as her direction. There is so much to discover in every line, and just as much in every pause between.

Phil rules through a thick veil, and only we, the audience, are privy to what’s beneath. Subtly manifesting shifting power dynamics, a crisis of masculinity, and psychosexual tension, Cumberbatch spits more venom than a poison-tip dart. Rose and Peter represent existential threats, forcing him to acknowledge buried confessions that keep him awake at night – and so, they must be destroyed. Smit-McPhee is another standout as Phil’s one true intellectual rival.

While a brasher climax could easily have taken from the film’s masterfully constructed slow burn, I wanted to feel more bruised as it faded to black. Still, The Power of the Dog soars as an examination of unfulfilled desire and tactful manipulation. A flawlessly crafted work with a unique story to tell.

Song of Destiny  | Regional News

Song of Destiny

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: James Judd

Michael Fowler Centre, 25th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

This was a weird but wonderful concert. There was a sparse audience, with even married couples sitting two seats apart! Though applause was therefore thin, conductor James Judd encouraged the audience to clap whenever they felt like it, so they did – between movements – in plenty. Why not, after all? No programmes either; instead Judd introduced each work. No interval. The whole thing felt oddly intimate and spontaneous. Congratulations to the NZSO for repeating the concert four times over three days to enable patrons to hear live music again.

Brahms’ Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), a choral setting of a poem by Hölderlin, is not often performed though it is a beautiful, intense, and dramatic piece. The poem’s verses contrast the blissful lives of celestial beings with the turmoil of human life. On this occasion, Voices New Zealand created both the ethereal sounds Brahms evoked for the first verse and the dramatic ferocity of the second with subtle, beautiful, and strong but unstrained singing. Brahms’ decision to have the third movement recreate the first movement for orchestra only restored a sense of tranquillity. This was a fitting choice by the NZSO and a hopeful one for troubled times.

The orchestra’s performance of Schicksalslied was full-hearted and secure. No doubt the dramatic, dynamic, and sparkling overture to Verdi’s opera Nabucco which preceded it warmed them up nicely. Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 completed the concert. The symphony includes music that is all of sweet, subdued, lilting, joyful, merry, lush, agitated, and strong. It was never tragic. If I could have chosen to be any instrumentalist for this work, I’d have been the flautist whose part, time after time, injected light, drama, and sparkle. But the trombones, trumpets and horns, the oboe, and lower strings all had their special moments. A very uplifting performance all round.

Winner Winner | Regional News

Winner Winner

46 Courtenay Place, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Winner Winner is a stylish, casual eatery on Courtenay Place that serves its customers ridiculously fast, but make no mistake: this is not a fast food joint. While our plates landed on our table less than 10 minutes after we ordered, the high-quality meals and wonderful service set Winner Winner apart as one of the best spots to eat in Wellington.

Knowing our eyes were too big for our stomachs, my friend and I ordered The Basic (free-range boneless chicken bites, brined for 12 hours and fried in buttermilk, served with ranch and McClure’s pickles), cheese and gravy fries, and a chicken sandwich apiece.

The Basic was crunchy on the outside and oh-so succulent on the inside. Salty, juicy, and bursting with flavour, this was easily the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Cheese and gravy fries are my undying love and this generous portion was no exception. The dark gravy was well balanced and not gluggy or fatty, while the shredded cheese melted off the steaming straight-cut fries in strings of creamy goodness. The chicken sandwich was in fact a burger that heroed a big ol’ hunk of hot-dipped fried chicken. The brioche bun was perfection but I would have loved a smoked rather than a mild cheese, as I think that would’ve hit the spicy flavour profile home. The iceberg was a welcome addition as I desperately needed to eat some greens by this point!

Also on the menu at Winner Winner is comfort food like potato and gravy, tater tots with Louisiana remoulade, and cheesy garlic bread, not to mention one of their specialties: fire-roasted chicken served with gravy. There are also vegan options and healthy choices like hearty seasonal salads, plus sweet treats like homemade pies. Surely even fussy eaters would find something to their taste.

Overall our experience at Winner Winner was exceptional, from the food to the sparkling clean space to the innovative ordering system (via QR code from your table). We found the service exemplary and enjoyed some great banter with a staff member whose smile was visible even behind his mask.

As a food reviewer it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve always considered KFC to be the holy grail of fried chicken. Dare I say it, but this restaurant is the Winner.

HOLE | Regional News

HOLE

Written by: Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards

Running at Circa Theatre until 18th Dec 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Antarctica is a heartbeat. Once a year it doubles its size, and then retracts. For millennia. One heartbeat.

Set in the 1980s, HOLE follows Greenpeace activist Bonny (Stevie Hancox-Monk), US Navy SEAL Ioane (Sepelini Mua’au), and Kiwi ozone scientist Stella (Elle Wootton) as they navigate not only a complex love triangle but also a clash of perspectives. Though vastly different in their ideologies, motivations, sexual orientations, and cultures, they learn that they all have one thing in common: their reverence and yearning to protect that which cannot protect itself; Antarctica.

A powerful call to action, HOLE is very clear in its intentions. Lynda Chanwai-Earle calls upon each and every one of us to recognise our impact and responsibility towards our climate crisis. By likening the continent to a heartbeat, Antarctica is rendered human, and suddenly we become intrinsically connected to what seemed like an abstract social phenomenon. By placing the climate crisis alongside other social issues such as racism, sexism, LQBTQIA+ rights, reparative justice, and global politics, climate change suddenly becomes a more pressing, urgent, even vital issue.

It is not only what HOLE says however but what HOLE does that is most commendable and inspiring. HOLE is eco-powered off-grid. Powered by Ice Floe Productions Tapui Ltd through solar and wind, the specially designed LED lights (lighting design by Isadora Lao) and sound production (sound design by Phil Brownlee, compositions by Gareth Farr ONZM, and AV design by Rachel Neser) aim to draw off only one-tenth of the power of normal theatre productions. On top of that the beautiful set, collaboratively designed by Jason O’Hara alongside directors Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards, is made from recycled and repurposed materials, along with the props and costumes. Even the wind turbine and solar panels that were originally donated have been repurposed from Chanwai-Earle’s past show HEAT.

HOLE is not only a story underscoring the climate crisis and urging us to make change; HOLE goes one step further and enacts that change. This production goes sustainably on tour across Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 and everyone should see it.

The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime | Regional News

The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 15th Jan

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale and by loosely I mean hardly at all. We have our Little Mermaid (here named Coral, played by Natasha McAllister), her handsome love interest Lyall (Jake McKay), and her crustacean friend Crabby (Trae Te Wiki), plus her voice-stealing, leg-bestowing aunty Bermuda (Kathleen Burns) and overbearing parent, the all-powerful Neptuna (Jthan Morgan). On the other hand, Morgan also plays a shag, assistant to the Land King Lando (Simon Leary), and Leary also plays a stingray. Then of course we have Gavin Rutherford, 12 years a Dame, as one Ms Shelly Bay. And did I mention the year is 3021?

If you can’t tell from my intro, The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime is an absolute hoot.

The cast gives 110 percent, with Morgan’s overenunciation as Neptuna a show highlight. McAllister is every bit the Disney princess while fizzing with feminist energy, and as her ‘prince’ Lyall, McKay is suitably clueless and wholesome… but never mean, which Disney sometimes forgets matters! Burns’ villainous turn as Bermuda prompts many a hearty boo, which she hilariously relishes. Leary plays a king under her spell and it’s so believable I’m quickly under his. As the energetic Crabby, Te Wiki’s quest for a home is both adorable and exploited – by our Dame, whose attempt to cook the hermit crab is one of my favourite scenes. Actually, every scene Rutherford’s in is my favourite!

The absolute fabulousness of Sheila Horton’s costume design is accentuated by Marcus McShane’s radiant lighting, which establishes whether the action is underwater or on land. Music director Michael Nicholas Williams’ brilliant arrangements are show stealing, especially thanks to McAllister and Morgan’s flashy choreography. With production design by Anna Lineham Robinson, it’s all tied together in the biggest, brightest bow by the all-knowing hand of director Susan Wilson.

Overflowing with puns and incorporating an inspired use of Sign Language, The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime is a whirlwind of colour and joy, sparkles and pure, blissful escape. Boy did I need that!

Tandy Dandy | Regional News

Tandy Dandy

Written by: Laura Gaudin

Directed by: Hamish Gaudin

BATS Theatre, 17th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Even if you’re not old enough to remember the TANDY-12 handheld arcade game from the early 1980s featuring “12 challenging games of skill” from electronic baseball to mole-catching and roulette, there is still much to love about this quirky physical theatre production in the intimate Studio space at BATS Theatre.

Tandy Dandy concerns a painfully agoraphobic young woman (Laura Gaudin) for whom the very thought of opening the front door of her house causes uncontrollable anxiety. Then, one day in the shower, she finds a comically long piece of string in the drain, on the end of which is a chirpy TANDY-12. Through its friendship and gentle encouragement, the young woman eventually finds the courage to face her fears and venture into the outside world.

With its flat cardboard set, paper cut-out props, and sliding shower curtain rails for scene changes (also Gaudin), Tandy Dandy has a charmingly homespun and wonderfully creative quality. Gaudin is also responsible for the music, much of which sounds like it has been generated from the electric beeps and trills of the TANDY-12’s Song Writer game (“Record a song of up to 44 notes!”).

As well as her creative talents, Gaudin is a gifted physical theatre performer whose delicate hands and feet, glimpsed through windows in her cardboard world, provide much of the wordless narrative. She anthropomorphises the visiting TANDY-12 into its own living, loving character that peeps round corners, performs a sexy dance with a towel, and creeps outside to pick a flower for its new human friend. Why it has mysteriously appeared from her shower drain is entirely unimportant.

Gaudin is ably supported on the lighting and sound desk by director Hamish Gaudin. He has done a fine job of presenting a well-developed story in a very limited space that is super cute and leaves a smile on the face. At just 25 minutes long, this is a tiny bundle of theatrical joy.

Hangmen | Regional News

Hangmen

Written by: Martin McDonagh

Directed by: Andrew Cross

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 27th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Written by the man responsible for Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I knew Hangmen would be dark. But I certainly wasn’t expecting the side-splitting humour, nor the pathos lurking beneath shades of grey in this disturbingly entertaining rollercoaster ride executed to perfection by Stagecraft Theatre. ‘Scuse the pun.

Harry (Chris O’Grady) is a hangman in the UK, second only to his arch nemesis Pierrepoint (Marty Pilott). When hanging is abolished in 1965, barflies hover at Harry’s pub. We have journalist Clegg (Rob Scott) seeking comment, Arthur (Barry Mawer) wanting clarification and Charlie (Steve Bell) providing it, Harry’s wife Alice (Simone Kennedy) watering Bill (Felicity Cozens) with pints, Inspector Fry (Lee Dowsett) on a very long lunch break, and Harry’s daughter Shirley (Maddy Johnston) just looking for a place to mope. At least according to her parents, anyway.

When mysterious stranger Mooney (Bruno Hart) arrives, immediately unsettling both characters and audiences alike, the plot thickens like rancid Guinness. More complications come with Syd (George Kenward Parker), Harry’s former assistant who helped hang the (maybe) innocent Hennessy (Robbie O’Hara).

I can’t begin to express how talented this cast is, with Hart in particular hitting every single beat while crafting his own with the help of formidable director Andrew Cross. Hart has the best sense of timing for black comedy that I’ve ever seen. O’Grady leans into the narcissistic elements of Harry beautifully, creating a protagonist I sometimes dislike more than Mooney. The snivelling Kenward Parker is another standout, eliciting sympathy for Syd that turns out to be quite unwarranted. I’ll have that sympathy back, thanks. And as our punters, Cozens, Bell, and Mawer bring out the heartiest laughs of them all.

Special mention to the elaborate set (Amy Whiterod) and Tanya Piejus’ sound design, which amplifies the tension with transitional music we all hum along to before being smacked in the face by the next scene.

Wow. Just wow. I’ve got no other words except… Go. See. This. Production.

Last Night in Soho | Regional News

Last Night in Soho

(R16)

117 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Much like Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), we too enter a neon-lit fever dream watching Last Night in Soho, a film that turns our nostalgia for the past into an inescapable nightmare. Edgar Wright’s directorial touch shines more than ever as he modernises and romanticises the classic thriller with assured awareness, propelling an intriguing mystery that has us waiting with bated breath for answers.

Eloise Turner is a young fashion student who lives for the Swinging Sixties. Though she’s excited to trade her rural surrounds for London, she quickly feels alienated by the big city and seeks refuge in a shabby Soho apartment, which she rents from one Mrs Collins (Dame Diana Rigg). Her new home comes with history, and when she falls asleep, Eloise is whisked away to the 60s she’s always dreamed of, where she is tethered to aspiring club singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy).

With films like Hot Fuzz (2007) and Baby Driver (2017) under his belt, Wright’s meticulous direction is well established, but never has he been more inventive than in Last Night in Soho. Like a kid in a candy store, he constantly finds fun ways to meld Eloise’s present with Sandy’s past; an early dance sequence that combines clever camera movement and precise choreography stands out as a moment of pure cinematic delight. From the costumes and the production design to the noirish lighting, soundtrack, and underbelly atmosphere, the 60s burst to life under Wright’s tutelage.

Wellington actress McKenzie fits beautifully into the world Wright creates and delivers a star-making performance. Tortured, mystified, and alone, she is the square peg trying to fit into the round hole, beautifully offset by the film’s well-cast ensemble. Taylor-Joy is a perfect counterpoint, but this is, without a doubt, McKenzie’s movie. In her final performance before her death last year, Rigg is as poised as ever, and Last Night in Soho serves as a worthy swan song for this screen legend.

Last Night in Soho harkens back to the type of dread felt in psychological thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960). I implore you to go in cold and experience Last Night in Soho spoiler-free; discovering its secrets is just too damn fun.