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Reviews

Wisdom of Waters | Regional News

Wisdom of Waters

Presented by: Speaking Spines

BATS Theatre, 3rd March 2021

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Coming in at just under an hour, Wisdom of Waters felt like the Level 2 escapism I needed. It is the first full-length dance work by former Footnote dancer Georgia Beechy, and it bubbles with potential.

This languid contemporary work is presented by an all-female collective, Speaking Spines, who are new on the Wellington dance scene – hence the New Zealand Fringe Festival premiere. The performance is a trance-like exploration of movement and women’s experience, told through the limber bodies of five extraordinary wāhine.  

The piece boasts strong imagery and powerful messages of connection. Clad in silky red dresses and skirts, the dancers wind their way across the stage and between one another. There is an element of restraint to their movement, but it doesn’t feel overtly careful, it feels purposeful, it feels investigative.

A dreamy soundscape, created by Ludus, delicately threads the work together with a combination of ambience and electronica. The dancers seamlessly respond to the sound in their bodies and in their presence. One section sees the group come together in an Irish folky ritual of rhythmic body slaps and foot stomps. It conveys a beautiful moment of both unity and liberation.

The colour red acts as a significant motif through the costumes and ribbons, which are weaved throughout the performance on a wooden frame. Complementing the raw movement, it seems to connote the experience of a woman on her period, in childbirth, and at crossroads. In one cleverly constructed scene we see the hands of temptation reaching through the woven frame, extending apples to a resigned ‘Eve’.

The work is truly experimental and doesn’t try to hide the fact. Sometimes it is clear that there are moments of improvisation, but it doesn’t detract from the wider performance. It is exciting to see new and passionate dance artists putting themselves out there and testing their artistic prowess. I would be more than happy to sit down for another Speaking Spines production.            

Campfire Calamity | Regional News

Campfire Calamity

Written by: Stacey (Ace) Dalziel and Isaac Andrews

Directed by: Stacey (Ace) Dalziel and Isaac Andrews

Te Auaha, 27th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

I’ve always been passionate about prioritising transparency and communication when it comes to topics and issues that might be considered controversial. Campfire Calamity does exactly that. The show creates a space to deal with confrontational topics like self-harm and suicide, and gives a voice to those whose gender identity and/or coming out stories aren’t often seen in mainstream media.

A queer, coming-of age comedy, Campfire Calamity follows a group of teens on a mandatory school camping trip, accompanied by their somewhat problematic and eccentric teacher (Jodie Lawrence).

Immediately, the nature of the show is intimate and personal. As the characters introduce themselves to each other, we learn a little something about each of them and what makes them unique. While some fall into stereotypes, and some performances feel unnatural, the dialogue is well written and realistic, making this story one which resonates with just about everyone. I’m particularly invested in Xavier’s (Isaac Andrews) character and story, and feel every emotion alongside him.

Performers often speak directly to the audience; we are a part of this journey, and are invited to listen in on their secrets. The set design is also representative of the audience’s inclusion in the group; with a dimly lit campfire at the front of the stage, and bench seats on either side of it for the actors, the audience seating makes up the other side of the circle around the fire.

Both the lighting (Lucas Zaner) and sound design (Dom van de burg) are simple but effective, mostly working to establish time and setting. Lighting in particular plays a major role in the comedic daydream sequences and flashbacks.

Overall, this piece is entertaining and feels like exactly the kind of theatre we need in our society. It feels like a story from real people, telling their authentic truth. I’d love to know a little bit more about these characters’ journeys, and I think there is space for some further character development. Bring on Campfire Calamity 2.0.

Cousins | Regional News

Cousins

(PG)

83 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Like many great films, the quietest moments in Cousins often ring the loudest. A story entrenched in Māori heritage, a few forced lines and predictable plot points barely detract from the near-spiritual realm it takes us to, or the significance of its creation.

Cousins was adapted from Patricia Grace’s novel of the same name, following three separated cousins throughout their youth, adulthood, and later years. Mata, who now wanders Cuba Street seemingly aimless, was adopted by a European family when her mother died and made to feel ashamed of her Māori roots. She reminisces over the short time she spent with her true whānau while cousins Missy and Makareta long for her return.

Directors Briar Grace-Smith and Ainsley Gardiner keep a firm hand on the source material and bask in the story’s inherent power. For a film that doesn’t even reach the hour-and-a-half mark to define three characters at three different points in their lives is an achievement in itself. Defining the world they inhabit in visceral detail adds the necessary colour and mystique, and director of photography Raymond Edwards deserves praise for creating an atmosphere that makes the character’s whenua (family land) appear like a rural fantasy.

The co-directors wisely centralise Mata, doing well to familiarise us with the cousins considering they are each played by three different actors in a non-linear tale. Although, with some mixed results. Sharp changes in behaviour sometimes make me lose sight of the progression of these women, though Tanea Heke (Older Mata), Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne (Adult Makareta), and Rachel House (Older Missy) deliver standout performances, plus Ana Scotney is absolutely transfixing as Adult Mata. Somehow, editor Alex Boyd manages to weave their stories with ease, they just contain too few surprises.   

Grace-Smith and Gardiner linger on poignant moments, capturing traditional cultural practices like the hongi and tā moko in intimate ways. As a Kiwi, these small moments resonate, even if the dialogue around them feels unnatural at times. Cousins will transcend you to another world, albeit a familiar one. 

That Bloody Woman | Regional News

That Bloody Woman

Written by: Luke di Somma and Gregory Cooper

Directed by: Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay

Gryphon Theatre, 24th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Through live music and storytelling, That Bloody Woman is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Turns out, when you combine classic Aotearoa history with contemporary dirty humour and a punk-rock aesthetic, it works pretty darn well.

Following the life of Kate Sheppard (Frankie Leota), the cast of That Bloody Woman takes us on the whirlwind journey of the New Zealand suffragette movement. Leota is supported by an epic ensemble (Aimée Sullivan, Kate Boyle, Allison Phillips, Jayne Grace, Megan Neill, Chris Gordon, and Angus Dunn), who jump in and out of different characters. Her challenger is none other than politician Richard Seddon (Chris Green), who is best suited to his nickname ‘Dick’.

The band at the back of the stage is the only permanent set, though interestingly, the wings have been removed to reveal backstage. Props, set pieces, and microphones are typically transported by the cast, though occasionally by two stagehands. This choice takes away from the seamlessness of the production somewhat. However, paired with the open backstage, it does make sense for us to see it all.

The lighting (Mike Slater) is colourful, bright, energetic, and absolutely reflective of the energy of the cast. The music (musical direction by Katie Morton, sound design by Patrick Barnes), performed by the live band and sung by different cast members, feels flawless and has the audience completely invested.

Each cast member is full of immense talent in every aspect, but I am most impressed by the ensemble – specifically the five women in their mismatched plaid and badass attitudes. Not only are they hilarious, they repeatedly verbalise my thoughts and feelings whenever Dick Seddon says something misogynistic.

While there are minor technical issues and a couple of questionable artistic choices (I will never find red MAGA – or ‘Make Dick Great Again’ – hats humorous), That Bloody Woman is a wonderful production. With the energy, the music, and the enlightening performances, this show is truly unique and heart-warming.

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls | Regional News

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls

Written by: Sarah Boddy

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer

BATS Theatre, 16th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls follows Lulu (Lola Gonzalez Boddy) and her mother (Sarah Boddy, known simply as Mum) as they navigate the complexities of growing up, and raising a child, in the digital age. Lulu’s relationship with Mum is going through the wringer, while her friendship with her bestie Lucy (Emma Rattenbury) has been rocky since she got with Blue. It all comes to a head when the two girls go to a party, vodka cruisers in hand. 

It sounds like the recipe for a great comedy, and for the most part the play is. But underneath the LOLs and witty one-liners (many of which are delivered flawlessly by Gonzalez Boddy), tension and terror brews. Lucas Neal’s sleek production design eloquently expresses the way social media can dominate our lives. The four screens that loom over the stage are underutilised – I particularly wanted them to show the missed calls and messages from Mum when Lulu misses curfew, matching the hectic sound design (Isaac Rajan) that builds to a climax at this point.

A huge shift occurs after this that echoes how quickly and drastically a whole world can change. It’s confronting but there is so much support offered to the audience, and the actors, who have to portray horrific events, do so with respect and dignity.

I’m not a teenager, nor am I a mother. I was able to identify with both Lulu and Mum, cringing at them and with them in turn. Boddy has risen to the challenge of writing flawed but loveable characters that we can all relate to, no matter what life stage we’re in. To see a real-life mother-daughter duo onstage living this dynamic is a real pleasure. Exceptional in their own right, their chemistry is a given. Rattenbury slots right in, elevating the atmosphere with an easy grace and giddy charm.

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls makes me want to put my phone down and hug the people I love.

Synthony | Regional News

Synthony

TSB Arena, 12th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Graeme King

On Friday night at the packed TSB Arena the full might of Orchestra Wellington combined with spine-tingling electronic dance music, played through a state-of-the-art sound system, and featuring a dynamic laser-light show, to create a truly immersive experience.

Synthony has been called “a celebration of the last 30 years of dance music” and the audience, singing and dancing for almost two hours, would agree.

The set by DJ Greg Churchill warmed the crowd up, and it was clear that by the time George FM DJ and host General Lee introduced conductor Brent Stewart and Orchestra Wellington, it was time to party!

Some of the most iconic electronic dance tracks were reimagined with full orchestral power to sound like nothing heard before: Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now, Avicii’s Levels, Rudimental’s Feel the Love, and the encore of Darude’s Sandstorm were standouts. Eric Prydz’s Proper Education – powerfully sung by Jason Kerrison – and Cherie Mathieson’s sultry version of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) had the audience singing loud enough to almost raise the roof! Jason’s guitar playing on Don't Hold Back gave the song an exciting edge.

Ria Hall was in sublime form – especially with the last track You Got the Love. The other guest vocalists Hannah Rees and Nate Dousand, together with the silky-smooth saxophone of Lewis McCallum, had the audience in the palms of their outstretched hands.

It was a sensory overload – a spiritually uplifting and almost joyous occasion, and the addition to the stage of the five-piece drum group Taikoza only added to the pulsating, climactic last tracks.

However, the party wasn't over yet – there was still another set by DJ Dick Johnson to keep the capacity crowd of 4000 happy and dancing into Saturday morning.

Overall, this was a stunning production by founder Erika Amoore and arranger Ryan Youens, helped by the slick host work of General Lee. I highly recommend Synthony to anyone that likes a dance party – especially as Ibiza's probably out for a while yet.

Another Round | Regional News

Another Round

(M)

117 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Much like a drunken night on the town, Another Round has ups and downs, highs and lows, and twists and turns. Under the thumb of a captivating lead performance by Mads Mikkelsen, there is only one word that truly sums up the ride our audience was taken on: intoxicating.

Four Danish high school teachers have hit a wall. Of the four, Martin (Mikkelsen) is in the greatest funk; bored with his work, his marriage, his life. Psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) introduces his friends to a theory that humans are born with a blood alcohol content 0.05 percent too low, arguing that maintaining a level of drunkenness makes you more creative, energetic, and relaxed.

The story does not crucify these men for their actions, which would have been a simple and much less interesting direction to take it. Instead, we root for them. We see how severely unhappy they are, and how this experiment – at least at first – lights a spark in each of their lives. The actors portray this earnestly. Each character reacts to alcohol differently, and it is clearly defined how each functions with a 0.05 percent BAC versus a 1.5 percent BAC.

Another Round serves as a reminder of why the collective cinematic experience is one we cannot sacrifice. Thomas Vinterberg’s film forces you to react, be it with a laugh, a wince, or a tear. While it is fun watching these men stumble their way through the working day, it’s the realistic portrayal of alcoholism that makes the film funny and heart-wrenching in equal measure. For each member of the audience, individually, there was a moment when the laughter stopped.

It’s a shame that Another Round will likely be denigrated to foreign-language categories come awards season, as it clearly deserves to be up there with the big boys (namely, American films). At the very least, Mikkelsen deserves a best actor nod. He is one of those rare stars that does a lot with a little, captivating me with every piercing look or smirk. What a beautiful, beautiful ride indeed.

Caburlesque – cABBAlesque | Regional News

Caburlesque – cABBAlesque

Presented by: LadyTramp Designs Ltd

Fringe Bar, 6th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Marrying cabaret and burlesque, Caburlesque is the longest running variety show of its kind in Wellington. For this jam-packed ABBA-themed rendition, I’m thrilled to join such an enthusiastic crowd. So enthusiastic, in fact, a bunch of hecklers regularly howl for “Carol”. The Carollers are handled beautifully by hostess with the mostess Sadie von Scrumptious, whose wicked sense of humour grows on me as she introduces the fABBAlous acts in turn.

The Red Queens kick it all off with a silly and sparkly, funny and fun belly dance to The Winner Takes It All. Felix Goodfellow then treats us to a swipe-right soirée, complete with a sequined eggplant I can’t describe in any more detail here. Taking the stage next – well, taking the pole – is the talented Cardiac Mercenary, who wows the crowd with trick after trick to a metal cover of an ABBA song. The darker notes of this routine feel out of place to me, but hey, they don’t call it a variety show for nothing!

Brightening the vibe is Rosina June with a sweet little karaoke number before Felicity Frockaccino comes in hot (pink) with a wholesome yet fierce lip-sync to Dancing Queen. Anglebert Humpermink brings the big mo and big energy to Does Your Mother Know, while Pip E-Lysaah has me watching her honey-centric act through my fingers. No spoilers here but boy did I screech. Then it’s time for Maree Prebensen and Giada Caluzzi’s dazzling pole routine to Money, Money, Money. Both look so at home on the stage and their chemistry crackles when they perform together. Constance Craving’s act sees her swap out lyrics in Mamma Mia to diss the movie, and while I wholeheartedly disagree (Mamma Mia is the most delightful film and I am willing to fight you on this), it’s one of my favourite performances of the night.

Ellie Kat’s lip-sync to an ABBA medley is the perfect finale. We’re boogieing in our seats, ready to go out into the night to – hopefully – find that blasted Carol.

Brown Crown | Regional News

Brown Crown

Written by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

Directed by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

BATS Theatre, 4th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Brown Crown follows the journey of a young Sāmoan woman, Masina (Falesafune Fa’afia-Maualaivao), as she navigates a contemporary world surrounded by never-ending expectations and legacies to uphold. As Masina finds her place in the world, her story is shown in conjunction with the old legend of Nafanua told to her by her grandmother.

From the moment I enter the space I’m overwhelmed by the calm and intimate atmosphere created. The room is dimly lit, with the main source of light coming from the display of large, hanging photo frames in the centre of the stage, filled with images cast from a projector (set design by Sarai Perenise-Ropeti). Masina’s story is told primarily from her family living room, set in front of the frames which are filled beautifully with family photos. When we travel in time and into the legend of Nafanua, a strong and empowering woman and warrior, the action takes place behind the frames, with dim red light cast on the figures. The use of set and lighting (Matilde Furholm) to guide us through time and location is unique, dynamic, and absolutely exquisite. Including beautifully choreographed fight scenes (depicted through dance), each aspect of the piece plays a key role in the production, and each works to complement the rest.

With the exception of the lead role, Masina, each actor takes on several characters. Actors Fa’afia-Maualaivao, Kasi Valu, John Ulu Va'a, and Ahry Purcell work wonderfully together; I’m amazed at how well they all convey the unique personalities and stories of each of their characters.

Complete with intimate storytelling, modern comedy, and both traditional and contemporary dance, Brown Crown observes the exploration of culture and identity. The story reflects on the weight Pasifika women carry on their shoulders, but is one that resonates with everyone; there’s not a soul in the audience who doesn’t empathise with Masina throughout her journey.

Beautifully written and directed, this story has me covered in goosebumps, on the verge of tears, and hysterical with laughter. What an incredible opening night.