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Te Māpouriki Dusk | Regional News

Te Māpouriki Dusk

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Jun Märkl

Michael Fowler Centre, 24th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

It had been a number of years since I’d enjoyed the full force of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and Te Māpouriki Dusk was the perfect reintroduction. It was rehearsed to the measure; the concert felt effortless, a stress-free environment where musical freedom and fun prevailed.

The programme comprised five pieces that varied in every way one could imagine. At a glance I feared this would make for an incohesive show – a new work by Kiwi composer Kenneth Young, a lavish Mozart symphony, a horn feature, Schumann’s romantic first symphony – it seemed a bit much. Following the debut of Te Māpouriki – Dusk it all took shape. This was a show about journeys, through music, time, and space.

Never had I witnessed a conductor with as much vibrance as Jun Märkl. His control over dynamics and emotional output was simply astonishing, and perfectly conveyed to the orchestra.

Young’s piece opened the concert, grounding us in New Zealand before setting sail. It portrayed Captain James Cook’s trip from Europe to the Pacific, and we felt every bit of turbulence along the way. The piece exemplified Young’s marvellous understanding of the language. It had so many moving parts and transitions that caught us off-guard but never felt random, although it would have benefitted from some melodic repetition for the sake of clarity.

Principal horn Samuel Jacobs was responsible for the set’s highlight with Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, op. 11. His solo was the most visceral moment of the night; gliding over the orchestra, I felt as if I was floating there with him. He followed this with an encore on a valve-less horn. How he established such a warm tone and a lyrical, pitch-perfect sound on this primeval instrument I’ll never know.

My friend, attending his first classical concert, left the show with fascinating questions and awesome observations. For the uninitiated, this was a great introduction to the classical world. For the familiar, it was just great.

Monster Songs | Regional News

Monster Songs

Directed by: Ben Emerson

Running at BATS Theatre until 30th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Having witnessed WITCH productions in the past, I knew this would be a night of exceptional musical theatre. Even so, Monster Songs exceeded my expectations.

The raised stage (production design by Joshua Tucker) looks set for some serious freakiness before anyone takes to it, with a grunge-punk vibe continued in Jodi Walker’s on-point costumes – think pleather, mesh, and nipple pasties. Dry ice shrouds backlit silhouettes. Hair billows as performers come crashing to their knees. Soloists strike tableaus, illuminated by stage lighting fit for a concert hall. The design aesthetic is at once cohesive and arresting. It’s all about drama, and the shrieking audience is here for it.

The setlist comprises songs for and by the misfits: think Beetlejuice and Bowie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Radiohead. Some numbers send shivers down my spine, causing those rare pins-and-needles chills one craves in musical theatre. The climax of Natasha McAllister’s stunning Creep is one such moment, though the intro is a tad shaky tonight. With multi-part harmonies, the whole cast meets the challenge of the complex Gaga For Rent medley. Kree McMillan’s powerhouse vocals cause many a whistle, her performance of Sweet Transvestite with exquisite harmonies from Jonathan Morgan a wicked delight.

Jade Thomson’s gorgeous Dancer stands out to me for its understated grace amidst such larger-than-life numbers, as does Joseph Mara’s Life On Mars? Caitlin Penrose’s affecting Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is my – if not the – show highlight. She brings the house down.

Tying it all together is the supremely talented one-man band Daniel Hayles, with brilliant choreography by McAllister, Emily Downs, and Leigh Evans.

A few song choices are weaker than others – despite Devon Neiman’s impassioned performance, my companion and I both disliked the seven-minute, melody-meagre Leave Luanne. Opening night nerves mean it sometimes seems like the singers are trying to outdo each other, and transitions are a little clunky in places; both minor issues that will likely resolve over the season.

And what a season it is. Monster Songs is unmissable, heart-palpitating entertainment.

Fanfare for the Common Man | Regional News

Fanfare for the Common Man

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 19th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Orchestra Wellington’s large following is a well-deserved result of innovative programming, quality performances and a good deal of community outreach. As part of that outreach, the orchestra was joined by Arohanui Strings, a group of young people – some very young – from Wellington and the Hutt who are receiving a music education as part of a social development programme. They were a delight. There was one small girl in particular who looked as if she was on her way to rivalling Amalia Hall.

Hall, normally the orchestra’s concertmaster, was the soloist for Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. The first two movements of the Violin Concerto are reflective and melodious and demand expressiveness from the soloist. There are luscious moments for the oboe, clarinet, and horn as well. All the elements were there for these two movements, though I could have wished for a fuller, warmer tone from the violin or maybe a better balance between orchestra and soloist. The third movement bursts out in a storm of perpetual motion. Hall’s virtuosic performance of this movement was astonishingly well sustained throughout.

The other work on the programme was Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3. Like Barber, Copland was a mid-20th century American composer who avoided the more radical musical idioms of the day, Barber remaining essentially a romanticist and Copland focusing on conveying American ideals and spirit. If much of the Barber work was introspective, Copland’s work was quite the opposite. His intent was to reflect the feelings of optimism and positivity prevalent in the United States after the Second World War. It is a monumental work with a peaceful, almost dreamy start, progressing to passages of dashing exuberance and lyricism before arriving at the last movement that incorporates the theme of an earlier work, Fanfare for the Common Man, a clamouring, triumphant, and patriotic shot in the arm. Well done again, Orchestra Wellington.

Joker | Regional News



121 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Just as I thought we’d reached the peak of what a cinematic Joker could be, Joaquin Phoenix and writer-director Todd Phillips delve into an entirely new interpretation with a supremely focused character study that effectively disturbs and distresses.

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is scraping by in the bowels of Gotham City’s underworld, struggling to care for his mother while suffering from mental illness and a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably in times of discomfort. Arthur becomes further unhinged as his world continues to alienate him, and he begins to embrace the comedy he sees amongst the violent madness.

The Joker is a wonderfully adaptable character. He can function as a clown, a murderous psychopath, or a combination of the two. He is rarely portrayed realistically, and the mystery that clouds the character’s origin has enthralled fans for almost 80 years. Phoenix transforms over the course of the movie and we feel the danger intensify from frame to frame. Fleck begins as an outcast, misunderstood and abused. Once liberated, we see his body language and vocal cadence change organically as Phillips’ direction allows us to empathise with this disillusioned man.

Joker finds strength in its disconnection from the books that inspire it, which I say as a huge fan of comics. This is not a Batman story, and this Joker more closely resembles Travis Bickle than any previous iteration. Phillips unashamedly taps into influence from Taxi Driver and the style of Martin Scorsese, rediscovering a tone that mainstream theatres have been missing.

While the influence is there it isn’t a crutch, as the writing, direction, editing, and breathtaking cinematography (we can almost feel the grime on Gotham’s streets) support the weight of Phoenix’s masterful performance. A special mention must go to Robert De Niro as talk-show host Murray Franklin; his timing and prowess shine more in the short time he spends on-screen here than in any of his recent performances.

My eyes have not been glued to a screen like this in quite some time. I’m already itching to experience it again.

Cock | Regional News


Written by: Mark Bartlett

Directed by: Shane Bosher

Running at Circa Theatre until 9th Nov, 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

While on a break from his snarky, sneering boyfriend M (Simon Leary), John (Jack Buchanan) falls for a woman, W (Karin McCracken). After cheating on M again when they reconcile, John must choose between the person he has been with for seven years or the person he has just met; between security and vulnerability, knowledge and discovery, M and W.

But John flounders, shudders, a vessel of guts and nerves wrapped up warm and cosy in a flannel T-shirt.

Incensed by such indecision, M insists on meeting W. And so begins the most awkward dinner party in the history of dinner parties. Because the audience is illuminated at close quarters on this thrust stage, we see others cringe and spasm more than the characters they’re captivated by. I watch through my fingers and chew my programme as M’s dad (played by Matt Chamberlain) informs John that being gay is fixed, being gay is forever.

On that note, Cock addresses, then fiercely rejects antiquated notions of sexuality. Remembering the play is set amid a monogamous relationship, M’s confrontation of the stigma around bisexuality is one such brilliant moment. “Yes John”, he spits, “it’s fine to be both, it’s absolutely fine to be both, but not at the same time.”

What we have then is a razor-sharp, progressive, powerful work capable of provoking vital conversation afterwards that’s as funny as all hell during.

With no set, no lighting cues, and no music – save for a disarming boom between scenes that makes a lot of people jump – the actors must carry it all on a barren, bright white stage. Luckily, these cast members have arms of steel, wholly inhabiting their roles. I want to have the best argument of my life with M, shake the living daylights out of John, console and bolster W, and do what she did to M’s dad. No spoilers here, but these exceptional actors make their characters feel vividly, painfully alive.

Kris Kristofferson | Regional News

Kris Kristofferson

Michael Fowler Centre, 11th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

I’m sad to say it was lethargy that drove me from the concert hall at half time. Lethargy on behalf of not only Kristofferson himself but a lacklustre band, made up of the late Merle Haggard’s sidemen: Scott Joss on violin, Doug Colosio on keyboards, and Jeff Ingraham on drums. It was a backing band that could have, should have, driven the singer to better heights.

I take no pleasure in slagging off one of my heroes, although even that needs quantifying. Years ago, a major record company executive was being interviewed at a Highwaymen (the supergroup formed by Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash) concert in which they performed to some 60,000. When asked if he would sign any of the artists individually, he retorted a firm “No!”

When asked why not, he said their time had come and gone and that the newer country-loving audience preferred the likes of the then up-and-coming Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam, and George Strait. In other words, the Big Hat brigade.

So being the rebel (I thought I was) I took sides with their stance against overproduced Nashville music. Strange how it’s all come full circle and bands such as Drive By Truckers and The Felice Brothers are now producing themselves.

At 83 years of age, it seems time has finally caught up with Kristofferson. Though, to be fair there was a stellar group of compositions to be aired. With a voice barely above a warbling whisper, the lack of energy just sapped the room. The nimble fingerpicking has totally deserted him to the point of making me wonder if he knew more than two chords.

Perhaps a shorter concert with no intermission may have satisfied me more. I’m just sad that I missed my favourite Kristofferson song A Moment Of Forever but I am glad that I heard Help Me Make It Through The Night, a song that echoes Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay in portraying a one-night stand without overtones of anything else.

Frankenstein!! | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: HK Gruber and Håkan Hardenberger

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

HK Gruber conducted the first half of this concert and composed two items within it. Born in Austria in 1943, Gruber turned away from the music of avant-garde atonal contemporaries, wishing to focus on music that would be accessible and less academic. Ironically, scores of NZSO subscribers gave this concert a miss, as they perhaps would a concert of those atonal contemporaries. They missed a lot of fun.

The concert opened with the mid-18th century Toy Symphony, whose composer is unknown. Included in the orchestra for this sprightly performance were toy instruments: a rattle, a whistle, a recorder, a triangle, and a discordant tooting horn.

Then came Stravinsky’s Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant. It was composed for a ballet for 50 ballerinas atop 50 elephants wearing pink tutus. We were without the elephants or the ballerinas, but it was not hard to imagine them.

Completing the first half was Gruber’s Aerial for orchestra and trumpet featuring Håkan Hardenberger. Apparently, Hardenberger was involved in the work’s development, demonstrating to Gruber what the trumpet could do. Hardenberger variously played the standard trumpet, a piccolo trumpet, and an archaic cow horn. Astonishingly, he also sang and blew notes simultaneously, each distinctly heard. Musically, the work contained some wonderfully unusual soundscapes, both delicate and dramatically jagged.

The classicism of Haydn’s Symphony No. 22, conducted by Hardenberger, was a welcome return to the known. The first movement is a miracle of measured beauty.

The audience loved the final work, Frankenstein!! Toy instruments featured again, including bursting paper bags and whirling hose pipes. The orchestra rose and sang at one point. It was a great piece of theatre with a mesmerising Gruber half singing, half speaking the lines of somewhat sinister children’s rhymes that referenced popular characters such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Superman, John Wayne, and Batman.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, this concert, but pretty amazing.

Here’s a Thing! NZIF Kickoff | Regional News

Here’s a Thing! NZIF Kickoff

Directed by: Jennifer O’Sullivan

BATS Theatre, 9th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

“Who’s got a thing?” asks New Zealand Improv Festival (NZIF) director and tonight’s vibrant MC Jennifer O’Sullivan. “I’ve got a thing!” eight improvisors respond enthusiastically in turn. Cam Percy, Daniel Allan, George Fenn, Jason Geary, Katherine Weaver, Lyndon Hood, Liz Butler, and Tara McEntee all step up over the course of this casual but well-run show. After a brief ‘interview’ with O’Sullivan, in which the amusingly underprepared candidates haphazardly detail their upcoming NZIF shows, they propose and direct their fellow cast members in an improv game.

Audiences are treated to a pop-up storybook, a monologue from a superhero, a conversation made up entirely of the word “mate”, and much more. Familiarity isn’t a requisite; each game is explained clearly and concisely by its director, and of course, nothing in improv is ever the same.

For example, one scene tonight features Weaver, Hood, Geary, and Fenn. After accepting obscure audience suggestions – spoon, teacher, rollercoaster, and cat – they each take turns outlining the way their characters die. Links between characters are quickly and cleverly woven and in the end, the reapers responsible are a loose screw, a stuffy backpack, a handle in a heart, and height. What we’re witnessing then is something that will never happen again. It’s a special feeling for those in the room. Great improv deepens bonds with people we know and forges bonds with people we don’t. This is great improv.

O’Sullivan expertly oversees the show, ensuring it runs smoothly and doesn’t derail. Individual directors are also quick to step in when needed, with fast thinking from improvisors on the sidelines sprinkling hilarity to stop things falling flat. Fenn running past as a skyscraper is one such moment.

I find myself craving more throwbacks to characters and situations from previous scenes throughout the night, but overall, this Thing! is a rollicking good time. Our improvisors are equally matched in talent, wit, and alacrity, dolling out delicious tasters of what is bound to be a brilliant festival.

Jojo Rabbit | Regional News

Jojo Rabbit


108 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In his most light-hearted film to date, Taika Waititi reminds us that it’s okay to laugh to overcome hate. Jojo Rabbit is a comedy, through and through, and those looking for a gloomy tale about World War II should look elsewhere. Alternatively, this is a heart-warming, gut-busting tale about learning to think for yourself; overcoming the influence of a world full of hate to decide what is truly right.

At 10 years old, Jojo Betzler’s (Roman Griffin Davis) views on the war are naïve and childish. He’s a self-confessed “Hitler fanatic” who treats the leader like his favourite celebrity. He soon discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl, in the attic. Jojo must confront his blind nationalism in the form of his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).

Due to his age, Jojo is largely shielded from the true horrors of WWII. It is not until he is confronted by grief resulting directly from it that he begins to see the full picture. This film is not gratuitous. It doesn’t have to be, nor does it promise to be. But Jojo does not escape the Nazi regime without experiencing his share of trauma.

Taika’s screenplay gives comic talents moments to shine without detracting from the characters who really matter. Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, and Taika himself never outstay their welcome, but eat up every second they have in this vibrant world. The relationships Davis portrays are visceral, particularly with McKenzie and Johansson, and this is what the film is concerned with. Each actor conveys their character’s position, and sense of humour, with pure sincerity. Who should Jojo trust: His country? His mother? Elsa? By the end, certainly not his ridiculous unicorn-eating fantasy of Adolf Hitler.

Jojo Rabbit is not about a boy learning by witnessing horrific acts, it’s about a boy talking to other human beings and concluding that they are all equal. This message just happens to be delivered through the funniest script of the year.