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Reviews

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit? | Regional News

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit?

Directed by: Luke Eisemann

Dillinger’s Brasserie & Bar, 14th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I dare you to say “1920s-themed murder mystery and cocktail night” and not get excited. Go on. That’s right, it’s impossible because it’s the coolest premise ever. Dillinger’s Who Dunnit? lives up to the hype.

From the minute I walk through Dillinger’s doors I’m immersed in the world of the speakeasy. A wonderful band plays while a roving actor greets me in an American accent and gestures towards a free drink, my favourite kind. In this case, it’s a French 75 and it’s delicious. Costume designer Jessea St-Louis has done an exquisite job of decking the actors out in 20s garb, with audiences rising to the challenge too. Some are so well dressed I can’t tell them apart from the cast, which shows the level of enthusiasm at play here.

It's prohibition time, but thankfully, we’re treated to drinks that are totally not alcoholic or illegal. There’s rosemary not-gin, cinnamon barely-bourbon, and I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-absinthe, which we sample from Clara Cameron (played by Susannah Donovan), Jack Boggins (Tyler Clarke), and feminist icon Daphne Montgomery (Rebecca Wilson). Each character pours out their tipples and their hearts as sinister secrets start to emerge.

When mob boss Babyface Morraine (Blake Willis, who delivers minimum dialogue with maximum impact) dies under suspicious circumstances, it’s up to the audience to figure out whodunnit and why. We’re presented with clues while we snack on sliders and more nibbles in what turns out to be the tastiest treasure hunt ever. Audiences pry actors for more details and more tips, with some tables discovering titbits others don’t. Then, detective Lisa Mason (Ana Clarke) has us put it all together in an interrogation where we must uncover the murderer.

Every detail of this experience has been meticulously thought out, with total commitment from all parties on all sides. There’s even a special cocktail menu that utilises the ‘teas’ we’ve been sampling. Audiences are free to mingle or partake, but we all give it 100 percent in what turns out to be a dazzling evening filled with great food, drink, theatre, and laughter. Hear, hear!

Dry Spell | Regional News

Dry Spell

Presented by: Footnote New Zealand Dance

Opera House, 11th May 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Choreographed by the promising Rose Philpott and performed by five dexterous dancers, Dry Spell dives into budding external relationships and fraught intrapersonal relationships through hedonistic contemporary dance and introspective movement.

The dancers, Oliver Carruthers, Emma Cosgrave, Veronica ChengEn Lyu, Levi Siaosi, and Cecilia Wilcox, impress their youthful exuberance and release their inhibitions in this passionate work. They modulate between moments of unity and synchronicity and highlight their tight group dynamic in the way they share the stage and effortlessly weave their bodies together. There are impressive feats of contortion and evocative moments of choreographic repetition. However, the work lulls in parts and there is a lack of transitional cohesion, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch.

The beginning of the performance packs a punch with a fun retro sequence of movement and music, which seems to shift through different eras and into a futuristic existence. The dancers cackle and occasionally vocalise their thoughts and feelings, and we are briefly led to believe that the manic scape before us is in the head of one of the dancers. The overall vibe is a playful one but there is an underlying darkness and pressure to the work, which is particularly highlighted when each dancer mounts a set of stairs and then leaps off into an unknown abyss.

The diverse soundscape of Eden Mulholland is an excellent accompaniment to the undulating rhythm and mood of the piece. The dancers respond well to Mulholland’s loud and demanding composition and seem to thrive with its challenge. There is rarely a moment of reprieve, and each artist brings a unique energy to the stage. The standouts are Wilcox and Carruthers, the latter being a dancer that I have been impressed by before.

While aspects of Dry Spell could be teased out and explored a little more, Philpott has a distinctive style of artistic direction, and her dancers commit themselves wholeheartedly to the work, making for an engaging evening of contemporary dance.

Translations  | Regional News

Translations

Written by: Brian Friel

Directed by: Mary Coffey

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 14th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Translations is a play about language, identity, and home set in a hedge school in the town of Baile Beag in County Donegal in August 1833. The tight-knit townspeople speak Irish and learn Greek and Latin from the perpetually drunk Master Hugh (Malcolm Gillett), who has no interest in teaching them English despite the pleas of young Maire (Áine Gallagher). Maire wants to move to America, much to the heartbreak of her long-admirer Manus (Finnian Nacey). When Manus’ brother Owen (Jonathan Beresford) comes back to town with an army of British colonisers, led by the unyielding Lancey (Chris O’Grady), everything changes. Especially when Maire meets a doe-eyed Yolland, aka George (Rhaz Solomon).

Brian Friel’s script is lyrical and intriguing. Actors use English whether their characters speak English or Irish, which means audiences are privy to amusing mistranslations. The most beautiful instance of this, and my favourite scene, is when Maire and George try desperately to communicate their love for one another.

The pacing of the script feels a little off to me, with very slow exposition at the start, then a peak just before a half-time break, and finally action that screeches to a halt just before the climax. Monologues about mythology and folklore are eloquent and passionately delivered, especially by Gillett in the final scene and Marty Pilott as his character Jimmy finally gets engaged to his dream goddess Athena, but they come at times when I want to check in with other characters outside of these moments.

Moments is a good word to sum up this production, with a stunning lighting design (Sarah Arndt, kudos for the fire) that heightens some exceptional performances. Special mention to Helen Mackenzie for her committed portrayal of a non-verbal character and to Solomon for his endearing, near-constant apologies.

Add Amy Whiterod’s set and Meredith Dooley’s costume design to the mix and Stagecraft Theatre has created a vivid and captivating world for Translations to unfold.

Follow The Money | Regional News

Follow The Money

Presented by: Long Cloud Youth Theatre

Te Whaea: National Dance and Drama Centre, 27th Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Long Cloud Youth Theatre has been developing the next generation of Wellington performance talent for more than 15 years by devising exciting, innovative, and experimental works that push the boundaries of traditional theatre. Follow The Money is their latest offering and is a modern meditation on capitalism seen from the unique perspective of Generation Z.

19 young performers dressed in muted corporate attire deliver a series of avant-garde theatre-dance-comedy vignettes broadly on the theme of how money affects the world around us. They range from aggressively mysterious NFT sales pitches, how the world hates the super-rich and digs at the facile attitude of the National Party, to the seductiveness of coupons and discounts at your favourite retail outlets, the need for students to work part-time while studying, and the stress of the endless emails and notifications that pop up on our cell phones reminding us of unpaid bills, lapsed subscriptions, and declined EFTPOS transactions.

The performance starts with a gentle sequence of soft music augmented by wet fingers being rubbed round the rims of glasses in a dark space lit only by the torches on cell phones. The performers then move to the white walls behind the audience to project dancing watery shadows with the same glasses and lights. It’s beautiful and highly effective, but it’s not entirely clear what this has to do with the theme of capitalism. I took from it that perhaps it was reflective of a more innocent time before human lives were ruled by the endless pursuit of the dollar.

Once the lights suddenly flash on, the piece starts in earnest and the next 45 minutes or so are bursting with energy, creativity, and satire on the capitalist zeitgeist. These bright young minds have produced a work that is highly original, often funny, and riffs on a theme we can all relate to. Thanks to Long Cloud Youth Theatre, I’ll never look at an electric car in the same way again.

Everything Everywhere All at Once  | Regional News

Everything Everywhere All at Once

(R13)

140 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Anyone heading to see Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s new sci-fi comedy adventure Everything Everywhere All at Once should be prepared to walk away with their head spinning, their eyes sore, and their mind questioning everything they just witnessed. In other words, this film is utter madness! However, although I often found myself lost down its endless rabbit hole Everything Everywhere All at Once is also extremely original, funny, well acted, and a fun ride from start to finish.

Feeling as if she didn’t accomplish any of her dreams, an ageing Chinese immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) is trying to pay her mountain of taxes when she is suddenly swept into an insane adventure by her husband from another universe (Ke Huy Quan). She alone can save the world by exploring other universes, fighting bizarre dangers, and connecting with the lives she could have led.

Led by Yeoh’s outstanding performance, the acting throughout was a highlight. You truly feel that her character, Evelyn Wang, is just as confused as you when the adventure begins. This is supported by some fantastic interplay with the other cast members, great editing, and a well-written script. It is also hilarious, and although I don’t want to spoil the fun, you won’t ever look at a hotdog or bagel the same. This original movie is also touching, with overarching themes that many of us can really relate to.

Everything Everywhere All at Once loses points for its drawn-out ending and sometimes hard-to-follow storyline. Running for almost two and a half hours, it feels as if the film is coming to a close for the last hour and I often didn’t really get what was happening, who was bad, or even who it was following. However, in a film like this I think it’s best just to roll with it.

Like nothing I have ever seen before, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a bit like a roller-coaster. Make sure you’re hydrated and well feed, strap in, and prepare for an insane ride where by the end you’re not quite sure if you want to hop straight back on, or if you never want to see a roller-coaster again.

His/Herstory | Regional News

His/Herstory

Written by: Kate JasonSmith and Jan Bolwell

Directed by: Jan Bolwell and Kerryn Palmer

Circa Theatre, 23rd Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

His/Herstory is a double bill of self-written plays by doyens of New Zealand theatre, Kate JasonSmith and Jan Bolwell, who channel their respective parents’ World War II experiences into two delightful and moving one-woman performances.

JasonSmith’s I’ll Tell You This for Nothing charts her Northern Irish mother Phyllis’ journey to France just after D Day as a young officer in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps, her experiences tending wounded soldiers on the frontline near Caen and later in Belgium, and her burgeoning romance with her eventual husband. Her final heart-rending posting to the recently liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp challenges the discriminatory attitude to Catholics she grew up with.

Despite the heavy weight of the subject matter, JasonSmith manages to extract lightness and humour from her mother’s stories as she switches deftly between multiple characters and accents, supported by subtle lighting changes on a straightforward set, a few sound effects and bursts of music, and a handful of wooden boxes and other basic props.

During the interval, the Circa Two stage is transformed into a similarly simple but effective setting for Bolwell’s Milord Goffredo. Her father earned this Italian nickname from the kind souls of the Zantedeschi family who lived near Verona and supported Private Geoffrey Bolwell when, as an escaped prisoner of war, he spent two years hiding in a cave from Mussolini’s Fascists.

Bolwell’s spirited performance is enhanced by smooth dance moves, Italian music, and family photos and home movies projected on a fabric screen strung across one corner of the stage. Like JasonSmith, Bolwell makes her father’s serious stories of war entertaining, which renders the ‘conspiracy of silence’ he had with other war veterans later in life all the more poignant.

Both now in their 70s, JasonSmith and Bolwell are just as energetic and engaging to watch as ever, and the personal and real-world nature of their plays creates a well-balanced and complementary pair of highly affecting performances.

When Booty Calls: The Rebooty | Regional News

When Booty Calls: The Rebooty

Presented by: Comedy Gold

Directed by: Troy Etherington

BATS Theatre, 22nd Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

When Booty Calls is a gay action-adventure slapstick rom-com about pirates. How’s that for an opening line? This mile-a-minute production sees Liz (Nina Hogg) and Jen (Phoebe Caldeiro) stranded on a desert island, where they stumble upon the Captain’s (Troy Etherington) booby-trapped treasure. Liz decides to drink some of his prized grog and the two quickly become the subject of his wrath – not to mention his ludicrous, murderous vengeance plots. Cap’s lonely right-hook-man Peggy (Ella Wells) is to assist in the – err, execution of these plans, but turns her coat at the prospect of friendship.

I had high hopes for When Booty Calls: The Rebooty and was stoked to be spending my Friday night watching pirates do stunts and fall in love. I don’t say stunts lightly as the play calls for a fight choreographer (Hogg) and stunt mats, with weapons ranging from swords to fists to silks. The choreography is complex, daring, and well designed, but the execution (I swear I’ll stop with that pun soon) feels under-rehearsed. Because of this, my friend and I agreed that watching the fight scenes and their hiccups was the wrong kind of nerve-wracking, where instead of enjoying the cleverness you’re worried something might actually go pear-shaped.

This Rebooty was originally devised by Hogg, Caldeiro, Etherington, and Tom Atchieson (who previously co-directed), and now has Wells in the credits mix. It has enjoyed sold-out (and sadly cancelled) seasons but I feel it still needs development. Some jokes and plotlines could be left on the cutting room floor. For example, Liz and Jen have a nasty fight and while I understand the need for conflict, it makes me quite dislike both characters – particularly Jen for the mean things she bellows at Liz.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a (cannon) blast. There are lots of great things going on here, like Etherington’s energetic performance, Hogg’s golden comedic timing and audience asides, Caldeiro’s atmospheric compositions, and Scott Maxim’s impressive set and lighting design. If the script could come up to match the high production values, I think we’d have a winner here.

The Lost City  | Regional News

The Lost City

(PG-13)

112 mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

The Lost City isn’t a perfect film, but by sticking to its genre and utilising the on-screen chemistry of its cast, I never found myself bored during this star-studded action-comedy. In fact, it was a heck of a lot of fun!  

Reclusive author Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) uses her knowledge and passion for anthropology to write about exotic places in her popular adventure novels that feature a handsome cover model named Alan (Channing Tatum). While on tour promoting her new book, Loretta gets kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) who hopes she can lead him to an ancient city's lost treasure. Determined to prove he can be a hero in real life and not just in her books, Alan sets off to rescue her in what turns out to be an adventure the pair will never forget.

You never really know if an action-comedy is going to be funny, but in the case of The Lost City, it definitely nailed the comedic side of things. Although Bullock and Tatum have their moments, it was surprisingly the film’s minor characters who I found the most amusing. Whether it was Brad Pitt’s brilliant 10-minute cameo, the exploits of Loretta’s tour manager (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), or a slightly inappropriate pilot (Oscar Nuñez) and his goat (yes there’s a goat), the supporting cast all played their roles to perfection. 

Bullock and Tatum’s on-screen chemistry was also a highlight. The two bounced off each other throughout the film while playing to their strengths. The film didn’t overdo it – there was action when it needed action, and a little bit of emotion when it needed a little bit of emotion. A small let-down was Radcliffe and his evil billionaire character Abigail Fairfax. The villain lacked any real depth – it would have been nice to learn about something other than his endless hatred for a younger brother we never meet.

Visually stunning throughout, The Lost City does a fantastic job of recreating the magnificent world Loretta describes in her books. The film never tries too hard, and the holes in the pretty-predictable plot are quickly filled with the many humorous moments, all of which are portrayed terrifically by a fantastic cast. The perfect word to describe The Lost City? Fun!

Timberrr…! | Regional News

Timberrr…!

Written by: Damon Andrews and Matt Chamberlain

Directed by: Damon Andrews

Circa Theatre, 8th Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Inspired by the real life and triumphs of world champion axeman and World War I veteran Ned Shewry, Timberrr…! imagines his ‘what might have been’ story when, as a confirmed bachelor, he is in middle age and meets his fictional long-lost son Billy. Ned is a hard-as-nails, take-no-prisoners, outdoors man, while Billy is sensitive, compassionate, and soft.

This central conceit drives the unbroken 85 minutes of narrative (make sure you grab a glass of wine and visit the bathroom before it starts because there’s no interval) as Ned trains up Billy to take on his long-time wood-chopping rival’s brother as the next junior champion. Surrounding them is a colourful bevvy of Taranaki locals with varying interest in the outcome.

I have a soft spot for plays like this with a small cast playing multiple roles on a sparse set with no props, clever tech support, and one set of clothes. It allows the cast and crew to have fun and demonstrate their full range of talents, and allows audience members to engage their brains and use their intelligence to fill in the blanks.

Stephen Papps makes the tough Ned likeable enough to care about, as well as doubling several minor characters. His innuendo-laden, sex-starved femme fatale Eunice is a highlight. As the singing and dancing Billy, Tyler Kokiri is superb. He also creates wonderful human portraits with the bumbling Constable Keith and the growling Whata, among others. Picking up several other supporting characters in Ned and Billy’s rural Taranaki lives is Serena Cotton, who plays both men’s love interests, Herb the wood-chopping commentator, and more with class and verve.

All three actors maintain high energy and pace, switching effortlessly between characters, and the story rollicks along to its naturally satisfying conclusion with a sweet twist along the way. It’s also very funny. If you’re worn out by COVID and everything else going on in the world, get down to Circa for irrepressibly Kiwi comic relief.