Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


The Bikeriders | Regional News

The Bikeriders


116 minutes

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Gritty and nostalgic, raw and tense, The Bikeriders delves into a slice of American history that has fascinated the world for decades.

Adapted for the screen and directed by Jeff Nichols, The Bikeriders is based on the book of the same name by journalist, activist, and photographer Danny Lyon, who documented and shared the lifestyle of bikers in the American Midwest from 1963 to 1967. Lyon followed the Chicago chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club to capture the life of the American biker gangs, a counterculture movement gaining traction in this period with ramifications that can still be seen today across the world with the likes of the Hells Angels.

Starring Austin Butler as Benny and Jodie Comer as his partner Kathy, the film is made in a pseudo-documentary style with emerging talent Mike Faist as the young journalist. With Tom Hardy as the club’s founder Jimmy at the epicentre of the story, The Bikeriders takes audiences on a journey down the open road, capturing the Vandals’ innocent beginnings through to their eventual criminal transformation. A perfect picture of 1960s Americana, Chad Keith’s exquisite production design is made all the more evocative of the era by Adam Stone’s dusty and faded cinematography.

Though a snapshot of a specific historical movement, The Bikeriders captures an aspect of American culture that can be traced all the way back to the pilgrims. This thread of outcast resilience, of fierce individuality, of carving out one’s place in the world has cropped up time and again throughout the nation’s fraught timeline. From the first immigrants braving the seas to the first gunshot of 1776, from the cowboys to the robber barons, from Manifest Destiny to the Civil Rights Movement, the crux of The Bikeriders is woven through the story of the United States. It’s not unique to these Midwestern motorcycle gangs but something belonging to everyone who has called this land home, inherent in their brave new world and the fabric that makes up the American Dream.

Flawed as she is, since the dawn of her colonial history, America has always represented a dream. A collective ideal, a world full of possibility, a promise that is captured with exquisite sincerity and rawness in The Bikeriders.

Sense & Sensibility | Regional News

Sense & Sensibility

Written by: Jane Austen and Penny Ashton

Directed by: Penny Ashton

Circa Theatre, 16th Jul 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

An interpretation for the Bridgerton generation, Penny Ashton’s Sense & Sensibility is a comedy tsunami to crest the Austen wave that has surged through Wellington theatre in recent years.

Ashton takes a highly theatrical approach to staging, eschewing the lavish drawing-room sets others have opted for. She instead uses a few simple props, chairs and set pieces on casters that the actors often employ to great comic effect and deftly manoeuvre between scenes with the slick assistance of stage crew (Fay Van Der Meulen and Chenae Phillips). This lack of complexity gives free space to a highly talented cast to create the larger-than-life characters and fully express the wit that inhabits Austen’s pages.

Casting only women to “celebrate a woman denied so much because of her sex” is another brilliant comic touch as four of the six ensemble cast play the men (and women) in the lives of the Dashwood sisters, stoic Elinor (Adriana Calabrese) and emotional Marianne (Lily Tyler Moore). Amy Tarleton, Heather O’Carroll, Bronwyn Turei (Ngāti Porou), and Aimée Sullivan are endlessly creative with the handful of parts they each play. Sending up male stereotypes as only women can do, they bring a new level of entertainment to a classic story. The chemistry between the Dashwood sisters is authentic and Calabrese and Tyler Moore are perfectly cast.

The soundtrack (Ashton again) plays a strong supporting role with its rousing classical music and shameless plundering of the Bridgerton playbook with string quartet versions of Katy Perry, Eurythmics, Bonnie Tyler, and more. And in true Ashton fashion, the script slips in references to Dickens, a sneaky homage to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and a hilariously meta aside to Bridgerton itself.

Ashton has managed to walk the fine line between making a two-and-a-half-hour show continuously engaging and preserving the emotional heart of Austen’s timeless story. I’ve never cried at an Austen performance before but must admit to a wee tear in the eye at the end of this one, such is its magic.


Revel | Regional News


Presented by: Inverted Citizens

Directed by: Jackson Cordery

Hannah Playhouse, 13th Jul 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In the words of the great Antonio Bam-bino Go-Figaro Caravan, the world outside is cold, dark, and complicated. But inside, it’s hot. Oh, so hot!

Revel is a brand-new variety cabaret and cocktail experience by Wellington contemporary circus company Inverted Citizens. Featuring pre-show entertainment served up with cocktails by The Tasting Room, it marries drag and dance with clowning and chaos, harmonies and hoop with music, madness, and merriment to spectacular, sparkly effect.

Performers each deliver an act per half, with introductions and interludes by MC Antonio Bam-bino Go-Figaro Caravan (Nino Raphael) and his trusty assistant, Booth. Some transitions are so charming, silly, and fun that they become highlights in and of themselves, particularly when other performers get involved (here’s looking at you Selina Simone, segueing and sashaying away). In addition to the sheer talent on display, the flow of this cabaret, punctuated by electric interactions between acts, sets it apart from other variety shows I’ve seen in the past.

And now, onto the acts!  Drag queen Selina Simone slays with a luminous (in more ways than one) rendition of Thunderstruck from AC/DC, while Laura Oakley as Lulu L’amour on hula hoop (sorry, ‘oola ‘oop) makes our heads spin. I’m still struggling to comprehend how one person can get so many hula hoops to orbit their body with such grace, showmanship, and apparent effortlessness.

Jade Merematira as vocalist Seraphina Night handles mic issues like a pro and delivers some truly stunning renditions of popular songs, with her performance of …Baby One More Time putting me in mind of Postmodern Jukebox. Her live accompaniment of Kiera Fitzgerald as Kiera Narise on aerial hoop (Rolling in the Deep) and chair (If I Ain’t Got You, with Raphael on guitar) adds a shimmer of je ne sais quoi. Fitzgerald’s gravity-defying acts are jaw-dropping. And we cannot forget Booth’s sultry ode to the microphone, I Want to Know What Love Is.

When I close my eyes and think of Revel, I see rouge, sequins, smiles. I hear laughter, lively chatter, upbeat swing. And I feel joy, warmth… nay, hot! Oh, so hot! Here’s hoping this becomes a permanent fixture on Wellington’s events calendar.

Victory: Khachaturian & Prokofiev | Regional News

Victory: Khachaturian & Prokofiev

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra National Youth Orchestra, in association with the Adam Foundation

Conducted by: Tianyi Lu

Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Jul 2024

Reviewed by: Ruth Corkill

This year’s impressive performance from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra National Youth Orchestra, Te Tira Pūoro Rangatahi, marked the NYO’s 65th anniversary and was attended by a packed house.

The musicians of the NYO are selected annually from auditionees and meet in Wellington for one week of intensive rehearsals ahead of concerts in Wellington and Palmerston North. The musicians are all under the age of 25, and the scheme provides an invaluable opportunity to play in a full orchestra with professional conductors and soloists. They also receive mentoring from the musicians of the NZSO, many of whom were seen in attendance on Friday night. Conductor Tianyi Lu took time to acknowledge the hard work of the 85 young musicians, and the support of their families and music teachers.

The short rehearsal period and the fact that these musicians are not accustomed to playing together made the ambitious scale of the repertoire all the more impressive. The evening opened with the world premiere of Jessie Leov’s Speculations on a Rainbow. Leov is the 2024 National Youth Orchestra Composer-in-Residence and will soon be travelling to Princeton University to workshop with the Edward T. Cone Composition Institute. Speculations on a Rainbow is a response to the work of Aotearoa New Zealand visual artist Judy Millar, and shifts deftly between radiant and reflective moods.

Aram Khachaturian’s piano concerto featured acclaimed 14-year-old Aotearoa New Zealand pianist Shan Liu as the soloist. Liu gave a characteristically virtuosic performance, followed by a generous encore. The final work of the evening, Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, provided opportunities for each section to shine, and the orchestra achieved a remarkably unified sound. I would like to echo Liu in congratulating everyone involved with the NYO, especially the young musicians. It’s wonderful to see that the future of Aotearoa’s classical music is in such capable hands.

The Classical Style | Regional News

The Classical Style

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 6th Jul 2024

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

There is possibly no work from the classical period of music more generally known and loved by audiences than Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor. But in the early 19th century, it broke some conventions of the symphonic form, particularly in that the fourth movement is a choral movement. Taddei noted in his spoken introduction that the work was consequential, influencing the development of music significantly.

The opera composer, Verdi, considered that Beethoven did not write well for voices. And truly, I have heard performances where both soloists and choir strain to meet the demands of the work. But on this occasion, my greatest pleasure was the work of the Orpheus Choir; they were terrific. So were the soloists, Emma Pearson (soprano), Margaret Medlyn (alto), Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono (tenor), and Robert Tucker (bass). If I had a quibble about this performance, it would be that Taddei perhaps drove it a bit too fast, at the cost of some beauty of expression. The audience gave it rapturous applause.

The other two items in the concert were 20th-century works that are neoclassical in style. Prokofiev set out to write his Classical Symphony as he thought Haydn might have written a symphony if living in the 20th century. Tuneful, playful, bright, cheerful, elegant: it was a delight to hear. Full marks especially to the pairs of flutes and oboes that featured in the fourth movement. What a gift for those players.

The third work of the concert was a piano concerto composed by Germaine Tailleferre, the only female composer in Les Six, an early 20th-century grouping of French composers. I particularly enjoyed the cross rhythms between the piano and the orchestra in this work, across a variety of moods – jaunty, spiky, stately, and gentle. Pianist Somi Kim was very assured, delivering both delicacy and power.

Jeanne du Barry | Regional News

Jeanne du Barry


116 minutes

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Screening as part of the French Film Festival, Jeanne du Barry tells the story of the famous courtesan. Though intricate and exquisite, it paints only a partial portrait of a complex and extraordinary human.

Directed by mononymous French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, the 2023 film Jeanne du Barry lavishly and intimately captures Jeanne’s story. Each scene (production designer Angelo Zamparutti) is beautifully bedecked with the cake-like interiors of the Palace of Versailles, each costume (Jürgen Doering) poised like the most decadent of desserts. Maïwenn harnesses Jeanne’s unconforming air in a performance that is both poised and cheeky. Contrary to popular opinion, I think her chemistry with Johnny Depp’s ageing King Louis XV is tender and emotionally charged. Any sex scenes are spared and left to the imagination of the audience, allowing intimacy to take on a different, less carnal, and distinctly European form, deepening the connection between the monarchical match.

After watching the movie, I too, like the king of France, was besotted by Jeanne. A pants-wearing, powerful woman from the 1700s who refused to lower her gaze sounds like a feminist icon from a fairytale. However, upon further investigation I realised the film portrays an idealised version of Madame du Barry. Neither her social influence nor her more political actions were touched on. I feel that by capturing her wholly, her shortcomings and her strengths, rather than as either a victim like in the film or a conniving and calculating courtesan like in many history books, Jeanne could have been more humanised, and her legacy honoured better.

Jeanne was a woman of duality. Maïwenn refers to her as a “magnificent loser”, while her contemporaries called her a silly creature. She spent lavishly in a time of political turmoil, but in doing so supported the arts and intellectuals. She made a name for herself, taking the future into her own hands, but potentially and unwittingly inciting the French Revolution in the process. She walked a fine line, where every action had its equal opposite reaction. She, like all of us, was flawed, complex, and inherently contradictory. For this she was beautifully human. She was herself, in an era of conformity, against all odds.

I recommend this enchanting drama, but suggest you get to know Jeanne du Barry for yourself first.

Heartbreak Hotel | Regional News

Heartbreak Hotel

Written by: Karin McCracken

Directed by: Eleanor Bishop

BATS Theatre, 18th Jun 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Well, since my baby left me… I found a new hormone hell. At least I think that’s what Elvis said.  

Created by EBKM (Yes Yes Yes, Gravity & Grace), Heartbreak Hotel infuses scientific facts with gut-wrenching personal anecdotes to examine what actually happens to our bodies when we’re heartbroken. Karin McCracken stands at the centre of this production, playing a woman in the eye of the storm of a painful breakup. Her ex-boyfriend is played by Simon Leary, who takes on multiple additional roles as Everyone Else, including her doctor, new and unpromising love interest, and gay best friend. Leary’s rockin’ and rollin’ performance of the latter is a show highlight.

I have taken liberties to best describe Heartbreak Hotel by breaking it into three segments, which I’ve called Facts, Songs, and Recollections for ease of reference. In Facts, McCracken delivers scientific, TED Talk-like lectures directly to the audience, her synth behind her, gently humming its pre-programmed tracks (exceptional sound design by Te Aihe Butler). In Songs, McCracken stands at her synth, accompanying herself on this newly learned instrument. Here, she chats – more informally, more personably – with the audience and sings reimagined breakup tracks like I Can’t Make You Love Me. In Recollections, she and Leary enact past encounters, not in chronological order, that together tell the story of the breakup and its aftermath. As the show goes on, these segments become less distinct as the waveforms between them fuzz and distort. Polyphonic overlap, if you will.

I find Facts endlessly fascinating; Songs funny, tender, and well performed; and Recollections both relatable and devastating, particularly in the hands of these gifted actors. The breakup and prelude scenes are incredibly written, wrought with language that speaks a thousand words a sentence and builds a complete picture of a six-year relationship in a mere handful of pages. This is where I caught myself shedding a tear or three.

Filament Eleven 11’s production design sees fluffy pink carpet underfoot and striking LED lights running across the sides and back of the stage. These are cleverly utilised but directly facing the audience, which makes them too bright at times. Equally, the sound levels sometimes result in jarring bursts of ear-splitting club music. These technical hiccups aside, what a show! Heartbreak Hotel will break your heart and comfort it in equal measure, letting you know you’re not alone as you learn, laugh, and just maybe, dare to love again.

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan | Regional News

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan


121 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Oui, oui, c’est magnifique! Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Three Musketeers has been brought to life anew in this rambunctious and rollicking romp across the big screen. What’s more, the journey does not end when the credits roll on The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan, because part two – The Three Musketeers: Milady – is also screening across the region as part of the 2024 French Film Festival.

In its first French cinematic treatment in over 30 years, The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan rivals the already impressive ranks of film renditions. Set in the early 1600s, the battle begins with increasing tension between the ruling Catholics – helmed by King Louis XIII (Louis Garrel) and the power-hungry Cardinal de Richelieu (Eric Ruf) – and the rebellious Protestants. The spirited young swordsman Charles D’Artagnan (François Civil) dreams of joining the king’s elite swordsmen known as the Musketeers. Narrowly escaping death on multiple occasions but plunging headfirst into a deep-seated scheme and the fangs of Milady de Winter (Eva Green), D’Artagnan befriends three of the most formidable Musketeers: Athos (Vincent Cassel), Porthos (Pio Marmaï), and Aramis (Romain Duris). Soon he will find himself at the heart of a royal conspiracy upon which hinges the fate of the entire kingdom.

It’s no wonder this was France’s highest-grossing film of 2023. The script? Génial. The sets? Magnifique. The costumes? Trés chic. The performances? Éclatant! Director Martin Bourboulon’s extravagant €70 million production cuts no corners when it comes to depicting lavish courts or swashbuckling battles, but at the same time does not compromise on either subtleties in dialogue or nuances in performances. In fact, the film strikes the perfect balance between the robust ebullience of a Hollywood blockbuster and the delicate subtlety of a French arthouse picture.

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan advances first with intrigue, parrying with romance and using humour as a feint, before delivering a final blow through unrestrained and exceptionally choreographed action. Dumas’ sharp text slices through The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan, with contemporary touches slashing across the screen to formulate a perfectly coordinated attack au fer. Strike while you can, and allez to The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan!

FWB: Friends with Boundaries | Regional News

FWB: Friends with Boundaries

Written by: Regan Taylor and Leona Revell

Directed by: Lizzie Tollemache

BATS Theatre, 11th Jun 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Leona Revell is an improv legend from Palmerston North. Regan Taylor is one of The Māori Sidesteps who, surprisingly, has never been on Shortland Street. The newly single 40-somethings had never met… until they swiped right on each other. Before their first date, though, they each accumulated some truly heinous dating stories thanks to the infamous platform that is Tinder.

In FWB: Friends with Boundaries, Revell and Taylor share these encounters in extreme, explicit, exquisite detail. There’s the usual: fake profiles, men proudly displaying the deer they’ve slaughtered, unsolicited pics, and the like. Then there’s the specific, like Lycra-clad cyclists who finish the race in record time, and men with little to no understanding of a woman’s anatomy. No, nothing is “geometric” down there.

And then there’s the deeply personal. In contrast with the rest of the wild romps recounted, Revell and Taylor provide honest and brave glimpses into their past relationships and trauma. The script is perfectly devised – no doubt with support from director and dramaturg Lizzie Tollemache – to incorporate these stories at just the right moments, providing pathos, then comic relief when it is needed most. A more muted, gentler delivery of these vulnerable moments of direct address would imbue FWB with even more emotional resonance.

However, the heightened performance style is hysterically funny when the gifted actors, who sizzle with chemistry on stage, physically reenact their past encounters. With a glint in his eye and an innate sense of comic timing, Taylor gets some of the biggest laughs of the night just from throwaway, unassuming lines thanks to his chef’s-kiss delivery. Revell’s improv background shines through in her charisma and confidence on stage.

Stellar production design decisions made by the ensemble include the use of two suspended frames behind which the performers enact outrageous Tinder profiles, plus a banging playlist featuring a lot of Spice Girls (hallelujah), adding yet more thrill to this rowdy roller coaster ride. Put it all together and you have a production that is at once hilarious and heartfelt, titillating and tender.