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The Slutcracker | Regional News

The Slutcracker

Story by Jean Sergent and Salesi Le’ota

Directed by: Jean Sergent

Running at BATS Theatre until 12th Dec

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

It’s Christmas Eve, and Clyde (Jake Brown) is busy swiping left when his toy soldier (Dryw McArthur) comes to life for a night out on the town. Through the seedy streets of Courtenay Place to the vom-filled buckets of Cuba Street they waltz, hitting gay clubs and espresso joints along the way. This 45-minute high-energy queer ballet celebrates the magic of a Christmas spent with chosen family.

The Slutcracker features very little dialogue, with some lines drowned out by Maxwell Apse’s fantastic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s original The Nutcracker score. Because of this, I crave more precision from some of the cast. Brigid Costello’s slick yet simplified choreography allows for the fact that not everyone onstage is a professional ballet dancer. Not all the performances are exceptional when it comes to dance alone, which would be a drawback if The Slutcracker was just a ballet – but it’s so much more than that. It’s joyful, sincere storytelling brought to life by passionate performers who put their all into elevating queer voices.

Brown gives 110 percent, delivering frenzied footwork with a Cheshire cat grin planted ear to ear. He’s an immensely loveable protagonist. As his boy toy for the eve, McArthur cuts a striking figure with graceful leaps and pirouettes that make me wonder if he has a dance background. Andrew Paterson takes sass to the max with a tap dance drag routine for the ages. With stellar facials and electric energy throughout, Georgia Kellett reigns over Midnight Espresso as the Sugar Plum Fairy, while Felix Crossley-Pritchard makes a fabulously evil Rat King. Shay Tanirau and Phase flesh out the storyline and help the choreography shine in the ensemble.

Accentuated by the soft, colourful hues of Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting design, Lucas Neal’s festive set lets us know what we’re in for from the get-go: a night of love, laughter, and unbridled joy – just what Christmas should be.   

Ladies in Black | Regional News

Ladies in Black

Written by: Madeleine St John

Directed by: Sandy Brewer

Gryphon Theatre, 18th Nov 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

I’ve always been a lover of musicals, so of course I had to attend Ladies in Black. Musical theatre and light-hearted feminism? I’m beyond excited.

Set in 1950s Sydney, the story follows Lisa (Tara Canton) as she starts her first job at a clothing store, Goodes. Through the relatable phenomenon of workplace bonding, Lisa learns about independence, self-growth, and the power of sisterhood.

Directed by Sandy Brewer, the Ladies in Black team should be incredibly proud. Each department has clearly worked together cohesively to create a world, completely transforming the theatre.

The stage crew silhouettes rearrange various black boxes which, paired with a projector screen, effectively represent a unique space. While simplistic, the set design (Brewer) is incredibly effective, complementing both the lighting (Angela Wei), and the performers themselves. The movement of the cast in the space consistently feels natural and smooth (choreography by Clinton Meneses). From simple dresses to glamorous “model gowns”, the costume design (Polly Crone) is very aesthetically pleasing. This, matched with the hair and make-up (Crone, Kate Ghent, Tyler Dentice), works well to establish the time period and enhance each character’s personality.

Each cast member is a unique asset to the story arc and musical numbers. Several performers have multiple characters to play, and it’s entertaining to watch their dispositions change with each role. A stand out for me is Canton. Complementing her effectively awkward and wholesome portrayal of Lisa, Canton’s vocals sound like they were made deliberately for musical theatre.

The highlight of the show is one of the many incredible musical numbers (sound design by Don Blackmore and Steve Morrison, musical direction by Sue Windsor). Brewer, portraying the mother, is accompanied by her daughters (Megan Neill, Carys Tidy, Sophie Russell) to deliver an incredible rendition of He’s a Bastard. The tune itself is hilarious, and paired with the performers’ dead-pan expressions, it’s easily a crowd favourite.

While the script is somewhat outdated, this production of Ladies in Black accentuates the strong feminist themes with pertinent irony, compassion, and straight up fun.

Cinderella – The Pantomime | Regional News

Cinderella – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 20th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Cinderella (Natasha McAllister) lives on Mount Victoria with her friend Buttons the rat (Simon Leary) and her wicked step siblings, real estate agents Tommy (Kathleen Burns) and Bayley (Jonathan Morgan). Meanwhile in the palace, Prince Ashley of the Blooming Fields (Jack Buchanan) must find a queen. Encouraged by his advisor Dandini (Bronwyn Turei), a real stickler for tradition, Prince Ashley announces a royal ball. After a meet cute with a mysterious stranger over a pumpkin, Cinderella scores a ticket to the ball. But with only rags to wear, and only a rat to accompany her, she’s going to need a little help. Enter Fairy Godmother Rosie Bubble (Gavin Rutherford).

The trouble is, Rosie’s still on her restricted magic licence.

Cinderella is my fourth Circa pantomime and might be my favourite to date, although that’s a hard call to make. I’ve always found the annual affair to be the perfect escape, filled with the kind of joy that makes you forget all your troubles and cares. Rutherford’s Dame is always fantastic, but this time he plays the role with strop and sass, making for a more subdued, supremely entertaining performance that brings balance to the otherwise manically exuberant production. His squabbling with Leary has me in stitches.

So too does Burns’ literal caricature of an evil stepbrother. Her physical comedy is outrageously good, especially when coupled with Morgan’s deliciously nasty, sneering stepsister. Buchanan plays Bloomfield – sorry, I mean the Prince – with infinite amounts of chill, countered by Leary’s boundless energy and stellar comedic timing. McAllister’s portrayal of Cinderella is peppy yet poised, while Turei’s powerhouse vocals bring the house down.

Tying it all together under the witty, watchful eye of Susan Wilson is Michael Nicholas Williams’ masterful musical direction. I’m still humming his arrangements the next day, my grin splitting ear to ear as I remember the fabulous frivolity of the night before.

Freeky Friday: A Friday 13th Drag Show  | Regional News

Freeky Friday: A Friday 13th Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

The Fringe Bar, 13th Nov 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

It’s Friday the 13th, and not long since the drag community’s favourite holiday, Halloween, so I know I’m in for one seriously spooky show.

Our MC for the evening is stand-up comedian Neil Thornton. With the exception of a few jokes that might not sit quite right with everyone, he keeps the audience entertained between acts with his relevant political jokes and queer-related humour.

Up first and bringing both humour and charm, Selina Simone looks fancy as ever, despite her big fangs and deep, dark wrinkly makeup. Ju Majin, as expected, doesn’t disappoint. Though losing their hat and revealing their exposed brain a little early in their act, this king always knows how to keep the show going. From head to toe, Neon Lux is graceful, creepy, and oh-so-talented; the entire audience is captivated by their goosebumps-inducing performance. With a Mad Hatter themed act, Amy Thurst provides a fantastic example of combining comedy with creepy. She keeps us entertained with an on-brand middle finger in her hat’s direction when it falls of unexpectedly. Mr Marshal Mellow, like a little satanic animation, has the audience desperate for more. I’m immediately on the edge of my seat when Rachel Atlas steps onto the stage carrying three swords. Terrified and mesmerised, I can’t take my eyes off her as she inserts not one, but two solid steel swords down her throat.

For what has to be the highlight of the show, Ju returns to the stage with none other than Brenda? Areyouintheaudience, to show us something that nothing can prepare us for: a human peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’m certain Wellington’s newest power duo will grace our stages with this act again, so I’ll save the details for you to enjoy with your own eyes.

As promised, Freeky Friday is a drag show like no other. I’m already excited to see what monstrosities these talented and terrifying dragsters come up with for next year’s spooky season.

Promise & Promiscuity | Regional News

Promise & Promiscuity

Written by: Penny Ashton and Jane Austen

Directed by: Ben Crowder

Circa Theatre, 12th Nov 2020

Reviewed by: Aimee Smith

I would describe myself as a fairly mild Jane Austen fan. I reread Pride and Prejudice once every year or so, I’ve dipped my toes into Sense and Sensibility, and have studied Northanger Abbey. I wondered if I would be able to keep up with Promise & Promiscuity, Penny Ashton’s Jane Austen-inspired show. Luckily, the show is filled to the brim with jokes that will delight fans and novices alike.

Austen herself is listed as a co-author by Ashton. The wonderfully witty script follows a clear Austen blueprint, meaning even those who haven’t dived too deep into Regency-era fiction can follow the bulk of the jokes and references. That said, Ashton kidders up plenty of twists and jokes to keep the story feeling fresh and alive. I particularly enjoy Ashton’s ability to mimic the hilariously formal language of an Austen novel whilst also relishing in the wordplay that delivers a good chunk of the humour in the original texts. Modern references break up the more archaic chunks of dialogue, and always elicit a good laugh from the crowd.

From the get go, it’s clear Ashton is a mind-blowing performer. Despite being a one-woman show, Ashton flits between a whole host of characters with ease. Each character she embodies is a clear caricature for anyone who has read any Austen at all, from the overexcited sister and blustering mother to of course a calm and coolly intelligent heroine. Crowd favourites include a fantastically grim rendition of Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Collins, with Ashton punctuating every other word with a raucous snort that leaves the audience in stitches.

I’m impressed by Ashton’s ability to keep up the energy. She spits out wordy dialogue, sings, dances, and plays with the audience with astounding control, and never once seems out of breath with it all. Promise & Promiscuity is one high-octane Regency romp, perfect for anyone who is looking for a lighthearted laugh.

Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala  | Regional News

Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala

The Opera House, 9th Nov 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala was pegged as the biggest night of comedy in 2020. Judging by the raucous laughter and applause thundering through three tiers of The Opera House, I wholeheartedly agree. Being part of a ginormous crowd again, jostling elbows and sharing smirks with strangers felt nigh on miraculous. How lucky are we to be in New Zealand?

It’s not just our COVID-19 response that makes me feel fortunate – it’s the wealth of comedic talent on our shores, demonstrated by this exceptional NZ line-up hosted by Pax Assadi.

Assadi sets the tone for a night of outstanding comedy and keeps it flowing smoothly, teasing and charming the audience in one breath and delivering a couple of knockout sets of his own. Charisma for days.

19 comedians bring their own unique brand of comedy to the stage, making each act feel fresh. The quality of the stand-up on show means there’s never a dull moment and no set falls flat, though I can’t help but have a few favourites.

Paul Douglas has me crying with laughter with a bit about albino bats that’s hysterical in all senses of the word. Cori Gonzalez-Macuer proves that a $1000+ improv course did not go to waste, Hayley Sproull takes to a festive keyboard with a hilarious original about children ruining wine time – I mean Christmas – and musical-comedy duo The Fan Brigade bring good into the world with a song about all the bad stuff. Sera Devcich shares the infinite joys of parenthood and reaffirms my life ambition of becoming a stay-at-home dog mum. As socialites Prue and Dilly Ramsbottom, The Topp Twins’ parody of the privileged is a hoot. They still manage to inject a large dose of heart into their set, performing a breathtaking waiata for our new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Nanaia Mahuta.

Every single comedian brought their A game to the Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala – a night of explosive joy and laughter desperately needed and greatly appreciated by all.

The Sleeping Beauty | Regional News

The Sleeping Beauty

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Opera House, 29th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

After a long COVID-induced hiatus, the Royal New Zealand Ballet returned to the stage with their season of The Sleeping Beauty. The return came with a buzzed audience and a few minor technical difficulties, but the novelty of being in the theatre again meant that nobody seemed to mind.

Sleeping Beauty is the beloved fairy tale that has been around for centuries and has been adapted countless times. It is a story rich with drama, romance, and vitality; but unfortunately, this ballet did not quite hit the mark. Obviously, there were some roadblocks with collaborators unable to travel due to lockdown restrictions and dancers having to rehearse in bubbles, but I won’t dwell on that.

The production is split into three acts and seems to take shortcuts with the classic story – critically, there is no spinning wheel for the doomed Princess Aurora (Kate Kadow) to prick her finger on and Prince Désiré’s (Laurynas Vėjalis) quest to rescue her is colourless. The choreography is drawn out and the dancers seem a little unsure of themselves, and with an excess of sweeping ballroom scenes, it feels repetitive.  

Loughlan Prior’s Master of Ceremonies’ corralling of a group of children and the live accompaniment from Orchestra Wellington (conducted by Hamish McKeich) bring some charm to the work. Kadow and Vėjalis perform their roles carefully. I have been astounded by Vėjalis’ elevation before and was not disappointed to see him glide effortlessly through the air once again. Kadow is a tender dancer but shows her might in extended sections en pointe.

The Carabosse (Kirby Selchow) and her minions play a minor role, but they manage to demonstrate their cunning through sharp leaps and exaggerated extensions. The costuming for this wily crew, created by Donna Jefferis, is a sight to behold. Sparkling, gothic numbers with just the right amount of edge.

While it had moments of finesse and fancy, The Sleeping Beauty ultimately fell flat but likely enchanted the children in the audience. 

Ophelia Thinks Harder | Regional News

Ophelia Thinks Harder

Written by: Jean Betts

Directed by: Ivana Palezevic

Gryphon Theatre, 28th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Ophelia Thinks Harder tells the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but this time with a feminist focus. We watch as Ophelia (Aimée Sullivan) learns the difference between love and hate, and finally takes control of her own life.

Seeing the traverse staging, I’m immediately excited to see what director Ivana Palezevic chooses to do with it. The scenography utilises the stage well, giving us plenty to look at before the show begins (set design by Amy Whiterod). On one end of the theatre sits a large throne, while on the other end Ophelia lays patiently on her bed, surrounded by books and clothes, as the crowd finds their seats.

While mostly the costuming is simple, I’m particularly drawn to the very cover-of-Vogue attire donned by Hamlet (Isham Redford), along with the Queen’s (Lydia Harris) vibrant, floral gown (wardrobe design by Crystal Pulkowski). The sound (Evangelina Telfar) and lighting (Darryn Woods) complement each other well during the party scene, where the atmospheric soundscape and purple lighting create a unique sensory experience. I’m often distracted by the flashing of one broken light, but despite this, the lighting feels satisfying throughout the show.

A highlight is the fun metatheatrical plotline, where several cast members perform a play of their own. Filled with irony, this is one of many moments where the audience gets to see the actors filling the shoes of multiple characters. I particularly enjoy the performances of Allyn Robins, who charmingly plays Horatio, Harris, who has the audience in fits of laughter, and Sullivan, who impressively depicts the complexity of Ophelia’s emotions. Redford’s stage slap isn’t convincing from my viewpoint of the traverse stage, however his overall portrayal of Hamlet is powerful.

Quite forward-thinking when it was first published in 1994, the inclusion of derogatory terms in the script feels out of place, preventing it from appealing to the diversity of a modern audience. Despite this, it’s a wonderful change to be told this story through a feminist lens, where Hamlet’s actions are frowned upon, and where Ophelia really does think harder.

Drag Class! The Ultimate Amateur Drag Competition | Regional News

Drag Class! The Ultimate Amateur Drag Competition

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Johnny O’Hagan Brebner

Ivy Bar & Cabaret, 27th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

For 10 weeks, the Drag Class ‘classmates’ have been given performance assignments focused on different aspects of the drag artform, aiming to impress not only an audience, but an array of esteemed judges.

Tonight, Ivy Bar is jam-packed and the crowd is buzzing to see the now-graduates battle it out for the finale; Drag Class will finally crown a winner. With the deafening sound of a school bell, Hugo Grrrl (MC and Drag Headmaster) takes to the stage, glamorous as ever, to start the show.

Jack Christoph sets the bar high with his always-impressive costuming and a gender-swapped Cruella de Vil act. Tess Tease and her blow-up doll leave the audience both laughing and crying. Daya T, showing us that she’s more than just a pretty face, hides a skirt under her skinny jeans. While changing wigs mid-act might be a little dangerous, Louisiana Perkins performs a funny, passionate Britney Spears tribute. Jezebel delivers a killer lip-sync, and, after vigorously devouring her glass of fake blood with passionate pop-punk energy, leaves the stage sopping wet. With Marsha Mellow’s incredible stage presence and performance skills, audience members are wiping away tears as she transitions from queen to king, powerfully representing the transgender flag. Vixie and James Bondage, not often seen on one stage, both blow the audience away wearing a suit and ‘porn-stache’ on one side and a dress and pink hair extensions on the other. Wearing a gown made from images of her own face, Brenda? Areyouintheaudience (yes, that’s her name) takes self-love to another level in perhaps the most iconic moment of the night. Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for, the imaginative Ju Májin takes the crown and the title of Grand Drag Class Dux with an extraordinary performance dedicated to his competition journey.

As one of many audience members with near-perfect attendance to Drag Class shows, I’m in awe of every performer’s progress, and can’t wait to see what they bring to the future of Wellington drag.

The Witching Hours  | Regional News

The Witching Hours

Presented by: A Mulled Whine and My Accomplice

Written by: Uther Dean and Eamonn Marra

BATS Theatre, 27th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Created by Uther Dean, The Witching Hours is a podcast anthology of eerie audio adventures featuring guest writers and actors. This spooky, kooky production has swooped into BATS Theatre just in time for Halloween, with two episodes performed each night, live and in the flesh.

Tonight, we are treated to The Yeast with Two Backs by Eamonn Marra and Cyber Space by Uther Dean. Sepelini Mua’au and Lucy McCarthny work together with narrator Jonny Potts to tell the stories as Jennifer Lal’s lighting design cloaks them in purple and blue hues and shadows. Sound designer Oliver Devlin sits centre stage, creating sound effects in real time. Sound effects is quite the understatement. Devlin delivers sonic pyrotechnics from a ridiculously delightful range of props spanning silly putty to bread.  

Onto the bread, then. The Yeast with Two Backs starts on Tinder and ends the morning after, but the middle of the story does not your typical hook-up make. Tiffany the sourdough starter takes the term ‘yeast infection’ to a whole new level. I couldn’t help but screech, shriek, and flinch my way through this one in the best possible way.

Cyber Space follows a Hole Puncher (a mythical police-type entity who definitely doesn’t have plasma blood) as she seeks to discover the source of a mammoth drug empire over one night in a dystopian cyberpunk world where people live in two-square-metre dwellings if they’re lucky. Abstract examples have concrete ties to our world. The story might be set in space, but Dean’s inspired words still hit too close to home.

The performers deliver such vocal nuance that you could close your eyes and almost have the same experience, but then you’d miss the subtle expressions that add flits of light and laughter to these already uproarious works. Plus, you’d miss seeing an actual wizard at work (here’s looking at you, Devlin). I would see The Witching Hours every night if I could. What a riot of a time.

Di and Viv and Rose | Regional News

Di and Viv and Rose

Written by: Amelia Bullmore

Directed by: Stephanie McKellar-Smith

Running at Circa Theatre until 7th Nov 2020

Reviewed by: Jezelle Bidois

If you’re in need of feeling that familiar ache that proceeds a good laugh, whilst wanting to have your soul warmed by nostalgia, you need not look any further than Di and Viv and Rose at Circa Theatre. Though this piece is set in the 80s and shows three girls making the transition from teenagers to adults, the word ‘timeless’ seems best to describe Di and Viv and Rose, a production not to be missed.

What floored me the most about Di and Viv and Rose is the performances of the cast members. Julie Edwards (playing Rose) enters the stage first with an energy that radiates out to the audience, setting the upbeat tone for the rest of the show. Lara Macgregor (Di) gives a hearty performance, sending the audience into fits of laughter then instantly causing them to hold their breath in concern. And Jodie Dorday (Viv) adds more complexity to the trio with a stage presence that overshadows any male wanting to confine a woman to the “social construct that is a waist”. Through costume design (Sheila Horton), their characters’ personalities are further highlighted. As this is a show made by women for women, this trio brings to light that in spite of their characters’ differences, female camaraderie is a force not to be trifled with. 

Under the direction of Stephanie McKellar-Smith and the cohesive set design (Debbie Fish) and lighting design (Jennifer Lal), a palpable atmosphere is felt by everyone. They made the flat of Di and Viv and Rose a comfortable and empowering environment that no viewer wants to leave. 

From the opening night alone, I can tell the season is set to blow audiences away. This West End production has premiered on our shores exactly when it is most needed. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Di and Viv and Rose provides a resurgence of quality entertainment that has been missed since lockdown. 

The Little Boys’ Room: A Drag King Show | Regional News

The Little Boys’ Room: A Drag King Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

The Fringe Bar, 17th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

According to Hugo Grrrl and the internet, Wellington has more drag kings than any other city. Every couple of months The Little Boys’ Room brings a handful of them to the stage to show that when it comes to kings, the capital has quantity and quality.

Hugo, tonight’s MC, begins the show with his usual infectious energy and an audience warmup, which involves a sliding scale of orgasm sounds (“low groans” which escalate to eye-rolling screams). He informs us that “whatever sexuality you came in with, you won’t be leaving with it,” and introduces the first of many performers to prove his theory.

Up first, Ju Májin emerges from behind the sequinned curtain, showing us exactly how to tease an audience. Bjorn Toolove makes his debut by ruining rubber ducks and evidently, childhoods; the audience can’t help but love it. In a hilarious tribute to Jack Black, Mr Mellow delivers a super tight lip-sync with the hole in the crotch of his pants undoubtedly stealing the show. Dan the Comedy Man has the audience in eruptive laughter; his deadpan, dirty dad jokes are the perfect ingredient for brewing the most delicious awkwardness. Also bringing something different, Eddie D’amore’s goosebump-inducing singing spoke to my soul, while Hannah Harlot stunned the audience with classical dance to remind us that the planet is burning. Painted in Earth-like blue tones which slowly reveal fiery body paint, their makeup artistry had me in awe. Jack Christoph energetically “serves sexy” with an amusing and nerdy strip tease, followed by a jaw-dropping performance by Timothy Taffy, whose hilariously aggressive ‘masturbation’ left Hugo cleaning up a lot of white silly string after the show. Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now will never sound the same.

Yet again, The Little Boys’ Room left the audience begging for more. We’re treated not only to drag king staples like tearaway pants and fake phalluses, but powerful political statements, stand-up comedy, and live singing. It’s safe to say this show has something special for everyone.

#UsTwo | Regional News

#UsTwo

Created by: Sarah and Catherine Delahunty

BATS Theatre, 13th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sisters Sarah and Catherine Delahunty are high-profile New Zealanders renowned for their work in theatre and politics. In #UsTwo, playwright, director, and theatre matriarch Sarah joins with former Green MP, activist, and author Catherine to share six decades of personal and political history, starting right from the very beginning – with their births, one year apart in 1952 and 1953 respectively.

One of the highlights of the show is the audience’s reaction to the nostalgia the Delahunty sisters so eloquently evoke for this era. I’m delighted by the person sitting next to me, who nods fervently at every reference to 50s and 60s New Zealand. While I can’t relate as a 90s kid, it’s interesting to hear about growing up as a woman in these times and provides illuminating context for the rest of the story, filled with sharp turns, knotty twists, and more sexism than you can shake a stick at.

Over the next hour the Delahuntys take us through the changing landscape of feminism in Aotearoa from then until now. By the end of #UsTwo their brave, witty candour makes it clear to me that so much has changed, and so much hasn’t.

I am engaged and entertained throughout but distracted by the addition of a third performer, Ari Leason. While Leason has buckets of energy and a beautiful voice that lends itself to stirring three-part harmonies, her presence puts the focus on the technical aspects of the show rather than the family dynamic. Had Sarah and Catherine picked up their own props and made their own sound effects, #UsTwo would have felt more like two sisters in their jimjams sharing stories to me. I think a stripped-back rendition with lower production values would have the sort of intimacy that draws you in and stays with you.

Funny and authentic, #UsTwo packs a real punch and makes me want to throw a punch at the patriarchy in turn.

The Glitter Garden | Regional News

The Glitter Garden

Written by: George Fowler and Lori Leigh

Directed by: Lori Leigh

Circa Theatre, 30th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

It’s the last day of the planting season, and Hugo the Gardener (Hugo Grrrl/George Fowler) is anxious to get his seeds in the soil to grow into the perfect garden. There’s just one problem: he’s too afraid to get started. Directed beautifully under Lori Leigh’s eye for intricacies, The Glitter Garden follows Hugo as he’s visited by garden friends who teach him about patience, kindness, and self-love.

In a world-first drag musical for children, we walk through the theatre doors into Hugo’s backyard on Pride Parade. Immediately, we’re encapsulated in an otherworldly kind of magic. Sean Coyle and Lucas Neal’s set design exceeds expectations, stunning the audience with the magical props and Dr. Seuss-esque scenery.

The backyard comes to life with an enchanting lighting change (lighting design by Marcus McShane) as Hugo makes a wish on a dandelion. With a catchy rap number (sound design and composition by Maxwell Apse) we’re introduced to The Ever Changing Boy (Björn Åslund), Robin Yablind (Monique Walford), and Eva Goodnight (Nick Erasmuson), whose captivating performances induce tears.

So delightfully animated he could have been built as part of the set, Hugo remains on stage for almost the entire show, seeking gardening advice from the audience. One by one, his garden friends come and go with three magical costume changes (costume design by Victoria Gridley). While Hugo takes the musical theatre route by singing live, the others deliver spot-on lip-syncs true to the drag artform (vocals by Maxwell Apse, Pippa Drakeford, and Stevie Hancox-Monk).

While some argue that drag isn’t for children, these kings and queens elegantly assure us that anyone can twirl in a tutu, get messy in the mud, and dance like a butterfly ballerina; being yourself is the most important thing.

By the finale, the full-capacity crowd is singing, dancing, and without hesitation, on their feet in a standing ovation. Undoubtedly, The Glitter Garden is a must-see that will bring colour and sparkle into the lives of kids and ‘big kids’ alike.

Werewolf: Development Season | Regional News

Werewolf: Development Season

Devised by: Joel Baxendale, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Oliver Devlin, Karin McCracken

Presented by: Binge Culture Collective

Inverlochy Art School, 26th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Freya Daly Sadgrove and Karin McCracken have been in a ‘safe space’ for some time. Joel Baxendale shows up late with a big bag of onions. His tardiness might ruin things for the group, which now includes the audience. We don’t know much about the situation except that the outside world is bad. No one can leave, and we must be seated come nightfall.

With the audience seated in a large circle, interaction is a key component of Werewolf. Some members rise to the challenge, with one particularly hilarious spectator yelling at Joel to “follow the rules” and “get in the cupboard” at increasing intervals. We are given cards to explain our ‘roles’ in the community, but only a handful of us are called upon. As a community support officer, I am on edge waiting for a task that doesn’t come.

Together, the highly effective sound design (Oliver Devlin) and lighting design (Marcus McShane) cause collective anxiety – especially at night – and build to a nerve-wracking climax filled with disturbing tableaux. The ending itself is a little confused, with standing audience members unsure of where to go as the actors make an unassuming exit. It’s not quite the right note of chaos to go out on but has all the markings of an unforgettable conclusion.

Inverlochy Art School is said to be haunted, a fact underutilised in this performance. I was expecting a Fear Factory haunted house experience, where werewolves jump out of all the nooks and crannies and padlocked rooms yield up their secrets. While I’m glad this wasn’t the case, the unnerving energy of the space only contributed marginally to my experience of Werewolf, which I feel could have been performed anywhere.

Werewolf: Development Season is a clever commentary on mob mentality and fearmongering; how quickly humans can turn into monsters. I enjoyed being part of the innovative experiment and applaud the risks taken. I can’t wait to see where to next.

HOLE | Regional News

HOLE

Written by: Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Directed by: David O’Donnell

Circa Theatre, 22nd Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Jezelle Bidois

Charting the seas of global panic and individual turmoil, HOLE sets the viewer on an educational yet thrilling voyage. With director David O’Donnell at the helm, HOLE leaves an impression on everyone in attendance.

HOLE traverses the delicate ice of both Antarctica and the political atmosphere of 1986. The show is set in the climate of the following: portions of Antarctica are being fought over by various countries, Greenpeace radically works to undermine such debates, and just to add more chaos to the world, the ozone layer has been found to have gaping holes that leave everything to the mercy of the Sun. To say the world of HOLE is chaotic is an understatement. However, Lynda Chanwai-Earle has written it in such a way that the viewer can not only clearly follow the plot, but also enjoy a full immersion into it.

The clever sound design (Phil Brownlee) and Gareth Farr’s composition works with the lighting design (Tony Black) to help guide the viewer throughout the various shifts in setting. These are vital to HOLE’s success as a story that leaves the audience thinking, but not entirely confused.

The performances of the cast members are nothing short of spectacular. I am convinced that Stevie Hancox-Monk left me with whiplash from her incredibly impressive shifts in character. Elle Wootton ensnares characters and audience members alike with her impassioned performance. And it can go without saying that the reach and command Sepelini Mua’au’s performance has over the audience is a wonder to behold. Under Carrie Thiel’s direction in intimacy and fighting, a consistent level of professionalism is achieved by all performers.

At its core, HOLE strives to illustrate the ongoing struggle of humankind; our inability to unite for common causes. Its reality was one lived differently but felt in common by everyone in the world. There is much we can take away from HOLE, especially during 2020, and that in itself is a reason to see it.

The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show | Regional News

The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show

The Fringe Bar, 4th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

It’s true, drag is about more than just a pretty face. The performers of The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show are here to do exactly what the show’s name implies – lip-sync like their lives depend on it.

The Fringe Bar is filled with a socially distanced audience, each with our own cabaret table bubbles. The show starts with the entrance of Eva Goodcoq, the sparkly hostess whose vibrant energy compensates for the quiet crowd of 35 (thanks, Level 2). After her fierce lip-sync to a Donna Summer hit, Eva puts us to work with a warmup, preparing us to scream, cheer, and click zealously.

One by one, the performers take their turn under the spotlight (tech by Pierce Barber). Whether their song is one I’ve never heard (Kou Bolt’s colourful and energetic anime-inspired number) or a banger from my favourite musical ever (Homer Neurotic’s wholesome and on-theme Beauty School Dropout from Grease), these “mouth-mashers” have me desperate for more... which is exactly what I’m given.

I was expecting the powerful lip-syncing, but not the exciting flashes of sparkly pink excess nipples by Selina Simone, or being left almost in tears after Willy SmacknTush’s passionate ballad, Dancing On My Own. Amy Thurst delivers a killer performance, then comedically rolls off the stage in her skin-tight dress. Yonic Kunt slays a Mariah Carey number, and in Eva’s words, “I’ve never seen a little black dress working so hard” at restraining her ginormous silicone breasts. The stand-out for me was Vixie; with a satisfying costume reveal, her innocent princess façade and Frozen lip-sync turned into a Disney-imbued version of WAP. I wasn't the only audience member whose jaw dropped in delight.

The performers deliver quirky concepts, elaborate reveals, and emotional storytelling without detracting from the focus on lip-syncing. Despite a couple of high-heeled stumbles and costume malfunctions, The Hot Spot exceeded expectations – it’s safe to say I’ll be returning when the show comes around again.

 

Play | Regional News

Play

Written by: Liam Coleman

Directed by: Tom Sainsbury

BATS Theatre, 3rd Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Rich (Alex Walker) is a playwright in love with more than one man. Dan (Zak Enayat) is a realtor who only wants one main meal but doesn’t mind the odd side dish. Nick (Liam Coleman) works at an art gallery and is strictly a one-man man. Polyamory, open relationships, and monogamy collide to tender, touching effect in PLAY.

PLAY features the cleverest opening segment I’ve ever seen. Though I’m dying to dissect it, I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say the first 10 minutes set my internal monologue speeding down This Must Be a Joke Road and up Long Joke Though Quay, finally arriving on Oh Thank God Street. When the scene shifts, the brilliance of the beginning seeps in. It’s a thrill to watch the cast peel back layer upon layer of metatheatricality as the best joke of the night, about Walker’s widespread appeal, lands to uproarious laughter.

Walker, Enayat, and Coleman nail the humour in Coleman’s well-rounded script with great comedic timing. Refined by Sainsbury, their performances reach hyperbolic heights and emotive depths. The very definition of a dramedy, PLAY makes you laugh (so hard you might snort) but leaves you aching for more, saddened by an ending filled with sacrifices.

In a poignant moment, Rich asks whether audiences can like a polyamorous character. The only thing that makes me unsympathetic to Rich is actually a swaggering overconfidence that only pertains to his flirting and not to the other aspects of his life or work. It’s the only instance of unbalance in the production for me. This aside, Coleman’s exploration makes polyamory accessible. By the end of PLAY, I understand the character’s desire for an intimate relationship with more than one person. I’m rooting for him and his lovers, desperate for a good outcome for all three men. There’s no villain, no one I want to win. Instead, I’m overcome by pure, human love.

Can we have a sequel, please?

The Revlon Girl | Regional News

The Revlon Girl

Written by: Neil Anthony Docking

Directed by: Corinna Bennett

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 5th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Aimee Smith

The Revlon Girl picks up in the disaster’s wake, as a small group of mothers come together for support following the loss of their children. Sian (Lydia Marston) has the idea to bring in a Revlon girl (Hannah Blue) to remind them how to feel bright and beautiful again. The well-meaning Revlon girl finds herself out of her depth, as some mothers can’t see how lipstick could help to heal the loss of a child.Whilst a history lesson isn’t necessary to be impacted by The Revlon Girl, having some knowledge of the horrific Aberfan Disaster helps. If you haven’t caught up on the latest season of The Crown, here is a brief explanation: in 1966, in the Welsh village of Aberfan, a giant tip collapsed and a flood of coal waste buried a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults. The disaster wasn’t a freak accident, it was the result of years of man-made errors.

A dense character piece, The Revlon Girl examines each mother’s differing experience of grief from her spot in the makeup chair. Each character is set up as a bit of a mystery, guarding her grief behind her own unique set of walls. Unravelling the characters is a slow and rewarding experience that culminates in a few well-earned tears from the audience.

Stagecraft’s production does an excellent job of leaving the lily un-gilded. Set (Amy Whitehead), lighting (Angela Wei), and sound (Corinna Bennett and Riley Gibson) largely serve to ground the piece in its 60s village setting. Costume (Jen Pearce and Meredith Dooley) works in a similar vein, with the cast wearing day dresses and cardigans that would remind many of their mother and grandmother’s wardrobe (with the exception of the Revlon girl, whose mod looks lifted from a magazine spread). Instead, performance, character, and the brilliance of the text are left to do the heavy lifting – a choice that allows me to become transfixed in the superb storytelling.

PSA: Election 2020 | Regional News

PSA: Election 2020

Written by: Thom Adams, Jamie McCaskill, and Anya Tate-Manning

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 12th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Public Service Announcements is a long-standing recurring political satire show that pokes fun at politicians left, right, and centre.

PSA: Election 2020 features mammoth production design (Meg Rollandi and Rose Kirkup). Characters clamber and climb over, duck and dive under rubbish and rubble piled high into a Beehive configuration. Director Gavin Rutherford’s blocking utilises the levels to demonstrate status and emphasise moments of triumph and defeat. Televisions buzz static and crackle, LED lights flash and strobe (lighting design by Helen Todd), and vocal effects and overlapping voiceovers cause MPs to seem not only omnipresent, but occasionally demented (sound design and composition by Oliver Devlin). Meanwhile, politicians emerge from bins like trash.

The full firecracker cast of Johanna Cosgrove, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, Hannah Kelly, Simon Leary, Sepelini Mua’au, and Matu Ngaropo open the production with a reworking of ABBA’s Mamma Mia. It’s a flat number due to the lower register of the singing and the lack of harmonies – which come out in full force in the pertinent finale, Politician by Kora. It’s all uphill from the first song. In fact, the musical highlight of the year has to be Savage by Megan Thee Stallion, performed by Ngaropo as the whisky-swilling Winston Peters, Dekkers-Reihana as literal cartoon character Shane Jones (my favourite performance), and Kelly as the upright Tracey Martin (who can sure bust a move). I screamed out loud at the choreography (Sacha Copland) and would pay to watch this performance on a loop.

With her delicious over-annunciation, Cosgrove makes a wickedly evil vampire out of Judith Collins. I can still hear Mau’au’s pre-pubescent “hi” as David Seymour, who sports a tin hat. Simon Leary’s doped-up James Shaw is balanced by his surprisingly sweet but sycophantic Grant Robertson. Kelly nails Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s press conference tactics with striking accuracy.

PSA: Election 2020 just gets sillier and more savage (ratchet, sassy, nasty) as it goes on. But it’s all in good fun – and what fun it is.

Midnight in Moscow | Regional News

Midnight in Moscow

Written by: Dean Parker

Directed by: Tanya Piejus

Gryphon Theatre, 29th Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Jezelle Bidois

It can go without saying that 2020 has and continues to present obstacles for us all and now more than ever has the need for imaginative escapism become more prevalent. I say that one only need attend Midnight in Moscow to obtain such freedom. Staged at the Gryphon Theatre, this performance sticks New Zealand dead centre between the battling ideologies of communism and nationalism at the tail end of the 1940s. Set in Moscow, the play enraptures each audience member in a world long past; one of espionage, conspiracy, and tragic romances.

The world of Midnight in Moscow is coloured not just by the period-appropriate costuming (Michelle Soper) or effective set design (Rachel Hilliar), but by the brilliant casting. Comprised of five Kiwis and two Russian characters, all the actors contribute to the whole performance’s success. This is seen through Lisa Aaltonen and Paul Stone’s convincing transformations into strapping Russian citizens. Through the observable spectrum of strong New Zealand women manifested by the characters of Sophie (Anna Woods), Madeleine (Nethmi Karunanayake), and June (Stephanie Gartrell). And finally, by the performances of Patrick McTague and Slaine McKenzie, whose posturings and changes in accents effectively transport the viewer to worlds only found in film noirs like Otto Preminger’s Laura and Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past.

I believe the true success of Midnight in Moscow is how well it resonates with the audience. Though Dean Parker’s play is mainly set around the nature of communism against the backdrop of the 1940s, Midnight in Moscow caters for New Zealand’s unique culture and identity. With references ranging from our sporting interests to the stereotypes associated with particular areas of the country, this play provides for our need for adventure without leaving us too lost.

Under Tanya Piejus’s impressive direction, Midnight in Moscow inspires both widespread amusement and deep contemplation. And all those who attend leave more appreciative of things like friendship and the freedom of expression and thought.

Dungeoning & Dragoning | Regional News

Dungeoning & Dragoning

Produced by: Harriet Prebble and Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 30th Aug 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Full disclosure: when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, I haven’t the foggiest. I’ve never played the tabletop roleplaying game before and couldn’t understand the appeal of watching other people play it either. After this show I’m happy to report I’ve done a complete 180 and will be seeking out all things D&D as soon as humanly (or elfinly) possible.

In this six-part season, Gavin Rutherford (Gart), Harriet Prebble (Thistle), Allan Henry (Armand), Gabriela Rocha (Kyrrha), and Dungeon Master Ryan McIntyre play one game of Dungeons & Dragons. Because each show is a complete adventure, you don’t need to see all six – but you’ll probably want to. After watching these characters take to the high seas, slice an ogre’s hamstrings, get really drunk, and practically melt Steve’s legs off (poor Steve), it’s safe to say I’m invested. So too are the players, all master improvisors whose passion for the game is palpable.

McIntyre weaves the story together, building entire worlds with words alone. Intuitive lighting (Tony Black) and epic sound design (McIntyre and Black) emphasise the Dungeon Master’s supreme craftsmanship at just the right moments. Rocha’s costume design allows audiences to get a feel for the characters before the game begins, but I’m craving the backstory that’s emerged from hours of playing before opening night. Resources in the foyer illustrate some history, but more of a prologue would help – especially if it included a brief description of how the roll of the dice affects the outcome of the game.

However, I soon pick up that a low roll is bad and a high roll is good. And the Dungeon Master does briefly introduce the characters, he's just drowned out by thunderous applause from the enthusiastic crowd. By the end of Dungeoning & Dragoning, I’m roaring along with them. I’ve been part of a communal experience – the hallmark of truly great theatre, and from what I understand, a great D&D session too. More worlds colliding more often, please.

The Road That Wasn’t There | Regional News

The Road That Wasn’t There

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell

Directed by: Hannah Smith

Circa Theatre, 22nd Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Road That Wasn’t There is a story about Maggie (Elle Wootton), who follows maps off the edge of the world, and her son Gabriel (Paul Waggott), who follows maps to real places thanks. Maggie is a child at heart, filled with whimsy and wonder. Gabriel is very much a grownup who stopped believing in magic ages ago. When Maggie’s neighbours and the townsfolk of St Bathans become even more concerned about her behaviour than usual, they call Gabriel home. And there, in his childhood home, Maggie finally tells her son the truth about where he came from.

What a wonderful story we have here. Playwright Ralph McCubbin Howell, who plays a variety of characters with flair and gusto, has mastered a balance of accessibility and complexity. The work is suitable for older children with enough layers and depth to keep the adults engaged.

The Coraline meets A Series of Unfortunate Events vibe I was anticipating doesn’t kick in until a little later; I become entirely engrossed when the show takes a turn for the spooky. Like Gabriel, I finally take off my big kid’s hat and let Trick of The Light Theatre suck me into the mystical world they have created.

The design elements are what really hit this world home. Creepy but cute puppets (Hannah Smith, who directs), dramatic, eerie composition and sound design replete with charming ditties (Tane Upjohn-Beatson), and clever lighting that allows for shadow play (Rachel Marlow) each stand alone as exceptional. Together, they make a complete, cohesive whole at one with the action.

I love that the cast doesn’t stop performing when the puppets come out. Wootton embodies a younger version of Maggie with such conviction, it’s hard to know where puppet ends and human begins. Waggott’s besotted expression when playing puppet Walter melts my heart and plants a huge grin on my face that’s still firmly intact when the show ends.

The Road That Wasn’t There reminds me of just how magic magic is.

Puss in Boots | Regional News

Puss in Boots

Presented by: The Pantoloons

Written by: Amanda Stone

Directed by: Amanda Stone

BATS Theatre, 15th Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Although I had heard much of The Pantoloons’ fun-filled pantomimes, I had never seen one before and so jumped at the chance to review a panto-loony rendition of Puss in Boots.

A classic ‘village idiot’ in fabulous costume (costume design by Amanda Stone) comes out into the foyer to jest with the crowd. Playing one half of double act Grabbit and Runn, Tanisha Wardle (Grabbit) excites and delights the little ones. She’s unperturbed when a boy raises his arms in the air and roars at her, simply yelling “Go Hurricanes!” right back at him. The interaction sets the tone for a rollercoaster of a show, and when Wardle comes together with Jared Pallesen (Runn), it’s comedy dynamite.

When we get into the theatre (aka Pantoland), our story quickly emerges. A nasty ogre terrorises the town, but not quite as much as Lady Grumblepoop, played by the brilliant Jacey McGrath and booed often by the audience. Don’t worry, the lady likes boos! Our hero Tom (sweetly portrayed by Jonathan Beresford) lives with his aunt Maisie (an energetic performance from Warrick Allan) and Puss in Boots (sass galore from Jenell Pollock), who ropes him into fighting the ogre. It turns out Princess Pansy (charm in spades from Brianna Anglesey) is better suited to take him down, a feminist twist that delighted me but did not delight her father the King (the regal Neil Brewer) or his royal advisor Jarvis (great hoity-toityness from James Barnett).

High production values are on display, with dramatic lighting in all the hues of the rainbow (Aaron Jonassen) and sound design worthy of the big stage (Rick Jonassen). It makes for a professional production. Our only clue that it was put together in just four weeks is the smidge of uncertainty around the lyrics and choreography. Regardless, Puss in Boots is an example of pure joy and happiness felt by all – from the enthusiastic cast and crew to the exuberant kids in the audience and their beaming parents.

Improv for Kids | Regional News

Improv for Kids

Presented by: The Improvisors

Circa Theatre, 11th Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

With lead performers Ian Harcourt, Fingal Pollock, and Ben Zolno, Improv for Kids offers an environment where anything feels possible. “We will need your help to make it happen,” says Ian. And make it happen, they do! Improv for Kids is a show that relies equally on its young audience as it does its performers. Kids are invited to participate in an immersive and collaborative approach to storytelling, resulting in wonderful off-the-cuff performances.

The scene is set straight away and is almost too good to be true; you can yell your ideas out from where you sit, you do not need to put your hand up, and if your grownup tells you to “shush”, then for the next hour only, you have licence to say “shush” back. Carte blanche to be authors of their own domain is an opportunity not to be missed and hilarious performances about green bananas, ghost bats, and hot unicorns ensue. Improv for Kids is improvisation at its best, where kids become the exhibits, the sound engineers, and the collective authors of the show.

Lighting (Darren Woods) and music (Cam Crawford) provide just the right amount of dramatic effect to a fast-paced show.

There is no pressure for the kids to join in and this seems to have the opposite effect, with the young audience consistently engaged and enthusiastic participants. The real surprise is the way the performers are able to work so creatively and intuitively with each other using the directives and ideas hollered right, left, and centre from eager children. Cleverly timed and never missing a beat, you get the feeling The Improvisors have been doing this for some time.

There are no bored children here staring mindlessly at a screen; they are part of the action and it’s refreshing to enjoy something unscripted and organic with lots of laughter and entertainment.

What a fun hour to be had. Something special for the kids these holidays, something different, each and every time.

The Artist | Regional News

The Artist

Created by: Circo Aereo and Thom Monckton

Directed by: Sanna Silvennoinen

Circa Theatre, 24th Jun 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Artist is a one-man physical theatre show about an artist struggling to find the inspiration for his next masterpiece. While watching someone procrastinate for an hour doesn’t sound all that fun, The Artist is a hoot and a half, filled with circus tricks, impressive physical feats, and more hilarity than you can shake a paintbrush at.

Thom Monckton is immediately likeable as our creative genius, giving off an eccentric hermit vibe. One gets the impression he hasn’t seen the sun and has kept his own company for a while. Thanks to his aptitude for physical comedy, Monckton’s running internal dialogue is entirely audible. His movements are larger than life, his gesticulations wild, his behaviour erratic. Couple this with his total lack of problem-solving skills and you have a riot of a universal, joyful experience for three to 103-year-olds.

Amongst Monckton’s many strengths – core strength being one of them – is his ability to seamlessly interact with the audience. While we’re never made to feel uncomfortable, our responses are perfectly woven into the narrative. His friendly mockery of a phone-wielding patron is a delightfully off-the-cuff moment that adds an extra dimension to The Artist. I quickly forget I’m watching a one-man show. We are brought into the action and root for Monckton all the way.

The lighting (designed by Juho Rahijarvi and adapted by Lucas Neal) and sound design (Tuomas Norvio and Atte Kantonen) work cohesively as one unit to support and highlight the action – especially Monckton’s killer dance moves. Alongside the clever ending (due credit to art consultant Eveliina Hamalainen), the highpoint for me is the bit about the prejudiced bouncer played by a banana. Continuing along the vein of things that will sound bizarre to anyone who hasn’t seen the show (best get cracking), my only criticism is that I wish Monckton had attempted to staple the banana.

Thanks to Monckton and both the international and New Zealand production team for an outstanding return to the theatre.

Sorry For Your Loss | Regional News

Sorry For Your Loss

Written by: Cian Gardner

Directed by: Dr Laura Haughley

Circa Theatre, 16th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Jezelle Bidois

Simplistic in its design, brilliant in its execution, Sorry For Your Loss is a play with an incentive of teaching the viewer about the importance of chosen identity. The story follows Cian Gardner’s upbringing and her search for acceptance in the void that is left by an absent father. Filled with humour and sincerity, Dr Laura Haughey directs Sorry For Your Loss in such a way that Gardner’s story becomes entrenched in our minds in the days following the initial performance.

At the dimming of the lights, Gardner enters the stage to immediately interact with the audience. She makes use of her acting space and stands right against the front row, slowly scanning over the filled seats to talk about how she “could use a drink herself”. Within the first five minutes, she is able to both ease the viewers with her wit and create a space of suspenseful expectation. The comfortably informal atmosphere that the actress creates from her entrance continues throughout the entire performance. As the plot unravels, Gardner beautifully characterises each individual in her story with realistic posturing and mannerisms.

The simplicity of the set design is made into a visual spectacle with the use of lighting by Alec Forbes. He changes the size of space it focuses on, providing various dimensions for Gardner to act in. And the near bare stage comes alive with an atmosphere that can only be created through Andy Duggan’s music. From filling the space with comfortable tunes to creating tension with the echoing sound of one key, Duggan sets the mood for the entire story.

Sorry For Your Loss teaches us what it means to be a wāhine toa. Gardner’s story makes you laugh hysterically upon entry and tear up as you leave. From her colourful recollections of her childhood to a tumultuous inner conflict, the whole play exudes a genuine warmth that touches all those who are present.

Släpstick | Regional News

Släpstick

The Opera House, 13th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

The last slapstick performance that I saw was The Suitcase Royale in 2014, which rendered me speechless with its inventive storyline, wisecracks, prat falls, and sound effects. Tonight, is no different. It’s a nigh lost artform; this is frantic mayhem writ large.

In many respects Släpstick is more of a tribute to musical theatre than pure slapstick, which would have run its course after several sketches. Over an hour and a half (and there wouldn’t have been a member of the audience who didn’t think they got their money’s worth), we were treated to a run of ageless classics from the roaring 20s right through to Queen.

We are told that the Släpstick company plays over 100 instruments, and it seemed as if they brought out every one for a tootle. Accordion, guitars, double bass, banjo, trombone, keyboards, percussion, pan flutes, saxophones of every key, and violin. I lost count after that.

It’s an honour and a privilege to be in the company of a company who keep the tradition of deadpan humour alive whilst remembering the music of the likes of Kurt Weill and Charlie Chaplin. Songs such as Smile, The Man I Love, Harvest Moon, O Sole Mio, are real highlights, especially Unforgettable, in which the singer can’t recall what comes after ‘Un’.

Did I mention Swan Lake? The black-and-white silent film The Lady with the Dog with the time-honoured dastardly villain? Then there is the fairground spiv who makes several appearances enticing the audience to throw the ball at cans, catch a magnetic fish (there was a massive cheer when a lady caught one), and shoot at a cymbal. Classic.

Two favourites then: Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head sung in German, and three sets of buskers – one group playing pan flutes that bought the house down – all playing different tunes but overcoming everything to play together.

It’s a performance of almost balletic proportions, so fluid is the movement that the obvious setting up of a skit is never seen.

Shows like this make me want to run away and join the circus.

Dimanche | Regional News

Dimanche

Written by: Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux, and Sandrine Heyraud

Directed by: Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux, and Sandrine Heyraud

TSB Bank Arena, 12th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

An ingenious combination of mime and puppetry, film and soundscape, Dimanche is a production about climate change. Over a series of vignettes, we follow different species as they struggle to survive in an apocalyptic world. A polar bear and its cub, a bird and its baby, and a human film crew and family are all performed or brought to life by Christine Heyraud and Dimanche’s creators Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud.

Dimanche is world-class stage sorcery. Scale and perspective are concepts to be toyed with, not adhered to. For instance – and this is just one of the many examples of sheer brilliance on display here – a toy car drives along the hilly contours of a human body. All of a sudden, audiences are transported inside the car itself, where windscreen wipers and a wheel create an entirely believable reality. Brice Cannavo’s sound design hits the illusion home, transitioning from music as it would sound inside the car to the way someone might hear it outside. Guillaume Toussaint Fromentin’s lighting design more than supports the magic; at times, it creates it. For the car scene, an overhead ceiling light shrouds the rest of the stage in pitch black emptiness – a convention that’s repeated to breathtaking effect when an entire house is drowned by a tsunami.

Waw ! Studios and Joachim Jannin have created outstanding puppets, including a life-sized polar bear and a grandma so detailed I initially thought she was real. A bit with this puppet and a dodgy stairlift is a comedic highlight of the show.

Beneath the whimsy and joy, Dimanche carries a dire warning. Earth is a ticking time bomb, and it’s entirely our fault. What’s more, we’ll do everything in our power to ignore the consequences of our actions. We might even, quite literally, eat a roast chicken in the eye of the storm.

Dimanche should be shown – even taught – in all schools, lecture halls, and workplaces. Its message is clear, but never has it been so deafening.

Strasbourg 1518 | Regional News

Strasbourg 1518

Created by: Borderline Arts Ensemble

Circa Theatre, 12th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Wellington arts community is small and largely independent, so it’s a coup to have a place in an international arts festival, even more so when you’re just starting to cut your teeth with New Zealand audiences. This can be said for Borderline Arts Ensemble, a dance-theatre collective whose brand-new work Strasbourg 1518 seizes your imagination and emotion with an uncompromising grasp.

Inspired by the stranger-than-fiction dancing plague that gripped hundreds of people in the French city of Strasbourg, Strasbourg 1518 delves into the psychosis of what took place through violently physical dance, haunting live music, and clever narration.

A bold cast of 10 carries the work with their extraordinary passion and relentless talent. The dancers twist and turn frantically through the space, teetering toward madness while the musician (Lucien Johnson) expertly switches between musical instruments, holding the trance with finesse. A narrator (France Herve) structures the story with poetic quips and historical background, soon to become enraptured herself.

Exploring the different theories surrounding the plague of 1518 (poison, fever, the devil), the work spirals into intense physicality and dark social constructs. Lucy Marinkovich’s choreography is meticulous and heaves with ritualism and deep emotion. The dancers weave seamlessly between uninhibited movement and controlled, rhythmic pattern. The presence of traditional folk dance doesn’t go unnoticed and accentuates the versatility of Marinkovich and her fellow artists.

The work is rich with symbolism and self-interpretation and its conclusion is powerfully weighted with themes of compassion and mortality. With bright red shoes upon their feet, the afflicted dancers travel to a mountaintop and meet the gentle embrace of Death, portrayed tenderly by dance legend Michael Parmenter. The final message seems to say, “we will all find peace eventually.”

Strasbourg 1518 pushes the boundaries of what theatre can be and takes no prisoners in coaxing a full range of emotion. While not for the faint of heart, it is a work that needs to be seen beyond its life in the festival.

Trois Grandes Fugues | Regional News

Trois Grandes Fugues

Performed by Lyon Opera Ballet

Opera House, 11th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Trois Grandes Fugues is made up of three distinct choreographic pieces, all with one thing in common: Beethoven’s Die Große Fuge. Trois Grandes Fugues showcases three choreographers’ interpretations of the beloved composition and is executed with finesse by the Lyon Opera Ballet (France).

The evening opens with Lucinda Child’s carefully refined and more restrained interpretation of the three. There is a mathematical accuracy in the work’s construction as a full cast of barefoot dancers cut excellent figures on stage, gliding into technically precise pas de deux and carrying out tight forms of arabesque. Their lithe bodies ripple with musicality and respond tirelessly to a choreography that so easily adapts to the demands of Die Große Fuge.

Anne Teresa de Keermaeker’s work takes a more contemporary tact as the dancers appear on stage dressed in suits and hurl themselves into rolls across the floor. Naked lightbulbs lower themselves from the ceiling and the stark lighting sets a crisp and wonderfully minimalistic scene. As the dancers clamour, weave, and bound in rhythmic patterns, there is no denying the manic energy in this piece and it sits magnificently against Beethoven’s spiky score.

The third and final piece, choreographed by Maguy Marin, is even more contemporary than the last. Four female dancers take to the stage in an embittered battle for survival which heightens the urgency and variance of the music. Through a series of full-weighted tumbles, violent shivers, and jagged body contortions, the women command attention with nihilistic abandon. The core of Marin’s piece is the individual struggle and the dancers rarely come together or perform in unison, but when they do there is a true sense of oneness and triumph.

It may seem like a gamble to base an entire programme on a single piece of music, but the Lyon Opera Ballet and its three choreographers have approached it with dexterity and a strong sense of vision. This in turn has created a dynamic and overall gratifying evening of dance.

Change Your Own Life | Regional News

Change Your Own Life

Created by: Jean Sergent

BATS Theatre, 10th March 2020

Reviewed by: Rebecca Lester

Speaking about traumatic grief with eloquence is a hard feat to master, but Jean Sergent’s storytelling is second to none. She hits the mark completely, combining heart-wrenching moments with humour in all the right places. Sergent has me crying more than a few times, but never in a way I feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable; she has perfected the art of not overstepping any boundaries while still capturing the audience’s hearts.

Walking in, I feel at home. The set feels like the bedroom of a well-known friend, with pictures of cats, tarot cards, and gorgeous witchy artwork creating this ambience. No element feels out of place, each pertaining to aspects of Sergent’s “worst year”.

The performance begins with a slight holdup (the usher not turning the house lights off), but after instructing them to do so, Sergent gets the ball rolling immediately, immersing the audience with the courage to open up and be raw. There are a few hiccups throughout, but to me, it only adds to the realness of what is being shared.

At times, some of the story’s elements seem to be brushed over slightly, such as the mentioning of joining a cult. This leaves me wanting to hear more, but of course it is understandably difficult to fit every juicy detail into a one-hour timeframe. It doesn’t affect the power of the show however, and Sergent’s words earn her a well-deserved standing ovation.

Sergent’s heartfelt and humorous list of ways to change your life, hence the title of the show, resonates with me heavily, and gives me a different outlook on my own troubles that I’m very thankful for. Sergent emphasises that despite hardships, you can still create a life you love and want to live.

Sergent leaves the audience with a lot to think about; who are you? Are you where you want to be? And who do you trust to clear out your bedside table when you are gone?

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil | Regional News

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Book by Tim Price

Directed by: Lyndsey Turner

Shed 6, 10th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Based on the George Saunders novella, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is set in a country divided in two by fear and misunderstanding. Only five people live in tiny Inner Horner. Outer Horner is large and in charge, and worst of all, Phil (Daniel Rigby) lives there. When an earthquake shrinks Inner Horner, its residents must occupy the neighbouring territory. Phil decides to tax them, but they don’t have any money. How far will he go to see the debt paid?

With music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie, there’s a distinctly Flight of the Conchords feel to this production. Actor Andrew Paterson nails a lot of the nuance required to hit this unique style of Kiwi comedy home. The whole cast delivers, and many of them shine brightest in song.

Nigel Collins brings a tear to the eye with a sweet and sensitive lullaby to his character’s son. Naana Agyei-Ampadu’s sorrowful ballad brings the house down, Jeff Kingsford Brown’s presidential twirl is a sheer delight, and Tom Knowles causes shrieks of laughter with a toe-tapping country song that proves McKenzie’s extraordinary compositional range. Devon Neiman’s seduction song is the highlight of the show, if not the year, so far.

While Rigby brings a hilarious Matt Berry feel to the role of Phil, his final moments onstage are as powerful and frightening as his character’s brief reign of terror.

The introduction of the fraught mother-daughter relationship between Freeda (Vanessa Stacey) and Gertrude (Caitlin Drake) is the only place the script veers from excellence, with the flimsy storyline left unresolved.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is wickedly funny and breathtakingly relevant. The level of professionalism and polish on display makes it easy to forget this is a work-in-progress showing. Currently in its first draft stages at the National Theatre in London, I would pay to see it on the big stage just as it is, scripts and all.

Jofus and the Plank | Regional News

Jofus and the Plank

Devised by: Kimberley Twiner and Lily Fish

Directed by: Kimberley Twiner

BATS Theatre, 9th March 2020

Reviewed by: Cole Sharland

I went into Jofus and the Plank knowing absolutely nothing about what it is, what it’s about, and what I was in for. This show is a showcase of the best of clowning. The audience is strapped in for a wild, story-time-like show as told by Jofus (played brilliantly by Lily Fish) and her best friend: a plank of wood.

Jofus’ story involves her preparing food for her uncle coming over, when all of a sudden she must run away from The Big Bad Wolf.

The stage is bare and the only prop is a plank of wood. Fish never lets go of the plank and is touching it always. The game for the majority of the show is simple: how many things can Fish turn the plank of wood into? And the result is a marvellous array of everyday household items, The Big Bad Wolf's tongue, and even parts of Jofus’ absurdly tall apartment building.

The plank of wood is not the only thing that constantly changes on stage. Fish convincingly shifts into different characters throughout the performance. Fish manages to not only change characters seamlessly, but also change characters while being Jofus as well.

Fish works in a Family Guy cutaway style skit within the show, delivering a hilarious commentary on the struggles of making a Fringe show. The structure of the show was a miss at times. Some gags and jokes were maybe repeated one too many times, and at the climax of the show it dragged on a bit too long.

This is a masterclass in clowning. Fish is a master in this and, along with director Kimberley Twiner, they have crafted an excellent and entertaining piece of theatre that is a joy to watch. Going on the journey with Jofus was a blast and had me smiling from ear to ear. Twiner and Fish are definitely ones to watch out for.

Lita | Regional News

Lita

Written by: Lucy Dawber

Directed by: Lucy Dawber

BATS Theatre, 5th March 2020

Reviewed by: Waitahi McGee

The day after seeing Lita, I am still dancing with my mum, playing guitar with my dad, and going to the market with my nana, or as performer Lucy Dawber calls her, “Lita”.

Lita is a journey between an audience and a performer. Dawber, who plays all the characters beautifully, gives us an intimate window into Maria and Gloria’s relationship. Staging wise, The Studio at BATS Theatre was a great choice. There is no backstage but Dawber and her team create a cheeky solve with a washing line strewn across the stage, leaving a metre of space for Dawber to escape behind. Dawber plays with this fantastically, popping back and forth as different characters, sometimes playing behind the washing line, showing changes of character simply with her feet and legs!

Some of the people around me are a bit confused about the story and who is who at times, which I can see being a bit of a problem myself, but it’s not so noticeable that it pulls my attention away from the overall joyousness.

I do feel Dawber has more license to be a little more confident in her performance. There are moments in which her audience is still laughing and she pushes on. I would like to see her let her beautifully crafted moments land.

There are telenovela-style moments that are so fast-paced and dramatic it verges on absurdity and clown, and I am into it. So are the rest of the audience, judging by the roaring of laughter and some patrons, quite literally, unable to stay in their seats.

I’m pleased to see Dawber as herself at the end, which for me gives clarity to the other characters, to the story, and to the heart of the show.

Lita is a vulnerable, vigorous story that reconnects you with family. Who we have loved and who we dearly miss, while looking to the future with a curiosity of what will be. Whatever will be, will be.

MÁM | Regional News

MÁM

Created by: Michael Keegan-Dolan & Teaċ Daṁsa

TSB Bank Arena, 5th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

MÁM comes from the wild mind of Michael Keegan-Dolan, the same mind that blew Wellington away at the last New Zealand Festival with Swan Lake/Loch na hEala in 2018. This new work, which was formulated here in Wellington, is a mind-melting blend of live dance, music, and theatre. MÁM pulls no punches with its energetic choreography, lilting musical composition, and somewhat esoteric symbology.

The very first image MÁM spills out is one that takes me back to Robert Eggers’ 2015 horror film, The Witch. A man sitting with a concertina wearing the head of a black goat, a young girl in communion dress laid out on a table, and billows of smoke drifting to the ceiling screams ritualistic sacrifice. However, much to my surprise, this is not at all the path the work takes. While it delves into themes of ritualisation and hive mind, the backbone of the work is the value of community, support, and the act of empathy.

The goat-headed musician is the award-winning Cormac Begley, whose haunting concerto carries the work beautifully through melancholy, commemoration, festivity, and rich Irish tradition. A robust troupe of dancers methodically dash across the stage and spin maddeningly into one another. They clamber and crawl and entangle themselves. It’s as though we are watching the progression of a superbly arranged party.

The Berlin-based musical collective, s t a r g a z e, join Begley and the lawless dancers on stage. Their classical-contemporary fusion raises the stakes and we see the dancers fall into an unspoken competition riddled with guttural growls and careful duets. All the while the young girl in the communion dress observes wordlessly as they shamelessly live their best lives. It is perhaps reminiscent of the bridging between adolescence and adulthood.

The fervent energy from the immense cast of characters makes it impossible to look away from MÁM; just blinking puts one at risk of missing something wonderful. The work throws itself at you without inhibition and delivers an exuberant theatrical experience.

BLACK TIES | Regional News

BLACK TIES

Written by: John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho

Directed by: Rachael Maza and Tainui Tukiwaho

Shed 6, 4th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Whip-smart humour, distinctive characters, and resonant messaging make BLACK TIES a must-see production. Although it begins to meander at the rear end of its two-hour-40-minutes runtime, rapid-fire dialogue expertly penned by co-writers John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho (who also co-directs and performs in the show) keeps it compelling. Its structure allows engaging questions to be posed and consistently satisfying answers to be given.

Māori corporate hotshot Hera Tapuwera (Tuakoi Ohia) and Aboriginal consultancy entrepreneur Kane Baker (Mark Coles Smith) seem like a match made in heaven, until they attempt to jump the final hurdle – meeting the families. The Tapuweras and the Bakers have strong cultural ties that cause aggressive rifts between them, throwing the couple’s future into question.

BLACK TIES takes the colossal task of defining two family ensembles, two cultures, and two opposing locations in its stride. In establishing Māori and Aboriginal cultures, Harvey and Tukiwaho find room for satire, poignant teaching moments, examples of divisive racism, and eventually, understanding. The writers strike a balance that never tips too far in a single direction.

It's then up to the cast to deliver, and for the most part, they do. Ohia steals the show; warm but fierce, commanding but generous, her performance makes us empathise with Hera’s struggle. Other standouts include Tukiwaho as Robert Tapuwera and Jack Charles as Uncle Mick. Unfortunately, Smith’s turn as Kane was overly performative, removing me from the romance that was made entirely believable by the rest of the ensemble.

While the first half is tightly structured, effortlessly jumping location and time, the second half has a different vibe. We return as guests to the couple’s wedding reception, decorations, food, and invitations adorning our tables. This half of the show is possibly the most immersive experience I’ve had at the theatre – I really felt like a guest at a wedding! In this, the show lets go of its momentum somewhat and starts to feel its runtime. However, by the end its intentions are abundantly clear.

Eight Songs for a Mad King | Regional News

Eight Songs for a Mad King

Directed by: Thomas de Mallet Burgess

Royal New Zealand Ballet Dance Centre, 2nd Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

This New Zealand Opera production of Eight Songs for a Mad King takes a big swing. Our audience experienced the short monodrama twice – once from the outside looking in, listening through headphones, and again indoors, in the midst of the action. The text is inherently engaging, amplified by Robert Tucker’s total commitment to his role as the titular King, but the experimental staging failed to add impact beyond its intriguing premise.

In Eight Songs for a Mad King, we watch and hear a powerful man break down – a King losing his sanity in the throes of modern-day greed. He climbs, convulses, and dances around a boardroom yelping discordant melodies that leap over five octaves.

This is a challenging show for all in attendance, from its solo star and the musicians who accompany him to the audience. Its libretto, written by Randolph Stow, is derived from the words of George III, paired with music that the British king attempted to train bullfinches to sing. With this in mind, the show works wonderfully as a voyeuristic experience. It is far from what one might consider a traditional opera – it’s a story told through ever-building tension, a character study without a clear narrative.

The musicians deserve as much praise as Tucker for their commitment to the piece. Led by conductor Hamish McKeich, the ensemble is required to act as well as perform a difficult score. The interactions between them and the King successfully distance us further from reality.

Sitting outside, observing what I could of the show through a window was interesting but not engaging. While the staging was a brave attempt to juxtapose our response to madness from a distance versus up close, I felt I was missing out on compelling visual elements and simply struggling to see. When it came time to watch from inside, I appreciated the text and the work of those involved much more, but it made the first viewing somewhat redundant.

Cockroach | Regional News

Cockroach

Written by: Melita Rowston

Directed by: Melita Rowston

BATS Theatre, 1st Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Cockroach is a response to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a Latin narrative poem writhing with tales of the rape and degradation of women. This New Zealand Fringe Festival show follows C (Leah Donovan), who wakes up one morning to find herself transformed into a cockroach. Now among the grossest but most resilient insects on the planet, C exacts revenge on #YesMostMen, responding to violence with more violence.

Donovan is a relentless machine, embodying the hurt of a victim in the crick of her neck, the rage of a generation in the snap of her spine, the wrath of a gender in the guttural contraction of her vocal cords. Her repeated transformation into a cockroach is vivid and visceral, raw and wrenching. This is an unapologetic show created by unapologetic collaborators, and for that I am infinitely glad. But at this stage it feels like an experiment; a series of good ideas held together by the boundless energy and passion of a performer. Unfortunately the staging choices often work against her.

For example, there are two recordings of Donovan vocalising a sexualised murder fantasy on the telephone during a blackout. These non-live elements feel out of place and could be better utilised in other scenes. There are a few moments when Donovan must rattle off an exhaustive list while barely breathing, building her voice to a crescendo that would have hit harder with the support of an overlapping recording or soundscape. The use of the microphone is inconsistent and doesn’t contribute much when Donovan is already such a proficient vocal performer. Adding a loop pedal or distortion could achieve the desired effect and would also widen the channel of communication between the performer and the composer and live musician, Benito di Fonzo. As it stands, his grungy score sometimes takes over and I would love to see Donovan equipped with the tools to match him in sound, not just volume.

The script has all the bones of brilliance. A more cohesive staging approach would add the flesh Cockroach needs to reach its full potential.

2020 Visions (If I Hadn't Gone Blind) | Regional News

2020 Visions (If I Hadn't Gone Blind)

Created by: Tom Skelton

BATS Theatre, 28th Feb 2020

Reviewed by: Nova Moala-Knox

Tom Skelton is blind, or as he says in the first 10 minutes “a VIP – visually impaired person”, and the concept of the show is “What would life have been like if I hadn’t gone blind?” I thought this was a good idea that you could do a lot with, but for me, the concept was underused.

Skelton relies on puns for a lot of the humour, and though puns may do it for some, they don’t do it for me. I come in hoping to learn something about the experience of being blind but I leave feeling like I haven’t really learned anything. Skelton encourages the audience to relax, to feel comfortable, and not to worry about being offensive when we laugh along with him about what life is like being blind. But for me, I don’t see why a lot of the things he says are supposed to be funny. It feels like they are normal parts of life, and being blind is normal. And that’s not to say you can’t get comedy out of normal life, but I find Skelton’s delivery doesn’t succeed in doing so.

Skelton has a very likeable personality, which comes through. As soon as he starts the show I like him, I’m rooting for him, but as the show goes on I lose hope that this show will be either informative or entertaining. In saying that, most of the audience is in fits of laughter from beginning to end so I suppose it is a matter of taste. But I do leave wondering how I would feel if someone who shared a similar life experience to me, who was a part of the same demographic as myself, were to stand on stage and tell an audience “it’s okay to laugh at us, because I said so” and continue to tell a series of – well, Dad jokes that don’t really speak to our experience at all.

In Search of Dinozord | Regional News

In Search of Dinozord

Created by: Faustin Linyekula

Soundings Theatre, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 27th Feb 2020

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In Search of Dinozord does not exhibit a piece of rehearsed theatre so much as a raw and necessary retelling of horrors that may otherwise be forgotten. The performers are in pain, reluctant, and in its final moments, the show’s creator Faustin Linyekula appears drained. It wasn’t a piece they wanted to perform, but that they had to.

In Search of Dinozord haunts us with stories of past friendships shadowed by political upheaval in Zaïre, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The show opens with a hair-raising crescendo of clashing sounds as Linyekula loudly chants, his cries drowned out by the assaulting noise. Linyekula tells us about a friend who died of plague, a writer with a dream whose work now overflows from a dishevelled tin suitcase. Actors Papy Maurice Mbwiti and Antoine Vumilia Muhindo share their experiences also – Muhindo through crushing lyrical memoirs and images taken in prison projected onto a large wooden panel at the back of the stage.

In Search of Dinozord is an obstructive show. The story is sometimes overshadowed by dramatic movement or the imagery pulls our attention from the fragments of spoken word. At times, seemingly by design, this sense of constant crosscutting makes it tough to follow and digest. However, for me this works to fuel an emotional experience in which pulsating movement, shadows, sound, and sparse but powerful visuals layer to give the jumping story resonance.

In Search of Dinozord ends with a solo dance set to Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile, which breaks from the abrasive choreography into a beautiful, hip-hop infused finale. This leaves a hopeful taste in our mouths and brings the show full circle.

Linyekula describes his search for beauty and his dream to change African theatre and literature with real pain. To him these dreams are essential to life. While I can’t promise you will follow every step of his journey, you will certainly react to it, and you will not be able to look away.

القدس Jerusalem | Regional News

القدس Jerusalem

Concepted by Lemi Ponifasio

Directed by: Lemi Ponifasio

Opera House, 22nd Feb 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I’m not going to pretend I know what القدس Jerusalem is about. The words ceremony and ritual come to mind, but I didn’t pick up on one narrative – just one throughline: the terrible cost humanity must pay for its own actions.

Nine performers – Rosie Te Rauawhea Belvie, Tame Iti, Kawiti Waetford, Ery Aryani, Terri Crawford, Anitopapa Kopua, Manarangi Mua, Rangipo Wallace Ihakara, and Helmi Prasetyo – take turns emerging from the back of the cavernous stage, from the pitch black, as if by magic. They cross the stage in slow motion and return to the darkness, sometimes singing, sometimes shrieking, sometimes silent. Always, there is asymmetry. A breathtaking lighting design by Helen Todd frames each action, creating arresting stage pictures at every turn. Ponifasio’s discordant, piercing sound design overwhelms at times, while Waetford’s performance of opera in Te Reo Māori astonishes.

القدس Jerusalem is inspired by the poem Concerto al-Quds by Adonis, excerpts of which are beautifully projected onto the back wall during one scene. Because the writing appears in fragments, this doesn’t help me attribute meaning to the production. Rather, words and phrases detonate in my subconscious. I see blood and rotting fruit in my mind’s eye. This brings me to my next point: القدس Jerusalem is outstanding, but it is not easy to watch.

There is one scene that is particularly horrific, and in this one I see many audience members leaving. A man covers himself in mud and crawls around the stage, his face contorted in grotesque gestus, while a woman films him and screams. Watching this scene drains the last of my emotional resilience. We are then gifted an uplifting waiata performed in five-part harmony. This would be the perfect conclusion, only it’s not – there is another half an hour. I have gone through the wringer and I’m now exhausted not elated, enduring not enjoying, surviving not thriving. I understand that we were never meant to feel comfortable watching القدس Jerusalem, but I do believe there is only so much a person can take.

Wonderful | Regional News

Wonderful

Written by: Dean Parker

Directed by: Conrad Newport

Running at Circa Theatre until 7th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Brother Vianney (Andrew Laing) is a Marist Brother teacher at a boys’ school in Napier, 1959. Over the course of one lesson, audiences (who are positioned as his students) discover how this loving, kind, extravagant man came to be a devout Catholic. We don’t do much schoolwork though! Instead, Brother Vianney treats us to belting renditions of Broadway classics and wistful waltzes, action-packed re-enactments of Hollywood movies, and dewy-eyed glimpses into his past life in showbusiness.

This glorious character is clearly gay, but Dean Parker’s script doesn’t really delve into the conflict between homosexuality and religion. I think a deeper exploration of that would be a sequel – a Wonderful 2.0. What we have here is a palatable (and rather delicious) 80 minutes of madcap entertainment that still packs an emotional punch. It’s a perfect storm of comedy and pathos.

Brother Vianney’s mind moves a mile a minute. Strengthened by Conrad Newport’s exemplary direction, Laing’s natural sense of comedic timing accentuates Parker’s best lines – of which there are countless. It’s a masterful one-man performance, and not just for Laing’s faultless delivery of a jaw-dropping volume of dialogue. It’s his obvious respect and love for the character, shared by the writer and director, that moves us. His escape into the role is so complete that it enables ours.

Inspired by an original design by Bonnie Judkins, Tony Black’s lighting design is the ending’s pièce de résistance, with changes executed at such a gradual pace, the eyes adjust before the lighting state does. This means that, for me at least, Brother Vianney is framed by an angelic halo that serves the script beautifully. In these final moments, Laing’s performance is raw and resonant, electrifying the audience with an emotional charge that continues to crackle after the lights fade out.

As Brother Vianney so delightfully says, “use the word once today and it will be yours for life.” What’s the word for this production? Wonderful!

The Surprise Party | Regional News

The Surprise Party

Written by: Dave Armstrong

Directed by: Conrad Newport

Running at Circa Theatre until 15th Feb 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

POPs party leader Doug (Alex Greig) should not be Prime Minister. His second-in-command Kura (Bronwyn Turei) could and should be. The rest of their minor left-wing party is a gormless bunch. There’s millennial Zoe (Danielle Meldrum), who’s so stupid she doesn’t know what a letter is (really?); hipster craft beer brewer Sam (Sepelini Mua’au); conspiracy theorist Leon (Vincent Andrew-Scammell); and bus driver Alisa (total firecracker Hannah Kelly), who borrows double deckers when she’s off duty.

Wanting the “stable, radical change” (or is it “radical, stable change”?) that POPs is promising, New Zealand votes them into power. Unsurprisingly, all hell breaks loose.

Political satire isn’t my cup of tea, but that’s not to say The Surprise Party isn’t good. Armstrong’s penmanship is bold and acidic, while able-handed director Newport makes daring choices that pay off for older audiences. Cast members (many of whom are among my favourite actors) commit to playing hyperbolic caricatures, executing dramatic physical comedy with gusto. The crew is at the top of their game, with Sean Coyle’s set a handsome highlight.

But opening on a mildly racist joke about Filipinos and broken English meant that The Surprise Party and I got off on the wrong foot. The play pokes fun at everyone and everything, as if the goal is to annoy as many demographics as possible. I find waiting for the next dose of ridicule a little tiring.

While the characters each have a satisfying arc, the action is doled out in unequal measures. We spend a lot of time on one night and not much on the years in which the characters undergo their stable, radical change. I’m not politically minded, so that’s the part of The Surprise Party that interests me.

Because I didn’t understand a lot of the jokes, I didn’t fully engage with The Surprise Party until the end. Ultimately, the point made is a powerful one. Politics is filled with well-meaning idiots, and idealism is not always practical.

A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs | Regional News

A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs

Directed by: Jonathan Price

Running at Circa Theatre until 8th Feb 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Created by its performers Barnaby (Barney) Olson, Stevie Hancox-Monk, Andrew Paterson, and Tess Sullivan, as well as its director Jonathan Price, A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs follows Barney on his big OE. While mending a boat with a bunch of zany travellers in Finike, Turkey, a stray dog follows Barney home. She’s in a bad way; the kindest thing to do, says a blokey mc-blokeity sailor (Sullivan), would be to put her out of her misery. But nobody can do it.

After a series of attempts to remain dogless (including a rejected “death needle” and a visit to a fabled fisherman), Barney reluctantly accepts that, yes, he’s got a dog. He names her Helena. Getting Helena back home to New Zealand proves quite the challenge, but it makes for one hell of a (true!) story.

A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs is pure stage magic. It’s the reason theatre can still compete with Netflix. A huge part of the magic comes from Lucas Neal’s versatile set, which radiates rustic seaside charm. The action takes place on a half-made boat, and while the use of the different spaces isn’t 100 percent consistent, it’s a clever idea that creates countless striking stage pictures.

And then there’s the puppetry. Helena is sensitively brought to life by Hancox-Monk with a plain cardboard box. Immediately, we accept this quivering, quaking, pouncing mound of cardboard as the beloved Helena, although the illusion is momentarily shattered when the same box is used to represent a different dog.

The production is filled with electric performances. Paterson’s history teacher is fantastic, while Sullivan is a hoot in every role. Olson is the kite master, allowing the cast around him to soar with his grounded stage presence.

Oliver Devlin’s expressive sound design works to accentuate the most powerful moments, especially the ending. I can’t spoil that here, but it was the best moment of my year so far. This devastatingly charming show will be hard to beat.

7 Days Live | Regional News

7 Days Live

Michael Fowler Centre, 23rd Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

7 Days is by far my favourite TV Three show. I love nothing more than curling up on the couch on a Friday night to watch comedians ‘discuss’ the news. With a core team of Jeremy Corbett, Paul Ego, and Dai Henwood, and such regular guests as Justine Smith, Ben Hurley, Josh Thomson, and Jeremy Elwood, the jokes are always fire. But it’s the camaraderie that really makes the show shine. It’s clear these guys are mates, so when they rip each other to pieces, we know it’s all in good fun.

That’s what makes us more inclined to accept the inappropriate jokes too, though seeing 7 Days Live made me realise just how much happens behind the screens. Corbett told me about 50 percent of what they record for each episode makes it onto the telly. Now that I’ve been to the live, uncensored show, I reckon it’s more like 20 percent.

The first half of 7 Days Live sees each comedian deliver a seven-minute stand-up set. Ego does an awesome stick man impression, Hurley waxes lyrical about the removal of his body hair, Thomson reveals the joys of having children, and Elwood tells a joke about how women never go for the nice guys. Funny how it’s only ever the ‘nice guys’ who say this, huh? With her unabashed set about shrill women versus lazy men, Smith is the one who smashes the house down, but each 7 Days comedian is at the top of their game.

In the second half, the audience is treated to the 7 Days we see on TV and then some. Corbett is the perfect host, knowing when to drive the action forward and when to let the good times roll. Henwood is my favourite in this act for his brilliant randomness, though a joke he makes about Down’s syndrome is not cool.

For the most part, 7 Days Live overflows with intelligent, hilarious comedy. There’s no doubt it’s a blimmin’ good time. But with cheap jokes that bring minorities down, methinks the editors can stick around.

Uma Lava | Regional News

Uma Lava

Written by: Victor Rodger

Directed by: Vela Manusaute

Circa Theatre, 22nd Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Three unpleasant people find themselves locked in a room together. Reverend Stella (Goretti Chadwick), academic Lina (Anapela Polata’ivao), and politician Garth (Mario Faumui) each operate under the guise of benevolence, pretending to serve others while only looking out for number one. In Uma Lava, all three of them pay for it.

The first thing I’d like to say about Uma Lava is that I should have stood up at the end of it. I think my legs had turned to lead from shock, my brain too busy trying to process the depraved hour I’d just witnessed (read: screamed through). I’ve never seen anything more outrageous, crass, or disgusting. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more real, raw, or bold. In the programme notes, Victor Rodger says writing Uma Lava was the most fun he’s ever had in his life. After watching it, I could say the same.

Now that the gushing is (nearly) over, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I can’t spoil the overall premise of the show, but the room it all takes place in is superbly designed (Sean Coyle), with Jennifer Lal’s dramatic lighting scheme raising the stakes. Filth and muck pervade the space – so much so, I swear I could smell one scene. However, that’s partly a credit to Polata’ivao and her fearless embrace of such a nauseating character.

Chadwick is totally transformed from her role in Still Life With Chickens, delivering flawless comedic timing and pretty sweet dance moves. Paul McLaughlin (known simply as T.D) plays evil with glee. Faumui is the anchor, holding it all together as the one we love to hate the most. His character has zero remorse – even at the very end.

The very end, as it were, sees each character realise they are never, ever getting out of that room. Watching the revelation dawn on all three faces reminds me of the incomparable power of the theatre. It’s a moment – and a play – that will stay with me forever.

Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime | Regional News

Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 22nd Dec 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Alice (the eternally energetic Natasha McAllister) is a smart, capable student who wouldn’t put a toe out of line. When her friend White Rabbit (the luminous Sarah Lineham) shows up hyped up on energy drinks and off to a party in Wonderland, Alice becomes curiouser and curiouser. Just where is this topsy-turvy Wonderland where animals pet humans and the Ps are silent?

Hoping for an audition with Alice’s uncle Peter Jackson, aspiring actress and hand model Dame Marjori (the best Dame yet from Gavin Rutherford) follows Alice down the rabbit hole.

In Wonderland, Alice and Marjori meet Mad Hatter (technically Mad Phatter, played by a delightfully loopy Simon Leary), Tweedle Dum (some sparky moments from Andrew Paterson) and Tweedle Dee (gorgeous vocals but a bit of a subdued performance from Susie Berry), and a host of other kooky characters. They’re all under the thumb of the fierce, sassy Queen of Hearts (standout performer Jonathan Morgan) and her beastly Jabberwock.

Of course, there’s singing and dancing galore (musical direction and arrangement by Michael Nicholas Williams, musical staging by Leigh Evans). While the whole cast is vocally proficient, the songs are set too low for a lot of the voices. This means there aren’t many moments for the singing to shine.

The Circa Theatre pantomime is an uproarious affair for adults and children alike. Topical, localised jokes keep the grownups cackling while the littlies enjoy action and interaction in spades (or in this case, hearts). A touching highlight of Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime is when the youngsters are all called on stage to sing Love, Love, Love with Alice and the Dame, who by now is clad all in sequins. Yes queen.

With incredible costumes by Sheila Horton (Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee’s are knockouts), Lucas Neal’s vibrant set design, and Marcus McShane’s exciting lighting design, Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime is an explosion of colour and joy that I’d happily see again.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub | Regional News

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub

Written by: Kieran Craft

Directed by: Cassandra Tse

JJ Murphy & Co, 14th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub is a play in a pub. To anyone wondering how that might work, I can now provide an answer: in the hands of Red Scare Theatre Company, it works a treat!

Darragh (Finlay Langelaan) has inherited the Green Barrow from his late father. He keeps the pub exactly the same – even down to the expired Midori and the dangerous step at the front door. But when his sister Aisling (a sassy performance filled with soul from Aimee Sullivan) returns home from her travels, and handsome stranger Arad (Alex Rabina) shows up at the door (mind the step), Darragh discovers life doesn’t get better by chance; it gets better by change.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub is a wonderful gay love story about finding your place in the world within and without your family. Darragh and Arad’s relationship is one that makes my face hurt from smiling. Their tender affection for each other is heightened by two talented actors who deliver chemistry in spades.

Each character is carefully crafted and lovingly brought to life by a playwright, director, and cast working seamlessly as one. Performances simmer and boil at just the right moments thanks to great instincts honed by Tse’s guiding hand. Hilary Norris as Nuala, Karen Anslow as Caitlin, and Ralph Johnson as Glendon (all three of whom are hilarious) round out a committed cast that doesn’t bat one eyelash at the noise of the pub below. The rising rowdiness often serves the play beautifully, but does detract from the sweeter moments for me.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub features the best incorporation of music I’ve seen in a long while, with stomping Irish songs played by an effervescent band of Sullivan, Emily Griffiths, Thomas Whaley, and musical director Michael Stebbings. I so wish the audience had been invited to join in, if only to add to the joy of an evening already overflowing with it.

Meeting Karpovsky | Regional News

Meeting Karpovsky

Directed by: Sue Rider

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sylvia (Helen Moulder) lives alone in a big empty house with a garden overrun by wisteria. Her daughter Anna has flown the nest to China, leaving behind boxes of her old things. With only her posters of the great dancer Alexander Karpovsky for company, Sylvia periodically clears the boxes, deciding which items to donate and which to keep. All the while, she chats to herself and of course, her posters, which depict Karpovsky in his various roles: Petrouchka, Widow Simone, Albrecht, and Herr Drosselmeyer, the magician in The Nutcracker.

It’s a fantastic set-up for a show and immediately reminds me of my own behaviour when going through such monotonous motions. Moving house, clearing out a wardrobe, re-arranging a bedroom… I always find a way to keep myself entertained, as does Sylvia. The beginning of Meeting Karpovsky beautifully represents the stock we put in possessions, too, with Anna’s clothes taking Sylvia back to another time and place.

Starting on such an earthly, relatable plane eases the audience into what turns into a whimsical fantasy when the real-live Karpovsky (Sir John Trimmer) arrives on the scene. With Karpovsky in the room the pace picks up. A gorgeous and powerful transition (original design by David Thornley, original lighting design by Phillip Dexter) begins to repeat with more and more frequency. Dance, song, and even mime are intricately woven into the work, adding electricity but never detracting from the story.

And yet, there are moments of such profound stillness. A mime performance from Trimmer playing Karpovsky playing the puppet Petrouchka brings a tear (well, a few tears) to my companion’s eye. As he gently binds Sylvia’s “dodgy ankle”, the audience holds its collective breath. The connection between the characters and the brilliant actors playing them touches many a chord.

Meeting Karpovsky is tender and sweet and filled with sorrow. At the same time, it’s funny and charming and a real cracker of a piece. It makes meaning out of grief and the aching longing for human connection. Bring a hankie.

Hansel & Gretel | Regional News

Hansel & Gretel

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 6th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s iteration of the classic Brothers Grimm tale is the ‘swan song’ of long-standing company member and choreographer in residence, Loughlan Prior. Hansel & Gretel is Prior’s first full-length work and with Claire Cowan’s original music and Kate Hawley’s design, it is both terrifying and utterly enchanting.

With flourishes of glitter and looming shadows, the production is gothic noir meets carnival candy floss. In the opening act, which evokes stylish silent cinema, we are introduced to the grim lives of Hansel and Gretel, danced by Shaun James Kelly and Kirby Selchow. The siblings are bullied mercilessly by their peers and come from a fragile homelife, relying on one another for both childhood cheer and comfort. Kelly and Selchow perform with tender joy and demonstrate an excellent stage dynamic. Their duets are refined and in-sync, and their harmony remains dominant throughout.

The work journeys through an expressionistic backdrop and is home to all manner of peculiar characters; exaggerated Donnie Darko-esque rabbits tiptoe through a forest of forks, a moon of cheese watches through the night with an ice-cream lodged into its right eye (a lá A Trip to the Moon), and the charismatic witch, eloquently performed by Katharine Precourt, shimmies across the stage like a theatrical talk show host. The heart of the production is a rich and beloved story and the dancers are forced to explore more than just pirouettes and pliés. Kudos to Paul Matthews, often the picture of refinement, for playing the transformed witch with absurd panache.

Hansel & Gretel has many moving parts but manages to deliver a cinematic theatre experience. Hawley’s costume and set design drip with glamour and magic and Cowan’s composition (performed by Orchestra Wellington) is bold and timeless. With Prior’s distinctive choreographic flair, the collaborators have created a fantastical pastiche which is fully supported by a passionate cast of dancers.

Bursting with unique artistry, surrealism, and dexterous humour, Hansel & Gretel is a production bound to enchant the masses.

ransom. | Regional News

ransom.

Directed by: Neenah Dekkers-Reihana and Stella Reid

Running at BATS Theatre until 16th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

ransom. is the most unique work I’ve ever seen. The only thing that comes close to it is Second Unit, an interactive experience that took over Circa Theatre earlier this year. While ransom. activates all the spaces of BATS Theatre in much the same way, it stands apart in its narrative. A rich, textural story is woven through the very fabric of this piece. Every room, every body, every detail ties back to a plot conscientiously devised by Robbie Nicol, Finnius Teppett, and co-directors Stella Reid and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana.

The year is 2024, and One New Zealand Party leader Katie Wakefield has been kidnapped. Clever propaganda in the lobby lets us know Katie is profoundly racist, although the initial video we see loses a bit of this sentiment in crafty camera effects. Once we watch the video, our group of three is taken through the building on a wild ride to discover the culprit.

Audiences themselves inhabit various roles – we’re a family, then we’re students, partygoers, the list goes on. Actors let us know what character we’re playing next without much preamble. My favourite ‘scene’ is when media mogul Kupe (Sepelini Mua'au) thrusts three clipboards, three suit jackets, and three lanyards into our hands and makes us fathom news headlines while putting on deodorant. Remarkably, “Katie Wakefield goes missing, oh no!” is the winner for our group.

The bow is tied a little too neatly for my liking at the end. Every element we see during the show is incorporated into a final explanation, but some of the links feel a little tenuous, especially around the role of the clairvoyant Ffion (a playful performance from Jean Sergent).

Rose Kirkup’s phenomenal, vivid production design brings the world of the play to life. This makes its message hit harder. The things that happen in the work are happening here. ransom. could very well be our 2024. Don’t let it be a warning; let it be a call to action.

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.

Cock | Regional News

Cock

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.

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.

World of WearableArt Awards show | Regional News

World of WearableArt Awards show

Directed by: Andy Packer

TSB Bank Arena, 29th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

115 finalists from 22 countries were selected for this year’s World of WearableArt Awards show, where their designs were exhibited in a stage spectacular with colossal production values.

WOW is always breathtaking. There’s nothing quite like it in Wellington – nay, the world. If this was my first time, I’d be ranting and raving about how wonderful it was even after the cows came home. Unfortunately, I felt this year’s show was not as cohesive as the four phenomenal productions I’ve seen in the past.

The creative team had a massive job: tying six very different worlds together – Aotearoa, Avant-garde, Open, Mythology, Transform, and White – into one that showcases and celebrates the incredible works at the heart of WOW. A lot of different elements were brought into this show to never return: a little girl who ran out to marvel at her surroundings, two emcees who disappeared into the ether, a real-live ballerina inside a mirrored jewellery box that wasn’t utilised to its full effect. John Strang’s brilliant AV design wove the strongest thread between the worlds for me, with marvellously drawn throwbacks to the show’s recurring motifs of fire, slimy creatures, and eyes. Torches and giant tentacles served to strengthen these references on the ground, while a dazzling scene featuring deep sea divers caused an audible “wow” to escape my lips.

This show featured a large group of dancers who, while clearly talented, weren’t always able to keep up with Sarah Foster-Sproull’s demanding contemporary choreography. It’s the type of choreography that requires such precision, small missteps become glaringly obvious. One hand out of place, one rākau (stick) hitting the floor a split second after the next, one taiaha (close-quarters staff) raised a millimetre higher… these weren’t rare occasions. When working in time, the dancers’ wild energy and camaraderie shone through, highlighting Foster-Sproull’s visionary approach.

The 2019 World of WearableArt Awards show was a jaw-dropping affair, with plenty of moments that stood alone as exceptional.

The Merry Wives of Windsor | Regional News

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Adapted by: Alexander Sparrow

Written by: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Alexander Sparrow

Gryphon Theatre, 17th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sir John Falstaff is a stout, snotty, slimy knight intent on married women. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, he attempts to woo two wives at once: Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. Unimpressed by Falstaff’s lazy advances, they enlist the townspeople in an elaborate revenge scheme involving dung, drag, and fairies. Playing every single character with gusto and flabbergasting energy is actress Katie Boyle.

This 90-minute one-woman show is an exercise of endurance. Boyle does a remarkable job; she never lets up, loses her place, fumbles a line, or switches roles at the wrong moment. No accents or attributes linger as she jumps from one character to the next with lightning speed and commitment. Her characterisations are both clear and comedic. While Boyle makes every effort to take her audience with her, at this mile-a-minute pace, you can’t pause to think about the line you’ve just heard or you’ll miss the next one. I do think condensing the work into a one-act play would make it easier to follow and give it more impact.

Where The Merry Wives of Windsor shines is in Boyle's adlibs, asides, and audience interactions. I would be really interested to see more social commentary in this production. Boyle pokes fun at the characters and makes topical observations but doesn’t go that step further. When Mr Ford (aka Mr Brook) flies off the handle into a violent rage because he suspects his wife of infidelity (on no grounds), his actions perpetuate a dangerous, pervasive attitude towards women. Because this isn’t your run-of-the-mill, word-for-word Shakespeare production, highlighting this toxic behaviour wouldn’t be out of place, but would elevate the work from simply entertaining to one with intent and purpose.

Overall, The Merry Wives of Windsor is a riotous romp. It’s fun and funny but lacks the emotional dimension that makes a show stick with you.

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God | Regional News

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God

Written by: Roland Schimmelpfennig

Directed by: Giles Burton

Running at Circa Theatre until 12th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Liz (the deliciously delirious Rebecca Parker) and Frank (sheer brilliance from Gavin Rutherford) live a comfortable life in a nice house that even has a garage. Their long-time friends Martin (Patrick Davies, who plays strong and silent with sensitivity) and Carol (a committed performance from Fingal Pollock) gave it all up to provide healthcare in a war-torn Third World country. The two couples reunite for a dinner party six years after they last met. When the wine begins to flow, so too do the secrets and resentments that both have harboured.

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God is not slice-of-life theatre. While we are witnessing a dinner party, almost half the play is direct address, with characters regularly breaking the fourth wall to express their thoughts and feelings. It’s hard to place the chronology of events, with countless repeated lines, instances of foreshadowing, and moments of stillness when one would expect a storm. My favourite scene is when Frank busts out Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer on vinyl, but I doubt two people would calmly sit down to listen to a song after slapping each other.

I love a work that keeps me guessing, but don’t quite see the point here. I understand that Peggy Pickit aims to explore the gap between the Western and developing world by juxtaposing the perspective of two dolls while its characters ramble on about artisan salads. What I don’t get is why it spends 70 minutes making its audience question which parts of a dinner party have happened and which parts haven’t.

While I’m not a fan of the play, I’m a big fan of the production. Debbie Fish’s sleek grey set sets the scene beautifully, and director Giles Burton does well to create cohesion out of a convoluted script with concrete lighting and staging decisions. Rutherford’s genius comedic timing is one of the best parts of the show for me. The other? Watching Davies drink like it’s the six o’clock swill.

The Pink Hammer | Regional News

The Pink Hammer

Written by: Michele Amas

Directed by: Conrad Newport

Running at Circa Theatre until 5th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Four women sign up to a carpentry workshop, prepay their fees (a hefty $400 apiece), and then show up to find their tutor Maggie has done a runner. Maggie’s husband Woody (Alex Greig) is none too thrilled about the strangers in his shed, especially not Annabel (Bronwyn Turei), who takes down his smutty calendar in an attempt to dismantle the patriarchy within minutes of arriving.

They’re a group of personalities, alright. Siobhan (Harriet Prebble) plans to seduce someone by building them a kennel (gets ‘em every time), while Louise (Anne Chamberlain) bakes gluten-free, vegan, kale muffins for fun. Horse breeder Helen (Ginette McDonald) will not be bringing a plate, thank you very much.

Michele Amas’ The Pink Hammer goes beneath surface comedy to explore characters that step out of their stereotypes in surprising ways. Woody isn’t as much of an unyielding Kiwi bloke as his name would suggest, Annabel’s fire has its origins, Siobhan is still running away, Louise is carrying a heavy burden, and Helen has just received a big blow. Underlying every beat of the script is the need for human connection and companionship, resulting in a funny but touching play.

Intuitively directed by Conrad Newport, cast members of The Pink Hammer take great care and delight in peeling back the layers of their characters. Highlights include Chamberlain’s sensitive portrayal of loneliness, McDonald’s purse-lipped disdain for affection, and Prebble’s cheeky, charming turn as a lascivious woman with an accent so convincing my friend was shocked to learn she’s not actually Irish. While I happily swallowed most of the script, I’m surprised none of the characters – especially Annabel – called Siobhan out for making unnecessary jokes that trivialised the Holocaust.

The twist ending is beautifully staged, featuring exceptional lighting design by Tony Black that bounces brilliantly off Daniel Williams’ impressive set, and great use of music. I would love to see more integration between the music and the rest of the play, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely production.

Cry-Baby – The Musical | Regional News

Cry-Baby – The Musical

Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan

Directed by: Leigh Evans

Te Auaha, 5th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Based on John Waters’ cult classic film starring Johnny Depp (which I haven’t seen, but intend to immediately), Cry-Baby – The Musical is set in Baltimore in the 1950s. It follows Allison Vernon-Williams (Flora Dryburgh), a teenage member of the super conservative, Squeaky Clean clique The Squares. Much to the delight of Allison’s grandmother Mrs Vernon-Williams (Malea Nicholson), Allison and Baldwin (Devon Neiman), the frontman of The Squares, are like, totally an item. That is, until Cry-Baby (Matt Mulholland) enters the scene. Cry-Baby is the ringleader of The Drapes, a group of rebel misfits who talk a big game but really just want to be loved like everyone else.

The plotline echoes West Side Story, but it’s not a particularly violent story – er, except for the part about Cry-Baby’s parents being executed because somebody Did Something Wrong, Once. I won’t spoil who that somebody was here but a direct note to the actor: your performance of that song was a show highlight.

In saying that, there are so many highlights, this production became its own highlight – of my week, month, even perhaps my year. Te Auaha’s musical theatre students just keep getting better and better. Standout moments include an extremely entertaining tantrum from Neiman; a mic-drop stare from Jake Elston, who was brilliant in every role he played; killer dance moves from the gifted Fipe Foai; a marvellously maniacal karaoke performance from Lane Corby; and grin-inducing boot licking from Bentley Stevenson. Special mention must be given to Dryburgh for a knockout performance – she’s really come into her own since The Addams Family – and to Jade Thomson, Caitlin Penrose, and Moana Leota for their exquisite ensemble work and harmonies.

Cry-Baby – The Musical is the epitome of a stage spectacular. It’s a dizzying explosion of colour, movement (phenomenal choreography by Leigh Evans), and sound, with musical director Kate Marshall producing exceptional powerhouse vocals from a cast filled to the brim with talent.

Rigoletto | Regional News

Rigoletto

Presented by: Eternity Opera

Directed by: Alex Galvin

Hannah Playhouse, 23rd Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With their fifth show, Rigoletto, Eternity Opera has served up the perfect invitation to opera for newcomers with some seriously engaging leads and a strong orchestral performance. Although, some die-hard fans may have been left wanting more.

The story concerns the egomaniacal Duke (Boyd Owen) and his jester, Rigoletto (James Clayton), who spends his days humiliating others for the Duke’s enjoyment. Rigoletto mocks Monterone (Roger Wilson) when he accuses the Duke of seducing his daughter, maddening him to the point of cursing the two men. Mistakenly, word gets out that Rigoletto is hiding a young lover, his daughter Gilda (Hannah Catrin Jones), who has taken a liking to the vile Duke.

With its twists and turns of paranoia and revenge, this story is dramatic enough to bring even the most resistant opera fans to the edge of their seats. Galvin leans into the action by minimising distractions. Sparse staging and no sets leave lighting and music to set the tone and assure the audience of where they are at a given time.

Owen and Clayton are worth the price of admission. They deliver their characters with charm and true understanding, never relying on their voices alone to startle the audience. Both gave extremely physical performances on opening night. We see a clear, heart-breaking difference in Rigoletto when he performs for the Duke versus his time hiding, protecting his beloved daughter. Owen has so much confidence it’s almost sickening, which works perfectly for the Duke. Every smirk, laugh, or contemptuous look is lapped up by the audience.

Owen, Clayton, and Jones deliver stunning vocal performances that, when paired with the tight chamber arrangement of the score, fill the Hannah Playhouse with ease. Watching Owen indulge in every beat of La donna e mobile is delightful. Unfortunately, this leaves weaker vocalists amongst the chorus and supporting cast to appear rather exposed. While visual minimalism allows aspects of the show to shine, it draws attention to less impressive elements, such as the costumes (Sally Gray), which lack consistency and flair.

Symmetry | Regional News

Symmetry

Written by: Uther Dean

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer and Jane Yonge

BATS Theatre, 22nd Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

El (Hannah Banks) is unhappy. Nothing in her life is wrong, per se, but nothing’s that right either. El is not herself lately, and when she meets her noisy neighbour Liz and the offensively happy Beth, things take a turn for the sinister.

Uther Dean’s script is like if Inception, If/Then, and Coraline had a love child. It’s Inception because the whole thing is a trip with a mind-bending ending, If/Then for the Liz/Beth alternate lives paradigm (and for Beth, who acts like she’s in a musical), and Coraline for its fantastical darkness and the pervasive horror it incrementally inflicts on its audience. Then, Symmetry is like if that love child was swaddled in a blanket woven from the gut-strings of a town-eating monster from The Powerpuff Girls (those things were scary).

Delivered by Banks, who must have utilised about an octave in her vocal performance, Dean’s language evokes potent, vivid imagery. While the script more than holds its own in Banks’ hands, I would be curious to see some of that imagery played out in a design vision incorporating projection, soundscape, and maybe even costume (I’m thinking about the plant scene here).

This development showing of Symmetry uses lighting states (Lucas Neal) to differentiate between multiple characters, mostly to great effect. The warm white used for Liz and cool white used for Darkness are a little too similar. Because Banks performs these two characters at a similar pitch, even with the establishing convention of the microphone, I’m still confused at first. My brain would be quicker on the uptake if there weren’t so many other things to figure out, which is why clarifying the basics (like who’s speaking when) is especially important.

I most enjoyed Banks’ brilliant performance as El and Beth for its dramatic contrast and comical, snappy transitions.

With plenty to laugh at and recoil from during, and to chew on afterwards, I cannot wait to see where Symmetry goes next. What a wild ride of a show.

Bold Moves | Regional News

Bold Moves

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 16th Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's Bold Moves is a mixed bill featuring four works that have transcended the realms of classical and contemporary ballet.

George Balanchine's Serenade is a treat for ballet lovers and romantics alike. To Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, a cast of waiflike female dancers in pale blue tulle float exquisitely across the stage. Their straight lines and long limbs create beautiful shapes and convey a gorgeous unspoken emotion. Nadia Yanowsky steals the show with intense strength and well-refined technique. The piece ends with a dancer raised above the rest, bathed in a divine glow; an image resounding with remarkable grace.

Mayu Tanigaito and Laurynas Vėjalis electrify the stage in Vasily Vainonen's Flames of Paris. The pair alight the stage with incredible chemistry and exceptional discipline. Tanigaito is always a delight to watch with her charismatic stage presence, but it is Vėjalis who really flourishes on stage with his extraordinary elevation and immeasurable control. The audience is left breathless.

Andrea Schermoly's Stand to Reason was originally commissioned for the company's 2018 suffrage programme, Strength & Grace. Inspired by an 1888 pamphlet outlining the reasons why women should vote, Stand to Reason features eight women moving in unison with emphasis on arm movements and body percussion. There is a deep-set power in this work and the women perform with conviction and alacrity. The choreography is poignant and compelling; it couldn't be executed by a more determined cast of dancers.

William Forsythe's Artifact II explores the more contemporary capabilities of ballet. With an exposed backstage there is an effective depth and reality in the performance. Clad in yellow leotards the dancers form various geometric patterns and play with imitation. Every so often the curtain falls and lifts again to reveal the dancers in a new configuration. Artifact is a clever ode to ballet and George Balanchine, which the dancers attack with assurance and modernist flair.

Bold Moves proved to be an excellent evening of dance and successfully exhibited the versatility of our national ballet company.

Cringe Worthy! | Regional News

Cringe Worthy!

Devised by: Andrea Sanders

Directed by: Andrea Sanders

Running at Circa Theatre until 7th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Cringe Worthy! is a musical hark back to the 1970s in New Zealand. Featuring two original members of The Beatgirls, Andrea Sanders and Carrie McLaughlin, alongside Tom Knowles and Jeff Kingsford-Brown, it’s a harmony-laden, tangerine-hued, bell-bottomed adventure through the songs and artists that dominated the decade.

I have to admit, I don’t know the first thing about the 70s. In fact, I was negative 22 years old when they rolled around! If you’re in my boat, don’t hesitate to see Cringe Worthy! because you don’t know the songs. I only recognised four, but that didn’t put a damper on my experience. Not only did I take great pleasure in the relentless cacophony of laughter emitting from audience members of an older generation, I also relished in learning more about the era. After listening to Spotify on my iPhone on the way to the theatre, hearing about the rip-roaring excitement New Zealanders experienced upon the introduction of a second TV channel was a real eye-opener.

Regardless of when you were born or how interested you are in the 70s, you’ll find the musical prowess on display in Cringe Worthy! extraordinary. Each performer brings something different to the table. Sanders has an incredible range, Kingsford-Brown huge power, Knowles a stunning falsetto, and McLaughlin wonderful stage presence. Though there aren’t many moments of acapella to really let the vocals shine and the backing tracks are sometimes a smidge loud, the four-part harmonies get right down to your soul.

It’s not all soul-stirring though; Cringe Worthy! features plenty of songs that are silly and fun, with glorious choreography to match. My friend emerged with a newfound favourite called Put Another Log on the Fire (so sexist it’s laughable), while I’m still humming Take the Money and Run (the epitome of cringe worthy).

Lucas Neal’s groovy, attention-grabbing set (those lava lamps! That tweed sofa!) is the perfect backdrop for Cringe Worthy!, a superb show overflowing with talent and joy.

Burn Her | Regional News

Burn Her

Written by: Sam Brooks

Directed by: Katherine McRae

Running at Circa Theatre until 31st Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Aroha Party leader Aria (Kali Kopae) has just won a seat in parliament. She’s in the thick of champagne-sprinkled celebrations with her PR spin doctor George (Sophie Hambleton) when young intern Danny (Dryw McArthur) makes sexual allegations against her mentor and long-time friend Richard (Andrew Laing). It’s George’s job to sweep the scandal under the rug and preserve the integrity of the Aroha Party. Will she do what’s right when Labour Party weasel Lauren (Lara Macgregor) and Stuff journalist Harriet (Jean Sergent) come a-knocking?

Playwright Sam Brooks has a remarkable way with words. His witty, quick dialogue weaves biting sarcasm with painful truths about this dog-eat-dog world in which women must work harder and faster to come out on top. Golden one-liners cause shouts of laughter to ring around the theatre. I miss a few obviously hilarious jokes because the blocking occasionally sees the actors deliver lines to the outskirts of the cavernous space.

The stage is magnified by Debbie Fish’s spectacular two-storey set. It’s a pleasure to look at, though audience members at the front and sides are sometimes cut off from the action. Multiple screens project a live feed of press conferences held at the front of the stage, creating an arresting aesthetic that to me smacks of the pervasive nature of political media.

Kopae and Hambleton stand alone as compelling actors and come together as unforgettable ones. Their chemistry is undeniable. Sergent and Macgregor both excel in devious roles; Sergent delivers a bombshell with a sense of justice and a twinkle in her eye that cues a 200-breath gasp. Macgregor’s stroppy negotiations induce whoops of delight. McArthur’s considered, sensitive approach to his character evokes sympathy and compassion from the audience, while Laing confronts the challenge of conveying a character that deserves none. In Burn Her, director Katherine McRae has chosen and honed a brilliant, balanced cast.

Burn Her is a tremendous production that has me hooked from start to finish.

Black Comedy | Regional News

Black Comedy

Written by: Peter Shaffer

Directed by: Neil Haydon and Oliver Mander

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 10th Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Brindsley Miller (Lee Dowsett) is a struggling artist hoping to catch a break. It’s a big night for the sculptor and his new fiancé Carol Melkett (Susannah Donovan). Millionaire aesthete Bamberger (Marty Pilott) is set to stop by to view Brindsley’s work, plus, Carol’s father Colonel Melkett (Antony Jones) is coming over to meet his future son-in-law. Lacking funds and sense, Brindsley breaks into his neighbour’s house to ‘borrow’ the furniture for a night. But of course, the antique-mad Harold Gorringe (Bryce Jennings) comes back from his holiday one night early. Never fear! A power cut means no one can see anything anyway. Lucky for some, but definitely not for the art collector, who is mostly deaf.

Raging drunk Miss Furnival (Nicola Tod), overzealous electrician Schuppanzigh (Matt Todd), and Brindsley’s sadistic ex-girlfriend Clea (Indianna Cosgriff) complicate the chaos.

This one-act farce features a reverse lighting scheme. When the power cuts, the stage lights go on, meaning the characters are in darkness but the actors are not. Angela Wei’s lighting design confuses me at first with a couple of slow cues, and dimmed lights to indicate partial light, but I soon cotton on to the conventions utilised. I crave a snappy blackout at the end as opposed to a soft fade.

This production of Black Comedy impresses me for its considered, striking set (Neil Haydon) and the calibre of its cast. Dowsett somehow brings likeability to an insufferable character. Donovan mines the comedic gold of buffoonery to great effect. Every line (or wild gesture) from Jones is a show highlight, while Tod’s drunken whooping and Jennings’ indignant hooting plant a wide grin on my face.

Each cast member takes up the reverse lighting challenge with glee. Not once do I see anyone make eye contact or look directly where they’re going. It makes for a delightful display of delirious silliness, a phrase I feel perfectly sums up this Wellington Repertory Theatre production.

Orchids | Regional News

Orchids

Directed by: Sarah Foster-Sproull

Circa Theatre, 24th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Inspired by the resilience of the orchid flower, Orchids explores the many facets of femininity. Seven performers – Marianne Schultz, Katie Burton, Rose Philpott, Jahra Wasasala, Joanne Hobern, Tori Manley-Tapu, and Ivy Foster, Foster-Sproull’s daughter – dance beauty and light, darkness and rage.

It takes me a long time to shut off my narrative brain while watching Orchids. Once I accept a story is not going to emerge, I relax and allow myself to be lulled, and at times startled, into a trance.

Each vignette has its own intention. Shifts in mood and tone are frequent and dramatic, and yet the dance is seamless, blurring elegantly into a series of arresting images emblazoned in my mind’s eye. In the dark I see 10 fists clenched into a ponytail, wild hair pulled taught at every angle, feet buoyant on palms.

Bodies merge, touch, and heave as one but are strikingly individual. Orchids is written in such a way as to give each dancer time to both shine and sync. It’s about woman and women – alone and together. It’s as complex and conflicting as the female psyche, as intricate as the human condition itself, and as joyful to dissect.

The dancers never miss a beat. Considering Foster-Sproull’s relentless, remarkable choreography and that Eden Mulholland’s augmenting sound design rarely features lyrics for cues, this seems like an impossible feat to a mere mortal like me. Though equally matched in proficiency, I find myself drawn to Wasasala for her angular precision and nine-year-old Foster for her raw talent and angelic stage presence.

Jennifer Lal uses light and space to play with Andrew Foster’s set design, featuring a floating sheet of material that moves and breathes as if by magic. All elements of the design, from sound to Rose Philpott and Tori Manley-Tapu’s pastel-hued silk costumes, are breathtaking but never distracting.

Most people I spoke to after Orchids responded with noises rather than words, a fantastic testament to its instant and lasting impact.

Onepū | Regional News

Onepū

Choreographed by Louise Potiki Bryant

Presented by: Atamira Dance Company

Te Papa Soundings Theatre, 19th July 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Atamira Dance Company are an Auckland based dance company whose foundations are built on creating and presenting unique Māori dance theatre experiences. Their latest work, Onepū, is an homage to the six atua wāhine (female deities) who control and release the winds of the world. The all-female work is choreographed by cross-discipline artist Louise Potiki Bryant and performed by Jessica Johns, Imogen Tapara, Rosie Tapsell, Ariana Tikao, Presley Ziogas, and Bryant herself.

Onepū is set in an otherworldly plain which is enhanced by Bryant's innovative video design and an ethereal music composition by Paddy Free and Ariana Tikao. The work is steeped in ritual symbolism, with each dancer representing different powers of the wind, and a circle of black sand signifying the bank in which the atua wāhine stand to impart their forces across the world.

Onepū is a slow burn with unadorned choreographic sequences, executed passionately by the dancers. Johns, Tapara, Tapsell, and Ziogas perform dynamic solos as their respective deities under the watch of the matriarchal figures portrayed by Bryant and Tikao. It is largely the audio-visual component that bolsters the show, which is somewhat disappointing for a dance work. The dappled video projection effectively caresses the dancers' bodies as they shift and contract across the stage, and the haunting soundscape enriches the mythology and fluid movements of the atua wāhine.

The costumes, neutral coloured dresses swathed in strips of fabric, are designed by Rona Ngahuia Osborne and create beautiful, hypnotic silhouettes as the dancers leap and twirl fervently. The lighting is shadowy and dark, which works with the dreamlike ambiance but does make it challenging for audiences to really catch every moment on stage.

The work concludes with each wāhine picking up the sand and letting it fall through her fingers like the sands of time; a poignant moment that seems grounded on a powerful connection to the earth and to the spirit. Onepū is culturally and artistically rich, but it fails to affect choreographic awe.

MANIAC on the Dancefloor | Regional News

MANIAC on the Dancefloor

Written by: Natasha Lay

Directed by: Adam Rohe

BATS Theatre, 10th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

MANIAC on the Dancefloor is a dance party about depression. Many of my friends noted that description is somewhat oxymoronic, and I might have agreed with them before seeing the show. Now, I think a dance party is the perfect medium to express the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. As playwright Natasha Lay says, “it’s a good analogy for mania itself.”

The work is based on Lay’s lived experience, and features takatāpui performance artist Daedae Tekoronga-Waka as main character Anna. LGBTQIA+ representation in MANIAC on the Dancefloor is effortless. In both the script and the staging, the gender and sexuality of the characters is irrelevant to the story. While I think works that investigate and actively defy discrimination are vital, I love it when minority characters are approached in a mainstream way. I believe works like this help pave the way for true equality, and I’ll always champion them.

The focus here is on mental illness, and MANIAC on the Dancefloor is the most accessible exploration of depression I’ve ever seen. More than that, it’s fun. The killer dance moves (Marianne Infante) and we-might-as-well-be-at-a-rave lighting design (Spencer Earwaker) up the entertainment ante and plant many a grin on our faces. We giggle and groove to no end while rooting for the characters, who are so likeable because they are written and performed with genuine, heartfelt conviction.

Tekoronga-Waka gives a sensitive yet vibrant portrayal of Anna. As Anna’s friends Phil and Adam, Phillip Good melts our hearts, while director Adam Rohe is a magnet for laughs.

The passion of MANIAC on the Dancefloor’s creators, crew, and joyful cast is abundantly clear, shining through every minute of the show. One more banging dance number at the very end would send me away on a high, but I respect the poignant, lovely ending as it stands. This beautifully balanced production leaves me with plenty to think and smile about.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting | Regional News

The Dunstan Creek Haunting

Written by: Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman

Directed by: Dan Pengelly

Circa Theatre, 9th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache encountered ghost stories galore on their honeymoon in Central Otago. As they learned more and more local legends in every town they visited, strange and stranger occurrences started paranormally plaguing them. Inspired and a little spooked, the couple set about creating The Dunstan Creek Haunting.

In this Circa One show, Ladderman and Tollemache relay the tales that peppered (and salt circled) their travels. Particular emphasis is placed on the legend of Rose, the prim and proper proprietor of the Vulcan Hotel in Saint Bathans. Rose met an untimely death and is said to haunt room one of the hotel today.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting is delightfully metatheatrical, its performers gliding between direct address, playful banter, and “serious acting” (thanks for warning us David). As with every Rollicking Entertainment show I’ve seen, Ladderman and Tollemache strike up a quick and easy relationship with their audience. Individually, they both posses a warm and rich stage presence. Put them together and it’s dynamite.

What I most appreciate about the show is, when things take a turn for the dark, we’re told we can leave if we’re uncomfortable. It puts me at ease knowing anyone who might object to a supernatural ritual for any reason doesn’t have to witness one. On this evening, we all stay, and I can tell you with complete conviction I’m holding my breath the whole time. The energy is contagious as terrified giggles and giddy screams resonate through the pitch-black theatre.

Special credit must be given here to Molloy for his eerie sound and lighting design, full of surprises I can’t spoil. Chrissy Larsen’s props add an extra layer of authenticity to Richard van den Berg’s sepia-hued set imbued with the whispers of bygone days.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting is a perfectly bite-sized thriller, with the suspense building to boiling point in 70 minutes. It’s a hugely entertaining mid-winter screamfest not for the faint-hearted – bring someone/something to squeeze or be damned!

Cellfish | Regional News

Cellfish

Written by: Rob Mokaraka, Miriama McDowell, and Jason Te Kare

Directed by: Jason Te Kare and Erina Daniels

Hannah Playhouse, 11th Jun 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A joint Taki Rua and T.O.A production, Cellfish is inspired by the real-life Shakespeare Behind Bars rehabilitation programme. It follows Shane (aka Shades, played by Jason Te Kare), Irish, Foof, and their fellow prisoners as they engage in Shakespearean drama classes taught by Miss Lucy (Carrie Green).

Cellfish is filled with startling twists and turns – just when you think a love story is blooming, boom. It’s a crime spree. When you believe a character has found redemption, no. They’re incarcerated for life. Audience expectation is turned on its head as characters surprise, plots thicken, and conventions are overhauled. While the action moves forward, time doesn’t. Flashbacks and flashforwards, dream sequences, rehearsal scenes, and Shakespearean soliloquies are interwoven into the fabric of the script. We never lose our place thanks to the skill of the actors, the seamless direction, and Jane Hakaraia’s symbolic and striking lighting design, which works in perfect harmony with Thomas Press’ sound design.

Just as the playwrights play, so to do the remarkable actors. Green and Te Kare portray an impressive range of characters with lightning speed and clear, hyperbolic physicality. While the old man, the ‘gangsta’, the strong silent type, and other characters are written with such depth and nuance that they don’t fall into the stereotype category, they sure are funny.

I laugh as much as I’m moved by the story and the respect that’s been poured into telling it. This extends past what I see before me to what I’ve seen before Cellfish: trigger warnings via email and in the programme that prepare me for the journey. This is an excellent example of theatre that pushes boundaries to say something important while validating and supporting anyone who might find it difficult to hear. Taki Rua and T.O.A Productions should be commended for this, and for bringing us such a fierce and unflinching examination of intergenerational violence. Cellfish is a powerful, poignant work that leaves a lasting impression.

The Full Monty | Regional News

The Full Monty

Music and lyrics by David Yazbek

Directed by: Julie O’Brien

Gryphon Theatre, 29th May 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Based on the cult classic film of the same name, The Full Monty is about a group of six unemployed men who decide to stage a strip show to gain purpose in their lives and impress their wives.

Toxic masculinity. Sexism. Homophobia. Racism. Fat shaming. Slut shaming. It’s all here in this knotty, frankly gross script. I do admire a work that attempts to deal with difficult subjects, but this one barely resolves even one of the issues it raises. For the most part, The Full Monty lets bigotry fly. Unfortunately, it rather seems Kauri Theatre Company hopes we won’t notice this.

There are so many little decisions the company could have made to subvert the noxious notions expressed in The Full Monty. Let the gay couple kiss to offset the rampant homophobia (and the assault of a gay stripper) in the opening scenes. Don’t insert an Italian caricature – racist stereotyping isn’t funny. And absolutely do not graphically depict an attempted suicide in a car for no other reason than to show off your set.

Suicide is never, ever funny. If you’ve experienced it, you know this. You should know this anyway. If you choose to stage a scene featuring a deeply disgusting song called Big-Ass Rock, about helping your friend to die by suicide, you should approach the staging of it with extreme caution. Making the trigger warnings in the foyer more visible is necessary here, and the audience should be informed of the scene in the opening announcements.

There are really great moments in this show. The final scene is a riot, Jane Keller has me in stitches, Peter Quinn’s voice is exceptional, James Catherwood is adorable, the costumes (Cathy Yee and Mary Jarmulski) are total glitz and glam, and yes, it’s a great set. I’m not discounting the talent or effort of the cast and crew involved, but I just can’t abide a production content to blindside its audience in 2019.

Running Late | Regional News

Running Late

Written by: Courtney Rose Brown

Directed by: Shauwn Keil

BATS Theatre, 28th May 2019

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Running Late is the story of one remote, rural, decrepit bus stop, and six of the unlucky people that come across it.

We first come across the bus stop via Jamie (Emma Katene), a schoolgirl who’s been dropped off there indefinitely. She’s pissed off, and the only sustenance she has is half a bottle of scrumpy and a ratty cigarette (but she doesn’t have a light). Over the course of three days, she meets Lucy, or Ruihi (Kelsey Robson), a big-city Māori; the kinda-familiar Charlie (Shay Tanirau); wasted white boy Nick (Jackson Herman); and squabbling BFFs and maybe-lovers Sam (Courtney Rose Brown) and Jules (Harriet Hughes).

One of the best parts of the show is undoubtedly the set, designed by Anne-Lisa Noordover. It is perfectly detailed, down to the brown harakeke leaves and empty bottle brushed under the bus stop seat.

The scenes, connected piecemeal by Jamie, the setting, and a nearby wedding, are for the most part strong. A stand-out is the first sequence with Charlie, when Jamie realises he’s an old friend of hers that has come out as a trans man. The dialogue, peppered with Kiwi-isms, is awkward, funny, and sweet.

Other scenes don’t quite land as nicely. The opening scene between Jamie and Lucy/Ruihi, for example, never quite settles. It struggles to make the connection between the pair feel genuine, partly because we just don’t know them very well yet.

It’s unfortunately the weaker moments of Running Late that make me question its cohesion. As a slice-of-life piece, it does have a lot of valuable insights into modern-day Aotearoa. It’s just that, at times, the bus stop device doesn’t quite work. The realism of the dialogue pushes against its framing; we have to suspend our disbelief a little too far, too often.

Running Late is an exciting example of theatre inspired by everyday New Zealanders. Toi Ngākau Productions, the talented team behind the show, is a company to watch.

Paul Sinha | Regional News

Paul Sinha

Te Auaha, 21st May 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

For those wondering whether Paul ‘The Sinnerman’ Sinha from The Chase is funny, he is. Now we’ve settled that, let’s get into his New Zealand debut at the NZ International Comedy Festival.

The audience brims with anticipation before the show, with a long line snapping all the way to the stairs the second the doors open. Te Auaha’s Tapere Nui (the big theatre) is at full capacity; even ‘the gods’ are utilised to fit more bums on seats.

Paul’s show is almost a monologue; it’s a steady stream of scripted speech, rarely fumbled over. Eloquent, clever, and perfectly balanced, the script is equal parts heartbreak and hilarity, light and dark. Though clearly rehearsed and likely memorised, it’s not a tired set. The quiz master has put in the research. Israel Folau, our contentious relationship with Australia, and Hamilton are just some of the topics that Paul incorporates as he takes the mickey out of New Zealand. We don’t mind though – I much prefer being cheerily mocked as a nation to being singled out and personally ridiculed, a common comedy trope.

Watching Paul in action, I realise I’ve never seen a comedian more generous with his audience. As well as yarns about his time on The Chase (which the audience laps up), Paul shares deeply personal stories. He tells us about giving up a career as a doctor to pursue comedy (something his conservative family just loved!), shares stories from the worst week of his life, and even confronts a past traumatic sexual encounter. In this moment, the audience’s silence is deafening. But not because we’re not okay with hearing about the nigh assault. We’re silent because we’re devastated that Paul blames himself for it. If you’re reading this Paul, it wasn’t your fault, and no, you didn’t “lead him on.” Consent can be given and withdrawn at any time.

Paul is a brave, intelligent, and hilarious comedian. This is a golden hour of stand-up that I’d pay to see again and again.

20for20 | Regional News

20for20

Choreographed by Neil Ieremia

Presented by: Black Grace

Te Rauparaha Arena, 20th May 2019

Reviewed by: Deirdre Tarrant

20 years. 20 centres. $20 tickets. Black Grace is touring with a programme firmly sustaining their high-octane trademark style. This is a series of works danced with passion and projection by the five company dancers: Sarah Baron, Shane Tofaeono, Demi-Jo Manalo, Rodney Tyrell, and Keana Ngaata.

Opening and closing the evening are sections of Method – an earlier work that I recall seeing some years ago – set to the flow and flying music of Bach. Reminiscent of early Douglas Wright and Michael Parmenter, this exhilarating movement vocabulary never fails to excite. There was a real sense of community and Ieremia spoke to open and outline the programme, also leading a Q&A; session at the end. The dance is a series of solos, duets, trios, and full company works. There is an overall sense of searching and looking for personal ‘self’. Some of these sequences are more successful than others and the structure becomes rather repetitive and predictable. For me, the use of songs with emotive lyrics overrides the power of the movement and of the performers to communicate. Mimetic gesture and lip-syncing seem superfluous. That said, there are some memorable moments in the lyrics “please don’t let me be misunderstood” and “dance with my father again”, and the dancers give their all and more.

The choreographic choices incorporate Pasifika, Māori, contemporary, and street vocabulary and put an emphasis on upper body and arm movements, with a strong earthed quality and with phrases weighted into the legs. At the end of the day, it is predictability that embodies much of our time and informs our lives. When this is shattered it can be scary and challenging. I wanted more challenges. It was intriguing that Ieremia, himself a product of his country and especially of Porirua where he grew up, acknowledged only extant European influences for his own creative pathway. It is time to look at our own backyard and stand proud of the influences making today’s wonderful and challenging art.

Bravo Black Grace for all you have done and best wishes as the journey dances onward. Be brave. Kia kaha.

Heroic | Regional News

Heroic

Created by: Donna Brookbanks

BATS Theatre, 14th May 2019

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Auckland comic and 2019 Billy T Award nominee Donna Brookbanks fancies herself a bit of a superhero, and maybe she is.

Prompted by a disembodied robot voice, Brookbanks tells us all about her super alter-ego Captain Moggy. Over 45 minutes, we meet her feline sidekick Cat Stevens (Stevie for short); learn about her great weakness, a lactose intolerance; and encounter her dastardly nemeses Saboteur and Imposter. You see, Brookbanks is a superhero, but she’s like, a relatable one.

While the show has a structure more like a piece of theatre (complete with characters and costumes), it also strikes up an easy-breezy flow more akin to a traditional stand-up set. It’s a pretty cutesy framing device, and sometimes I want Brookbanks to lean in harder to the cheese of it all, but she pulls it off largely thanks to her very natural charisma.

The comic is one of the most instantly likeable people I’ve seen on the stand-up circuit. Brookbanks best jokes combine the wit of an overthinker with the ease of girlfriends chatting over a Thursday jug of sangria. Interestingly, some of her material about sex and her own body – traditional fodder for lady comedians, I suppose – doesn’t quite land with the BATS audience. It’s not that the material is tired per se; it was more that this audience wasn’t on board with laughing at Brookbanks appetite and larger-than-a-size-eight body.

What I found really interesting about Heroic was the way it segues into Brookbanks spotty mental health, particularly her struggles with social anxiety. These moments were points of vulnerability in an otherwise hammy show, and I’m not sure they worked together cohesively. However, on their own, they were striking, and I would have liked to have sat with sad, self-doubting Brookbanks longer. Her social anxiety doesn’t make her any less funny; it lends weight to her everygirl schtick.

Heroic is a really fun, uplifting show, but I can’t help thinking that we’ll see Brookbanks flying higher than this with future works. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Waiting for Godot | Regional News

Waiting for Godot

Written by: Samuel Beckett

Directed by: Ross Jolly

Running at Circa Theatre until 1st Jun 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Waiting for Godot is a play in which two homeless men, Didi (Andrew Foster) and Gogo (Jeff Kingsford-Brown), wait for someone who never arrives. Pozzo (Peter Hambleton), a rich and well-fed aristocrat, walks past twice with his slave Lucky (Jack Buchanan). The first time, he sits down and eats chicken, and the second time he falls over, suddenly blind. And “in the meantime”, says Gogo, “nothing happens.”

Needless to say, Waiting for Godot is pretty sparse in terms of plot. I’ve written essays about what it all means in the past, but in the spirit of brevity, I think it boils down to the epitome of the existential crisis. It’s a play that audiences and theatre-makers interpret in different ways, bringing their own subtexts and histories to the table. Productions can therefore vary quite wildly. Ross Jolly has here delivered a relatively straight retelling with a traditional set (Foster), but his expert direction means that although “nothing happens”, we’re never bored.

Almost every beat of this production feels alive. Every word is uttered with electric energy by the exceptional cast, the chemistry crackling between our two leads. Put Foster’s reserved, tender, and cynical approach together with Kingsford-Brown’s bumbling affection, and Didi and Gogo’s relationship becomes quite touching.

Hambleton is a show-stealer, delivering delicious one-liners with snarky smirks as entitlement oozes out of the chicken bones he so idly throws away. And yet he is still (almost) likeable. Buchanan’s commitment to embodying a broken man makes him unrecognisable. When the doubled-over Lucky is forced to “think”, Buchanan’s outburst is profound and painful to witness, even eliciting a mid-show clap.

Marcus McShane’s lighting design complements the gloomy mood, while Sheila Horton does well to distinguish class with filthy and immaculate clothing.

Overall, it’s the dynamic pace of this production that drives the non-action ever-forward, keeping us engaged at every turn. If you want to get completely lost in the theatre for a couple of hours, Waiting for Godot is the one.

Conversations with Dead Relatives | Regional News

Conversations with Dead Relatives

Written by: Alex Ellis and Phil Ormsby

Directed by: Jennifer Ward-Lealand

Circa Theatre, 1st May 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Conversations with Dead Relatives is a heartfelt and genuine work that explores where its writers and performers, Alex Ellis and Phil Ormsby, come from. In conversation, the real-life couple discuss their lineage and enact each other’s ancestors.

The show begins with Ellis handing out homemade baking while Ormsby chats amiably away to the audience over a cuppa. We’re clearly in the couple’s living room. In this homely moment, I long to see pictures and embellishments on the stark, black walls. John Parker’s design concept doesn’t feel fully formed here, but as more and more picture frames emerge from old trunks and colour floods segments of the set, I’m slowly drawn in.

Many themes blossom out of the stories we’re told, giving depth and dimension to the cleverly curated work. An underlying theme is the question of whether or not Ellis wants to bring a child into the world. This feels unresolved to me because Ormsby never shares his own feelings on the matter. Learning his desires as well would have brought me closer to the couple as people – thus bringing me closer to the ancestors they portray.

Some characters are incredibly compelling, like Ellis’ larger-than-life Orm the Viking (what an accent!), and Ormsby’s prim, proper, and prudent Ellen Elizabeth Ellis. I’m compelled because of the excellent performances and the big personalities of these characters, not because of how they relate to the writers. It’s lovely learning about the couple’s heritage, but without a familial connection to them, the work doesn’t resonate with me on every level. I’d engage more deeply if things were turned back on the audience more often; if I was asked to think about my own family history.

Nevertheless, Conversations with Dead Relatives aptly reflects the talent and effort of those who created it. The script itself is beautifully written and the actors bring to life its stories with courage and conviction. It’s a great watch.

Kiss the Sky | Regional News

Kiss the Sky

Choreographed by KIM Jae Duk, Victoria Columbus, and Stephanie Lake

Presented by: The New Zealand Dance Company

Opera House, 1st May 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The New Zealand Dance Company’s Kiss the Sky is a triple bill of choreographic works by three powerhouse choreographers, and performed sublimely by a company of six dancers: Chris Clegg, Ngaere Jenkins, Xin Ji, Chrissy Kokiri, Katie Rudd, and Carl Tolentino. Kiss the Sky is an ode to the great expanse above us and our natural world.

The first work is a striking piece by Korean choreographer, KIM Jae Duk. Weaving sharp regimented angles with sinuous lines and stark minimalism, Sigan appears to take influence from forms of martial arts and meditation. The cast of four dancers execute the work with admirable discipline and remarkable dexterity. There is a well-ordered satisfaction to this work; however, the jarring musical score (composed by Jae Duk) creates a disconcerting experience.

The Fibonacci, evidently inspired by the mathematical sequence, is created by Wellington choreographer, Victoria Columbus. The Fibonacci demonstrates Columbus' clever mind and sharp eye for choreographic detail. Every moment is a stunning and disciplined pattern, flaunting the effortless synergy of the dancers and perfectly complemented by Rowan’s Pierce’s epic sound design. With his incredible lithe fluidity, Chris Clegg is a magician on stage, making him the standout performer.

Stephanie Lake’s If Never Was Now is a work reflective of the natural world in all its beauty and brutality. It’s like watching the daily life of bees with an industrial flair. Whether it’s through a slyly humorous mating ritual or a brutal slaying (à la a black widow spider), the dancers flit around busily and connect with one another enthusiastically. If Never Was Now is an eccentric and surreal end to the triple bill.

The New Zealand Dance Company don't often perform in Wellington, but when they do their performances are met with a raucous round of applause and stamping feet of appreciation. Kiss the Sky is no exception and there is certainly no denying their astounding talent and innovative flair.

MoodPorn | Regional News

MoodPorn

Written by: Matthew Loveranes

Directed by: James Cain

BATS Theatre, 23rd Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

In one of Red Scare Theatre Company’s most (emotionally) ambitious shows to date, we watch two characters smear each other with the ugliest sides of love and friendship and somehow come through the other side.

‘Sweet’ Jane (Heather O’Carroll) had two best friends at university: the man she eventually married and had a baby with, Elliott, and Atlas (Ali Foa’i), who mysteriously disappeared 13 years ago. One day, while riding public transport with a racist pensioner, Jane receives a Facebook message from Atlas. She heads over to his house and the pair reacquaint themselves over several glasses of red.

This is where O’Carroll and Foa’i really kick into gear. Both actors give phenomenal performances; O’Carroll practically bathes in shame, sadness, and rage. She’s in tears for the last 20 minutes of the show, an incredibly difficult state to sustain. Foa’i, on the other hand, is beautifully restrained, only reluctantly showing us the cracks in his cool-guy façade. Director James Cain also deserves praise here for guiding the pitch of the piece so masterfully, allowing for moments of humour, exasperation, and joy.

As you might have already guessed, the script (penned by Matthew Loveranes) is heavy going. It deals with suicide, unrequited love, and betrayal. It’s also quite elevated, with each character describing their deepest, darkest secrets incredibly articulately. At times it’s beautiful, hitting beats of truth; but ultimately, it serves to elevate Jane and Atlas as romantic heroes (of sorts). It’s an interesting choice to make when so many other playwrights are scratching out ultra-realist scripts full of Kiwi yeah-nahs and ehs.

As a result, the production feels mature, if perhaps a little old-fashioned. The classic vibe is bolstered by Lucas Neal’s lovely set, which lays out a lounge (complete with original art and light fittings) on the BATS Heyday Dome stage.

MoodPorn is one of Loveranes’ best scripts yet, but what makes it really special is the acting cojones and assurance of its two leads.

Paper Shaper | Regional News

Paper Shaper

Devised by: Peter Wilson and Tim Denton

Presented by: Little Dog Barking Theatre Company

Directed by: Peter Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 27th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Susan Barker

Paper Shaper is a gentle, lovely story of a little man who lives in picture form on the side of a rubbish bin. When no one is around, he comes to life and uses the paper tossed in the bin to create birds, flowers, butterflies, and a sun – essentially, a whole world.

The play takes place in a park with the set consisting of a rubbish bin, trees, and a park bench. The paper shaper quickly endears himself to the audience, constructing magnificent paper creations, comically struggling with the heat of his self-designed sun, and dealing with the aftermath of the rain clouds he made as a solution.

The production is advertised as “The antithesis of big brand kids’ entertainment such as Hi-5 or the Wiggles”. This could not be more accurate. There were no flashing images, thumping music, or over the top theatrics. The children are drawn in gently and carefully, making this production perfect for under-5s. Every movement is gradual so that the children have no problem keeping up. I have to say, as an adult, it forced me (in a good way) to just slow down and enjoy – I think parents, along with children, can get addicted to fast-paced entertainment.

The crux of the story begins when an older man comes to the park to enjoy a picnic and has his plastic bottle and Styrofoam container rejected (or rather ejected) by the paper shaper. Although the encounter is initially frustrating, by the end of the play they form a friendship.

Paper Shaper maintained a wonderful balance of giving the children a storyline they could follow, while leaving enough room for them to use their own imaginations. I think the toddler seated behind me summed up the play for most of the audience when he stood up at the end and proclaimed, “That was amazing!”

This Long Winter | Regional News

This Long Winter

Written by: Sarah Delahunty

Directed by: Sarah Delahunty and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana

BATS Theatre, 10th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Queen Hermione is accused of infidelity by her husband, King Leontes, and thrown in jail. After giving birth to her daughter in these confines, Hermione’s friend Paulina takes the baby princess to the king in the hopes it might soften his resolve. Raging for unjustified reasons, Leontes orders the baby be left in a desolate place to die. Hermione then faints and is presumed dead. After 16 years, a statue of Hermione is unveiled that turns out to be the real human. Amidst the confusion, chaos, and celebrations, the play ends.

In This Long Winter, Sarah Delahunty imagines what might have happened to Hermione (a gut-wrenching, grief-ridden performance by Erina Daniels) in those 16 years. Thanks to Paulina (the compelling Jean Sergent, who delivers sick burns with a glint in her eye), Hermione escapes to look for her daughter Perdita (the charming Huia Haupapa). Accompanied by the obnoxious Emilia (Alice May Connolly, whose approach to an unlikeable character is commendably considered), Hemione wanders the wilderness, encountering various other Shakespearean characters along the way.

Delahunty’s script is witty and eloquent, filled with Easter eggs for fans of the Bard. References to Titania’s infatuation with Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Shakespeare’s famous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear”, are my personal favourite moments of the play. Mostly, the action is clear enough for the uninitiated, though the characters Juliet (not from Romeo and Juliet) and Helena (not from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) cause a bit of confusion.

Performed with passion and immeasurable talent by Carrie Green, Charlotte Forrester, and Isaac Thomas, Holly Ewens’ beautiful music is seamlessly entwined into the story. Production design by Michael Trigg sees a breathtaking rendition of a storm and the clever use of chicken wire.

This Long Winter is a haunting and tremendous work, exquisitely written and realised by this talented team of 28. It possesses a refreshing sense of meaning, purpose, and urgency. Go see it now.

The Children | Regional News

The Children

Written by: Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 27th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Robin (Peter Hambleton) and Hazel (Carmel McGlone) are retired nuclear physicists living on the east coast of England. A natural disaster has triggered an unnatural one at a nearby powerplant, and the nuclear fallout has been catastrophic. After helping with the clean up, the married couple decide they’ve done their bit and now carry out a peaceful existence just outside the exclusion zone.

Peaceful, that is, until their old friend Rose (Catherine Downes) shows up.

Downes is marvellous, riding the turbulent waves of her character with masterful control. A moment where she stands back, crude smile on her face as she watches the lethal consequences of her actions unfold, remains firmly imprinted in my mind’s eye.

McGlone is equal parts blundering charm and candid bluntness, demonstrating a light-handed and thoughtful approach to the character we sympathise with the most. Her plight is beautifully written and portrayed.

Hambleton brings to light the internal conflict of a character of contradictions. Robin behaves wickedly (towards women) and admirably (towards cows). He is a sick man acting in perfect health; a man who would happily leave his wife while using his dying breath to protect her. Hambleton’s acting chops are firmly on display in this performance.

Susan Wilson has curated every element of this Circa Theatre production to perfection. The cast is flawless. John Hodgkins’ slice-of-life, functional set captures the essence of a charming cottage in the English countryside. Marcus McShane’s lighting design complements and never detracts from the action, while Oliver Devlin’s haunting sound design ups the stakes of the mystery every time it features. Leigh Evans’ choreography is charming and disquieting when considered in conjunction with something brown and icky I can’t reveal here. The juxtaposition of her lovely, hilarious dance and this ‘something’ is beyond striking. And Sheila Horton’s naturalistic costume design ties it all together in a pretty apron bow.

It all adds up to an incredibly engaging show I couldn’t take my eyes, and can’t take my mind, off.

Bear North | Regional News

Bear North

Written by: Roy Hutchins and Sue Bradley

Directed by: Roy Hutchins

Gryphon Theatre, 21st Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Bear North follows a band of three merry travellers and one wolf. One of the strangest shows I’ve ever seen (winning out over Bald Man Sings Rihanna, which you’d think would be stranger), it’s a feel-good blend of song, storytelling, and interpretive dance that to me represents the essence of the NZ Fringe Festival.

Roy Hutchins is the leader of the pack. He wears a dress, bear gloves, and a large bear head. Playing a keytar and driving the conversation with the audience, he has a gentle, warm nature and is instantly likeable. The thing that I most appreciate about Hutchins is that he asks for consent before putting anyone on the spot and never forces audience interaction. When Hutchins performs, he looks surprised to find himself onstage, which is more endearing than anything else.

Sue Bradley wears a butterfly half-mask, plays an electric violin, uses a stomp box of sorts to create rhythm, and provides backing vocals. She shines on the electric violin, adding a gorgeous folk element to the music that sets the tone for the evening.

Stuart Drake on electric guitar wears a high top hat and whistles real nice. He has a sparkling smile and a serene energy, acting as an anchor to the rest of the group.

And then we have Wolfie. What on earth can I say about Wolfie? During what is a mostly ordinary (but still special) concert, Jake Brown does interpretive dance in a wolf mask. The whole time. A scene where Brown dances with an audience member is lovely, otherwise his spirited performance is just bizarre, but excellent.

The music disintegrates at times into a bit of a shambles, but it all adds to the charm of Bear North. I’d hazard a guess to say it’s a partly improvised work, so a bit of chaos can be forgiven. Though I’d love to see a touch more rehearsal, I wouldn’t change a word (or note) of this strangely touching show.

System | Regional News

System

Created by: Muscle Mouth

Directed by: Ross McCormack

Te Auaha, 20th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

My Fitbit generally reports an average of 70 heartbeats per minute. During Muscle Mouth’s System, my BPM went up to 140. I wasn’t clapping too hard – in fact, I wasn’t moving at all. I was just that invigorated.

System is set in a dystopian world whereby, when a body becomes obsolete, it can simply be replaced. In the corner of a room (set design by Ross McCormack), this data transfer occurs. Two bodies (McCormack and Luke Hanna) spasm and merge, twitch and fuse. System is riveting and disturbing in one breath, drawing on sci-fi influences and the morbid fascination of its audience.

In System, McCormack aimed to create a simple narrative. Even going into the show knowing it, some design elements confused the concept.

A robotic, discordant, unintelligible voice occasionally cuts through Jason Wright’s otherwise incredible, transfixing sound design. Suggesting some sort of powerful overlord, the voice detracts from McCormack’s phenomenal choreography and sends the audience down what is, to my knowledge, entirely the wrong track. If there had to be a voice at all, I would have preferred a detached, clinical one – the kind you hear in a sterile hospital over a loudspeaker. And to make the plot abundantly clear, in the final blackout, I yearned for that voice to say “transfer complete.”

I also felt there were a few too many gimmicks and illusions, although they were mind-boggling. McCormack sinking into a seemingly solid block had me watching through parted fingers, and shadows cast by Natasha James’ electric lighting and AV design caught my breath in my chest. But the dancers moving the blocks around felt arbitrary at times. These sequences could have been shortened to encompass only the necessary set changes.

Nevertheless, McCormack and Hanna are at the top of their game, giving all of themselves in a performance I will never forget. Watching System is to watch masters at work. This statement encompasses everyone involved in Muscle Mouth – a company that never ceases to amaze and astound me.

Massive Crushes | Regional News

Massive Crushes

Written by: Uther Dean

Directed by: Isobel MacKinnon

BATS Theatre, 13th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Uther Dean’s new show Massive Crushes is a collection of weird, sexy, macabre little stories performed as monologues. With its all-female cast and minimal design, it’s the sister show of Dean’s 2015 show Tiny Deaths, but maybe, just maybe, its approach to love, sex, and the patriarchy is a little more optimistic.

The cast (what a cast!) is perhaps the highlight of Massive Crushes. Stevie Hancox-Monk, having a very good year, brings the house down as a bizarre, perhaps quite lonely lady repulsed by human bodies. Harriet Prebble rolls around on the floor, flecked with tomato flesh during the worst date ever – it’s so great to see her step out of straitlaced big-theatre roles. And a delight for me was Isadora Lao, who is stuck on hold thanks to some “1984 sh*t”. She has maybe 10 lines of dialogue, but her fabulous facial expressions speak reams about dealing with patriarchal bureaucracy.

The monologues were physical and engaging – even Lucy McCarthny, who didn’t much move from her seat, made the audience wriggle with her descriptions of kissing a rotting mouth. If I had one complaint, it would be that some performers could have let the audience sit with their words a little longer; sometimes, Dean’s wordier jokes take a few seconds to hit.

Aside from a striking lighting scheme, the only major design element is a gorgeous table piled with dead flowers, skulls, bottles of wine, and piles of fruit (Lucas Neal). It was very pretty, but its aesthetic seemed to be its only purpose; some performers pulled out props, but some ignored the set entirely.

Despite the elevated strangeness of Massive Crush’s subjects, a weird kind of hope shines through. These characters are encumbered by all kinds of quirks, but they still believe love or even successful self-expression is out there somewhere. This is not a bleak show. It’s about how, against all odds, women persevere.

Bald Man Sings Rihanna | Regional News

Bald Man Sings Rihanna

Written by: Gary Sansome

Directed by: Gary Sansome

Cavern Club, 12th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I’d been excited about Bald Man Sings Rihanna for weeks. Armed only with the title, I assumed the show would be entirely dedicated to a bald man singing Rihanna, and I was there for it.

Bald Man Sings Rihanna features a lot of Bald Man (Gary Sansome), but not so much Rihanna. I was expecting backing music, stage lights, and full-on renditions of all RiRi’s greatest hits. Instead, the show is more a regular stand-up set in which Sansome has occasional outbursts of spontaneous song. I’ve got to say, I’m here for it.

Sansome is a natural entertainer, striking up easy conversation with the audience in perhaps the most improvised, effortless stand-up show I’ve ever seen. We play a massive part in Bald Man Sings Rihanna. Heckling is encouraged, so I put up a spirited defence of Hamilton (I’ve never been, so I have no idea where this came from). My friend is forced to expose her bountiful hair follicles to the crowd, a man named Scott stands on stage to have his ironing skills critiqued by the many, and a Scotsman named Gavin is accused of being nearly as much of a drunkard as Sansome.

Though we’re mocked mercilessly, we all know it’s in good fun. Our reception to Sansome is warm, namely because he doesn’t stoop to racist, sexist jokes. It means we’re a little more accommodating of personal digs. We also get the chance to insult his bald head in turn. One particularly brutal lady calls him “foreskin face”, so we certainly can’t expect him to go easy on us after that.

Sansome possesses a seemingly boundless energy. When he’s trying to remember a line, instead of pausing, he simply repeats the previous line a few times until his brain comes full circle. It comes off a little manic, but drives the performance ever-forward.

I would love to see one complete, show-stopping song and dance number from Sansome next time. But as it stands, the audience had a great time at Bald Man Sings Rihanna.

TRÖLL | Regional News

TRÖLL

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell

Directed by: Charlotte Bradley

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 9th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Susan Barker

TRÖLL, set in 1998, follows 12-year-old Otto through a dark period of his young life. Otto is a member of a chat group where he finds comradery – it’s the only place he feels accepted. The set is a computer desk and screen, which along with animation, music, and shadows, is utilised cleverly to deliver a full narrative.

Otto also has a mysterious, chain-smoking Icelandic grandmother living in the family’s sleepout (who becomes a source of much wisdom and humour).

While the play begins light-heartedly, and contains plenty of wit throughout, it is multifaceted, insightful, and portrays depression in a way that is poignant and relatable to children. Howell gives a fabulous performance and the script feels like what a 12-year-old would say, not what an adult would assume a young boy would say. The troll is both a real character (weaving in a fairy-tale element to the work) and a metaphor for the growing, fearsome black hole that is isolation.

This play contains so many significant themes, none of which are forced on the audience but rather seem to fit naturally within the narrative. It is hard to mention them all in one review but a few of the major ones are: the dangers of internet harassment, bullying in schools, relationships between young and old, and overcoming fear and depression.

TRÖLL is still provoking conversation in my household and especially resonated with my older children. However, there are plenty of fantastic effects and humour to keep a younger audience member engaged, even if they do not necessarily understand the larger story. Perhaps my favourite thing about TRÖLL is that it has not been sanitised by the political correctness that takes the edge out of much of the work produced in this genre.

This is a worthwhile production that my 12-year-old son loved (which is saying something). My only criticism would be that the 90’s references are at times lost on the young crowd, but other than that, I would highly recommend TRÖLL.

Full Scale | Regional News

Full Scale

Created by: Isobel MacKinnon and Meg Rollandi

Written by: Isobel MacKinnon

BATS Theatre, 26th Feb 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A woman (Isobel MacKinnon) recounts stories from her childhood. It’s one peppered with ornaments, much to the dismay of her mother, who is called “the opposite of a hoarder.” The narrative is divided into two distinct sections: memories from the woman’s past are interspersed with delightful anecdotes about the ornaments she has collected.

When recounting memories of her mother, MacKinnon walks to a table stocked with her collection. She uses a GoPro to film the ornaments, which are attributed to characters that then re-enact her stories. While projecting the live footage onto the back wall of the stage is clever, this segment needs work.

Most of the time, it’s clear which ornament represents which character, but there are a number of flimsy links and figures that seem surplus to the action. When a character leaves a story, MacKinnon removes the ornament from the table and places it in three strips of dim light on the floor (lighting design by Jennifer Lal). Some of these moments make perfect sense, but others don’t. The script could be adjusted to indicate what is happening when the surplus characters are removed, and overall, I’d like to see more methodical and concise action in this segment.

It’s at the table that MacKinnon often fumbles with the script, but she recovers from these instances with courage and grace. These scenes also feel like a lost opportunity in terms of their design. Lighting on the table itself and better camera angles would create striking stage pictures. Fully committing to the hazy, blue, shadowy lighting scheme used would help it achieve its desired otherworldly effect. As it stands, the scheme feels dull and almost accidental.

It is during the anecdotal sections that both the work and MacKinnon’s performance really shine. The script is beautiful and hilarious, the story is heart-wrenching and poignant, and MacKinnon is a gifted actor.

With refinement and a more considered design approach, Full Scale would hit its mark and then some.

Side by Side by Sondheim | Regional News

Side by Side by Sondheim

Directed by: Emma Kinane

Running at Circa Theatre until 22nd Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Side by Side by Sondheim honours the great Stephen Sondheim with a total of 55 songs by the man himself – 27 of which are performed as a medley, assures Matthew Pike. The composer and lyricist behind such celebrated musicals as Into the Woods, Company, and Sweeney Todd, and the witty wordsmith responsible for hits like Tonight and I Feel Pretty, Sondheim is arguably the greatest American musical theatre artist around today. Dazzling, glamorous, elegant, and brimming with astronomical talent, this show feels every bit the fitting tribute.

With musical director Michael Nicholas Williams and Colin Taylor on a grand piano apiece, Side by Side by Sondheim was always going to be – well, grand. But these musicians are more than just impressive. They play flawlessly, capturing the spirit of Sondheim with doses of humour and gall, especially during interactions with singers Pike, Julie O’Brien, and Sarah Lineham. Williams and O’Brien’s raunchy rendition of I Never Do Anything Twice is one of my show highlights.

With a powerful and inimitable voice that gets deep into your bones, O’Brien is striking. She’s hilarious too; just watch her waddle and effectively rap during Getting Married Today.

Lineham surprises me with an unexpected vigour and a phenomenal range in You Gotta Get A Gimmick. Prior to this piece, her voice is delicate, soft, and lovely, tinkling above the action. She follows up the ‘gimmick’ (hint: there’s a trumpet involved), with an affecting aria. Losing My Mind is the most emotionally resonant moment of the show for me.

Every moment Pike is on stage seems effortless. He glides through the musical with ease and consistency. His voice is pure and unforced, acting as an anchor to O’Brien and Lineham’s. It reaches their heights when he sings in falsetto for a fleeting moment that catches my breath in my chest.

Side by Side by Sondheim is a great excuse to get dressed up, pop the bubbly, and enjoy a wonderful night out at the theatre.

Twelfth Night | Regional News

Twelfth Night

Written by: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Anastasia Matteini-Roberts

BATS Theatre, 12th Feb 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I have seen many adaptations of Twelfth Night, but never one set in a drag club. With high hopes for this 6 Degrees Festival show from the Masters students of the MFA theatre programme at Victoria University of Wellington, I walked through the doors of the BATS Random Stage straight into a rainbow dream. My expectations were met and exceeded by this bright and buoyant production.

The story of Twelfth Night is well told. Siblings Viola (the poised Rebekah Adams) and Sebastian (the gentle Finnian Nacey) are shipwrecked and, both believing the other to be dead, scarper off in different directions. Viola disguises herself as the boy Cesario and enters the service of Duke Orsino (a charming and innocent performance from Simon Davies). The Duke sends his new manservant to profess his love for Olivia (the exquisitely elegant Charli Gartrell), becoming confused by his seemingly homosexual feelings for Cesario in the process. But Olivia falls in love with Cesario too. Viola’s got game.

Chaos ensues, spurred on by drunkard Sir Toby (the show-stopping genius Brianne Kerr), Maria (a-star-has-been-born Nick Erasmuson, performing beautifully in drag), and Fabiana (the energetic Ashleigh Yates), who manipulate everyone around them with surprising agility for people who drink so much. Bearing the brunt of the nasty tricks are Malvolio (the impassioned, yellow-stockings-clad Max Nunes-Cesar) and Sir Andrew (Finnian McCauley delivers the perfect level of silly here). The dancing, singing fool (she-may-as-well-be-Prince-she’s-so-great Ariadne Baltazar) watches all, while Sebastian’s love interest Antonio (the frenzied, fiery Alfredo Gonzalez) pines, and gets arrested. The representation in this production was refreshingly effortless, though I wish more could have been made of this great romance at the end.

Each cast member allowed the next their moment in the spotlight, and what moments they were. Stunning costumes added glitz and glam, and, oh, the dance numbers! Erasmuson’s choreography with Harriet Foster’s sound design? C’est magnifique.

The inclusion of an interval would have made this a near-perfect two hours of theatre.

Madiba the Musical | Regional News

Madiba the Musical

Written by: Jean-Pierre Hadida

Directed by: Pierre-Yves Duchesne and Dennis Watkins

Opera House, 7th Feb 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Madiba the Musical is a celebration of the great Nelson Mandela (Perci Moeketsi). Using stage techniques such as projection and narration (David Denis), it traverses many years of his life rapidly, jumping from his time as a freedom fighter and lawyer in the 1950s to his incarceration in the 1960s in the blink of an eye. While Mandela serves life in prison, the production shifts its focus to young activist Sam (Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji) and artist Will (Barry Conrad).

What first must be said about Madiba is the exceptional vocal talent of the cast. While each outstanding voice blended beautifully with the next, Ruva Ngwenya’s (playing Winne Mandela) smooth, husky timbre had me on the edge of my seat. Johan Nus’ choreography too made a lasting impression, a slow-motion protest scene remaining with me long after the curtain had fallen. The interfusion of traditional and contemporary dance felt elegantly reflective of the past and present, echoing the multigenerational voice expressed in Madiba.

Vibrant, explosive, and joyful, Madiba is every bit the celebration it declares itself. Whilst I found it a pleasure to watch, my question is this: considering what a far cry South Africa is from a ‘rainbow nation’ today, what is achieved by viewing the story through a rose-coloured lens? Mandela’s dreams of equality and non-violence resonate through Madiba, so what do we gain from cutting the story off at his election in 1994, when temporarily, all is well?

I am all for interspersing uplifting entertainment with harrowing facts and harsh realities – otherwise I think the work can become inaccessible. I’m all for sending your audience away dancing, hopeful. But I think more could have been done to draw attention to current affairs; to the fact that the fight is long from over. Even a programme note, a call to action, would bring this work into the 21st century and give it as much purpose as it has positivity.

Rants in the Dark | Regional News

Rants in the Dark

Written by: Emily Writes

Directed by: Lyndee-Jane Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Feb 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I’m so glad I brought my friend who is a new mama along to Rants in the Dark. Leaving her six-month-old for the longest time yet to attend the show, she told me, was totally worth it. She laughed, she cried, and she’s bringing her other new mama friends along too because she knows it will resonate deeply with them – especially the ones who are struggling.

For me, whose only child is a cat (and I’m profoundly aware that this doesn’t count), Rants in the Dark is an expressive and hilarious insight into motherhood – and what I might be in for should I choose to extend my family. Does a dog count though? Can it, please? I’m inclined to agree with the rumours that the show acts as a pretty darn good method of birth control, and not (just) because of the poop.

Beautifully adapted by Mel Dodge, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, and Bevin Linkhorn, Rants in the Dark sheds light on the brutal judgement parents are subjected to. It’s fantastic to see such an emphasis on redefining the way we regard and treat mothers.

But that emphasis is as gentle and kind as it is strong and powerful – much like Emily (Renee Lyons), the mother of toddler Eddie (Amelia Reid-Meredith) and a newborn. One of my favourite actresses, Lyons’ performance surprised me on the night, never quite peaking when I wanted it to but reaching unexpected heights in other moments. Nevertheless, she approached the role with tender understanding.

Bronwyn Turei (drolly aloof as Emily’s husband) and Reid-Meredith were fabulous as the chorus, working in perfect harmony to deliver snapshots of pure comedy gold. The production shone when the three worked as an ensemble – a scene involving glittery playdough was my highlight. A set trick (Wai Mihinui and Ebony Tiopira-Waaka) created a colourful, messy, and delightful stage picture and was another favourite moment of mine.

Rants in the Dark is brilliant – funny, fierce, frank, and above all, sincere.

If/Then | Regional News

If/Then

Written by: Brian Yorkey

Directed by: Ellie Stewart

Gryphon Theatre, 30th Dec 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Ellie Stewart witnessed the swan song of If/Then on Broadway in 2015. Moved by the sheer emotional force of the work, she decided to stage it in New Zealand for the very first time with The Wellington Footlights Society. How lucky for us.

If/Then follows Elizabeth (Cassandra Tse), a city planner living in New York. While in the park one day, she receives a phone call that changes her life. Beth answers the phone, but Liz doesn’t. And so opens a parallel universe. We walk down two paths: the If of Liz, and the Then of Beth.

This Wellington Footlights production is polished to perfection, with delicious harmonies from a committed, talented ensemble. Each member is exquisitely energised and perfectly in sync with the next. It’s excellent ensemble work with enthusiastic choreography from Katty Lau. At times though I craved a little less action.

I found some of the blocking quite distracting. During a poignant scene, an exerciser zealously stretched stage left, pulling focus from the tender moment taking place centre stage. Distracting too were clunky changes of scenery (the images adorning the three frames lining the back of the stage), but most importantly, I often found my line of vision obstructed. Staging a full-scale musical in a small space can foster serious intimacy. Not being able to see the emotion etched on the actors’ faces pulled me out of the play and meant it had less impact on me overall.

Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t cry! Tse’s phenomenal performance had me all of a blubber, the purity, clarity, and power of her voice outstanding. My companion and I particularly enjoyed Caitlin Penrose’s sincere portrayal of Kate, and Michael Stebbings’ superb comedic timing as Lucas. Playing Stephen, Chris McMillan’s unique, gravelly voice was the standout for me, though each cast member should be commended for their vocal work under the expert guidance of musical director Cameron Stewart.

If/Then is a supremely entertaining production that will hit you right in the gut.

A Russian Triple Bill | Regional News

A Russian Triple Bill

Presented by: The Imperial Russian Ballet Company

Opera House, 1st Dec 2018

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Every year The Imperial Russian Ballet Company return to New Zealand and complete an extensive national tour of some of the most beloved ballets. This year's line-up was a triple bill featuring Sleeping Beauty, Carmen, and Les Sylphides.

The evening opened with Sleeping Beauty and the marriage between Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré. The stage was alight with colour and vibrant fairy-tale characters presenting refined balletic form. Nariman Bekzhanov as Prince Désiré performed well and with ease, while Puss in Boots and the White Cat delighted the audience with their spirited pas de deux. Though one cannot fault the technique and dedication the dancers possess, it was hard to ignore the missteps, the somewhat plain choreography, and the ingenuity of the overextended smiles and melodramatic gestures.

There was a change in the order of the programme and Carmen marked the second act, lifting the standards of the evening slightly. Anna Pashakova performed the role of the tempestuous Carmen with graceful defiance and bold seduction, her pointe work and timing remarkable. The drama of the piece was heightened by the presence of a chorus of bandits who sat forebodingly in a semi-circle, stiffly poised and ready to crusade, while Carmen's suitors, Don José and the Toreador, danced in fierce competition and with intense determination.

The final act was an excerpt of Les Sylphides, a work with no narrative but a beautiful aesthetic. Set to the musical score of Chopin, Les Sylphides is a romantic and dreamy corps de ballet, performed by female dancers with elegant integrity and unfaltering discipline. Adorned in flowing white tutus and with beautiful extensions and delicate hand movements, the dancers created a vivid picture of serenity and grace. Bekzhanov, as the wandering poet, is enchanted by the Sylphs but serves no other real purpose – this piece is all about the women in the company and is a delight to watch.

A Russian Triple Bill had its moments and plenty enjoyed it, but it was by no means ground-breaking ballet.

Madam Butterfly | Regional News

Madam Butterfly

Conducted by: Matthew Ross

Written by: Giacomo Puccini

Directed by: Alex Galvin

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Puccini’s masterpiece, Madam Butterfly, opens with Lieutenant BF Pinkerton (Boyd Owen) marvelling at his new Japanese home. It’s so practical! So handsome! And just like his new Japanese wife, Butterfly (Hannah Catrin Jones), he can toss it off any time he likes. Thus the tragic love story of Madam Butterfly begins: with an opportunistic American and a kind-hearted young woman. By the end of the show, her delicate wings have been squashed underneath his foolish, selfish feet.

Madam Butterfly is the first opera I’ve ever been to – and I’m so glad I started with this one. Not only was this Eternity Opera production in English, but it was intimate, well-acted, and compelling. A few notes for my fellow novices: all dialogue is sung, even if it’s only a line; the style of operatic singing is such that you may not catch every single word; and it definitely helps to know the bones of the story before the lights go down.

The three leads, Owen, Jones, and Kieran Rayner (playing Sharpless), sounded impeccable to my ears. I loved when they sang together, their combined voices effortlessly lifting over the compact orchestra tucked to the side of the stage.

They were also superb actors. Jones was heart-breaking and appropriately fragile as Butterfly; I’m pretty sure that during her vigil for Pinkerton’s return, she didn’t so much as blink. And Leo McKenzie as her young son almost stole the show in his tiny sailor suit.

The only thing that struck me after the show was how un-Japanese it was. There was a distinct lack of Japanese cast members, and as the piece had been re-contextualised to the 1950s, the costumes were western. I would like to have seen a show where the two cultures had collided more visually, more viscerally, and more strangely.

That said, Madam Butterfly and Eternity Opera have made an opera fan out of me. Who would have thought it!

Puss in Boots The Pantomime | Regional News

Puss in Boots The Pantomime

Written by: Paul Jenden

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 23rd Dec 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In a sad shack in Aro Valley, Camilla Miller (Gavin Rutherford) and her son, Arthur Miller (Ben Emerson), struggle to get by. Hoping to catch a break after the death of Mr Miller, the family is excited to receive his last will and testament by way of NZ Post (/the supermarket/the lotto shop/the liquor store). That is, until they discover he’s squandered every last cent of his hard-earned dough during a mid-life crisis. He does, however, leave them one thing: a cat (Jonathan Morgan). The cat talks. And, well. You know the rest.

Puss in Boots The Pantomime is absolutely, unequivocally delightful. My colleague and I had a blast and frequently found ourselves in hysterics. If you’re a kid, go. If you’re an adult with kids, go. If you’re an adult without kids, go. If you’re a cat, go. Anyone and everyone should see this show if they’re seeking a fantastic night out at the theatre and a belly full of laughs.

This was one of my favourite performances of Rutherford’s, whose ad-libbing was a show (and year) highlight. Ben Emerson was suitably silly and wide-eyed as the Dame’s parkour-practising son, while Simon Leary added a sensitive touch to the cast as the gormless King Justin. Morgan’s sultry, slinky Puss in Boots was beautifully balanced against Natasha McAllister’s sweet yet sassy Princess Martha (hiya!).

Carrie Green and Jeff Kingsford-Brown nearly stole the show as the nasty trolls (boo!). Their performance of The Logical Song by Supertramp (incredible musical direction by Michael Nicholas Williams) was the best unexpected musical number I’ve witnessed at the theatre for a very long time.

It’s a well-known fact that Circa’s annual pantomime features adult jokes, and last year I commented that I found some of them inappropriate for children. I felt there was a marked improvement this year, with the lewdness less explicit and not nearly as likely to cause unwanted questions around the dinner table.

I cannot recommend Puss in Boots The Pantomime highly enough. Go!

Actual Fact | Regional News

Actual Fact

Written by: Meg Rollandi and Isobel MacKinnon

Directed by: Meg Rollandi and Isobel MacKinnon

Running at BATS Theatre until 1st Dec 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Actual Fact begins when three women witness a series of simultaneous, bizarre events. K (Karin McCracken), M (Madeline McNamara), and F (Freya Finch) are happily exchanging jokes when a fan turns on out of its own accord, a tarpaulin lights up, and two green buckets fall over. A satsuma and a cabbage are also involved, but I won’t spoil anything here.

For the rest of the show, the characters attempt to piece together the inciting incident. Each time they recount the events, they change the details of the narrative ever so slightly. It’s something we all do, but don’t care to admit. By the end of Actual Fact, even the audience is not entirely sure what happened, and nobody knows what it all means – but we’ve had fun trying to work it out alongside the exceptional cast.

Technical design elements are a focal point and highlight of this production. With cyclical videography by Charley Draper, Meg Rollandi, and Isobel MacKinnon; bass-heavy, distortive sound design by Thomas Lambert; and hypnotic, hazy lighting by Owen McCarthy (a design team at the top of their game, overseen by technical manager Michael Trigg), plus rhythmic and repetitive dialogue, I regularly found myself sinking into a trance. Rather than fight that temptation, I’d encourage the viewer to embrace it. In a dream-like state, I was able to insert my own memories and meanings into the script. This meant Actual Fact took me on an entirely subjective journey of my own experiences, and resonated more deeply as a result. I found myself exploring how I might have subverted my history, which I suspect is one of Rollandi and MacKinnon’s ambitions for the work.

Add to this stellar performances from a balanced, adroit cast, and you’ve got a winner. It’s a show you have to be in the right mood for, but if you’re willing to embrace Actual Fact, you’ll have a great ride during and an abundance of food for thought afterwards.

Friday’s Flock | Regional News

Friday’s Flock

Written by: Reihana and Karla Haronga

Directed by: Reihana and Karla Haronga

Running at Circa Theatre until 17th Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sam runs the Saleyards Café in Feilding. A local institution, his customers are the very definition of regulars. Always first to arrive are Walter and his dog, Jack, who would rather sit inside thank you very much. Next is the fast-talking, clueless farmer Joseph, who couldn’t fix a fence or cook a roast to save himself. And let’s not forget the lovely lady who likes to sit at the café with a cup of tea and wait for her husband – even if his “I’ll be back in one hour dear” always means three.

Craig Geenty plays all these characters and more in this one-man show that strides the seasons – a metaphor beautifully expressed in the action of the play. In just 45 minutes, we traverse a year in the lives of the Saleyards folk.

Reihana and Karla Haronga wrote Friday’s Flock about the real Saleyards Café in Feilding, where it has been performed countless times for the patrons who inspired it. The authenticity of this process shines through, not just in the crafting of such genuine, believable, and lovable characters, but in the staging of the work as a whole.

The set (constructed by Blair Ryan) resembles a small-town café to a tee. No detail has been overlooked; it even boasts a real pie warmer stocked with pea pie pud (townies like me might be baffled by this one). In this replica Saleyards interior, the audience becomes completely immersed in the world of the play.

Geenty energetically switches from one character to the next, his transitions seamless and his characterisation clear. I’m never confused about who he is playing when, and each portrayal starts off strong. However, after the initial tableau, Geenty occasionally drifts back into his natural demeanour. Nevertheless, his performance is passionate and considered.

Friday’s Flock is a tender, poetic, and sensitive work that will warm the cockles of your heart. Plus, it’s worth seeing just for Geenty’s hilarious embodiment of a dog.

The Nutcracker | Regional News

The Nutcracker

Choreographed by Val Caniparoli

Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 2nd Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Nutcracker is a classic Christmas tale and, alongside the likes of Giselle and Swan Lake, a ballet company staple. With choreography by Val Caniparoli (USA) and Tchaikovsky's illustrious score delightfully performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO), the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) brings the magical Christmas story to life.

The Nutcracker isn't necessarily a traditional Kiwi Christmas experience, so for those of you who are unfamiliar, the story goes; a young girl is gifted a Nutcracker doll by a brilliant toymaker, and on Christmas Eve she dreams the doll turns into a handsome prince who rescues her from the clutches of the evil Mouse King. The pair journey through a wintery wood and partake in a glorious celebration led by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her dapper Cavalier.

The world created on the stage at the Opera House drips with fairy-tale magic and a bit of sleight of hand magic too. From the impressive set designed by Michael Auer, the vibrantly coloured costumes, and the swirling snowfall cascading over the enchanting dancers to the selection of local child performers who almost steal the first act from the professional ballerinas beside them, RNZB’s The Nutcracker presents a whimsical and merry evening at the theatre.

The dancers perform with alacrity and endearing passion, leaping skyward with ease and trusting each other inherently. Live music from the NZSO and a (disappointingly) short appearance by the Orpheus Choir beautifully transports one into an epic experience. A pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier is exquisitely romantic, setting a highlight of the evening, alongside the cheeky trio of 'Russian Caviar', who squat dance across the stage in marvellous unison.

The Nutcracker manages to deliver something for everyone. Whether you are a dance connoisseur, an appreciator of music, or someone who just loves a good old Christmas classic, you will be swept into the charming storybook world crafted by the RNZB and their fine collaborators.

Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel | Regional News

Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel

Written by: Katie Boyle

Directed by: Alexander Sparrow

Powwow, 31st Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Patricia Goldsack (Katie Boyle) – Pat to her friends and lovers – has had more sex than you can swing a stick at. She’s figured a few things out in her time, and in this show, she sure doesn’t hold back on telling us all about it.

In this solo comedy show from Sparrow & Boyle Productions, Boyle walks a tightrope between stand-up comedy and chatty theatre show. While the jokes aren’t new, she’s a remarkably likeable, warm performer who manages to somehow remain palatable.

The audience is ostensibly attending one of Pat’s famous swingers club meetings. She begins by telling us the rules – which include leaving with the same person you arrived with and using a safe word if things get uncomfortable. My favourite section is where Pat elaborates on healthy consent (“no means no”, rather than my preferred ‘an enthusiastic yes’, but that’s pretty good for an octogenarian). She traverses the audience asking for individual members’ consent to various acts, and to my horror (or delight), one consents to being on the receiving end of a wet willy.

Along the way, we hear about Pat’s many husbands and her longing for a child. Unfortunately, a lot of the material relies on tired tropes of old women and feminine sexuality. A particularly cringeworthy moment comes early, as Pat requests a young man’s help and they end up in a suggestive position; it’s the kind of thing that’s funniest to bored teenage boys. The laughs play on how gross and weird it is hear an old woman talk about her desires – ew! Women over 60 aren’t really women anymore – they’re more like deflated marshmallows holding knitting needles, right?

I know, I know; I’m a total feminist killjoy. But If the show is meant to be satire, it misses the mark by several miles. That said, Boyle does her best and many audience members were in stitches. Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel is sexy and silly – but don’t expect anything ground-breaking.

In It Together | Regional News

In It Together

Written by: Catherine Zulver

Directed by: Imogen Prossor

BATS Theatre, 16th Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Three 20-somethings try to sort their lives out in a paddling pool installed in their lounge whilst drinking copious amounts of gin. Fran (Jayne Grace) acts as ‘mama bear’, looking out for ‘the middle child’ Kate (Catherine Zulver) and their new flatmate Daniella (Charlotte Thomas), ‘the runt’. Though the women are friends and flatmates, they behave more like a family. Their relationship is dysfunctional and totally charming.

With a little bit of fat trimmed off its bones, In It Together could be a spectacular work. Originally staged as a 10-minute piece in the Short+Sweet Festival, Zulver has done an excellent job of extending the work – but I’d argue it could lose 20 minutes. Cutting it down to an hour would prevent the action dragging in the middle section and the main event losing its impact.

On to the main event. The climax of the play comes from one character’s decision to have an abortion, which is met by a resistance from her friend that dismays me. Personal views aside, it seems odd that the crux of a feminist work would be a relationship breakdown resulting from an issue that women already cop so much flack for. It’s sad to see such fantastic females and friends pitted against each other onstage in response to it too.

Performance-wise, the actors’ chemistry is convincing and touching. Grace is a feisty matriarch, conducting everyday conversation in a no-fuss, professional manner that takes a while to warm to, but soon delights. Zulver brings layers of understanding to her role, presenting a façade that’s as messy and complex as it is confident and natural. Just like her character, Thomas grounds her castmates. Her performance appears effortless, with a filthy drunken look and a statement about pyjamas being a show highlight.

In It Together shines in its depiction of sisterhood. I don’t think it quite hits the nail on the head for its emotional exploration, but it’s fun, funny, and a pleasure to watch.