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Heartbreak Hotel | Regional News

Heartbreak Hotel

Written by: Karin McCracken

Directed by: Eleanor Bishop

BATS Theatre, 18th Jun 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

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

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

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

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

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

FWB: Friends with Boundaries | Regional News

FWB: Friends with Boundaries

Written by: Regan Taylor and Leona Revell

Directed by: Lizzie Tollemache

BATS Theatre, 11th Jun 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

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

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

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

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

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

I Carried This | Regional News

I Carried This

Written by: Nicola Pauling

Directed by: Jacqueline Coats

Hannah Playhouse, 5th Jun 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Verbatim or documentary theatre, in which the dialogue is drawn directly from interviews with real people, is a powerful medium for telling unknown or forgotten stories. I Carried This illuminates the harsh adoption processes of the 1950s and 60s and their lifelong impact on the young, unmarried mothers who were often coerced to give up their babies. Interviews with several women have been distilled into five dramatic accounts of the grief, loss, anger, and guilt felt by this generation of New Zealand mothers for whom the ripple effects of their past are still in motion.

These women’s stories are told on a spare stage of white cloth hangings with a shallow set of steps and two moveable set pieces, a bar with two stools and a bassinet. These are employed beautifully to inform the movements of three accomplished actors, Wise (Hilary Norris), Middle (playwright Nicola Pauling), and Young (Mycah Keall), representing the seasons of the women’s lives. The lines are split between the three, who work expertly and seamlessly together to form a coherent and unified whole.

The actors not only voice the women themselves but also the men in their lives and the judgemental parents who sent their daughters away to farms or homes for unmarried mothers. The voices of the adoption agencies are represented by a recorded male voice (Regan Taylor). This creative device cleverly divorces the cold institutional tones of authority from the warm passions of these very real women.

As well as internalising the heart-rending loss of their babies, all the women experience some form of contact with their grown-up children. These stories are in some ways more poignant than the beginnings of their journeys as they grapple with expectations met or variously challenged.

I Carried This is a compelling and affecting record of a period in time that seems almost unbelievable now and of the women whose lives continue to be buffeted by the waves of past choices and their consequences.

Confessions of a Sleepwalking Insomniac | Regional News

Confessions of a Sleepwalking Insomniac

Written by: Helen Vivienne Fletcher

Directed by: Emma Katene

BATS Theatre, 5th June 2024

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Based on playwright Helen Vivienne Fletcher’s own experiences, Confessions of a Sleepwalking Insomniac is a solo show about the challenges of living with parasomnia, a sleep disorder involving sleepwalking and night terrors. The character Briar, played by Pauline Ward, lives with this condition and is now also juggling a new relationship, a sick mother, and her best friend living on the other side of the world.

Ward uses excellent physicality to depict what Briar is going through. Dreams and nightmares are presented as palpably real as she somersaults across the stage, her sleeping mind consumed by visions. One particularly distressing scene shows Briar on the floor, panicking as she is unable to move, and Ward’s thoroughly convincing depiction of this moment is evocative and heartbreaking. At times Ward’s narration of the story is a little rushed, the character’s frenzy in relating her experiences losing some of the intent behind the lines, perhaps needing clearer demarcation between ideas to get them across. Similarly, the delivery of humorous moments in the script doesn’t initially engage the audience. However, as the performance continues, Ward’s interactivity is so compelling that her pleading and questioning elicits audible responses from the audience, who are gripped by the emotions of the character.

Mention must be made of the excellent sound design by director Emma Katene, as the tightly cued soundscapes add texture and believability to the events happening on stage. The boxes that make up the set are unified by a pastel palette, and colourful lighting (design by Kate Anderson) is also used effectively to accentuate changes between dream, nightmare, and the different characters that Ward embodies.

I highly recommend Confessions of a Sleepwalking Insomniac, a powerful play that provides a window into understanding the life of someone who experiences a sleeping disorder. The story is moving and imparts great insight. An excellent variety of accessible performances in the show’s season are also available.

Femme Natale: The Queen Years | Regional News

Femme Natale: The Queen Years

Directed by: Fingal Pollock

BATS Theatre, 30th May 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

What happens after happily ever after? This is the question posed by Femme Natale: The Queen Years and the answer is an R18, mirth-filled catalogue of the woes of child-rearing and sex after 40. It’s co-written and performed by a talented cast of director Fingal Pollock, April Phillips, Jeremy Nelson, Tracey Savage, and Piers Gilbertson. Special guest Megan Connolly greets us when we enter the auditorium as a yawning and grumpy sanitary pad (used) handing out programmes.

A series of short sketches, the production jumps from patronising and competitive soccer mums with kids called Jupiter and Monty to a clever reverse wedding in which the vows become the tenets of divorce, a medieval version of parental angst over technology, a poetically frustrated flight attendant dispensing tea and coffee, and songs about online dating, head lice, and a joyous lack of parental guilt and regret.

Having had more than my fair share of mammograms, I got a big laugh out of the excitable mammary pair (Phillips and Savage) getting their first breast test and squeezing as many boob jokes out of it as possible. The desperate vulva (Phillips) who appears as an interlude between sketches becomes progressively more hilarious as she cavorts with a multi-function pink vibrator (Gilbertson) towards a spectacular climax to the disappointment of her husband’s real, but sadly less performative, genitals (Nelson). Guest writer Pinky Agnew’s contribution delivers one of the funniest sketches of the night in which a grandchild-obsessed nanna peddles plastic toys, Nerf guns, and sugar.

All the performers take on their varying roles with gusto and a complete lack of shame. They are clearly channelling elements of their personal experiences and having a great time doing it. Supported by an effective lighting design (Malcolm Gillett, who also co-wrote a sketch) and some choice music, this is a highly entertaining hour of fun for those post-40 or for younger ones yearning to know what they have (not) to look forward to.

A Muse | Regional News

A Muse

Created by: Jak Darling

Directed by: Alia Marshall

Cavern Club, 22nd May 2024

Reviewed by: Matt Jaden Carroll

Jak Darling, in their NZ International Comedy Festival debut, is looking for a muse. Usually this might be an inspiring person, but inspiration can come from many intangible places. Recognising this, Darling searches through uproarious experiences, twisted perspectives, and romantically absurd flights of imagination. Will any of these become the elusive muse?

When Darling walks on stage, I’m gobsmacked by their instantly iconic dress. It has such power that it makes me, someone with no drive to escape from pants and a shirt, feel a twinge of envy. They start to remove the dress, but require help from a cardboard cutout of a pigeon, creating a flirtatiously narrated tryst. This moment unmistakably shows how they combine sensuality with delightfully vulgar silliness.

Darling feels commandingly irreverent – we’re going to be silly. Deal with it. This unapologetic attitude is frequently explored through their experiences of queerness. In one story, they take irritation and wrap it in charm, playfully mocking the neuroticisms of an ‘ally’ who is only supportive in a self-serving manner.

A dizzying performer, their tone-shuffling artistry traverses stand-up, theatre, poetry, and music. Poetry transforms a Wellington bus trip into a picturesque Venetian tale full of romance, intrigue, and an overwhelming number of puns. Darling showcases puppetry with an ‘environmental guilt’-gobbling turtle, skilfully timed against an array of sound effects aided by Sanjay Parbhu. Quaint ukulele strumming is paired with total debauchery.

It’s barely noticed, but when Darling fails to reach a mic stand, they briefly turn it into a heightened drama. Even when caught off guard, they maintain their attitude of turning struggles into confidence, playfulness, and glamour. Their comedy seems to encapsulate their true character, and it creates a cohesiveness that makes the whole show feel that much more compelling.

Ultimately, Darling’s approach to comedy is addictive and highly amusing. It feels wrong to reveal the muse that they discover, but through their bold example, I have discovered a muse in Jak Darling.

Pus Goose | Regional News

Pus Goose

Presented by: Brynley Stent

BATS Theatre, 14th May 2024

Reviewed by: Matt Jaden Carroll

Brynley Stent is a Billy T Award-winning comedian who you may recognise from Taskmaster NZ. Pus Goose is a… wait, what is a “pus goose”? It sounds like some sort of scary monster from a bizarre horror movie. Well, as it turns out, Pus Goose is a show all about fear and just how ridiculous it can be.

Perhaps this is technically a stand-up show, but right from the start it feels nothing like one. Unlike most stand-up comedy, Pus Goose has a subtle theatrical atmosphere, evoking the nostalgia, light horror, and wonder you might associate with a Stranger Things episode. Stent’s NZ International Comedy Festival show is introduced and contextualised through the world of a spooky childhood board game. Using the game, she bouncily guides us through the dark glowing realms of her silliest fears – and with each one, we jump through a portal into an absurd tale from her life.

Pus Goose seems to be what happens when a rambunctious theatre kid insists on doing stand-up comedy. As a result of this collision, Stent breaks free from many of the limitations associated with the format. While she tells stories, impressions and sketches become highlights rather than asides, and it’s all richly decorated with infographics, videos, voiceovers, sound effects, and lighting.

The atmosphere may suggest a more serious show – but to be clear, the content ranges from quizzing the audience on the sex appeal of Cadbury Yowies, to a riveting impression of an office printer. Stent is upbeat, joyfully chaotic, and wildly expressive. She’s like that one friend who just has to act out stories for you – except this time, the friend is hilarious and armed with a special effects department.

Overall, Pus Goose successfully combines effects and immersion with the stand-up experience of laughing among your mates. Stent goes beyond expressing herself with the content of her work to express herself with the medium too. Unfortunately, now my next conversation is going to feel woefully incomplete without slideshows and sound effects.

Purple is the Gayest Colour | Regional News

Purple is the Gayest Colour

Written by: Alayne Dick

BATS Theatre, 11th May 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Alayne Dick never forgets an insult. In fact, she wrote a whole show about it, coming at you as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival. She describes herself at the start as “a lesbian who makes jokes on the internet, which makes men on the internet mad”. It’s easy to see how this adorably nerdy librarian in a purple T-shirt, shorts, high-top sneakers, and rainbow socks, with big glasses, lusciously long hair, and an obviously genital surname might upset fragile male (and probably some female) egos. She’s smart, sassy, and a whole bunch funnier than every incel on the web.

I feel seen when she starts talking about reviewers needing to use her surname in their reviews and its hilarious results: “Dick has us hungry for more” or, less kindly but perhaps more appropriately, “Dick always disappoints”.

The lack of pockets in jeggings, Vin Diesel’s ludicrously low voice, being an only child, the creepiness of pre-schoolers, Beaver Town Blenheim, the Boomer obsession with small-town murder TV, and many other subjects come under Dick’s frenetic but laser-like focus over the course of this comedy hour.

Occasional bursts of modern jazz dance accompany the high-energy delivery, but it’s not all frivolous. Like all good self-effacing stand-up, there are moments of intimacy and pathos as Dick relates her teenage dive into gay fan fiction due to the lack of good queer media – apart from Glee, obviously – and her relationship with her stoic, uncommunicative dad.

I particularly relate to her description of going to an uptight all-girls school that was simultaneously conservative and gay, then becoming a convincing vegetarian to qualify for the limited number of much tastier non-meat meals in her university hall canteen. And I’m totally going to take up her suggestion of making sure I have uninvited chaotic exes to yell “I object!” at my next wedding.

Dick doesn’t disappoint, it turns out.

Over 50,000,000 Guy Fans Can’t Be Wrong | Regional News

Over 50,000,000 Guy Fans Can’t Be Wrong

Presented by: Guy Montgomery

The Opera House, 11th May 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I am one of Guy Montgomery’s 50 million fans and I’m not wrong. A multi-award-winning, instantly recognisable face on the New Zealand comedy circuit, you may remember Guy from the “proudly stupid” clip show Fail Army or the smash-hit podcast The Worst Idea of All Time in which he and Tim Batt dissected the same bad movie over and over again. Maybe you’ve seen him on Taskmaster NZ, Celebrity Treasure Island, or Have You Been Paying Attention?. However you’ve come to know him, you’ve hopefully come to love his distinct brand of comedy like I have.

It’s one that’s very difficult to describe, but that’s my job so here goes. Surrealism meets precision, absurd observations make sense as Montgomery rolls onto the stage, stoked and surprised we’re clapping, to spin bizarre, brilliant yarns that feel erratic and tangential until you realise how intricate, how interconnected they are. He applies razor-sharp wit to the obscurest of obscurities, leaning into the illusion of being barely “smarter than a fish” when secretly, sneakily, his content is cleverer than a 12-year-old pretending to be an 11-year-old at the airport so they can receive special treatment as an unaccompanied minor. Inside joke.

I last saw Montgomery live at the 2023 NZ International Comedy Festival at Te Auaha, an excellent but much smaller venue. In Over 50,000,000 Guy Fans Can’t Be Wrong, he’s sold out The Opera House and hypothesises that the 1400-strong crowd may well be there to see him. He informs us that we’re in for “mostly sentences” and proceeds to string loads of hilarious ones together about lesbians, New Year’s resolutions, urinals, greyhounds, and more. Peppered with syllabic stress in all the wrong places, disarming and natural crowd chat, effortlessly awkward charm, and the occasional startling bellow, Montgomery’s delivery makes every sentence all the more genius. I laugh and laugh, even during the ones about sportsball despite having zero investment in the subject.

A comedian that continues to grow from strength to strength, Guy Montgomery will likely soon have 50 million-bajillion fans. Join them and you, too, can’t be wrong.

End of Summer Time | Regional News

End of Summer Time

Written by: Roger Hall

Directed by: Ross Jolly

Circa Theatre, 4th May 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The third play featuring dairy farmer Dickie Hart, this is Roger Hall’s ode to a generation of staunch Kiwi blokes who will be gone in the next couple of decades. It’s 2023 and Dickie (Gavin Rutherford) is looking back on his and his wife’s relocation to an apartment on Auckland’s North Shore four years earlier to be near their sons. It’s all body corporate politics, flirtations and friendships with new neighbours, and secret trips to McDonald’s with his vegan grandchildren until COVID strikes and Dickie’s life takes a different tack.

The first half is entertaining but light as Dickie adjusts to his new world away from 5am calls for milking. At interval, I’m left wondering if this is just a pleasant comedy about an irascible but loveable character or whether something more meaningful will eventuate. The payoff comes early in the second half as, with what has become a typically unsentimental delivery, Dickie reveals a shocking detail. The humour then takes a much darker and more powerful turn and by the end, it feels like we’ve been allowed a privileged window into Dickie’s life and shared in both his grief and joy.

Right from his opening dad dance to the introductory music, Rutherford is on fire as Dickie. His performance is utterly engaging from go to whoa. He’s worked with director Ross Jolly more than a few times and it shows in what is a beautifully sculpted piece of character work. Building even more layers into Dickie’s persona than there are in Hall’s well-wrought script, Rutherford’s movements, voices, and expressions add colour and detail to Dickie’s inner world so that we know what he’s thinking and feeling even when he doesn’t say it.

The lovely set (Andrew Foster), creative lighting (Marcus McShane), and occasional sound and AV design (Piper Kilmister) enhance Rutherford’s performance with a touch of technical magic.

This may be the end of Dickie’s summer, but something tells me Roger Hall has more seasons left to his work.

PopRox Improv Comedy Nights | Regional News

PopRox Improv Comedy Nights

Presented by: PopRox

Circa Theatre, 28th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

On the last Sunday of every month, local improv troupe PopRox puts on an immersive, cabaret-style improv show in the restaurant, bar, and foyer of Circa Theatre. Tonight’s story, creatively directed by MC Jed Davies and produced by Dylan Hutton, starts at Mainland Automotive. Here, Jonny Paul’s Tony (not to be confused with Tony from Tony’s Tyre Service) toils away fruitlessly until he joins forces with a very smart professor (Lia Kelly) who helps him build flying cars. Soon, the shop will become more successful than even Mainland Cheese.

Prior to the breakthrough, it’s chaos. Mainland Automotive’s employee Sally (Nina Hogg) never shows up because she’s too busy working her other job as a news reporter. Sarah (Tara McEntee) is in a rut and cannot escape the butt-dent on her couch. A really large building is on fire, and no one inside is stoked about it. Especially not the fire warden (Davies).

Isaac Thomas adds exceptional guitar to the action that matches the vibes at all times, while lighting designer and operator Sam Irwin utilises a neat red wash on the fly as the fire blazes, burning brighter by the minute.

Given the space, I was expecting a bit more interaction and wandering, if you will, from both the cast and audience. We’re told we can get up at any time but no one really does, which I suspect comes down to our ingrained theatre etiquette. More crowd work to help us loosen up and move around would go down a treat.

The cast utilises the space to create a show highlight when they spread out to play Sarah’s conscience, booming platitudes and cryptic clues in surround sound. More fantastic moments stem from the seamless integration of theatre sports and improv games – like when Hogg, Paul, and Kelly combine into an all-knowing entity to demand we “Ask another question!”

Improv done right is one of the best things you’ll see, so go see PopRox. I’m in awe of these expert players, who make up a riotous story, then tie all its loose ends in a bow like wings on a car in five minutes flat. What an uplifting end to my week.

The Golden Ass | Regional News

The Golden Ass

Adapted by: Michael Hurst

Directed by: Michael Hurst and John Gibson

Circa Theatre, 21st April 2024

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

The Golden Ass is an adaptation of Lucius Apuleius’ ancient Roman novel by Michael Hurst with additional text and dramaturgy by Fiona Samuel. This solo show sees Hurst retell the classic tale of a man transformed into a donkey, a wild experience that leads him to glean insight into humanity.

Hurst begins the performance in flowing beach clothes, relating the story with pace and evocative imagery. He immediately begins connecting with the audience, pulling us into his tale. While punchlines are lost in the momentum at times, the way that he embodies different characters through rapidly changing accents, postures, and mannerisms, is enthralling.

Seeking information on witchcraft to help him write a book, Hurst’s character Lucius tries to copy a ritual to turn into a bird, but is instead changed into a donkey. After this metamorphosis, he experiences different forms of cruelty, nearly forgetting himself and losing his humanity. Throughout the play, historically anachronistic inventions like email and vehicles are referred to, setting the story in a liminal, timeless period much like a fable.

The set (John Verryt) comprises a circular, sandy rug furnished only with some bags and a chilly bin. It is simple yet effective as Hurst uses the space with great physicality, moving between the different characters and scenes.

The lighting and sound, with original music by John Gibson, also add depth to the storytelling. Ocean sounds and a summery amber wash support Hurst’s vivid narration. Scene changes are quick and clear, often punctuated by a crowing rooster in the morning, which, like much in the show, is acknowledged by Hurst for comedic effect.

Injected at every turn is humour that verges on goofy and crass. But in the end, after seeing a dark and beastly side of humanity, Lucius’ sincerity and earnestness pin a hopeful tail on this story.

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 | Regional News

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Written by: Dave Malloy

Directed by: Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is a sung-through musical by Dave Malloy based on a scandalous segment of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It follows Natasha (Lane Corby), a naïve young woman who begins a torrid love affair with Anatole (Henry Ashby) despite her betrothal to Andrey (Glenn Horsfall). In the eye of the storm of repercussions are Natasha’s cousin Sonya (Áine Gallagher) and godmother Marya (Frankie Leota); her future in-laws Mary (Rachel McSweeney) and Prince Bolkonsky (Glenn Horsfall); and Anatole’s friend Dolokhov (Kevin Orlando) and brother-in-law Pierre (William Duignan), a depressed alcoholic who’s friends with Andrey and (unhappily) married to Hélène (Jade Merematira). Even the troika driver Balaga (Patrick Jennings) gets involved. Struggling to keep up? A hilarious Prologue opens the show with a pop, bang, and blinding sparkle to explain the whole thing.

Allow me to attempt to scratch the surface of all the jaw-dropping moments in this kaleidoscopic fever dream of a production. WITCH Music Theatre and technical producer and set designer Joshua Tucker-Emerson have completely transformed an unrecognisable Hannah Playhouse into a theatre-in-the-round, illuminated by Alex ‘Fish’ Fisher’s brilliant lighting design. Disco balls dazzle and performers literally fly (aerialist Jackson Cordery) across the stage as the exquisite ensemble entices and the core cast – draped in diamonds and swathed in silk by costume designer and creative producer Ben Tucker-Emerson – astounds the audience with whirlwind choreography (Emily McDermott and Greta Casey-Solly) and vocal chops fit for the world stage. The picture is heady, opulent, intoxicating.  

With technically flawless sound design by Oliver Devlin, a supreme live orchestra, and many of the cast playing roving instruments, the sound is full and raucous, yet sumptuous and smooth when called for. Sitting centre stage at an in-ground piano is conductor, music director, and ringmaster Hayden Taylor. Anyone listening to a single bar of any song from this production, whether belted or softly whispered, thrummed on bass or tinkled on keys, would kill to have Taylor in the music director’s seat.

Guided by directors Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew’s blazing vision, WITCH deserved every second of their standing ovation and then some. Bring your sunnies and something warm for the goosebumps.

HELIOS | Regional News

HELIOS

Created by: Wright&Grainger

BATS Theatre, 19th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

In the Ancient Greek myth, Phaeton is the son of the sun god, Helios. In a fit of hubris and wanting recognition from his absent father, Phaeton begs to drive Helios’ golden sun chariot across the sky for a single day. Against his father’s better judgement, Phaeton takes the reins and starts a disastrous voyage across the heavens, literally crashing and burning because he can’t control the feisty horses.

In this relatable modern reworking of the tale, Alexander Wright, accompanied by Phil Grainger’s hypnotic score, relates the story of Phaeton as a confused teenager. He’s nearing his 18th birthday, mourning the earlier loss of his little brother in an ice-skating accident, dealing with school bus politics and a complex relationship with a classmate called Michael Dale, and watching the shadows of his airline pilot dad and the golden Ford in the garage that he one day wants to drive.

Wright is there to greet the audience as they arrive and directs everyone to seats around the three-quarters stage, in the middle of which is a cluster of freestanding lights and a couple of neatly coiled microphone leads. Around the outside of these is a sunny circle of orange and white cue cards that help him remember the 70-minute story’s details and which he uses to invite members of the audience to read some of the conversational lines.

Audience interaction is the hallmark of this highly absorbing presentation. Wright is a master of incorporating audience responses into his narrative and making us feel an integral part of Phaeton’s fall from grace, which he narrates with quick-fire energy. However, rather than concluding that Phaeton’s fate is a warning not to indulge in too much teenage bravado, the conclusion of this contemporary fable is more uplifting.

In this magical piece of storytelling, the human truth of HELIOS is beautifully spun from the ancient to the modern with nothing more than a few simple set pieces, delicious music, and one committed and totally engaging performer.

Milly Monka’s MILK Factory | Regional News

Milly Monka’s MILK Factory

Presented by: Ruff as Gutz

Created by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin

Directed by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin

BATS Theatre, 3rd Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

If you’ve never seen a MILK show before, firstly, why, and secondly, the premise is this. A cast of improvisors make up a story on the fly (standard) whilst being pelted by water balloons (not standard). Prior to the show, we the audience are armed with the squishy, sopping projectiles and instructed to throw them at performers whenever we want something they’re doing or saying to change. Got milk? Hidden amongst the regular water balloons are a few drama balloons filled with milk. When one is tossed onstage, a catastrophic event occurs that changes the trajectory of our story forever. I’m not spoiling the event because I don’t want the MILK crew to turn sour on me.

In Milly Monka’s MILK Factory, Milly Monka (MC Mia Oudes) has been bestowed a quest by Zeus disguised as a cow (Dylan Hutton as both Zeus and Cow). Ever the delegator, Milly distributes Molden Mickets inviting the ‘lucky’ finders to her Milk Mactory in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the bush. And so, small children (Hutton, Zoe Christall, Timothy Fraser, and Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin) arrive in the bush (except Hutton’s character Bush Boy, who was already there) and are welcomed inside to “find the target”, or else.

This is the fifth MILK show and the second that I’ve seen, the first being MILKOWEEN, where Halloween met milk met madness met mayhem. In Milly Monka’s MILK Factory, Ruff as Gutz doesn’t lean quite as hard into the theme. Brighter costumes, a more colourful lighting scheme and zanier set, a spoonful of Oompa-Loompa-esque music, and chocolate milk (or mocklate milk, if you will), would be delicious touches in the future.

But this is all small (chocolate) fish. With a hilarious and hysterical premise perfectly executed by exceedingly talented performers who change course at the drop of a milk, and a respectful ethos designed around audience comfort, Milly Monka’s MILK Factory is magnificent. I had an outrageously good time downing this pint of pure happiness.  

Two Guitars | Regional News

Two Guitars

Written by: Jamie McCaskill

Directed by: Carrie Green

Circa Theatre, 24th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Billy (Cameron Clayton) and Te Po (Jamie McCaskill) are musicians about to smash the biggest night of their lives on a Māori talent show. But backstage before their final performance, the uber-culturally authentic competition has them asking, “Are we Māori enough for this gig?”

Both whakama in their own very different ways, they approach their Māoriness, or lack of, very differently too. For Billy, it’s about trying to do the right thing, whether that’s practising his overly dramatic reo introduction for the show or donning a pounamu. For Te Po, it’s about cynicism and exposing the expected compliance with the vision of ‘being Māori’ that the show espouses. “You be a You Māori. And I’ll be a Me Māori. And Billy will be a Him Māori”, he says and proceeds to make himself deeply unpopular with the producers. That’s just one of the dramas unfolding here as they both have family crises happening in the background that add depth to the significance of the night.

Clayton and McCaskill are a well-matched pair, sparking off each other with an easy chemistry that keeps the energy bubbling. Clayton’s Billy is sweet and well intentioned, though misguided in his priorities. McCaskill’s Te Po is arrogant and reckless, bringing a wrecking ball to the whole enterprise with little thought for the consequences. All of this is delivered with delicious humour from both characters that elevates the deeper issues of colonisation and cultural disconnection from the frippery of the competition.

With six beautiful songs carefully woven into the narrative, Clayton and McCaskill get to show off their musical talents and superb singing voices. They’re well matched in this department too, creating stunning harmonies and playing off each other’s guitar rhythms with expert skill.

Supported by Green’s naturalistic direction, gorgeous lighting (Talya Pilcher), and an attractive woven-panel set (Ian Harman), Two Guitars is a funny, polished, and thoughtful vehicle for showing us that maybe, in Te Po’s words, “If you whakapapa, that’s enough.”

Murdered to Death | Regional News

Murdered to Death

Written by: Peter Gordon

Directed by: Jamie Byas and Oliver Mander

Gryphon Theatre, 20th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Something is afoot! Inspector Pratt (Harrison Stuart) isn’t quite sure what exactly… or who, or where he is for that matter, and who all these strange people are, but by golly is he determined to find out.

Whatever suspicions Inspector Pratt may harbour, it doesn’t take a professional sleuth to deduce that Wellington Repertory Theatre’s Murdered to Death is the perfect murder mystery farce. Set in 1980’s Auckland, this Agatha Christie spoof is set in the beautiful salon (brilliant set design by Oliver Mander) of Mildred Bagshot (Susannah Donovan). She is excited for the weekend spent in the company of her dearest friends and ever so grateful for her niece’s help – Dorothy Foxton (Talia Carlisle) will be handsomely rewarded in her will for all she does. Her butler Bunting (Vince Jennings) is certainly looking worse for wear though. She is expecting Colonel Charles Craddock (Mike McJorrow) and his wife Margaret (Amy Bradshaw), the highbrow Elizabeth Hartley-Trumpington (Carly Daniels), and French art dealer Pierre Marceau (Finnian Nacey) to arrive any minute. She was not expecting Joan Maple (Brianna McGhie), however, who arrives uninvited – wherever she goes someone always ends up… Murdered to Death!

As the rest of the evening unfolds, the odds seem stacked against Inspector Pratt, whose only hope is his assistant Constable Thompkins (Sonique Paewai) – an endearing and perfectly proficient police officer (and performer, as Paewai quickly becomes my favourite). Seven suspects, each with no alibi. It’s a police PR nightmare.

Intentionally and hilariously over the top, the performers each enact their respective tropes to a T, crying and conniving, berating and blackmailing to their hearts' content under Jamie Byas and Oliver Mander’s tight direction. Carol Walter and Wendy Howard’s wardrobe design is equally as outlandish in the best way possible. With a little more fine-tuning, the lighting design (Brian Byas) could bring the already high tension to knife-cutting levels.

Ladies and gentlemen, Murdered to Death will make you laugh bloody murder.

It Came From Beyond The Script | Regional News

It Came From Beyond The Script

Created by: Malcolm Morrison

Directed by: Malcolm Morrison

BATS Theatre, 19th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

It Came From Beyond The Script is a horror-comedy spectacular that sees local improv personalities (C B, Dianne Pulham, Jed Davies, Megan Connolly, Sam Irwin, and Tristram Domican) make up a new spooky tale every night from an audience suggestion (a whoop for our co-writer Leon from the crowd).

Lights (D’ Woods), camera, action! This is no ordinary long-form improv show. Stitching theatre and cinema together like Frankenstein’s monster, it features cult-classic horror film tropes, elements of expressionism, extraordinary SFX by Malcolm Morrison, titillating live music by Lia Kelly, and innovative software by Tom Hall. Multi-media sorcery meets multi-fantastic performers and the spell is cast... Our story has begun.

Tonight’s tale? A Cat Named Psycho. That’s the only prompt, and yet the end result is a 45-minute complex tale of an experimental mind-control serum created by a corrupt hospital chief (Davies) and an intern named Grieg (his name is actually Greg) (it was an administrative error) (he doesn’t want to talk about it) (but he will) (at length). (Grieg is played by Irwin.)

Meanwhile, a lovely older couple (C B and Domican) are due in surgery and have been together for 39 years, would you believe! And a doctor and a nurse (Connolly and Pulham) are about to get married and start their own practice, The Doctor Practise Practice. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry... especially when feral cat-humanoid soldiers are involved, as the saying goes.

Walking into It Came From Beyond The Script, I was tired, grumpy, and stressed. Walking out, I felt light, free, alive, and full of joy. I laughed till I nearly cried. That’s exactly what good theatre should do: provide an escape from the various abstract horrors of our daily lives.

It Came From Beyond The Script is clever, electrifying, and funny as all hell. Make like a Cat Named Psycho and zoomie, don’t walk to BATS to catch it while you can.

Lost Lear | Regional News

Lost Lear

Written by: Dan Colley, with the company, after Shakespeare

Directed by: Dan Colley

Tāwhiri Warehouse, 14th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Award-winning Irish theatre maker Dan Colley tells an innovative and powerful story of dealing with advanced dementia. Joy (Venetia Bowe) is stuck in the past of her career as an actor, constantly rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in which she played the lead. This ‘memory theme’ has been painstakingly worked out and supported by Liam (Manus Halligan) and his care home team (Clodagh O’Farrell and Em Ormonde). Into this carefully constructed world comes Joy’s son Conor (Peter Daly) who she sent away as a young boy and consequently harbours a lifetime of resentment towards his neglectful mother. Seeking some kind of apology or contrition he will never get, he must find his own path to forgiveness through joining the rehearsal as Cordelia and becoming part of Joy’s fractured reality.

Using projection onto two screens in front of and behind the main stage interwoven with live video feeds from a lightbox and another on the stage, plus a stunning use of paper craft and puppetry, we witness both Joy’s chaotic, distorted perspective and the grounded, day-to-day work of caring for a person with dementia. The skill of the actors and technicians is such that these two worlds blend and interchange seamlessly, so we always know where we are and sometimes see both at the same time.

Bowe gives a towering performance as Joy. She’s energetic and dictatorial as Lear, humorous as she jumps into other roles and plays dialogue by herself, heartbreaking as she struggles to communicate with Conor through the fog of her illness. Daly is strong too as the baffled son who can’t cope with the feelings welling up as he confronts his estranged mother and her altered mental state. Halligan is a wonderful foil for Joy, gleefully indulging her fantasy by playing Lear’s Fool, and gently encouraging Conor to take part.

Lost Lear is a brilliantly creative and thought-provoking inspection of dementia and the unconventional possibilities of human communication.

BELLE – A Performance of Air | Regional News

BELLE – A Performance of Air

Presented by: Movement Of The Human

Directed by: Malia Johnston

St James Theatre, 14th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Helmed by creative director Malia Johnston – known for her work on World of WearableArt™ and countless other innovative projects – BELLE was always going to be a standout production this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Billed as a celebration of female strength and agility, it sees a cast of nine women (aerialists Imogen Stone, Katelyn Reed, Ellyce Bisson, and Rosita Hendry, and dancers Brydie Colquhoun, Jemima Smith, Anu Khapung, Nadiyah Akbar, and Aleeya Mcfadyen-Rew) float and fly, contort and convulse, levitate and palpitate to each precise, driving, swirling beat of Eden Mullholland’s stratospheric soundscape, composed in collaboration with Jol Mulholland and live musician Anita Clark, who weaves a throughline that magnetises us with her ethereal voice and virtuosic violin.  

Rowan Pierce’s production design is an electric storm that wholly transforms the landscape, utilising smoke, strobe, and stunning special effects to create cinematic tableaus the likes of which I’ve not seen on stage before. The result is a breathtaking 55-minute optical illusion where dancers appear and reappear like magic, swallowed whole by haze only to reilluminate, suspended from the ceiling; engulfed by the pitch-black void to reanimate, stacked on shoulders, poised upside down in the box seats, coiled in apparatus designed especially for the show by inspired aerial choreographer Jenny Ritchie.  

While there is no narrative, themes emerge for the viewer to interpret. I find myself thinking of control and oppression; ritual and camaraderie; birth, rebirth, and death; matriarchs and lunar cycles; and above all, the fearsome power of women. One scene that sees the cast walk to the front of the stage to circle a glowing, clear disc one by one, each interacting with it differently, doesn’t feel as striking or as intentional as the rest. But perhaps “what does it mean” isn’t the right question. Maybe the right question is, “was that real?” The staggering cast and creatives of BELLE breathe, heave, and electrify as one to convey Johnston’s extraordinary vision: one that I still can’t quite believe I’ve seen with my own two eyes.

Crossing Thresholds: The Air Between Us | Regional News

Crossing Thresholds: The Air Between Us

Created by: Chloe Loftus and Rodney Bell

Tāwhiri Warehouse, 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The Air Between Us is a captivating aerial dance show performed in mid-air in the new creative space at the back of Te Whaea. Choreographer and dancer Chloe Loftus and multi-award-winning artist and performer Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniopoto), who performs in his stylish wheelchair, weave an intricate, sensuous, and beautiful story of the literal push and pull of a complex emotional relationship. They seek to “explore our innate capacity to exist in symbiotic harmony, with each other and with our environment”.

They arrive separately, Bell travelling slowly along the aisle between the cushion-dwelling youngsters with their adults and the mostly wheelchair-occupying front row, gently touching them as he passes. Loftus walks in from the audience rostra, and they slowly circle the floor-lit stage before meeting in the middle beneath a double aerial harness. At first, Loftus connects to the harness, flying horizontally around Bell as he gently catches her feet. Then she’s climbing upwards on the harness ropes while he circles below her.

Switching the harness to support them both, they whirl and twist together through the air, embracing, balancing each other, always at one whether together or apart. Finally, Loftus walks calmly away and Bell spins upside down, suspended peacefully and alone until lowering back to terra firma.

It’s mesmerising to watch each exactly paced and balletic movement. Accompanied by appropriately involving music, and their clearly visible rigger Tym Miller-White and his counterweight, their performance is a deeply satisfying work of harmony, synchronicity, and inclusion. The performers are equal in ability and connection in this ungrounded space.

The pleasing sense of inclusivity extends beyond the performers to the attentive staff, seating area that caters to those who can’t or don’t want to sit on the unforgiving plastic seats, and the cost-free entry. It’s wonderful to see the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts embracing this ethos so wholeheartedly.

At just 20 minutes long, The Air Between Us is a bijou but utterly fulfilling piece that says so much more than words can convey.

Gravity & Grace | Regional News

Gravity & Grace

Written by: Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken

Directed by: Eleanor Bishop

Circa Theatre, 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Everybody fails, sometimes spectacularly. Few write a fearless book about it, but this is exactly what feminist writer Chris Kraus did after her experimental feature film epically flopped at a Berlin film market in 1998. Based on her book Aliens & Anorexia, this bold and innovative stage show seeks to answer the question: how did it all go so wrong?

Co-playwright Karin McCracken takes the lead role of Kraus and is supported by an ensemble cast of four (Nī Dekkers-Reihana, Simon Leary, Rongopai Tickell, and Sam Snedden) who expertly fill all the other roles in her strange life. McCracken is natural and engaging as someone who eventually realises that having no visual imagination is a bad foundation for becoming a filmmaker.

As much cinema as theatre, this stage show uses four cameras positioned beside, above, and on the stage to live-project the actors onto a large screen behind the acting area. Objects (including a gross-looking bowl of cold Campbell’s minestrone soup) also appear, set up on a lightbox at the edge of the stage. The technical work to mix this varying vision with recorded footage, sometimes matching it frame for frame, is astounding. Video designer Owen Iosefa McCarthy, video programmer Rachel Neser (Artificial Imagination), and show operator Natasha Thyne deserve special recognition. Also working seamlessly with the technology is a subtly effective lighting design (Rob Larsen) that lets the actors be seen but never gets in the way of the projections and atmospheric soundscape (Emi 恵美 Pogoni).

Another clever touch in the staging (performance designer Meg Rollandi) is a cut-out section of the screen that has a gauzy covering behind which the actors appear as characters, such as the British film producer Kraus has a long-distance sadomasochistic phone-sex relationship with, who Kraus never meets.

The many awesome technical ideas make the show run a little long at two-and-a-half hours, but this is my only critique of an otherwise fascinating and creatively delivered production.

The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical | Regional News

The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical

Written by: Nino Raphael

Directed by: Nino Raphael

The Welsh Dragon Bar, Weds 6th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate: The Musical sets sail off the pages of Margaret Mahy’s treasured children’s picture book of the same name. The story follows Sam (Taipuhi King) as he finally breaks free from his job as an accountant to join his pirate mother (Hilary Norris) on the high seas.

Drawing from the Mahy classic, master composer and lyricist Nino Raphael has created catchy tunes with words that roll off the tongues of the performers. The sea shanties and patter songs are superb, with a highlight being Sam’s ditty about auditing his mother’s books. I would love there to be a wider variety of songs, as I feel this would enhance the musical even more.

Raphael is fantastic on concertina, guitar, and piano. Who needs a philharmonic orchestra when you have a one-man band providing sensational accompaniment and support? He is fantastic at leading both the cast and the audience. We essentially become the ensemble, filling the quaint venue of The Welsh Dragon Bar with lively, rowdy joy. I hope that in future renditions of this show, audience interaction remains a focal point.

All the performers have stunning vocals and a strong grasp of the music despite having a short rehearsal period. They embody their roles – inspired by the original story – with distinct, hilarious characterisations. I understand the musical is intended to be longer and am very curious to see how the characters would grow and develop when given more time on stage, especially Mr Fat (Adam Herbert).

Whilst this is their (sold out!) development season, I am extremely impressed. I can see this upbeat, energetic show becoming incredibly popular. I am very privileged to have caught the first-ever performance, as well as The Welsh Dragon Bar’s Fringe Festival debut. I hope that The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical continues to catch the wind in its sails and travels far.

JIMMY | Regional News

JIMMY

Written by: Micky Delahunty with Parekawa Finlay

Directed by: Micky Delahunty

Hannah Playhouse, 5th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The writer’s note in the programme sets up the premise for JIMMY, a New Zealand Fringe Festival show, as “our friend Cole Hampton. It’s the story of Jimmy, a character Cole was playing in a script I wrote for him and Ari Leason. We were rehearsing it at the time of his death. We could never do that play. So we wrote JIMMY.” It’s a poignant and tender beginning for a heartfelt love-letter-cum-eulogy to a lost companion.

Five souls are alone in their own worlds: Jack (Jared Lee) is burrowing down an internet rabbit hole on the nature of the universe; Lou (Ari Leason) is creatively stuck by mourning; Orla (Olivia Marshall) is rehearsing for opening night of a Greek tragedy; Puāwai (Parekawa Finlay) is recalling Māori legends in the constellations; and James (Jono Weston) is remembering summer with his childhood friend. These disparate threads weave together over the course of an hour as these friends and relations of Jimmy’s come together to farewell him. It’s a simply effective and highly relatable narrative structure that is reflected daily in funeral rites the world over as people from each branch of an individual’s life join in remembrance. We learn about Jimmy – his daring, humorous, creative nature – through the recollections of these five.

The vignettes of memory, loss, and grief are interspersed with songs, the real strength of this production. Each cast member has written and performs at least one song and they come together to perform two by Cole Hampton himself, the entertaining Weirdo and the uplifting Good, which they deliver as an impromptu wake for Jimmy. The cast are endearing and clearly demonstrate the varying trauma of grief without going overboard. Leason is particularly strong with her beautiful voice and guitar-playing.

The underscoring theme of space and time reflects the ultimate message of JIMMY: even if you die, you still exist through other people. And that’s something we all should wish for upon a star.

The Savage Coloniser Show | Regional News

The Savage Coloniser Show

Written by: Tusiata Avia

Directed by: Anapela Polata’ivao

Circa Theatre, 3rd Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Following their critically acclaimed production Wild Dogs Under My Skirt at the 2018 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, the FCC creative team is back this festival, bringing to ferocious life Tusiata Avia’s Ockham Poetry Award-winning The Savage Coloniser Book.

Far from being a simple poetry reading, this is a blisteringly provocative theatrical presentation by six Pasifika actors who speak, sing, and move their way through Avia’s confronting texts. She is totally unafraid to cast an unforgiving and provocative eye over race and racism, coloniser and colonised. The poems cross-examine the cringe-making things white people say, Gauguin’s sexualised utopian vision of Tahiti, white criticism of intergenerational trauma as an ‘excuse’ for bad behaviour, the stereotyping of South Aucklanders, a health sector that uses BMI as a weapon against Brown people, and much more. Woe betide you if you’re a National or ACT voter; Christopher Luxon and Judith Collins don’t come off well at all. That’s not to say the show isn’t funny. It’s achingly so and at many times causes a ripple of laughter and applause through the audience, as well as the odd whoop of righteous agreement.

The exceptional cast of Stacey Leilua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Mario Faumui, Petmal Petelo, Ilaisaane Green, and Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute totally own the stage. They are a strong, slick, and superbly coordinated team (choreography by Tupua Tigafua and Mario Faumui) with just six chairs, six machetes, and a mirror as props. They are aided by a superb set and a lighting design (production designers Bradley Gledhill and Rachel Marlow) that cleverly employs projections onto a sheer screen in front of the actors and smoke and lights behind them to emphasise the poetry, along with haunting music composed by David Long.

The Savage Coloniser Show is savage both in its content and its execution, while also being a creation of theatrical artistry. Leaving much to think about and examine in your own behaviour, it is a bold and necessary understanding of the history of Aotearoa.

The Suitcase Show | Regional News

The Suitcase Show

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell

Directed by: Hannah Smith

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Imagine the kind of tingly, eerie warmth that would course through your veins if you were listening to a Brothers Grimm fairytale by a roaring fire with a glass of whisky in hand. Now imagine the person telling you that story is building a whole world around you, enhancing every beat with shadowplay and spooky soundscapes, projections and puppetry.

That’s the closest I can come to describing a Trick of the Light Theatre show. Few words are capable of capturing the magic this innovative theatre company brings to the stage. Every time.

The latest entry in the canon, The Suitcase Show follows a traveller (Ralph McCubbin Howell) who’s been flagged by security (Hannah Smith) for possessing a number of suspicious items at the airport. In some dingy backroom, the traveller unveils the contents of each suitcase one by one, sharing the stories contained within to an automaton officer who just wants to know if those matches are flammable, actually.

While seemingly unconnected at first, the stories are woven together by a thematic thread that I won’t uncoil here. Each one is told with trademark Trick of the Light flair and effects that are special in all senses of the word. A moving trainset appears out of thin air; a rickety overhead projector unfolds to the beat of a retro space theme (sound design and composition by Tane Upjohn Beatson); a miniature town materialises, lit from within as if by magic; a love story for the ages plays out with nought but four LED lights and two hands (McCubbin Howell in a show highlight). It all climaxes in a hilarious scene featuring videographic wizardry (Dean Hewison) and two end-of-line officers (Anya-Tate Manning, Richard Falkner) tasked with screening the contents of the traveller’s last case. Prohibited items doesn’t begin to cut it.

Trick of the Light Theatre are self-professed notorious tinkerers. As someone who had the privilege of seeing The Suitcase Show twice, the only critiques I would have made had already been addressed by the second show. The only feedback I’ve got left now? Amazing.   

Witi’s Wāhine | Regional News

Witi’s Wāhine

Written by: Nancy Brunning

Directed by: Ngapaki Moetara and Teina Moetara

St James Theatre, 29th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Where you see one woman, you see a thousand, Witi’s Wāhine proclaims with the force of a raging storm, a standing army, an entire tangata past, present, and future echoing their voice. Woven together with the pages of Witi Ihimaera’s stories and golden threads of waiata, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts production is a tapestry of wāhine, whenua, and Māori wisdom.

Sitting downstage left, the chair with the crocheted blanket is the lone set piece for now, but it is not alone. Before actors even arrive, before guests take their seats, before the curtain rises, the chair sits occupied by memories of the past and impressions of the future, waiting in anticipation for the present to unfold. Once the performers join, there is silence. Roimata Fox, Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby, Kristyl Neho, and Olivia Violet Robinson-Falconer, with soft smiles on their lips, slowly pan the room, returning the gaze of each and every eye peering up at them. For a few minutes, we are nowhere but in the present.

For the next 120 minutes, we find ourselves somewhere in the in-between. Time and space crack and bend, ebb and flow as the cast, characters, and stories pass through the doors of the set walls (Penny Fit), portals to other realms less tangible than ours. The performers bring the set to life as they dance and fight, shuffle and take flight with unparalleled skill highlighted by brilliantly executed technical effects. The cast of eight are one but they are distinct, each playing a myriad of richly developed characters utterly singular yet somehow joined through their struggles, joys, and whakapapa.

Across the multi-coloured fabric of generations, storms rage, sunlight shines bright, blood drenches through William Smith’s evocative lighting design and Tyna Keelan’s immersive soundscape. Gossamer threads of pain and sorrow, wisdom and instinct stretch across history, twisting our heartstrings into a knot. But when the threads of time unwind, when the worlds of fiction and reality, legend and history uncoil, what remain are flax ribbons of laughter, joy, and love.

The Eleventh Trip of Lilibet W. | Regional News

The Eleventh Trip of Lilibet W.

Presented by: Continuum Theatre Company

Written by: James Ladanyi

Directed by: James Ladanyi

Whisky & Wood, 28th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Part of this year’s New Zealand Fringe Festival, this play imagines a younger version of Queen Elizabeth II (Aimée Sullivan) walking into a quiet Wellington bookshop, a year after the real monarch’s death. Conversing with the bookstore clerk (Tara Canton), she slowly pieces together what might have brought her here, grappling with questions about her legacy – both as an individual and as the physical embodiment of the Crown.

Canton and Sullivan perform the two parts in the play expertly. To begin with, the environment and circumstances are unclear, but as The Keeper, Canton is effortlessly relaxed. She enters, complacently eating an apple, and writes in a journal throughout the show. Her dialogue is always natural and free. Sullivan, to contrast, uncannily captures the regal voice and mannerisms of the Queen, prim and controlled even in this strange environment. The costumes (decided by the actors themselves) also work well to differentiate the characters’ personalities, with The Keeper wearing a baggy shirt and pants with Crocs, while the young Queen is in a floral dress and pearls.

The audience is arranged in a circle, a desk at one side of the space and a comfy armchair at the other, with piles of books filling the stage in between (set design by producer, writer, and director James Ladanyi). Other books are hung by string from the ceiling, evoking a sense of wonder that supports the surreal story. Both performers use the space well, always showing us both sides of the story and projecting their voices across the stage as their discussion becomes more heated. This makes the back-and-forth almost like a tennis match.

At first, I question the need for a 10-minute interval in a 60-minute show, but it makes sense as the Queen is left on the stage by herself, reading and reflecting, giving more pace and impetus for conflict in the second act.

The Eleventh Trip of Lilibet W. is an ultimately hopeful play. It is a vivid examination of a woman we all knew about, bringing a modern, analytical perspective and inviting us to consider our own stories and legacies.

Our Own Little Mess | Regional News

Our Own Little Mess

Created by: A Slightly Isolated Dog

Directed by: Leo Gene Peters and Jane Yonge

Circa Theatre, 23rd Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The opportunity to see a performance from the creative team at A Slightly Isolated Dog is always something to look forward to and they’ve outdone themselves with Our Own Little Mess. Champions of innovation and audience collaboration, they’ve taken their mission to another level with this immersive exploration of the inner voices that drive us.

Five ordinary Kiwis are on personal journeys. An academic (Maaka Pohatu) isolates himself after being rejected for a promotion; a young woman (Louise Jiang) goes on a desperate trip to Europe, lost in grief for her mum’s death; a ventriloquist (Jack Buchanan) has an existential crisis in the desert; a stressed mum (Laurel Devenie) tells stories to her young daughter and misses her husband who’s overseas; and a gay man (Andrew Paterson) imagines his life as a series of art installations while he navigates the dating scene in New York.

As the audience, we hear through headphones the thoughts and anxieties that propel these people on their sometimes-surreal journeys to their own resolutions. This device enables us to hear the voices, both internal and external, that inform their view of the world and how they respond to it. Far from being merely a creative whim, this approach is underpinned by research evidence and the credits boast cognitive neuroscientists (Drs David Carmel and Gina Grimshaw). Audience members are invited to complete an online survey after the show, the responses to which will be part of a full academic study on inner speech.

The uber theatre production design (Meg Rollandi) features clever set pieces that are utilised over and over in new ways, while the lighting design (Leo Gene Peters) sees largely handheld lighting from lamps and torches accentuated by a few stage lights. The two work together to support the narratives. Voices are supplemented by effective and well-balanced music and sound effects (Sam Clavis).

Our Own Little Mess is a spellbinding examination of our inner worlds for this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts.

Jungle Book reimagined | Regional News

Jungle Book reimagined

Written by: Tariq Jordan

Directed by: Akram Khan

St James Theatre, 23rd Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Jungle Book reimagined is based on Rudyard Kipling’s beloved The Jungle Book but with a dystopian twist. Ravaged by climate change, Mowgli is separated from her family and arrives alone in a deserted city where animals run the streets. In this strange world, Mowgli discovers unlikely allies and learns the importance of listening to nature.

The dancers (Maya Balam Meyong, Tom Davis-Dunn, Hector Ferrer, Harry Theadora Foster, Filippo Franzese, Bianca Mikahil, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Elpida Skourou, Holly Vallis, Jan Mikaela Villanueva, and Lani Yamanaka) are flexible and full of energy, each embodying a different animal through movement that emphasises and adds layers of meaning to the dialogue spoken. All members of the ensemble stand out in their own right yet work together to become one collective master of storytelling.

From a scenography perspective, the video design (directed by Nick Hillel of YeastCulture) is astonishing and I love the use of two gauzes to screen the vivid animations (rotoscope artists and animators Naaman Azhari, Natasza Cetner, and Edson R Bazzarin, director of animation Adam Smith of YeastCulture). This adds more depth to them as it immerses the performers between two panels of moving picture, creating a satisfying blur between real life and make-believe.

The sound design (Gareth Fry) creates a wonderful soundscape that truly transports us into director and choreographer Akram Khan’s dystopian future. The compositions (Jocelyn Pook) highlight key emotional beats in what is a sensational soundtrack to this captivating performance. The script (Tariq Jordan) is poetic and succinct. This multimedia show has it all.

Every element works together so cohesively to create a mesmerising, thought-provoking piece about our need to work with nature; to belong and to bond with others. We must be one with nature. This show is a warning of a world that could be if we are not.

I sincerely hope that Akram Khan Company brings more state-of-the-art theatre to New Zealand. This is one of the best productions I have seen. Make your journey through the urban jungle and watch Jungle Book reimagined!

Celebrity Trevor Island | Regional News

Celebrity Trevor Island

Presented by: Ruff as Gutz

Directed by: Mia Oudes

Te Auaha, 21st Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

About five minutes into Celebrity Trevor Island, I whisper to my friend, “I get to write about this for a living”. I am, of course, grinning. Four improv performers – Em Barrett, Salome Bhanu, Dylan Hutton, and Eliza Sanders – are midway through strapping squeaky chicken toys to their feet with heavy-duty duct tape. Moments later, the clucky cacophony commences...

And they’re off! They dart, they dive, they dash around the chicken coop, dodging a dastardly, dangerous sheep! But it’s not a sheep, it’s a mute farmhand named Shithead (Anna Barker) in disguise! And she’s armed with a swimming noodle! Only at Fringe.

In Celebrity Trevor Island, created by Jeremy Hunt with second project lead Austin Harrison, Trevor (Hunt) is seeking a replacement for his less-than-satisfactory farmhand. Four candidates – collected from other New Zealand Fringe Festival shows – have shown up for an interview that turns out to be an unpaid job trial (classic). Onsite, they must complete a series of tasks, each more unhinged than the last. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s the pie-decorating contest, the cow-insemination challenge (the steaks are high for this one), and the Trev-ia round, which gives rise to some of the best lines of the night.

To Trev’s question, “What’s your favourite thing about Trevor”, Sanders responds, “You’ve got a tolerable aura”. She also accidentally impersonates a horse (classic). When asked “L&P or the A&P”, Hutton frantically bellows, “L&P at the A&P”, scoring (Mitre 10) mega points and laughs in the process.

Musician Ben Kelly tinkles on the keys to add to the atmosphere, but only sporadically and I want more. Bouncier music would also help to drive the action forward, as Celebrity Trevor Island does flounder round the mid-section. It’s a little Ruff around the edges, sure – but its Gutz are pure chaos and carnage and I’m not even sure I want to see a more polished version. With its unique format, electric host, and guest performers who go the whole hog, this hysterical show epitomises the spirit of the Fringe.

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) | Regional News

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another)

Written by: Norm Reynolds

Directed by: Lesley Ballantyne

Running online until 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) is an award-winning dramatisation of playwright and actor Norm Reynolds’ life as he makes his way through appointments with destiny in the realms of academia, finance, and theatre.

The work is shot entirely at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto, yet it is a piece of digital theatre. Filming onstage establishes Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) as a play, even bearing in mind its online format. I respect and appreciate the foreword at the start of the piece recognising the Indigenous people’s land on which the play was filmed. I feel more art should do this.

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) features conversations between Reynolds and renowned American playwright Edward Albee, with Reynolds playing both himself and Albee. This is a neat concept, but at times I struggle to differentiate between the characters presented. This could be remedied through more distinct characterisation. However, through these conversations, the work opens up a dialogue about the inner workings of script creation, exploring an element of theatre often left unseen. A highlight for me is the monologue towards the end, written and presented by Reynolds as Albee, about grading papers. A mundane task, sure – but Reynolds performs it so well that it becomes one of the most interesting and memorable monologues of the show.

The piece makes good use of its digital format, incorporating aspects of sound and cinematography (John Bertram) to enhance the performance in a way that would’ve been less effective in a live theatre setting. I find some of the cinematic transitions between scenes to be distracting at times, although I am not sure whether this effect is intentional.

I never expected to watch theatre intended for a digital audience, but after this experience, I realise there should be more art available in this medium. From one reviewer to another viewer, I would recommend giving Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) a go.

A Year and a Day | Regional News

A Year and a Day

Written by: Christopher Sainton-Clark

Directed by: Rosanna Mallinson

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Again and again, Nathan wakes up on the heath just beyond his hometown in County Meath, Ireland. When the ball of light came racing towards him on that fateful October night, the year was 1959, but with each new dawn for Nathan, a year and a day has passed for the rest of the world. Leaving behind a botched heist, a vengeful criminal gang, his best friend Sam, his struggling parents, and Elsie, the love of his life, Nathan must spend his time managing the chaos caused by this inexplicable curse.

A Year and a Day takes on the cadence, rhythms, and teachings of folklore as it subtly warns the audience to live not in the past or the future but in the here and now. Recounted completely in rhyme by Christopher Sainton-Clark alone on stage, the story is engaging and paced as if to keep up with Nathan’s temporal leaps. Accompanied by an intentional and essential lighting design from Daisy den Engelse to indicate time and place, Sainton-Clark plays each character distinctly, moulding his body, voice, and mannerisms into a disappointed father, a scorned friend, a heartbroken lover, and a lost time traveller. He has no props to use, only the clothes upon his back, his body, and his emotions, yet pure magic flows forth from this immensely talented shapeshifter.

A Year and a Day spans 65 years – or just two months in Nathan’s timeline. A poignant, tender, and darkly comedic story, this New Zealand Fringe Festival show explores the intricacies of love and loss ravaged by time. As Sainton-Clark skips through days, months, and years, he paints an evocative and painfully beautiful portrait of the time traveller, focusing not on the excitement of what is to come but on the nostalgia of an unlived past and the torment of what could have been. The result is a man clutching in vain at the sands of time slipping unrelenting through his fingers.

Goody Goody Glam Pop | Regional News

Goody Goody Glam Pop

Written by: Bethany Miller and Logan Hunt

Circus Bar, 19th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Celebrity YouTuber Lisa Spector (Megan Connolly) invites you to an intimate, exclusive VIP talk show for glamorous pop icon, Miss Goody Two Shoes herself, Brooklyn Brooklyn (Bethany Miller). Fresh from her world-smashing comeback tour, the tabloid darling is live and unplugged as she ruminates on her career path from former Disney starlet to chart-topping pop queen.

Sound familiar? It should be, as the premise leans heavily on the story of Miley Cyrus. However, all is not entirely what it seems as our star originally comes from Brooklyn, Wellington, and her teen rebellion is revealed to have been super-prudent and devoid of the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll phase Cyrus went through. Just when the saccharine is hitting the max, there’s another cunning twist as uber fan girl Lisa Spector also turns out not to be what she at first seems.

Both performers carry off their roles with comedic aplomb and Miller particularly glows as the too-good-to-be-true, vainglorious Brooklyn. The pivot that raises this diamond of a show above the usual is the songwriting of Logan Hunt. His Tim Minchin-esque lyrics are brilliant and Miller’s performance of them a delight as she parodies the breathy, pouting sincerity of so many young popsters. The songs Breathless and No FOMO are genius and the line “I keep missing U” has me laughing far louder than I should in such a small venue.

Despite the minimal staging, this creative team pay attention to detail with a strong pink motif running through the two chairs, table coverings, and the wardrobe of both performers and superb guitarist Peter Liley in his ‘I am Kenough’ Barbie hoodie. There’s even a blush of pink from the Circus Bar’s LED lighting fixtures (Lucy Gray).

One iconic pop star. One totally chill, normal fan. Yeah, right! Turning the world of celebrity and its gossip-hungry fans on its head, Goody Goody Glam Pop is a fresh new work by a fresh young team. Long may its star shine bright.

ONE BEDROOM AVAILABLE IN SUPER SUNNY FLAT…  | Regional News

ONE BEDROOM AVAILABLE IN SUPER SUNNY FLAT…

Written by: Jackson Burling and Hannah Doogan

Directed by: Jackson Burling

Inverlochy Art School, 18th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

If your pillow is mouldy, your flat is draughty, your windows are swollen shut, and your landlord has ignored your email requests to fix something but has always been punctual for an inspection then fear not, ONE BEDROOM AVAILABLE IN SUPER SUNNY CENTRAL WELLINGTON FLAT $260 PER WEEK EXCLUDING EXPENSES has all the bells and whistles. This is a New Zealand Fringe Festival show for the Kiwi tenant and an urgent call to action.

Both relatable and cathartic, this political comedy musical is just as chaotic, uncomfortable, and surprising as renting in Aotearoa. When I turned up at Riley (Monet Wiljo Faifai-Collins) and Leo’s (Rachel McSweeney) ‘flat viewing’ I was as confused as they were. “Were you told 3pm or 3:30pm?” Leo asks me before she continues vacuuming the worn, stained, and warped ‘character’ floorboards.

Based on real-life experiences from some of New Zealand’s 1.4 million renters and set in an actual (former) flat, the show follows Leo and Riley’s quest to find a fifth flatmate. DJ Stan (Charleigh Griffiths) is staying on and there’s that Aussie bloke Seamus (director Jackson Burling) from the online viewing arriving tomorrow, Leo assures us, her prospective flatmates. Two hopefuls single themselves out from the crowd, over-zealous Eden Right (producer Hannah Doogan) who lives at home and a cool, nonchalant, loner called Mac (musical director Adriana Calabrese) who has lived in over 20 crappy flats.

As the viewing chugs forward, problems with the property continuously arise – but it’s the best you’ll get for this price and location! DJ Stan intermittently dims the lights, turns up the gobos, and plays a tune right on queue. Singing reimagined versions of Kiwi classics, this vocally blessed cast gives us bangers the likes of One Week in a Leaky Flat, Slice of Average, and Why Do Flat Viewings Do This To Me.

This show is an indictment of NZ’s rental crisis and habitability standards. Filled with funny shenanigans, the ending voiceover delivering facts and data pulls it all together, transforming a cheeky and relatable Fringe show into an exposé demanding change.

Lads on the Island | Regional News

Lads on the Island

Written by: Sam Brooks

Directed by: Nī Dekkers-Reihana

Circa Theatre, 3rd Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Lads on the Island is a modern reimagining of Prospero’s retreat into a blue funk, not because of the betrayals of a treacherous family but from being dumped by his girlfriend.

Joining magician Prospero (Finley Hughes), as in the original, is the spirit Ariel (Reon Bell) who he magically enslaves as his companion in misery. The lads spend their time drinking beer, arguing about Sherlock Holmes, singing, and dad-dancing to pop songs. But the lads are not alone on their virtual island of self-pity and must deal with visitations from Prospero’s sister Miranda, Ariel’s boyfriend Sebastian, Ariel’s mum Sycorax, and Fern, Prospero’s ex (all played by Bronwyn Ensor).

This trio of actors is a delight with a warm, infectious chemistry between Hughes and Bell, and superb support from Ensor, who is particularly delicious as the all-powerful Sycorax. Bell shines as the loving, supportive Ariel who stands by his bestie despite Prospero’s fretting and whining. Far from being just another tale of a broken heart, this magical production, beautifully woven by playwright Sam Brooks and Dekkers-Reihana’s natural direction style, conjures an exquisite story of the enchanting and enduring power of friendship.

Major props to set designer Lucas Neal and lighting and special effects designer Michael Trigg. Their tiered set backed by sheer drapes is a constantly surprising and charming work of art with built-in lights that magically appear at a click of Ariel’s fingers in the detritus of Prospero’s man cave. Matt Asunder’s diaphanous sound and music and a hard-working smoke machine add extra layers of atmosphere to the intimate space. Special mention to the self-filling disco beer fridge and stage manager Marshall Rankin for their own special magic.

With a scattering of jokes about the impenetrability of Shakespeare, this is a beguiling reworking of the Bard’s most mystical characters that will leave you with warm fuzzies and a renewed belief in the simple beauty of friendship.

Kia Ora Khalid | Regional News

Kia Ora Khalid

Created by: composer Gareth Farr and writer Dave Armstrong

Directed by: creative lead Ditas Yap

BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In a schoolyard on a lunch break, four kids – Tom (Jack Sullivan and understudy Aidan Soper), Serena (Justina-Rose Tua), Trang (Ameira Arroyo), and Khalid (Ofri Earon and understudy Jet Wilton) – are playing a game of touch rugby. Well, trying to play. It’s “three-one to the girls” (a catchy song still stuck in my head), and Tom is getting crushed. He needs another person on his team, but he won’t let Khalid play. Khalid, you see, is a refugee. He’s from Afghanistan, so he’s probably “a Taliban”, Tom sneers.

Tom’s prejudice begins to waver when Trang reveals that she is a first-generation Cambodian whose grandfather was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. And Serena’s uncle Sio had to leave Samoa in search of higher pay to support his family, only to become a victim of war himself. Just like Khalid. And, actually, just like Tom’s grandfather…

Kia Ora Khalid is a children’s opera that crosses continents and bridges borders to show that, at our core, we’re not that different. No matter the colour of our skin, the language we speak, or the god we pray to, our love – our humanity – is universal.

Presented under the umbrella of Six Degrees Festival, this production of Kia Ora Khalid is performed by a cast of 16 young people aged 10 to 19 from various schools across Wellington. What incredible heart this ensemble pours into every second of their time on stage. Tackling a sung-through opera is no mean feat – let alone one by composer Gareth Farr with writer Dave Armstong, one so dynamic and powerful. With live accompaniment by a tight band of pianist Laura Stone, cellist Nathan Parker, percussionist Ari Cradwick, and clarinettist Felix McDougall (whose voice blows me away), and music direction from Jo Hodgson, the cast is more than up to the mammoth challenge.

High production values – particularly stage manager Emory Otto’s costume design, and sound designer Senuka Sudusinghe’s lighting design, which sees breathtaking moments of shadowplay – combine to create a kaleidoscope of colour and spectacle.

Kia Ora Khalid premiered in 2009 but feels timelier than ever today. Led by stage director Ditas Yap, this cast and crew should be very proud.

We, The Outsiders | Regional News

We, The Outsiders

Written by: Romina Meneses

Directed by: Romina Meneses

BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Migrants are the golden threads that bind this country together. This show brings their stories to light.

We, The Outsiders is an original documentary theatre piece created and inspired by real-life stories of migrant workers living in New Zealand. Written and directed by Romina Meneses, who performs alongside Akash Saravanan and Sowmya Hiremath, it explores the triumphs and tribulations of those who come to this country, opening the curtain to their diverse, yet seemingly universal experiences.

The performers speak in an interview-esque style, presenting what feels like a live documentary. They take great care in retelling experiences without creating stereotypes, embodying not the migrants themselves, but their stories. This feels very respectful considering the diversity of those who were interviewed. I also enjoy the use of humour, woven throughout as a tool to ease tension. 

Josiah Matagi’s lighting design evokes moods of pain and paradise, emphasising well the juxtaposition of the suffering and splendour of moving to a new country. Scene changes are integrated into the performance, feeling like a metaphoric reminder of the constant changing and challenging situations migrants endure. Woven together with movement, Roco Moroi Thorn and Auria Paz’s compositions create thought-provoking, mesmerising moments throughout the piece.

Here, I catch my breath to think not only of the perspectives of migrants, but also the privilege we who live here have. On top of this, as a third-generation immigrant on my mother’s side, this production resonates with me. I know my family has endured many of the hardships portrayed in these 13 scenes.

There are so many heartfelt, beautiful moments and stories encapsulated in one short hour. Presented under the umbrella of the Six Degrees Festival, supported by Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, We, The Outsiders is for all those who call New Zealand home and those who feel far from home. I urge you all to come to this enchanting piece of theatre.

The Supper Club | Regional News

The Supper Club

Created by: Ali Harper

Directed by: Ian Harman

Running at Circa Theatre until 17th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Imagine an old, abandoned Supper Club. The ghosts of grandeur haunt every cobwebbed corner, the hopes and dreams once nurtured within now scattered like boa feathers in the wind. But with Tom McLeod and The Jazz Hot Supper Club Band, New Zealand songstress Ali Harper is about to restore The Supper Club to its former glory, embodying the various singers whose echoes still reverberate through its storied, sequined past.

As characters like the happy-go-lucky English girly and the sharp, smouldering German superstar, Harper trills, thrills, and traverses everything from Cole Porter’s It’s De-Lovely to Édith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien to Madonna’s Material Girl. Because anything can (and does!) happen in this fabulous production, I don’t wish to spoil any further specifics or surprises… only to give you a taste of the tantalising talent within.

First up, there’s Harper, whose respect and reverence for the muses she inhabits is palpable. With charm, charisma, and chops for days, she is, quite simply, sensational.

Then we have that phenomenal band, with musical director Tom McLeod on arrangements and piano, Blair Latham on saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and flute, Olivia Campion on percussion, and Scott Maynard on double bass. A tight, cohesive unit in their own right, when paired with Harper, their joy is infectious, their chemistry crackling. They bounce off each other like reflections from a disco ball.

Everything director Ian Harman touches turns to gold. As set and costume designer to boot, he’s created the world where all this magic takes place. Meticulous details abound, from the crystal glasses that once would have housed the finest cognac to the way Harper’s dazzling black gown catches the light.

And speaking of light, Rich Tucker’s moody, glam lighting scheme brings this Supper Club to life, crafting intimate moments while highlighting the showstopping spectacle of it all in equal measure. The epitome of ambience.

The Supper Club? A delightful, delicious, de-lovely escape.

The Lady Demands Satisfaction | Regional News

The Lady Demands Satisfaction

Written by: Arthur M. Jolly

Directed by: James Kiesel

Gryphon Theatre, 29th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Oh, how delightful, a story with sword fights and shenanigans. What fun!

Set in the 1700s, The Lady Demands Satisfaction is a farce following the peppy Trothe Pepperston (Sarah Penny) as she enlists the help of her two favourite servants (Tristana Leist and Teresa Sullivan) and her sword master aunt Theodosia (Gwendoline Guerineau) to ward off any challengers that try to take advantage of her inheritance following her father’s untimely death.

Starting with shadow swordplay, the opening splendidly sets the scene. What follows is sustained side-splitting laughter continuing up until the bows. Did I mention sword fights?

The fight scenes, coordinated by Simon Manns, are both hilarious and mesmerising. The characters are so willing to pick a fight that they would do so with any household item they could get their hands on.

Meredith Dooley’s costume design has got to be one of the many highlights of this Stagecraft Theatre production. Dooley’s design provides period-accurate costumes but with a colourful, zany flair, perfectly illustrating the essence of the play. So much effort has been put into these costumes, even all of Trothe’s handkerchiefs match her beautiful crinoline dress. 

Through gobos and candlelight, Scott Maxim’s lighting design creates an atmosphere that works perfectly with the costume and set design (Josh Hopton-Stewart) to create a cosy Georgian manor. A perfect setting for this rambunctious series of events to melodramatically unfold.

Charismatic comedic characterisation must be commended. Each actor is a master of comedy. Penny truly encapsulates her character of Trothe Pepperston, from the way she awkwardly trots to her squeals of laughter. Guerineau’s sensational sword fighting is something splendid to witness. The entire cast maintains a hilarious presence throughout the show.

I am still struggling to grasp how engaging and funny this fever dream of a play is. I would urge you to book tickets at once before any Prussian master takes your place and you’ll be left for dead without seeing this hilarious Stagecraft show.

HAUSDOWN | Regional News

HAUSDOWN

Written by: Ruby Carter and Katie Hill

Directed by: Katie Hill

BATS Theatre, 28th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Fans of Jane Austen and Regency-era drama are being spoiled with a range of productions on Wellington stages, and HAUSDOWN is a refreshing and joyfully queer take on this, revelling in the inherent queerness in the extravagance of the period.

Plays that are set in the Regency era benefit greatly from attentiveness to technical elements such as costume and set in order to bring the period to life. HAUSDOWN excels at this. Costumes (Ruby Carter) are delightfully camp, capturing the characters and their world well. The rainbow palette across the different characters is a nice touch. 

The set (Scott Maxim) is also evocative and feels at home with the theatre’s stained-glass dome above. The floor is painted as concrete-coloured tiles, and a wall has been constructed to run across the back of the stage, closing in the space and giving the impression of a more traditional box set, which serves the play and period fittingly. The centre of the back wall is a large window of opaque plastic, which is then lit from behind (Teddy O’Neill) to assist in setting the scene. While there are some dark spots and unevenness in the lighting, there is a lot of creative use of colour, furthering the playfulness of the show.

The eight actors are all completely committed to the exaggerated characters they play, keeping the pace and energy high throughout. They navigate sections of dialogue and more physical clowning (choreography and clowning by Daniel Nodder) with coordination and aplomb. The accents are consistent and add further levity to the performances, but at times lines are lost as dialogue is not enunciated clearly enough, and we want to catch every word when the pace of the story is so fast.

The play is short and sharp, and put together well with strong performances and technical elements that work in concert, even if I would have liked more material in the dialogue to help tell the story. That said, HAUSDOWN is goofy fun, certainly achieving Inconceivable Productions’ goal to share whimsical, queer joy.

Waiting For Waiting For Godot | Regional News

Waiting For Waiting For Godot

Written by: Dave Hanson

Directed by: Michael Hurst

Hannah Playhouse, 28th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Waiting For Waiting For Godot by award-winning American playwright Dave Hanson takes Samuel Beckett’s iconic, absurdist masterpiece to new, meta heights. Two understudies (Callum Brodie as Ester and George Maunsell as Val) wait to go on in a production of Waiting For Godot. Stuck backstage in perpetuity, we watch the two actors contemplate fame and fortune as they wait for their number to be called, for their tables to turn. But like Godot, their time in the spotlight never comes.

I’ve dropped that semi-spoiler because it’s important to note that in this 75-minute production, nothing really happens. But I’ve never been less bored watching ‘nothing’, waiting for Waiting For Godot alongside our neurotic, hapless heroes. This comedy could be oxymoronically deemed fast-paced waiting or mile-a-minute nothingness. Even the still moments are loaded with action, the silences fraught with tension. And so brilliant are the actors, you could cut the chemistry with a knife.

Brodie is hilarious as the pompous peacock Ester, a perpetual underachiever too big for his boots (and his vest). His performance is able to reach deliciously extravagant heights thanks to the solid anchorage below: Maunsell as the more-competent, less-experienced Val. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Maunsell’s softer performance is both captivating and crucially grounding. Michael Hurst’s meticulous direction strikes balance on a precipice, never allowing the performances to teeter over the edge as the cast navigates that fine line between hysterically funny and hammy with aplomb.

Iana Grace as the assistant stage manager makes two cameos that serve to highlight how ridiculous the understudies are, what a faraway world they inhabit. While I preferred getting lost in the Ester-and-Val show, made all the more engrossing by one knockout lighting state change (Alex Turner) and a set that looks like a bomb went off, the introduction of another character does add an interesting texture to the stage dynamic.

Waiting For Waiting For Godot is a masterclass in craftsmanship. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year. I shook with laughter even as it resonated with me deeply. The best kind of theatre.

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People | Regional News

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

Written by: Rachel McAlpine

Directed by: Robin Payne

Circa Theatre, 26th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People tagline reads, “Is life worth living after 90? Ask the experts!” and this production does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s ‘close-work theatre’ in which Wellington author Rachel McAlpine has devised the script by interviewing a selection of local nonagenarians and compiling five fictional characters from their stories.

These characters are still-in-love couple Peggy (Annie Ruth) and Tom (Lloyd Scott), enjoying a stately existence in a retirement home after a life of poverty and struggle. Alongside them is Māori kuia, Puti (Grace Hoete), who was led to believe her ethnicity was Portuguese and only discovered her tangata whenua heritage later in life. Gilbert (Gary Young) is a successful man who hates the injustice he sees in the world, and Zinnia (Anna O’Brien) is a lively musician who grew up trying to deny her sexual attraction to other women.

To the accompaniment of freshly made cups of tea from kettles located at the back of the stage, the five actors (who range in age from 43 to 81, they tell us) relate the stories of these carefully composed people from the comfort of chairs, occasionally wandering the stage to emphasise a point. That’s as sophisticated as Robin Payne’s direction gets and, along with simple spotlighting (Alexander R Dickson), is all that’s needed to enable the audience to fully engage with the direct-address style of storytelling.

The characters traverse topics that are predictable enough – health issues, sex, political and social change, losing a child – but also prejudice and privilege in ways that are not so predictable. They’re expressed in a manner that can only come from the mouths of real people; “Thank you, God, for one more bonk” gets the biggest laugh.

Beautifully bookending the show is video testimony from three doyens of the Circa stage: Desmond Kelly, Kate Harcourt, and Sunny Amey.

Is life worth living after 90? Based on this production, the answer is emphatically yes!

Treasure Island – The Pantomime | Regional News

Treasure Island – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 13th Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Every year, families flock to Circa Theatre from across the region to catch the annual pantomime, an all-singing, all-dancing, all-fun Kiwi take on a children’s classic.

Treasure Island – The Pantomime follows young orphan Jim (Reuben Romanos), who lives in Island Bay with Aunt Peggy Legg (Jthan Morgan), a poor, lonely widow (aww). With a head full of stars and big dreams of something more, Jim’s mundane life becomes anything but when his dog Patch (Jackson Burling) regurgitates a treasure map. Dodging a crooked crew comprising the dastardly Long John Silver (Kathleen Burns), the hapless Smee (Tawhi Thomas), and other horsey, sleepy, and out-of-the-loop pirates (Bronwyn Turei), Jim, Patch, Peggy, and Sabrina the Appropriately Aged Witch (Natasha McAllister) embark on a rollicking race against time to get to the gold first.

Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford’s sharp, topical jokes traverse The ACT Party and Beehive bureaucracy, while other novel additions include a spaced-out nana (Turei), buxom, titillating treasure chests, and a kraken called Carin voiced by Karin McCracken. It’s safe to say, then, that Treasure Island – The Pantomime is only loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, but with such a strong story as its foundations and such a proficient team at its helm, the 21st-century treatment goes down a treat.

Alongside Morgan’s inability to not say “treasure map” as Peggy, the music (direction and arrangement by Michael Nicholas Williams) is my show highlight. Featuring P!NK, Eurythmics, The Beach Boys, and more, the soundtrack is performed pitch-perfectly by the powerhouse cast, who have me dancing in my seat. McAllister and Morgan’s choreography is the icing on the cake, especially in I Think We’re Alone Now.

The design elements – from Jon Coddington’s whimsical puppetry to Ian Harman’s elaborate set, Sheila Horton’s colourful costuming to Marcus McShane’s bright and bold lighting scheme – create a captivating world where the performers magnetise their talent to draw us in. It was a pleasure to get lost in Treasure Island – The Pantomime, and to holler along with the littlies in the crowd. I felt like a kid again.

Bright Star | Regional News

Bright Star

Written by: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell

Directed by: Stanford Reynolds

Te Auaha, 17th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

A talented literary editor with a story of her own to tell. A mayor’s son taking a different path than his father. A young soldier trying to make his mark on the world by “following his own bright star”. These characters and a vibrant bluegrass score are the main ingredients of Bright Star, a musical set in North Carolina in the 1920s to 1940s.

Billy Cane (Fynn Bodley-Davies) has just returned from World War II to his small southern hometown and dreams of writing for the Asheville Southern Journal, publisher of the best short stories from miles around. Editor Alice Murphy (Cassandra Tse) takes him on, impressed by his spirit and quick thinking if not his writing skills. What the pair don’t yet know is that hidden in Alice’s past is a secret about to change both of their lives.

This Wellington Footlights Society production is set to a live band playing bluegrass music, an energetic string-based genre with influences of jazz and blues. The man behind me in the queue beforehand said, “there better be a banjo,” and we were not disappointed. With the band and musical direction from Michael Stebbings behind them, the talented singers shine. Tse and Chris McMillan as Alice's love interest Jimmy Ray Dobbs stand out with their solos, and a surprise favourite is Billy’s hillbilly father Daddy Cane (Vishan Appanna), who has one beautiful duet with his son and hops around after frogs in the river for the rest of the play.

The set (concept and coordination by director Stanford Reynolds) and lighting (design and operation by Tom Smith and Lucas Zaner) are simple yet effective, creating a new mood for each scene with bright yellow light for party songs and darker, individual spotlights in more emotional, personal moments. The chorus rearranges a small collection of benches and chairs between scenes. I did feel that more could be made of the projector screen behind the stage, which is lit up quite sporadically throughout.

All in all, Bright Star is heartfelt, infectious, and made me cry several times – an unexpected must-see.

Only Bones – Daniel Nodder  | Regional News

Only Bones – Daniel Nodder

Presented by: Thom Monckton and Daniel Nodder

BATS Theatre, 14th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Only Bones, a remarkable physical theatre production created and performed by Daniel Nodder, is an exploration of the human body's expressive potential. This one-man show transcends traditional boundaries of performance, captivating audiences with ingenious use of movement and gesture, and all within a one-square-metre performance space.

Clocking in at just under an hour, tour-de-force Nodder unfolds without a single spoken word, relying entirely on the language of the body to convey everything from The Big Bang to the invention of fire to a truly striking performance of Shallow from A Star Is Born (2018) using his kneecaps. Yep, you read that right. In my 34 years of living, I never expected to see a ballad between patellas. But that is exactly what keeps me excited about theatre and performers like Nodder – seeing boundaries being pushed to create something truly unique. And believe me, you haven’t seen anything like this before, or the 10 versions that came before it.

Created by Thom Monckton, The Only Bones Project is a minimalist physical theatre and sparse-video performance project with the guidelines of ‘only one light, no narrative, no set, no props, no text, and all within a limited amount of space’. Performers create their own world within this concept. Nodder epitomises that sage advice, ‘less is more’. The command of his body is remarkable, sometimes cringe-inducing, with audience members gasping at joints going this way and that. From teeth to toes, Nodder can isolate his body parts and give each a personality of their own.

This fascinating and playful performance is set within the wonderful composition and sound design of Ben Kelly and lighting design of Rebekah de Roo. All components are weaved together so harmoniously.

After watching in awe and pondering how one might even discover they can contort their body this way, my afterthought was how much this performance is a testament to the creative’s commitment to expression and their craft.

Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour | Regional News

Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour

Presented by: Newman Entertainment

Directed by: Adelaide Clark

St James Theatre, 3rd Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Well, this will be a fun review to write, but little ones: please avert your eyes.

Dracula’s Cabaret is an Australian institution: a vaudevillian variety show inspired by the iconic The Rocky Horror Show. The comedy cabaret restaurant thrilled, teased, and titillated audiences for an unprecedented 37 years in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast, where it first creaked open its doors in 1985 and remains today. Produced by Luke Newman, Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour combines those decades of perfected performances into one tasty morsel that Wellington fans got to sink their fangs into for the first time ever this November.

Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour stars Vladimir (host and comedian William Rogers), Onyx (vocalist James Smart), Viper (burlesque performer and vocalist Clara Fable), Duo Synergy (aerial and variety artists Scott Lazarevich and Emma Goh), The Heart Attack Twins (dancers Molly Kealey and Amber Flaherty), Vendetta (guitarist Viola Skyes), and Whiskey (drummer Lachlan Neate). These nine performers pack a (blood)sucker of a punch as they present a scintillating, sexually charged smorgasbord of acts straddling both the expected and the wickedly unorthodox.

But even the ‘traditional’ song, dance, burlesque, and acrobatic numbers are anything but. Haloed in epic stage lighting (Reuben Willmot), Smart, Skyes, and Neate’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s anthemic Stairway to Heaven is nothing short of world class. Stripteases include a flawless burlesque number from Fable (I’ve never seen such smooth disgloving!) and a tongue-in-cheek towel moult from Smart and the electrifying Rogers, who is all-round hilarious. Duo Synergy performs three gravity-defying feats that send my jaw plummeting to the floor. 

And then we’ve got the unconventional. John Taylor’s technical design sees superb puppetry utilised hilariously in a scene featuring a giant worm-like penis (sorry kids, I did warn you) and a terrifying giant baby I’m still having nightmares about. Let’s not forget the floating-heads concert of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that gets some of the loudest laughs of the night.

Packed with feathers and leather, debauchery and stage sorcery, every second of this 80-minute show slays. I’m desperate to ride the roller coaster again.

Picnic at Hanging Rock | Regional News

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Written by: Tom Wright

Directed by: Tanya Piejus

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 11th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Four teenage girls from the private boarding school Appleyard College set off on a picnic to Hanging Rock, a geographical marvel and former volcano in central Victoria, Australia. On Valentine’s Day 1900, Edith, Irma, Marion, and Miranda ascend the monolith. Only Edith comes back. Later, Irma is found bruised, bloody, but alive.

Back at the college, headmistress Mrs Appleyard has turned to the bottle to cope with the growing unrest as more perturbed parents withdraw their daughters from the school. Much to her annoyance, she’s left with orphaned student Sara, a close friend of Miranda’s. Meanwhile, Englishman Mike Fitzherbert nurtures a growing obsession with the mystery.

Tom Wright’s stage adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s acclaimed 1967 historical fiction (or is it?) novel of the same name sees five actors play multiple characters. Between Emily Bell, Lydia Verschaffelt, Gracie Voice, Ava Wiszniewska, and French-accent icon Anna Curzon-Hobson, there’s a handful of distinct roles. For instance, Bell plays Sara beautifully, Voice is the dangerously infatuated Mike, and Wiszniewska tweaks the heartstrings as a traumatised Irma. But they take turns to embody the missing girls, and not in the way you might think. In the opening picnic scenes, the cast speaks in third person, narrating the girls’ actions even when carrying them out. This striking playwrighting choice depersonalises the characters for me, but equally and aptly, intensifies the disorientating sense of unease that builds throughout the play.

The superb cast accentuates the impending sense of doom with performances perfectly sculpted (director Tanya Piejus) to climax at just the right moments. Verschaffelt in particular is a knockout in the final scene (and a wickedly funny drunk as Mrs Appleyard), but the entire cast works as one cohesive, committed unit to hit the horror home. This coupled with Hanging Rock looming large above the action (AV design by Tanisha Wardle), a sparse and haunting sound design by Brian Byas, and well-timed, moody lighting changes (Jamie Byas), and Picnic at Hanging Rock is a thrilling watch.

Bravo to Wellington Repertory Theatre for this stellar production of a story I’m still thinking about. Will somebody please tell me what happened to the missing girls!

Fatal Fame | Regional News

Fatal Fame

Presented by: Dripping Bottle Theatre

Directed by: Lincoln Swinerd

BATS Theatre, 1st Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Murder becomes a regular in this 50-minute solo thriller-comedy. Fatal Fame is Dripping Bottle Theatre’s debut show, and let’s just say that it opens the company’s canon with a bang… literally. The production follows Annie (Zoe Snowdon) as she rises to infamy in the most interesting way possible. Serial killing.

Snowdon’s depiction of Annie is nuanced and realistic. Oftentimes uncomfortably so, as she embodies so excellently what a serial killer can be. We see the not-so-gentle decline of Annie from socially awkward to sociopath. Snowdon’s mannerisms and stage presence culminate in the perfect depiction of a killer who executes each of her victims convincingly, albeit very humorously.

Comedy and thriller make for a combination I didn’t think possible. Fatal Fame proves me wrong. The thriller provides a thought-provoking commentary on how real and present killers can be, and the comedy provides a much-needed escape at times from the dark themes within.

Fatal Fame foreshadows fantastically. Every word and every action has its purpose in the grand scheme of the piece.

The scenography by Scott Maxim is cleverly done. The harsh lighting makes it feel as if Annie is retelling her story through a police interview. I particularly like the motif provided by sound and lighting whenever a murder occurs.

Popping balloons at the end of the show make me incredibly uncomfortable due to my phobia of this. However, I do commend the symbolism provided. Killers such as the fictional Annie take to murder like a pin takes to inflated rubber.

This show is not for the faint of heart, yet it is well crafted. I would urge you to read the content warnings before taking your seat.

Come to Fatal Fame if you don’t mind joining Annie’s rise to popularity. However, your name will be below hers, and you will become a victim of this scarily comedic show.

The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter | Regional News

The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter

Written by: Helen Moulder and Sue Rider

Directed by: Sue Rider

Circa Theatre, 25th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Helen Moulder has been thrilling audiences at Circa Theatre since the late 1970s and The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter is another solid entry in her canon. It’s a lovely story of familial relationships in a changing world seen through the eyes of five members of a famous clan of butchers who sell their products under the cheesy tagline, “On your feet with Patterson’s Meat!”

In this one-woman show, Moulder plays everyone – businesswoman Olivia, patriarch Sir Harold, arty Jennifer, vegan comedian Lexi, and 11-year-old Grace – alongside a mysteriously mangled bicycle. This simple device cleverly mirrors the unfolding tale of the Pattersons and the fake news scandal that threatens to derail their burgeoning product deal with investors in China.

Each character is exactly drawn and, even without the basic costume changes that slow the pace somewhat, they are clearly rendered through Moulder’s acting skill. Olivia is slick, bossy, and constantly on the phone, wheeling and dealing. 94-year-old Sir Harold potters in his garden while ranting about change and drifts randomly back to “pūkeko pies” in comic outbursts. Lexi’s stand-up comedy routine, starting with a half-consumed banana folded carefully in a beeswax wrap, is sweary, angry, and genuinely funny. Estranged sister Jennifer is artily flaky as she struggles with unfunctional plumbing while trying to open her new gallery on Featherston Street. Finally, 11-year-old Gracie completes the narrative circle and we discover why bicycles are so important in the Pattersons’ family history.

Delivered on a typically sparse Circa Two set, this is an intimate production that mostly uses direct address to engage the audience. Sue Rider’s choice to use scene and costume changes is enhanced through the addition of lively Beethoven sonatas recorded by Juliet Ayre and Richard Mapp and straightforward lighting (design by Giles Burton) that keep the changes interesting.

For 75 minutes of delightful entertainment, you can’t go far wrong with The Bicycle and the Butcher’s Daughter.

MILKOWEEN! | Regional News

MILKOWEEN!

Created by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin

Directed by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin and Dylan Hutton

BATS Theatre, 25th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Milk, meet Halloween. Halloween, meet milk. MILKOWEEN! is the fourth entry in the canon of Wellington’s wettest show. In this blood-curdling, milk-churning improvised comedy, Ruff as Gutz performers make up a spooky story on the fly while we, the audience, throw water balloons at them whenever we want something to change. Three of these balloons are filled with milk. When one of them explodes, the consequences are so dire, it is worth crying over spilt milk.

In the curious, chaotic case of MILKOWEEN!, audience suggestions result in a terrifying tale set in an abandoned aquarium, where the ghost of Justin Bieber roams the halls, intoning “baby, baby, baby” and terrorising the local residents. Namely, dead fish, two sharks named Bob and Nige, and some dude (Dylan Hutton) who’s been trapped in the closet for at least 30 minutes, if not 45. The sexiest teenagers in all the land – Chad the Jock (Emma Rattenbury), Casey the Cheerleader (Tadhg Mackay), Felicia the Goth (Salomé Grace), and Nigel the Nerd (Zoë Christall) – must unravel the great mystery of the Biebs, all while dodging deadly toenails and attempting to learn the Shark Alphabet (Sharkabet for short).

The MILK concept is fun and funny, wet and wild. As you can imagine, forcing performers to change tack faster than a speeding balloon could be a recipe for disaster. Improv is challenging enough under normal conditions! Dugdale-Martin and Hutton in particular are glorious at responding to our cues, and one magical moment between a brilliant Grace and design leader and technician Jacob Banks serves as the perfect example of concept execution. The quick changes score a high laughter rate overall, a testament to the talent of this troupe. The improvisors all commit to their stereotype designations and conceive impressive character arcs in a short space of time, all the while managing to tie together such extraneous elements as unexpected cousins, interspecies relationships, and aubergines into one cohesive story.

Milky, mercurial madness at its silliest, soggiest, and most delightful.

Double Dipping: Queen & Friend and The Mechanical | Regional News

Double Dipping: Queen & Friend and The Mechanical

Produced by: New Zealand Improv Festival

BATS Theatre, 11th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Two shows for the price of one. What could be better this New Zealand Improv Festival? With just 30 minutes each, Queen & Friend and The Mechanical both manage to pull off a fully formed narrative with multiple characters based on suggestions from an excitable audience.

Using the Slido app, Queen & Friend (Imogen Behan-Willett and Mark Grimes), assisted by tech master Tristram Domican, use the audience’s selection of an inspiring location as their starting point. It’s Gore, South Island. Using clear mime skills, they quickly establish that we’re in Gore’s lone, nameless pub with its only two regular customers. Soon a third character, that of the publican, is introduced. Then the audience gets to pick whose story we follow next, choose-your-own-adventure style. The publican is the popular favourite and we’re off home to his wife, endless schnitzel-making, career angst, and emotionally stunted son.

Creating three characters per scene gives Queen & Friend its distinctiveness. Behan-Willett and Grimes deftly flit between their roles using simple physical moves that are easy to follow and fun to watch, alongside a speedily developed and entertaining storyline.

Next up is The Mechanical (Rik Brown), otherwise known as Tom Snout, the one performer left after his A Midsummer Night’s Dream play-within-a-play castmates have deserted. It soon becomes clear that Brown’s improv skills are a cut above the usual when he invites the audience to give him eight mostly random words that he will weave into a story. What follows – The Tale of the Gross Plumber – is a masterpiece of on-the-spot Shakespearean cleverness of which the Bard himself would have been proud. Weaving in multiple characters and three storylines (the fixing of a leak in the castle kitchen, a homosexual near-encounter on a snow slope, and an onion addiction), Brown uses existentialist mock-Elizabethan language and brilliant physical theatre throughout to take us on a complex and well-rounded story arc. As always with improv, I’m in awe of his instant creativity.

Ruthless! The Musical | Regional News

Ruthless! The Musical

Presented by: Kauri Theatre Company

Directed by: Bonita Edwards

Gryphon Theatre, 11th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Oh, how I would kill to watch this show again. With music by Marvin Laird and book and lyrics by Joel Paley, Ruthless! is a hilarious musical about a daughter who would do literally anything to get the lead role. Maybe even murder...

With such a talented, professional cast that commits wholeheartedly to the performance, this show is bound to make you laugh. Every quip corrals the audience into collective laughter.

One of the most hilarious moments in the show is Lita Encore’s (Jane Keller) humorous number I Hate Musicals. It’s nice to watch a fellow theatre critic singing on stage. However, I shudder to think how ruthless Lita Encore would be if she ever got the chance to review this show, because Ruthless! deserves all the praise it can get.

I thoroughly love musical director Sarah Lineham’s portrayal of Judy Denmark. Her performance puts me in mind of Rachel Bloom and Jane Krakowski. It is extremely satisfying to see her subtly portray Judy’s character development through the show. Lineham has excellent control of her voice. In saying that, all the performers do, with each musical number a thrill to listen to. It is furthermore impressive that there are no mics used in the show and each performer is able to project their voice so skilfully.  

Addy Stone as Tina is bursting with talent and certainly has a future on the stage (just don’t cast her as an understudy… seriously). I would love to see the other Tinas; I have no doubt they are equally as talented and wish them the best for the season. It’s great to see young actors supporting the cast.

The set (Rob Romijn) is a perfect backdrop for the show. The two different sets between acts cleverly represent the characters’ development. Costumes managed by Cathy Lee epitomise each of the characters and give them even more depth.

This side-splitting show about mother-daughter relationships and the ambitions that can get in the way is not to be missed. You would be ruthless to skip out on this wickedly funny musical.

Here’s a Thing! | Regional News

Here’s a Thing!

Presented by: New Zealand Improv Festival

BATS Theatre, 10th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Here’s a Thing! presents a hand-picked cast of directors from across the New Zealand Improv Festival to make improvised mayhem, magic, and madness together onstage.

The great thing about reviewing improv is that it’s not possible for me to drop any spoilers. It’s made up on the spot and no two shows can ever be the same. If it’s done by sharp, funny, agile performers who work as a team, it can be one of the best and most bizarre things you’ll ever see. A real communal experience, where everything is an inside joke between the cast and the audience.

That’s just what we have here. Together with Matt Powell and Jim Fishwick as hosts, performers Christine Brooks, Katherine Weaver, Bec Stubbing, Matt Armstrong, and Noelle Greenwood bring us the love story of a frog and a caterpillar, the fatal rivalry of a barbershop and a barbershop quartet, the jams of a heavy metal band called Clockwork Banana, Goldilocks and the great Porridgegate scandal, the journey of a blunt arrow across the French-English Channel into a king’s right eye in 1063, and other Things. Each director possesses an innate sense of comedic timing, cutting almost every scene at the perfect moment. Not too short, not too long, just right.

With Matt Hutton creating a live soundtrack on keys and D’ Woods as lighting operator, the most jaw-dropping scene sees Powell and Fishwick invent and perform a Shakespearean ballad about space exploration in real-time. Another highlight for me is when Brooks prompts the audience for a process that happens in nature and I call out “Photosynthesis!” without realising I don’t actually know what it means. When asked to elaborate, I stutter “Sun!” and “Plants!” before a kindly audience member comes to my rescue. What follows is exactly what you’d expect from a photosynthesis prompt: a scene set in a world where everything is good and right, where lattes no longer cost $15 and the patriarchy is dead. Ahh, the joys of improv.  

Here’s a thing: if you want to laugh till your belly hurts, watch wizards weave worlds out of thin air, and be a part of something special, inimitable, then catch as many NZIF shows as you can.

The Importance of Being Earnest | Regional News

The Importance of Being Earnest

Written by: Oscar Wilde

Directed by: Jonathan Price

Circa Theatre, 7th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The challenge in producing any classic play that potential audience members may have seen before, perhaps more than once, is to do something fresh and different. Circa Theatre’s latest take on this well-known Victorian script is wild (pardon the pun) but it works wonderfully.

Fully embracing the duplicity of its denizens, Jonathan Price’s production twists tradition by cross-casting two of its main characters, Algernon Moncrieff and Gwendolen Fairfax. Isobel MacKinnon makes a lively and likeable Algie and her physical, sisterly joshing with Jack Worthing (Andrew Paterson) nails the core of their relationship long before they know they are family. Ryan Carter makes the character of Gwendolen sharply snobbish and gives her instant friendship with Cecily Cardew (a charming Dawn Cheong) a whole new and contemporary dynamic.

Irene Wood as Lady Bracknell is trousered and terrifying with her crystal-topped cane, and her impeccable comic timing gets some of the biggest laughs of the night. Peter Hambleton’s unctuous and overly sexed Reverend Chasuble is another delight as he excessively enunciates and makes the word ‘pagan’ sound deliciously dirty. Anne Chamberlain provides entertaining support as the uptight Miss Prism and as the man himself, Paterson gives joyous energy to the Bunburying Jack/Ernest.

Mention must also go to a scene-stealing Rebecca Parker, who double-dips as underlings Lane and Merriman and drives the best scene change I’ve ever watched as she sweeps aside the cascade of pink roses that litter the set and launches into the most unexpected song.

The startlingly effective production design (Meg Rollandi) is as effervescent as the acting with bright colours, lush fabrics, and a three-quarters, intimate space peppered with frequently relocated chairs. It allows the actors to move with ease and constantly break the fourth wall to suck the audience into their world.

This Earnest is surprisingly sassy, sexy, sunny, spirited, and just a bit silly as it grabs Wilde’s warm wit and waves it like a rainbow flag at a Pride parade.

Mr Fungus Dreams | Regional News

Mr Fungus Dreams

Created by: Fergus Aitken and Thom Monckton

Directed by: Thom Monckton and Amalia Calder

Circa Theatre, 23rd Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Mr Fungus Dreams has been a labour of love for co-creator and performer Fergus Aitken. When he first thought up the show’s theme of dreaming, he says it was about exploring our emotional wellbeing – our fears, our doubts, and ultimately, our resilience in the face of them.

In an almost full theatre, with an audience both young and old, Mr Fungus Dreams was a visual and comedic treat. “Theatre is a great medium and way to take people on a journey,” Aitken says. Here, the journey is a dream sequence that plays out the absurdity of where Mr Fungus’ dreams take him. Think cats, pirate ships, a funky fridge, and floating stars.

Possessing an innate talent for utilising a raft of facial expressions, Aitken expertly conveys subtle and not-so-subtle nuances to tell a story and make his audience laugh. The woman seated beside me was most definitely laughing, as was I. It was the sheep, and the tiny pyjama guy (you’ll know if you go) that did it. To see if he thought it was just as funny, a quick glance at my 10-year-old son found a face hard to read. It’s the anomaly of theatre: the humour appeals to some more than others, though there were many clearly delighted.

There were “wow”s from enamoured little people, especially around the impressive visuals and projections (lighting design by Marcus McShane, video design and production by Stephen Aitken). Great sound effects and puppetry (puppet design, production, and direction by Bridget and Roger Sanders) added to the magic. So too were the amateur sleuths of the audience whispering their theories of what was going on behind the scenes.  

If you are looking to expose your kids (and yourself) to the joys of theatre and give them an appreciation for what collaborating as a team can create, then Mr Fungus Dreams is a great way to spend an hour these holidays. 

In the parting words of Aitken (aka Mr Fungus), “we decided there needed to be more joy and silliness in this world”.

I quite agree.

Goldilocks | Regional News

Goldilocks

Written by: Amalia Calder

Directed by: Adam Koveskali

Tararua Tramping Club Clubrooms, 23rd Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

Watch out Aotearoa! Three grizzly bears have just landed in Wellington with some mischief, friendship, and valuable life lessons in tow.

Goldilocks is the must-see of the school holidays! KidzStuff Theatre has put a modern twist on this age-old classic. Sassy Goldilocks (Amy Atkins) has got us and her followers wrapped around her finger with her social media content and presence when she visits her gran (Haydn Carter) in Wellington. Goldilocks’ gran is full of surprises and teaches us about honesty.

Super talented Carter keeps us on our toes as he plays the roles of Papa Bear, FBI, Bunny, and Shop Keep. Every character has their own personality, and he nailed the different transitions.

My utmost favourite character was Baby Bear (Jackson Burling), a lonely grizzly in a new country looking for a friend. But where are all the woodland creatures? And why are they all afraid of him?

There is a rollercoaster of emotions that you go through while watching Goldilocks, like excitement, suspicion, empathy, joy, and compassion. Some parts hit me right in the feels and I saw that the majority of the young audience understood the struggle that Baby Bear was going through.

Q Walker’s designs for the bear costumes were simple yet effective. The music (written by Amalia Calder and produced by Chrysalynn Calder) was really entertaining, easy to learn so that we could all join in song, and pretty catchy. I still have one of the songs stuck in my head! The cast and crew did a great job in creating a lovely versatile set, while subtle and appropriate lighting (Madyson King) and music cues kept the audience engaged throughout the production.

I always love asking my son what his favourite part of the show was. After Goldilocks, he answered with absolute conviction, “everything”. Head on down for a good laugh and a great big bear hug!

Dr Drama Makes a Musical | Regional News

Dr Drama Makes a Musical

Written by: James Wenley

BATS Theatre, The Dome, 19th September 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

The third in the Dr Drama trilogy, Dr Drama Makes a Musical explores what makes musicals so popular and what they have to say about society. The show is thought-provoking, educational, and immensely entertaining.

The back wall of the stage is a “shrine to musical theatre”, decorated with programmes and merchandise from musicals that Dr Drama (James Wenley) has seen or been in, which he interacts with throughout. Before the performance begins, well-known songs from musicals are played, and audience members excitedly point out productions they recognise. This environment of discussion is enhanced as a projected screen is used to display surtitles, photos, and take comments and polls from the audience.

Wenley walks us through many typical conventions of a musical, from an opening number and an ‘I want’ song, to the prevalence of heteronormative narratives. These conventions are deconstructed as Wenley discusses – and sings about – their purpose, meaning, and flaws. Despite this critical and academic lens on musicals, the entertainment and humour of the show never falter. The ‘Villain song’ is a particular hit, with Wenley’s confident singing of the catchy tune propelling the point forward, investigating where musicals have historically supported negative or discriminatory ideas in society. While one dance sequence (choreography by Brigitte Knight and assistant choreography by Elora Battah) leans into this pessimism in a way that becomes a little self-congratulatory, overall, the show conveys a galvanising and optimistic message. Phoebe Caldeiro’s original score, which she performs live, captures the key elements of musicals with humour and heart, but is let down at times by fuzzy microphones and inaccurate vocal placement.

Fans of musicals will spot obvious callouts to large-scale productions (think shiny sequined jackets and hats), with the slick lighting design (Scott Maxim and designer/operator Michael Goodwin) supporting these moments. Colours of the French flag flash when Les Misérables is referenced, and the stage is bathed in yellow as Wenley strikes the iconic pose from Hamilton.

Dr Drama Makes a Musical gives us a newfound appreciation for musicals as an artform that makes people feel connected. Wenley’s vulnerable recounting of personal experiences, coupled with audience engagement in a singalong closing number, imparts an inspirational message about the power of art.

Loops | Regional News

Loops

Presented by: Company Hiraeth

Directed by: Brynne Tasker-Poland

Hannah Playhouse, 15th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The concept of Loops is deceptively simple – two aerial artists go through a repeated series of movements accompanied by live synthesised music as a commentary on the frustrations and repercussions of burnout. However, to describe it this way is to completely fail to do justice to the mesmerising and immersive quality of this standout production.

Having won or been nominated for several professional theatre awards when it premiered in 2022, Loops has deservedly been singled out for high praise. The two aerial performers, Leanne Jenkins and Fran Muir, are beasts (director Tasker-Poland’s words to me after the show) on the loop and rope. Their mostly asynchronous movements are slick and skilful, even when showing the mental and physical breakdown that comes with burnout. When they do come together, they display touching moments of silently supportive interaction with subtle acting.

Benny Jennings’ live sound design and operation is a work of art. Starting with a soothing meditation tape of relaxation exercises and gentle music, the calming voice progressively becomes less distinct as the music gets louder and more frantic, culminating in screeching discordant notes and, finally, the quiet hiss of static as the performers drop spent to the floor.

Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting does unobtrusive but excellently supportive work to aid the narrative. White lights grow progressively stronger and harsher as the piece progresses, with a soft blue wash from backstage.

I love Tasker-Poland’s meta idea of loops being repeated throughout the production. The performers coil ropes as they perform their routine over and over, a mess of cassette tape circles around the stage and even creeps out onto the stairs, the main musical theme loops around as it increases in intensity.

This repetition is hypnotic and what drew me so readily into the world of the production. By the end I felt as strung out as the performers. As my friend said when the lights came up, “I’m exhausted!” How many other productions can claim to do that? Wow, just wow.

Ātete | Resistance | ചെറുത്തുനില്പ് | Regional News

Ātete | Resistance | ചെറുത്തുനില്പ്

Created by: Swaroopa Prameela Unni

BATS Theatre, 13th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

One in four women in Aotearoa New Zealand experience family violence. Women of Indian ethnicity are part of this statistic but, the production notes state, little is known about the challenges they face, not only from the patriarchal culture but also the shame and stigma. These women’s bodies become a site for violence in many forms – emotional, physical, financial, and sexual. On as part of the TAHI Festival, this solo dance-theatre piece explores a woman’s right to bodily autonomy within the Indian community of New Zealand through a few spoken words, many and complex dance movements, and digital media.

Ātete is choreographed in Mohiniyattam, a South Indian dance form known for its portrayal of ideal womanhood. Swaroopa Prameela Unni is elegantly expressive in her body and especially her face as she turns this dance form on its head to present stories of women growing up within Indian culture and the violence enforced on them behind the façade of respectability.

“Get married, everything will be OK”, says Unni at the start, but what unfurls through her carefully choreographed movements is anything but. Assisted by three bowls of body paint  ̶  first red, then green, and finally and violently white  ̶  she dances stories of abuse and women’s responses to it. I wish I knew more about Indian dance and the meanings of its hand gestures to appreciate the full subtleties of these stories. However, it’s clear what’s intended. If any doubt remains, the final set of projected slides makes clear that a global movement is pushing back against gender-based violence, even in India itself.

The music (Jyolsna Panicker and Sandeep Pillai) is melodic and captivating as Unni shows us what men expect from their perfect wives, then sinister and dark as we see what happens behind closed doors. The lighting (Stephen Kilroy) is similarly contrasted as the stage floods with the colours of the paint Unni is applying to herself during the scenes of harm.

Ātete is a powerful, yet hopeful, physical work of beauty and savagery.

I Want To Be Happy | Regional News

I Want To Be Happy

Written by: Carl Bland

Directed by: Carl Bland and Ben Crowder

Running at Circa Theatre until 30th Sep

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Binka (Jennifer Ludlam) is a guinea pig. Paul (Joel Tobeck) is a human conducting experiments on her. Lonely and alone, they only have each other, but they cannot communicate. Both just want to be happy.

Andrew Foster might have made the set of the year. I Want To Be Happy begins in a lab with two cages onstage: a miniature one that Paul scrutinises, poking and prodding Binka as he laments his state of affairs, and a giant one where Ludlam performs. I don’t want to give too much away, but what follows is inimitable stage magic, with set and prop tricks that elicit audience-wide giggles, scene changes featuring an ingenious use of LEDs (lighting designer Sean Lynch) and astounding costumes I wish I could’ve photographed (designed by Elizabeth Whiting, realised by The Costume Studio).

Carl Bland’s script resembles two separate poems magnetised like atoms, at its most compelling when Binka and Paul’s dialogue collides. Paul is the kind of rare character you love to hate and hate to love. Tobeck’s intricate performance imbues an emotionally stunted man with vulnerability, while Ludlam breaks our collective heart with her captivating, powerful portrayal of a guinea pig. It’s one I buy without question.

This Nightsong production gave me a thrill I never thought I’d get to relive: the first time I watched a Disney movie. I recall inching ever closer to the screen, my nose practically booping Timon as I cheered Simba on, booed Scar, sobbed when Mufasa died, swooned at the love songs, and rejoiced when the lions took pride of place at Pride Rock. A Disney adventure for grownups, I Want To Be Happy takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of adrenaline highs and devastating lows as it plumbs the depths of poignant themes like loneliness and loss, friendship and family, and above all, communication. I leaned so far forward in my chair I nearly fell out of it. I’ve never been so emotionally invested in a guinea pig.

Zenith | Regional News

Zenith

Choreographed by Amelia Butcher

Directed by: Amelia Butcher

BATS Theatre, 5th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Six incredible dancers. Six touching sections. 45 minutes of captivating movement. One phenomenal piece. Zenith.

Zenith is a unique contemporary dance piece exploring ideas and perceptions of one’s ‘zenith’, the highest point. The sections are carefully crafted by director Amelia Butcher’s choreography brand, Jenire, with each part flowing seamlessly into the next. Despite this, each one possesses its own dynamic energy.

Words are not needed to convey this beautiful and poignant story that is relevant to us all. Dance is fully capable of telling it.

Kaleidoscopic is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of this piece. Each movement is utterly mesmerising, taking us full force into the heat of the emotions that are centred around finding one’s zenith. The lighting design by Alexander R Dickson perfectly complements the work, with each lighting state strongly conveying the emotions and desires embodied by the dancers in each section.

These dancers have a flair like no other – they are an ensemble, but their individual personalities and talents are clearly showcased. They have complete control over their bodies, each movement signifying something part of a deeper story.

It is difficult to determine my high point of Zenith, as each unique and powerful section resonates with me equally. From the sharp to the smooth, the visceral to the vibrant, this piece has it all.

For a story without words, Zenith makes even more of an impact when the final song includes lyrics. With lyrics so compelling that seem to echo my thoughts throughout, it feels like the show has been speaking to us all along. Words can’t do it justice; you must experience it for yourself if you want to achieve your zenith. Make sure you reach your highest point and book tickets to see this show now.

Abandonment  | Regional News

Abandonment

Written by: Kate Atkinson

Directed by: Catherine McMechan

Gryphon Theatre, 30th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Stagecraft continues their dynamite season with Abandonment, the debut play from celebrated novelist Kate Atkinson.

Divorcee Elizabeth (Lisa Aaltonen) moves into a converted flat that was once a Victorian mansion, where she is continually invaded by her adoptive mother (Debbie Ryder), dysfunctional sister (Sarah Andrews Reynolds), and friends. Elizabeth begins looking into her past to seize her sense of identity. But in her search, she unearths more than she bargained for – the ghosts of the house’s past occupants, particularly the wronged governess Agnes Soutar (Ivana Palezevic), whose unfortunate circumstances unexpectedly echo through the ages and into Elizabeth’s life.

This witty, character-driven story is packed with everything you would expect from a great novel – thought-provoking themes, dynamic character relationships, and funny dialogue – all delivered across two time periods.

Amy Whiterod’s inventive set design recognises and reflects this collision of eras. Ghostly 2D Victorian furniture and portraits are painted on the auditorium walls, juxtaposing the 2000s setting and cleverly giving the set a vestige of eeriness.

The entire cast makes easy work of this multifaceted story, playing a multitude of characters between the split timelines. However, what stands out for me is the quality of the female roles, which has been a theme for Stagecraft this season.

Andrews Reynolds proves her versatility in her two contrasting roles with compelling and emotional resonance. Louisa McKerrow stands out as Elizabeth’s patient best friend (and house servant Gertie). Mckerrow's delightful charm and impeccable comic timing adds layers of humour – an all-round joy to watch.

At its heart, the play explores themes of female abandonment and how the past can live on, a sentiment especially emulated by Aaltonen and Palezevic’s deft portrayals. At 40, Elizabeth is still haunted by her birth mother abandoning her as a baby, while Agnes is impregnated and discarded by the house master before meeting a sticky end.

This layered and complex story is a reminder that perhaps the past isn’t as far away as we think.

Wicked  | Regional News

Wicked

Presented by: Capital Theatre Trust and G&T Productions

Directed by: Grant Meese

St James Theatre, 22nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked is the untold story of the witches of Oz: Glinda the Good (Maya Handa Naff) and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West (Heather Wilcock). This Wizard of Oz prequel starts and ends at the same moment in time in the great Emerald City, flashing back to Glinda and Elphaba’s first encounter at Shiz University and picking up the story from there. With black-catty dynamics between the broommates exacerbated by a boy, Fiyero (Nick Lerew), the multi-award-winning musical follows the prickly relationship of Glinda and Elphaba as it shifts and changes… For Good.

Our two leads crackle with chemistry. Even when Defying Gravity on a broomstick, Wilcock’s grounding and intuitive stage presence stabilises the mile-a-minute action, especially when paired with Naff’s deliciously extravagant performance, which is show-stealing, star-striking gold at every turn. Even their voices work in perfect harmony, with the magic happening when Wilcock’s rich tonal depth meets the purity and clarity of Naff’s soprano trills.

I swoon over Lerew’s velvet voice and charm, cackle at Kevin Orlando’s quirks as the hapless Boq, commiserate with Ben Emerson’s gentle, genial, G.O.A.T Dr Dillamond, and find my new favourite number in the cabaret-esque A Sentimental Man, where David Hoskins gives us the ol’ razzle dazzle as the wizard. Anna Smith lands emotional king-hits as Nessarose, while headmistress Madame Morrible (Frankie Leota) is every bit as horrible (and entertaining) as she should be. The core cast is supported by an ensemble effervescent with energy and teeming with talent.

All of the design elements – from Martin Searancke’s theatrical lighting sorcery to the spectacular set, costumes, and props (that Oz head!) provided by NZ Musical Theatre Consortium – would befit Broadway or The West End. Couple that with consummate direction from Grant Meese, Leigh Evans’ tight and terrifying choreography (the monkeys’ malformed movements make me physically recoil), and Kate Marshall’s masterful music direction, accentuated by faultless live orchestration, and Wicked is world class in Wellington.

Top Girls | Regional News

Top Girls

Written by: Caryl Churchill

Directed by: Bel Campbell

Gryphon Theatre, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Written in 1982 at the height of Thatcherism in the UK, Top Girls is Caryl Churchill’s landmark feminist lament on motherhood, women in the workplace, ableism, and individualist versus collective thinking.

Bel Campbell’s new production for Wellington Repertory Theatre wisely treats it as a period piece with 80s staging and costuming. Some of the script inevitably feels dated, especially in the second act in an uncompromising, female-run recruitment agency where other women are considered only worthy of secretarial jobs in cosmetic and knitwear firms. However, the final act in particular – where estranged sisters argue about politics and the disabled daughter of one of them suffers because of their unresolved conflict – feels very relevant to contemporary societal divisions.

All of the highly competent cast, except Rachel McLean as central character Marlene, play multiple roles and do it with skill, cleverly adapting their voices and bodies to each part. A highlight is Shemaia Dixon’s Dull Gret, a devil-battling warrior woman painted by Bruegel in 1563, who says little but eats a lot – principally everyone else’s food – in the opening scene of a celebratory dinner. Susannah Donovan’s Pope Joan is also entertaining as she relates a hilariously horrifying story of giving birth in the middle of a street parade, then gets progressively drunker and can’t remember her Latin.

The T-shaped, three-quarters set (Sam Hearps) provides an intimate space for tough themes and allows the cast to deliver the many asides to the audience in the first act. However, it does give them challenges in terms of projection, particularly with many overlapping lines in the script.

The pink-based lighting design (Jamie Byas) works well and the sound design (Campbell) containing songs of the era effectively maintains the 80s vibe. Wardrobe (Carol Walters) is era-appropriate, although the odd lining and petticoat would stop manmade fabric sticking awkwardly to pantyhose.

Overall, this is a strong production of a difficult play, and all involved should be commended for taking it on.

Birthday Book of Storms | Regional News

Birthday Book of Storms

Written by: R. Johns

Directed by: Jaime G. Dörner

Hannah Playhouse, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

There’s an ominous feeling when you walk into the Hannah Playhouse theatre, as Robin Kakolyris (Girl) stares out to the audience ­– a feeling much akin to the anticipation of a storm. What follows is a hurricane of poetry, heartbreak, and love so tumultuous that even as I am writing this review, I can barely do such tragedy justice. Birthday Book of Storms explores the many faces of the inextricably linked writers Sylvia Plath (Anita Torrance), Ted Hughes (Phil Roberts), and Hughes’ lover Assia Wevill (Tania Lentini). The play fictionalises Plath and Wevill’s cataclysmic undoing of their relationships with Hughes.

All of R. Johns’ sentences are crafted masterfully, with the play reading as a poem does. One could compare it to violently ripping a page out of Plath’s work. For me, the monologues are the most impactful aspect of the script. They uncoil the characters, revealing nuanced, wonderfully tragic human beings in their most vulnerable states. All the performers strike each word with utter conviction, revealing the bare bones of these damaged people.

It must be noted that Roberts looks strikingly similar to Hughes, as if his ghost is haunting us through the play. Torrance as Plath and Lentini as Wevill provide powerful depictions of these historical figures.

I find it clever how the lighting (designed by Natala Gwiazdzinski) emphasises potent emotions felt by the characters. I do however wonder if adding music to the heartfelt moments would add to the tension. I also feel that the production would benefit from an intermission to allow the audience to recoup their thoughts after such intensity, especially as there is a perfect moment in the narrative for this.

Carefully crafted, complex, contradictory, and compelling, Birthday Book of Storms has it all. This play doesn’t drizzle, it torrents – an intense tempest of the lives of such beautifully broken people. Make sure that you book tickets now before the storm passes.

Dirty Work | Regional News

Dirty Work

Written by: Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan

Directed by: Justin Lewis

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Local choir Note Bene has turned up to Soundings Theatre without really knowing why. Indian Ink Theatre Company told them to learn a bunch of specific songs for a play, and when they arrive, they’re shown onstage and cast as office workers. Finding their way through the network of brightly coloured cubicles (set design by John Verryt), they sit down at their new desks and try to look busy until a cue from musical director Josh Clark means they can finally burst into song.

What a concept! Dirty Work is set in a modern-day office, where Joy (Catherine Yates) is cleaning in the wee hours before overzealous office manager Neil (Justin Rogers) arrives ahead of schedule. Next, Zara (Tessa Rao) walks in with the whole team (Nota Bene, with singers from other Wellington choirs) in tow. But Joy still hasn’t finished cleaning, all the computers are missing, and the company director (Jacob Rajan in a knockout audio performance) has just Zoomed in with a to-do list that’s way above Neil’s paygrade.

Remarkably, Nota Bene looks perfectly at ease – you can hardly tell they’ve got no clue what’s going on. Incorporating physical theatre into his performance, Rogers expertly portrays a subtle shift in his character’s perspective in the final scenes. Rao navigates a similar character arc with aptitude and aplomb, while Yates brings the house down as the lovable, no-nonsense Joy.  

You could certainly expect chaos incarnate from this play. But I leave the theatre marvelling at how cohesive it all is, how Rajan and Justin Lewis have entwined Dirty Work’s themes so seamlessly throughout, even how natural its absurdist elements feel (due credit here to director Lewis for conducting the action as masterfully as Clark conducts Nota Bene). This play doesn’t spoon-feed its audience pathos. Even with a choir, it doesn’t use music to tell you how to feel. It doesn’t hit you on the nose with its underlying message. With self-love as its beating heart, it’s an entertaining but tender exploration of finding your place, your worth, and your identity amidst the relentless grind of the nine to five.

Long Ride Home | Regional News

Long Ride Home

Written by: Jack McGee

Directed by: Jack McGee

Te Auaha, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

A story about a brother and a sister biking together to a party, Long Ride Home explores a complicated relationship between siblings who have had bitterness and resentment build between them.

The stage is empty except for two bicycles which are placed apart from each other, each facing the audience. They are held in place by devices clipped onto the back wheels (set design by Squash Co. Arts Collective with support from Sam Griffen). With a stage this empty, actors Anna Barker as Cate and Dylan Hutton as David do a great job setting the scene with their physicality as they ride the bikes in place, changing gears and straining to show when they are biking up a hill. The imitation of biking on a stage has comedic value, but more interestingly, it places the characters in an exposed situation where their frustrations can pour out honestly.

The scenery is further evoked by an effective soundscape of traffic noises (sound design by Esteban Jaramillo) and spotlights that rise and fall on either bike to show us when one of the siblings disappears from the scene, riding ahead or falling behind (lighting design by Squash Co. Arts Collective with coordination by Julia McDonald). The coloured lights and music in the background when the characters arrive at the party are also a nice touch.

While the brother and sister biking onstage together is an interesting image, I find myself wanting the performers to make more of the opportunities they have to interact with each other in the space, as many of the lines feel as though they’re being delivered inwardly rather than to their scene partner. However, Barker does a fantastic job of selling what her character is going through internally, particularly in her facial expressiveness in the awkward silences throughout the play. Hutton similarly peddles the right mix of cockiness and insecurity for his character.

Discord between adult siblings is a compelling motif, and Long Ride Home captures the relatable feeling when grievances get in the way of making amends, even with the people we’re supposed to be closest to.

Public Service Announcements: Election 2023 | Regional News

Public Service Announcements: Election 2023

Written by: Thom Adams, Johanna Cosgrove, and Jamie McCaskill

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 26th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Created by James Nokise and Anya Tate-Manning, Public Service Announcements (PSA) is Aotearoa’s longest-running political satire. When I caught my first one back in 2017, I was practically apolitical but still found it accessible because it’s totally nonpartisan and parodies every politician in da House. It sparked the conversation for me and my interest in New Zealand politics in turn. So, going into my third campaign (read: show) with a slightly firmer grasp, I agree with co-writer Johanna Cosgrove’s statement that each edition feels “more urgent and unhinged” than the last. Our political landscape is interesting right now, and for PSA, mistakes mean pisstakes.

In Election 2023, Carrie Green, Tom Knowles, Simon Leary, Jamie McCaskill, Sepelini Mua’au, and Tate-Manning bring MPs from Labour, National, Green Party, ACT, Te Pāti Māori, and New Zealand First to party on a stage resembling a grownup playground (a knock-your-socks-off set by Daniel Williams). Thanks to Helen Todd’s distinctive, RGBY lighting design and Williams’ costume design – the brilliance of which is highlighted in turbo costume changes during the final scene – audiences never lose sight of who’s speaking when. We do lose some lines on opening night however, so ear-splitting is our own laughter.

Onto the funny stuff then. (The whole show is the funny stuff, but alas, word count.) Oliver Devlin’s sound design sees the flighty Greens introduced to the White Lotus theme song, and Labour to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand (a stroke of genius). How did Leary’s lips chap instantaneously as Chris Hipkins? McCaskill’s Winston’s Song is still stuck in my head, as are Carrie Green’s hilarious outbreaks of Te Aroha as Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Mua’au’s three-fingered “Hi”s as David Seymour; Knowles’ Sméagol-esque Christopher Luxon; Tate-Manning’s cannibalistic Judith Collins on mute… There are too many highlights to list, and they’re all fire. The meta references woven throughout, especially to Gavin Rutherford’s appropriately inappropriate directorial decisions, are the honey on the Beehive for me.

Whether you care about politics or you don’t give a coup, take a seat at PSA for a rollercoaster riot this election. They’ve got my vote.

The Sun and the Wind | Regional News

The Sun and the Wind

Written by: Tainui Tukiwaho

Directed by: Edward Peni

Circa Theatre, 30th Jul 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

As a COVID lockdown project, author Tainui Tukiwaho set himself two wero (challenges) when writing The Sun and the Wind: make the hostage genre surprising again and find an interesting way to use a gun in a show. In answer to his pondering in the programme, I agree that he has admirably achieved both.

An older couple, Hūkerikeri (Julie Edwards) and her catatonic husband Rangi (Tukiwaho) are having a lacklustre birthday party for their son. However, their son isn’t there and it quickly transpires that it’s the introduction to a murder-suicide pact between the couple. This is where the gun comes in. The hostage part begins when Hūkerikeri is foiled in shooting her husband by the sudden arrival of two young would-be thieves, Hihi (Joe Dekkers-Reihana) and Kate (Tuakoi Ohia).

As the following drama unfolds, laced with Tukiwaho’s trademark humour, many themes are revealed: grief and loss, childhood trauma and abuse, parent-child relationships, abandonment, guilt, jealousy, desperation, idealisation, and a spiritualism that raises the question of reincarnation versus simple wish fulfilment. It’s a lot to unpack in just 70 minutes, but the strong cast delivers this heartbreaking story with power and grace, each fully inhabiting their well-formed characters and delivering an emotional king hit.

The simple set (Tukiwaho) of two circles of flooring and a small dining table and chairs gives enough space and variety for the ebb and flow of the action, and is sensitively lit (Katrina Chandra). The sound design (Eve Gordon) is also notable with its poppy 60s music that has poignant underlying meaning and an ever-present thunderstorm rumbling menacingly under the action.

The Sun and the Wind is a challenging but compelling watch. The cleansing kōrero and karakia performed by the cast at the end is a beautiful touch and allows the audience to exit the theatre with a sense of relief from the confronting themes of the play. As all good theatre should do, it leaves much to digest, deliberate, and discuss.

Club Sandwich: Stand Up Comedy All Stars | Regional News

Club Sandwich: Stand Up Comedy All Stars

Presented by: Monfu

The Fringe Bar, 15th Jul 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Club Sandwich is a monthly comedy night that serves up the city’s freshest comedians on a silver platter, sandwich style. Our headline act – the meat, if you will – is Taskmaster NZ star David Correos, who is sandwiched by local comedy ringleader Jerome Chandrahasen and award-winning storyteller, writer, and actor Sameena Zehra. After some introductory banter between the three, each comedian performs a solo 20-minute set to the capacity crowd.

It all starts with Chandrahasen, the perfect opening act. His crowd work is exceptional, particularly when dissing our responses (in a friendly way). Speaking of friends, Chandrahasen is really good at making new ones when out drinking. His Shrewsbury biscuit anecdote is my favourite of the evening. Warm and golden like cookies fresh out the oven, his comedy is as Kiwi as it gets, with plenty of yeah-nahs, ois, and genial profanities that we lap up and gobble down, bellies full of laughs and hypothetical bikkies.

Zehra covers the big stuff – gender, race, religion, politics – and concludes her set with a bang: a story about the best sexual harassment she's experienced yet. Sharp and artfully crafted, her material includes a tasty morsel about confusing the bigots of the world. With a decidedly more laid-back, quietly assured delivery style, she serves as a grounding anchor between Chandrahasen, whose manic energy is a 10, and Correos, whose manic energy is… um, infinite.

At one point, Correos makes me fall out of my chair. He charges onto the stage like a bull in a china shop, tearing up the place, sending it harder and harder, bucking wilder and wilder, crunching fragments of broken porcelain beneath his hooves and practically frothing at the mouth as he impersonates a fish, a mime, and a Filipino dad whose grasp of English slips in stressful situations. It’s frantic, frenzied, feverish, frenetic. It’s cataclysmic chaos. It’s the epitome of lesh gooo. I’ve never seen anything like it. And my God, I loved it.

Gabriel | Regional News

Gabriel

Written by: Moira Buffini

Directed by: Meredith Dooley

Gryphon Theatre, 12th Jul 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

It is often overlooked that the Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi forces during WWII. Gabriel is set in Guernsey, populated by locals, the German occupiers, and imported slave labourers. The sense of oppression is felt instantly in this Stagecraft Theatre production, with clever soundscapes (Alan Burden) of marching forces and far-off drumming. This is continued with Charlie Potter’s remarkable, yet claustrophobic set design. The stage is busy despite only featuring the survival essentials: a small kitchenette, stove-fire, an attic bedroom, and some black-market brandy, illustrating the declining misfortunes of our characters.

Jeanne Becquet (Hannah Thipthorpe) has been moved from her home into a small farmhouse to make way for a German billet. With her are her young daughter Estelle (Pypah McGregor), her daughter-in-law Lily (Gracie Voice), and their housekeeper Mrs Lake (Trudy Dalziel).

Moira Buffini’s play is a masterclass in strong female characters, all of whom do what they can to survive. Estelle attempts to summon an angel to help save her family, all the while hilariously haunting the Germans. However, her mother Jeanne’s chosen survival strategy is a degree of cooperation with the occupiers, particularly with Major Von Pfunz (Phil Peleton). Thipthorpe and Peleton’s chemistry is palpable, with both possessing the acting chops to nail the drama and uneasy mirth that the script demands.

A prickly relationship is made perilous when Jeanne lets slip that Lily is secretly Jewish. Tensions intensify when Lily rescues a stranger (Jamie Morgan) who has washed up onshore with no clothes or memory of who he is. She brings this man home, despite the threat it imposes on the household. Here, Voice wonderfully portrays an isolated young woman, desperately trying to grasp who she is.

At its heart, this story is about choosing to cling to your identity, to who you are, even when the very fabric of identity is ripped away in the reality of life under occupation. Gabriel is a tense tale of wartime intrigue and romance that makes for riveting watching and is a strong entry in the Stagecraft canon.

The Adventures of Tahi and Kōwhai | Regional News

The Adventures of Tahi and Kōwhai

Presented by: Little Dog Barking Theatre Company

Written by: Jacqueline Coats

Directed by: Jacqueline Coats

Circa Theatre, 8th Jul 2023

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

With great excitement, mister almost-five and I make our way to Circa Theatre to see Little Dog Barking’s long-anticipated new production. As we collect our tickets, we are told that we can sit anywhere we want to. My son chooses to sit right at the front and shortly after, the show starts with lovely music and a squawk?

Well, yes, because The Adventures of Tahi and Kōwhai is about two hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) and their natural journey of finding their soulmates, the dangers they face, and the unlikely friends they make along the way.

The stage is brought to life with amazing lighting (Jason Longstaff) that sets the scene for Tahi and Kōwhai’s time on land and under the sea. The set (Tolis Papazoglou) is simple and very effective. The props are unique and work well with the various scene changes. Sharon Johnstone did an outstanding job in designing the props and puppets, which each have various characteristics that enhance their personalities. The puppets are so expressive, it feels like they are real.

The room is filled with people of all ages, young and old. Everyone is enjoying the loveable puppets and great music, composed by sound designer Liam Reid and performed by Kenny King and Jeremy Hunt (also the puppeteers for all the characters). The laughs, squeals of excitement, and dancing can be seen and heard in every row.

As much as I would love to get more into what the show is about, it’s worth checking out this inspiring, entertaining, and heartwarming adventure for yourself to experience the world of our local wildlife and some of the struggles that they face.

As always, I had to know what part stood out for my son. He said, “All of it, but I really loved the songs!” My favourite part was the integration of te reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language, but I loved all of it too.

Flames | Regional News

Flames

Created by: Reon Bell, Sean Rivera, and Roy Iro

Directed by: Sepelini Mua’au

Circa Theatre, 13th Jun 2023

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

When creator and performer Roy Iro told me that Flames was a hip-hop musical but it wasn’t like Hamilton, I have to admit I couldn’t picture it. But boy was he right. As Iro’s counterpart Reon Bell said: “Flames is a show that is not ashamed of its unique voice.”

Flames is a detective drama set in Wellington. Five suspects find themselves mysteriously summoned to a crime scene: Don’s Enterprises has been set ablaze. The Don (Moana Ete), The Godfather (GypsyMae Harihona), and Andre ‘The Great’ Bambino (Rivera) are three experienced criminals, and they’re proud of it. Mathematically challenged Morgan Reed (Iro) and quasi-octogenarian Ian Sheff (Bell) are two detectives, and they’re thoroughly confused. With motives and accusations coming in hot, who will be found guilty of arson?

What I didn’t expect was for Flames to be so funny. And I mean genuinely funny. I laughed the whole way through. It’s clever, and it had me guessing the whole time. It plays on the tropes of the genre, but it moulds them into something fresh. From the beginning it laid out clues, it drew me in – I simply had to know who done it. Everyone has a motive; everyone has a means. With twists and turns, alliances and intertwined histories, the cast brilliantly dance around each other in a blazing and fiery tango of deceit and distrust, or perhaps it’s confidence and trust.

Flames celebrates the whakapapa of hip-hop culture in Aotearoa and truly showcases the genre in all its iterations. Between instruments, decks, and beatboxing, every piece of music is produced live on stage (sound design by Bell). The performers often switch out on instruments. A theatre performance and a concert, Flames is an incredible feat of musicianship, and it truly honours and elevates hip-hop while bending the rules of theatre. A testament to this was the audience moving and grooving, clapping and stomping, not constraining themselves whatsoever – and so they shouldn’t have. Flames is meant to be enjoyed collectively and out loud. It’s made to set the room ablaze.

Please Adjust Your G-string | Regional News

Please Adjust Your G-string

Directed by: Ralph McAllister

Fringe Bar, 11th Jun 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Veteran entertainer Margaret Austin has had a more colourful life than most and Please Adjust Your G-string is a glimpse into the most luminous parts. Resplendent in gold high heels, a red jacket, and matching feather boa, she regales us with her adventures in travel and love. These are interspersed with snatches of era or location-appropriate music to which she employs her dance training and sashays along.

Born just after World War II in Palmerston North, she grew up in an environment “marked with a lack of excitement”, handing round her mother’s famous cucumber sandwiches to guests and musing on her mysterious journalist father’s emotional detachment. After a conventional school-university-teacher training-marriage path, it’s not surprising that this born adventurer decided to up sticks and head to Italy with two friends.

This was the beginning of numerous daring adventures, starting with a stint as an orange-skinned dancer at the Folies Bergère in Paris, then onto Cannes interviewing Anthony Hopkins for Playgirl magazine, and meeting a man from Cameroon in a nightclub with a briefcase full of gold bars, probably from Omar Sharif.

Austin is a charming and engaging performer who doesn’t shy away from the hard parts. A near and an actual sexual assault are also part of her European journey, which Ralph McAllister’s direction powerfully shows us as Austin steps down from her centre-stage podium and cowers against a pillar.

Her poetic nature burst out on a paper tablecloth in Greece where the attitude of Greek men towards women was the subject of her first scathing scribble, which we hear. She recites another of her lovely poems later in the performance to honour her lover and best friend Anthony, who some might remember as the Duke of Wellington. Running into both of her ex-husbands in the same supermarket inspired my favourite line of the night: “Romance may come and go, but groceries go on forever”.

What a privilege it is to share in such a well-lived life.

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense | Regional News

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Written by: David and Robert Goodale

Directed by: Tim Macdonald

Gryphon Theatre, 31st May 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

From the moment that Bertie Wooster (Tom Foy) sits in his armchair for the first time, we know there is going to be a lot of laughter to come. Presented by Wellington Repertory Theatre and performed by the talented Foy, Ethan Lawn as Jeeves, and Nick Edwards as the butler Seppings, we are immersed into this zany world of hijinks, newts, and silver cow creamers.

The play is acutely aware of itself. It knows it is a play within a play. The fourth wall is broken with ease, making the audience feel as if we are directly involved in the crazy 48 hours of Wooster’s life that’s being retold.  

I was hesitant when the show was introduced as being ‘a play about nothing’. However, I can say that this is one of its greatest strengths. For two hours, I got the opportunity to relax, laugh, and have fun without any deep thought about morally ambiguous philosophies or human existentialism. It is simply light-hearted and every part of it is entertaining. Even the scene changes are hilarious. However, I wonder whether some of the set changes would be better off with accompanying music. Every set piece is utilised well and changes in a whirlwind, much to Wooster’s constant surprise. Director Tim Macdonald’s dynamic set is one of the highlights of the show.

Due to such skilful actors, each character is very distinct. The actors fully commit to their often absurd roles. Even when multi-roling in the same scene, we can easily differentiate between characters, a skill not every actor can pull off. The cast was able to execute this effortlessly, with impeccable comedic timing at every turn.

All this considered, what more could you ask for on a cold Wellington evening than to have a good laugh about complete nonsense? If you haven’t booked tickets yet, by Jeeves, make sure you don’t miss this hysterical show!

Dakota of the White Flats | Regional News

Dakota of the White Flats

Presented by: Red Leap Theatre

Directed by: Ella Becroft

Te Auaha, 30th May 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Inspired by one of her favourite authors (Philip Ridley), director Ella Becroft wanted to make a show that she would love to watch now and still have her 14-year-old self held in suspense. Becroft can consider it a job not just well done, but perfected. Dakota of the White Flats is a high-action adventure, crafted with comedy and tension.

Red Leap Theatre is a devised theatre company whose work celebrates and uplifts women while making special room for those most marginalised. In this instance, the overlooked potential is that of two loud, unapologetic young girls.

In a run-down housing complex, we meet sharp and fearless Dakota Pink (Batanai Mashingaidze) and her best friend ‘Treacle’ (Ariaana Osborne). The pair soon discover a secret that spurs them down the murky canal on a daring rescue attempt.

Innovative stage design by John Verryt perfectly represents the urban decay that Dakota and friends call home. Two mobile scaffolds whirl around the stage to create the backdrop, covered in Venetian blind panels that are frequently raised and lowered to comic effect, while providing insight into the white flats’ colourful residents.

The lighting design by Rachel Marlow is a marvel. Clever use of different mediums – torches, spotlights, neon and shadow-work, and of course, illuminated eels and a bejewelled sea turtle, obviously – constantly builds momentum while keeping the audience in awe.

Once in a while, a show like this comes along and drives home how important live theatre and the arts are for young minds. This inventive production is a masterclass in imagination and ingenuity across the board – acting, sound, lighting, staging, music, and choreography – and the standard to which it delivers inspires. But this inspiration isn’t wasted on the young, so don't be fooled into thinking this is a show for kids. There are suitable nuances to this story only truly appreciated with the privilege of age. Becroft has fulfilled her brief: I would have adored seeing this as a young actor and I loved it now.

Laser Kiwi – Rise of the Olive | Regional News

Laser Kiwi – Rise of the Olive

Te Auaha, 25th May 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Laser Kiwi is the world’s best and only surreal sketch circus trio. Zane and Degge Jarvie and Imogen Stone have a very particular set of skills, skills they have acquired over a very long career of dazzling audiences, first in their hometown of Wellington, then across the motu, and now around the world. Some of the skills you’ll know (juggling, balancing acts, aerial arts) and some you won’t (chopping airborne cucumbers, metamorphosing into olives).

Upon arrival, audiences are given 3D glasses and a run-sheet featuring such act titles as Casual Chat, End of Casual Chat, I am an Olive, Imagine an Ant, and Skrrrrrt Pow Pow. Zane assures the full house that the programme won’t help us make any sense of the show, so those who came for dedicated nonsense need not fear.

He’s quite right. Even with it in front of me, I can’t match half of what I saw to what’s listed – especially $548. What I can see and what is a unique and delightful component of the show is Laser Kiwi’s own ratings of the segments. The silly, 10-second Foot First, in which a grinning Zane reveals he’s wearing crocodile socks underneath a pair of crocs, gets the first 10 of the night. ▯▯▯▯▯▯ Rap, which sees Stone showcase colossal strength, grace, and acrobatic agility in a breathtaking aerial rope routine, scores an eight.

Laser Kiwi turns botches into comedy gold, like the crackling mics (which become a highlight of the show thanks to the stroppy sass of sound technician Dean Holdaway) and a gravity-defying stunt involving catching an olive in a martini glass. It misses over and over, yet we’re wildly invested and celebrate the eventual win as if it’s our own. They push boundaries of what should be physically possible as well as what is ‘appropriate’, taking big swings that hit the olive out of the park every time… bar one. I do wonder, had that contentious joke landed, would the payoff be worth the consequences of it sinking?

My friend and I had a glorious time with the indescribable, inimitable Laser Kiwi. We chuckled and chortled, squealed and snorted, and ate up olive it.  

Hi, Delusion! | Regional News

Hi, Delusion!

Directed by: Jess Joy Wood

BATS Theatre, 23rd May 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

In a flash of spotlight, Johanna Cosgrove stalks onto the BATS stage in a slinky black satin dress, black veil, and thigh-high patent leather platform boots for an hour of unrelentingly bold sketch stand-up about her life and social observations.

Asking first “Have we f****d?”, this is not a show for the faint-hearted or easily offended and comes with an R16 rating. The F bombs and sexual references are plentiful in the following hour, as is the wickedly dark humour as Cosgrove takes us through a number of topics concerning her as she enters her third decade.

Starting with a bit of politics and how messed up Auckland is (did you know P has been detected in the central city air?), she moves swiftly into a hilarious send up of hens’ parties on Waiheke. Her love life and experiences of “overtherapised men” with no gumption comes next, along with unsuccessful sexting, a baby CEO, and why she wants a gay son. The false sense of oppression felt by those with white privilege and her allergies to “gluten, dairy, eggs, constructive criticism” come next.

We also hear about her experiences backpacking in the south of France, her views on cancel culture, Christians, and Gen Z, brawls with her sister, her parents’ cancer journeys, and her desire to play one of the leads in Daughters of Heaven. All of this is delivered with confidence, clarity, and a biting sense of humour that pulls no punches. That’s perhaps not to everyone’s taste and Cosgrove’s improvised reactions to the two people who left the auditorium partway through get some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Cosgrove’s three years at drama school shine through as she energetically demonstrates a hipster playing hacky sack in Cuba Street and a strip-club routine to Mumford & Sons’ Little Lion Man.

With its spicily candid wit and mesmerising solo execution, Hi, Delusion! cements Cosgrove as a comedy and performance force of nature. Strap in for the ride!

Loud & Queer | Regional News

Loud & Queer

Presented by: New Zealand Comedy Trust

St James Theatre, 20th May 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Loud & Queer is a one-off, two-hour show of stand-up and sketch comedy, songs, and drag performances as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. The outpouring of audience support for Wellington’s queer community was palpable and exciting, and only enhanced a high-quality evening of entertainment.

Fabulous drag queen Judy Virago opened the show in one of three spectacular dresses she was to don throughout the evening. Co-host Tom Sainsbury’s dowdy arts administrator was a hilarious contrast. They were a fine pair of emcees who kept the performances rolling with interjections of their own feisty wit and repartee with audience members.

The bulk of the show was taken up by short sets from stand-up comedians Clarissa Chandrahasen, Neil Thornton, Mx. Well, Ryan McGhee, and Eli Matthewson, plus comedy duo Jez and Jace. The latter’s gauche, sexually repressed Wairarapa farming blokes and Matthewson’s story of his and his 62-year-old dad’s journeys to coming out were particular highlights in an excellent and eclectic comedy collection.

In an unexpected interlude, four members of the audience got involved doing catwalks along the stage for the chance to compete in a banana-swallowing contest. This was won by a game lady called Sandra who didn’t even wait for the countdown before she got stuck in and enthusiastically necked her fruit.

Drag acts Amanduh la Whore and Nova Starr bookended the show with stunning performances of powerful feminist songs. Starr’s rendition of This Is Me, the Bearded Lady’s song from The Greatest Showman, was a spectacular conclusion to the show, especially with the accompaniment of The Glamaphones, a 60-strong queer community choir. They had their own joyously performed set of three songs – Rainbowland, Don’t Tell Mama, and Go West.

The recent 4000-strong anti-TERF protest showed how much Wellington loves and values its LGBTQIA+ communities and Loud & Queer was a wonderful celebration of our diversity.

Guy Montgomery: My Brain is Blowing Me Crazy | Regional News

Guy Montgomery: My Brain is Blowing Me Crazy

Te Auaha, 17th May 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Guy Montgomery – as seen on Taskmaster NZ, 7 Days, Have You Been Paying Attention?, and “very, very briefly” on Celebrity Treasure Island – is one of my favourite New Zealand comedians. I jumped at the chance to see this NZ International Comedy Festival show from a Billy T Award winner who came up with The Worst Idea of all Time and, together with Tim Batt, proudly followed through with it. Multiple times.

There are no bad ideas here, although there sure are some interesting ones. In My Brain is Blowing Me Crazy, a 34-year-old man who was once a little boy tells us about the crazy place that is the world. That’s how Montgomery bills the show anyway, quoting “I’ve got a really good feeling about this one” in amongst other favourable reviews.

I don’t want to spoil any of his jokes, so very, very briefly, content includes the alphabet, jammies, horses, and the Bechdel test. Montgomery fries some bigger fish too, like the interesting lack of representation for stepparents in mainstream media despite how many blended families there are. Absolutely none of it has anything to do with the price of fish.

There’s a reason Montgomery is killing it in the comedy game, and I reckon it’s more to do with his delivery than the content itself, because he could make anything funny. This is a comedian who could sell laughs to a hyena. That being said, it’s very difficult to describe his comedy stylings in the first place, let alone without making multiple contradictions. He’s a very smart Guy with a magnetic stage presence who seems surprised we’re there and pleased he managed to dress himself. In amongst his absurd anecdotes and zigzag tangents, there is structure, composition, finesse. Everything he says is weird but makes sense. Too much sense. Like when two stoney-bolognas think they’ve discovered the meaning of life. He’s one, you’re the other.

On a high, my plus one and I walk out with big grins but one burning question that occurred to both of us repeatedly throughout the show: what actually is the price of fish?

Frigid | Regional News

Frigid

Created by: Brynley Stent

BATS Theatre, 16th May 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

The frigid winter Wellington climate changes shortly after thunderous applause as Brynley Stent walks onstage. Within seconds, BATS is warm with laughter. Frigid is a hilarious, somewhat semiautobiographical, absurdist sketch comedy about Stent’s seemingly fruitless love life.

I find it clever that Stent manages to create a set with no set. Through her excellent acting capabilities and comic audio effects, we can clearly imagine where each sketch takes place – be it a football field or a family room. What else is clear is her obsession with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, an obsession that somehow remains after whatever that 2019 film was. Refraining from opinions on this feline flop, I will say her takes on the songs Memory and Mr Mistoffelees are very on-brand and downright funny.

I love the frequent audience participation and unbeknownst to me, I somehow become part of one of the sketches. I must say it’s one of the best in the show. There is definitely no bias in the previous statement. As a result of it, Stent makes me acutely insecure about the state of my pillows and mattress.

Projection designs created by Stent herself strongly reinforce the sketches, especially humorous magazine covers and their clickbait headlines. They are utilised excellently throughout the show, through opening credits or exploring Stent’s animalistic childhood.

While most of the comedy is respectful, I am not sure about the segment of the show where the audience participates in whether dating profiles of men holding fish are ‘hot or not’. Nevertheless, the rest of the show gets me bursting with laughter so much I think I was a bit sore afterwards. There is not one quiet moment in Frigid.

It’s easy to see why Stent is a Billy T Award winner, as I don’t think there ever was a New Zealand comedian so clever as magical Brynley Stent. If you want to see a piece that will warm you from the inside out with laughter, Frigid is the show for you.

Sex & Fast Food | Regional News

Sex & Fast Food

Daisy’s, 16th May 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I’m always up for dinner and a show. Fast food and fast burlesque? Can’t think of anything better. On as part of Visa Wellington on a Plate, Sex & Fast Food is a whopper of an interactive dining event that pairs fast food dishes with spicy strip tease performances. Mouth-watering on all counts.

We’re greeted at Daisy’s door by Lizzie Tollemache, an electric sparkplug of an MC and maître d’ in one. Lizzie shows us to our seats while giving us the lowdown: we don’t have to get up onstage, we won’t be singled out if we don’t want to be, we can eat the food but not the performers… you get it. I appreciate the lengths to which she goes to make her audience feel comfortable and at home.

Once seated, we’re served a delicious welcome cocktail (Daisy’s secret recipe hard cherry kawakawa cola) before the main course: a cheeseburger served with a frickle (fried pickle on a stick à la hotdog), thin-cut fries, and the classic Kiwiana long-cream donut. Unfortunately, the meal is lukewarm, but the accoutrements – fermented ketchup, tangy mustard, bread and butter pickles, and the dirty burger sauce – do lift the game.

After Lizzie warms up the crowd by introducing terminology some of us may not have heard before, The Everchanging Boy, dressed as the spiciest pickle you ever did see (exquisite costume design by Victoria Gridley), hypnotises us with a Frank Sinatra and Paris Hilton mash-up. With graceful, mesmerising movement and a sultry stare that could undo even the tightest pickle jar, it is always a joy to watch The Everchanging Boy perform.

Next up we have Ginger Velour dancing to a medley of All That Meat And No Potatoes and the Burger King banger Whopper Whopper. Clad in cheeky burger lingerie (The Sexy Burger), Ginger makes great use of the intimate space, sauntering up and down the aisles, interacting with the crowd, and sparkling like cola all the way. Effervescent!

I would’ve loved the pickle and the burger to come together in a joint routine at the end. Sex & Food was billed as three performances with Hugo Grrrl as MC, so I think something may have gone amiss in the lead-up to the show. Two performances aren’t quite enough, but hey, we were certainly left drooling and wanting for more.

Conceptually and thematically, Sex & Fast Food is an excellent event.

The Coven on Grey Street | Regional News

The Coven on Grey Street

Written by: James Cain

Directed by: Harriet Prebble

Running at Circa Theatre until 27th May 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

When shall we three meet again? Well, it’s been 10 years since the last family gathering – just a blink of an eye for these immortal beings – and more centuries still since the Weird Sisters met Macbeth. Now, Daphne (Helen Moulder), Fay (Hilary Norris), and Sybil (Irene Wood) are back together again, this time to meet Daphne’s fiancé Ted (Peter Hambleton). But bringing a new member into the familial fold won’t be a piece of quiche…

Red Scare Theatre Company’s The Coven on Grey Street brings Shakespeare’s three witches to current-day Hamilton to lunch together under the hallowed pōhutukawa tree at Daphne’s place. Looming large over the action, the tree is realised in all its might and majesty by set designer Lucas Neal. What an eye for detail! Its stunning features are highlighted by lighting designer Isadora Lao’s magic touch, while flourishes from sound designer Patrick Barnes tinkle and charm.

The actors make quick work of playwright James Cain’s whip-smart dialogue and lean into its tender moments with easy grace, natural rapport, and collective chemistry that crackles like a toad on a bonfire. It’s clear from both the writing and acting that underneath the sass and snark, these characters love each other like only family can.

Moulder and Hambleton sprinkle longing gazes and lingering touches into a romance that feels like the stuff of fairytales. Both soon come into their individual power, navigating sky-high character arcs with ease. Norris pulls no punches as the potty-mouthed Fay, but beneath her no-nonsense exterior, we feel her aching need for connection and approval. Wood is comedy gold, delivering acrid one-liners with a straight face and supreme composure at every turn. I want Sybil to be my grandma and I especially want to sic her on all of my enemies.

An intricate script, visionary design, consummate cast, and expert direction… these were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little production. The Coven on Grey Street is pure magic.

Into the Woods | Regional News

Into the Woods

Presented by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Nick Lerew

Te Auaha, 27th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Into the Woods is a Brothers Grimm-inspired musical that follows our favourite fairytale characters post-happy ending. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, the 1987 Broadway sensation explores hope, community, and the pervasive power of desire. Oh, the things we’ll do to see our wishes come true.

A Baker (William Duignan) and his Wife (Áine Gallagher) have been cursed by the Witch (Greer Perenara) next door. In order to reverse the curse and fulfil their deepest desire of having a child, they must retrieve magic potion ingredients from Jack (Tara Canton) and Milky White (Felicity Cozens), Little Red Riding Hood (Aria Leader-Fiamatai), Rapunzel (Emily Yeap), and Cinderella (Gayle Hammersley) – each pursuing a wish of their own. Into the woods they go, where they encounter Princes (Jackson Burling, Glenn Horsfall), an overzealous Steward (Ed Blunden), a wicked Stepmother (Joanne Lisik) and her nasty daughters (Aimée Sullivan, Mia Alonso-Green), a ravenous Wolf (Burling), a badass Granny (Paula Gardyne), and a Mysterious Man (Kevin Orlando) who speaks only in riddles. Meanwhile, Orlando narrates the chaos as a Giant (Cozens) sets up shop in the sky above the kingdom. 

Into the Woods is a musical of two parts, where the first half is filled with upbeat music (performed exquisitely by a live orchestra), good humour, and, of course, happy ever afters. It’s clear from the buzz of elation in the atrium at interval that the first half is more enjoyable, but I’m putting that down to the script. The second half descends into grim madness, where multiple tragedies befall our heroes as the consequences of their choices come into sharp relief. The music is discordant, the silence loud. While the action may jolt and shudder, WITCH does a bang-up job of keeping the train from derailing.

There are too many magical moments to pack into this review, even if I wasn’t already over word count. Burling and Orlando’s comedic timing at every turn; Gallagher’s jaw-dropping Moments in the Woods, which I swear rouses one minute of relentless applause mid-scene; the Princes’ Agony and Horsfall’s dazzling twirlies; Canton’s charming portrayal of the earnest, dim-witted Jack; Perenara’s powerful Children Will Listen; Duignan’s understated but assured performance, which crucially grounds the action; Cozens’ star turn as Jack’s best friend, which nearly steals the show… No mean feat considering how exceptional the show is! The entire cast is talent personified and their vocal performances are fire (musical direction by Hayden Taylor and Maya Handa Naff).

Joshua Tucker’s enchanted production design envelops us in a magical world that is a pleasure to escape to. Bravo WITCH, Disney ain’t got nothing on you.    

RAW! ASMR | Regional News

RAW! ASMR

Created by: Amy Atkins

Directed by: Sara Hirsch

BATS Theatre, 26th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

A random assortment of fruits and vegetables greets us as we walk into RAW! ASMR, set on an otherwise minimally decorated stage. To begin the show, over the speakers, the soothing voice of ASMRtist persona Letitia Lickkit (Amy Atkins) describes in detail everything on the stage, and some of what we are about to observe. When she appears, she is dressed in a “cheeky and glam” gold-sequinned costume. Beginning the evening this way focuses us in on the finer details of what will be presented to us, and invites us to pay close attention to all of the noises that the performer plays with, the central experience of RAW! ASMR!

The show leans into the comedy of this situation – one performer trying everything she can to trigger our ASMR response, a pleasant tingling sensation that many people feel when hearing particular sounds. She whispers into a microphone, plays with fruit, and taps on objects, fluctuating between calming and manic, and the audience laughs at the absurdity of what she is doing as it contrasts with how earnestly she is trying to win us over.

ASMR videos have created their own community and culture on their corner of YouTube, and Amy breaks down the typical characteristics of them, such as previews of her ASMR techniques at the beginning of the show and roleplay portions of the experience. Credit must also be given to the crisp and clear sound quality.

Simple lighting changes support the experiment on our senses as we are treated to (or subjected to) tapping, crunching, whispering, and chewing noises, among many others.

As the performance goes on and Letitia Lickkit becomes more and more frantic, the meaning becomes clear. She’s desperate for this to work, for us to be happy, for us to like her – for us to like and subscribe! The one-woman show feels like a perfect criticism of social media culture and the yearning for attention hidden under what we choose to present, a message that Amy aptly – albeit unconventionally – communicates.

Interactions | Regional News

Interactions

Presented by: KAT Theatre

Cochran Hall, 21st Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

KAT Theatre is the only central Wellington community group regularly mounting a season of short plays. This is commendable as a way for directors to gain experience and actors to flex their performing muscles without the time commitment and staging requirements of a full-length production.

Interactions as a collection is aptly named as it’s the interplay of characters in the three pieces that makes them engaging. This is particularly evident in the first one, Token of Friendship, written by Nataliya Oryshchuk and directed by Marty Pilott. It’s a neat story of cultural awkwardness as enthusiastic employee Carol (Ava Straw) is given a clipboard full of questions and a lei to befriend a colleague in a cheesy corporate getting-to-know-you exercise. Her target is Miroslava (Corrina Gordon), a Belarussian immigrant to Aotearoa. Their amusingly cringe-inducing exchange that converts to common ground over divorce is expertly played by the two actresses. A shoutout to Gordon for her masterful accent skills.

Next up is Anton Chekhov’s The Proposal directed by Hayden Rogers. This over-the-top satire about the greed and shallowness of Russia’s landed aristocracy is energetically played by a committed trio of female actors (Jamie Fenton, Manisha Singh, and Heather Lange), two of whom are playing men. The casting choice provides an interesting and fresh perspective on this classic short play and raises additional questions about male behaviour and motives.

After the interval, Domestic Bliss by Christina Stachurski takes to the stage. At 90 minutes long, this isn’t really a short play. It would have benefitted from cuts to the script to make it fit the one-act format, which would prevent the cast reaching for their lines. While an entertaining and at times poignant exposition of three women (Liz Ebrey, Cinnamon Machin, and Kelly Bennett) from different eras struggling with female life, the script lacks conflict. Conflict equals drama in theatre and this is largely missing. The cast make a good fist of it, however, and their occupation of the same kitchen is cleverly managed.

One Night Band | Regional News

One Night Band

Presented by: Squash Co Arts Collective

Created by: Liam Kelly

BATS Theatre, 15th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

As a theatre reviewer in Pōneke, I’ve seen some out-there stuff. Women screeching in buckets of mud, bald men singing Rihanna, murder by banana… Since I first started writing for Regional News eight years ago, our creative community has surprised, delighted, and floored me at every turn. But I have perhaps never seen anything as unique as One Night Band.

A live band (MC Liam Kelly, vocalist Pippa Drakeford-Croad, keyboardist Ben Kelly, guitarist Tessa Dillon, bassist Peter Hamilton, and drummer Lennox Grootjans) writes, performs, and records a new song every hour on the hour with audience input. At the end of 12 hours, they have an album.

In my 4pm session, we’re given a prompt: a piece of media that recently inspired us. The chosen audience contribution is a TikTok about trawling for jellyfish. We brainstorm what this might sound like and settle on a blues-rap set in an apocalyptic world where humans only eat jellyfish.

The blues verse is sung (beautifully by Drakeford-Croad) from the perspective of a jellyfish about to be eaten. “It’s hard being a fish made of jelly, when you’re destined to end up in a belly” goes the chorus, which somehow I’m up on stage singing the third harmony for. Meanwhile, two human audience members write and perform a killer rap bridge about eating said jellyfish.

One Night Band is the epitome of a communal experience. There are beanbags, couches, and even colouring activities in the programme. It reminds me of devising theatre with my buddies at uni, something I didn’t think I’d get to relive anytime soon. I so appreciate the opportunity and the atmosphere of camaraderie in the room.

While it might be cosy and casual, there’s unrelenting talent here. The band is a “yes and” machine, accepting any offer and churning out a pretty great song in 60 minutes. The lyrics rhyme, the hook is tight, the bass is thick, and there’s even a keyboard solo that sounds like a jellyfish. How wonderful to watch art being made in real time. And how much more wonderful to have helped in the making.

Jessica Bo Peep | Regional News

Jessica Bo Peep

Directed by: Amalia Calder

KidzStuff Theatre, 15th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

KidzStuff has done it again and they sure bring lots of fun to the school holidays! Jessica Bo Peep is another amazing production full of fun, adventure, and some valuable lessons.

When we arrive, we receive a warm welcome from Adam Koveskali. We get to meet Jessica, played by producer and creative director Amalia Calder. Jessica is a kind, supportive human being who loves all things and sees the good in everything. Her trusty dog, named Goldfish (Clare Kerrison), interacts with the kids before the show and everyone gets to pretend to be dogs. It’s adorable! Clare also plays the roles of the cheeky Pūkeko and Nettie, the fearsome mother of Jessica and Goldfish’s new friend Tom, whom we meet in the show a little bit later.

Tom the Taniwha (Gareth Tiopira-Waaka) is an amazing character and, together with Jessica, interprets the little lessons in the show, which the whole audience can understand. The show is filled with wonderful music and original songs by Amalia and Chrysalynn Calder. The lighting creates every scene change very well and the set is simple, yet so effective. We dance along to the music and the interaction between the cast and the young audience makes the show even more magical.

In between all the fun, we get to learn new things too, like how to spell geography and about the Māori legend of taniwha. We learn about friendship and kindness, taking care of each other, and loving our friends, family, and animals.

After a show, I like to ask my son what part he loved the most. He says the doggo and all the hugs. My personal favourite element is Tom the Taniwha and his gentleness. In a world where cruelty and fear are the norm, he chooses to be good and kind.

I can’t wait to see KidzStuff’s next school holiday show. With smiles, laughter, and even fresh popcorn, Jessica Bo Peep is great fun for the whole family!

Funny Gurl! | Regional News

Funny Gurl!

Presented by: Wigl’it Productions

Circa Theatre, 12th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

How did a young Kiwi boy from a staunch Catholic family who grew up in the no-nonsense 90s become the uber glamorous Anita Wigl’it, star of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under? In this one-hour, one-woman tell-all, replete with sexual innuendo, fabulous costumes with more sparkle than you can shake a sequin at, and some really embarrassing photos, you can discover the unvarnished truth.

Anita (aka Nick) takes us on a highly personal journey of equal parts fun and vulnerability with the help of a projector and a backdrop of prettily painted flats that turn out to be the set from the daytime kids’ show in Circa Two. It all starts in 1989 with the birth of a prince who is destined to become a queen. This is by way of a few years in England, dodgy dress ups, rugby-playing high-school bullies, a lesbian girlfriend, discovering drag in Auckland through Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, playing the Last Post for the Navy in Gallipoli, and winning her first drag competition in Vancouver.

These factoids from Nick/Anita’s life are interspersed with hilarious performances of songs, my favourite of which is Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger (yes, it does get as smutty as you’d think). If you’re a shrinking violet, definitely don’t sit in the front row. But it’s not all laughs; a heart-breaking video confessional about a pernicious sexual assault followed by a stunning jazz trumpet piece brings the opening night audience to much-deserved tears.

With lovely lighting and slickly operated tech by our star’s husband, who was apparently dragged in at the last minute to operate, this is a simple but effective  ̶  and affecting  ̶  production. A disintegrating microphone causes unintended hilarity, which Anita deals with through some impressively quickfire and smart improv.

Even if drag isn’t your bag, this is an intelligent and inspiring story about someone who has overcome a life full of challenges to become a raging success living as their true self. And we can all take lessons from that.

Interrupting Cow | Regional News

Interrupting Cow

Written by: Sarah Delahunty

Directed by: Sarah Delahunty

BATS Theatre, 4th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Surreal comedy meets ridiculous reality is what we are promised from Sarah Delahunty’s newest work, Interrupting Cow, and we aren’t disappointed.

We meet the cast amidst an endless pandemic of annoyance. Annoyance about everything, from shoelaces and global starvation to Twitter and the housing crisis. Our characters appear to be searching for purpose in an ever-changing and damaged world. One (Sarah Delahunty) looks for purpose by being a stickler for the rules – rules she later realises are defined and enforced only by herself. The other (Catherine Delahunty) pursues purpose by surrendering to the endless scroll, constantly glued to their phone and defending the hidden depths of Twitter that go beyond ‘silly pet posts’.

This surreal piece packs so much into 55 minutes, it’s almost overwhelming. The script feels like a free-flowing train of thought, uncovering feelings and fears of most, if not all, the societal, political, and existential issues of today. And yet, with so much said the characters are stuck still, lost. The experience for me is dizzying, but oddly relatable. You know that feeling? The one that makes you want to push for progress, to make a difference, but you just don’t know how? That feeling is at the heart of this piece, driven along by Delahunty’s meticulous and punchy writing.

Ari Leason’s character, a chocolate cake and ukulele-wielding bard of mysterious origins, punctuates the play throughout with original compositions of varying soul and intensity.

The set design (Sarah Delahunty) is a wasteland of tangled tree limbs, overturned chairs, discarded appliances, and traffic cones. Amongst this eclectic array of forgotten items, the characters question whether “this is the right place”. The setting becomes a metaphor for the characters’ feelings of frustration and isolation of not knowing their place in the world anymore.

Interrupting Cow is unusual and thought provoking. It will leave you thinking of the big and sometimes scary things – but will also remind you that when those thoughts get too big, there’s always cake.

Cringeworthy! Swinging in the 60s! | Regional News

Cringeworthy! Swinging in the 60s!

Created by: Andrea Sanders

Directed by: Andrea Sanders

Circa Theatre, 1st Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Having seen, heard, and loved the 1970s and 80s versions of Cringeworthy, I had high expectations for this production. Those expectations were met, nay exceeded, as four fabulous fashionistas took to the stage in a silhouetted tableau that screamed the 60s and belted out an energetic rendition of Shout, complete with go-go dancers (Amedee Wilson and Annabella Milburn).

Mandy, Sandy, Candy, and… er, Bob (Andrea Sanders, Jthan Morgan, Rebecca Ansell, and Jared Pallesen) kept a full opening night audience whooping, clapping, and laughing as they flawlessly delivered hit after hit, interspersed with loving, nostalgic details of New Zealand in the 60s. For those of us who didn’t grow up here or are too young to remember, these nuggets of history – ranging from the introduction of TV and contraceptives to the Summer of Love and the musical brain drain to Australia – bring to life a different time when our country was an unsophisticated backwater at the bottom of the world.

Sanders deliberately chose songs with four-part harmonies and a cast with the capability to sing them, and these are the highlights of a strong show. Pallesen and Morgan’s vocal gymnastics make The Four Seasons’ Sherry the clear audience favourite. The choreography is excellent too with all the classic 60s moves and grooves.

The production design in the first half (set design by Scott Maxim, lighting design by Mitch Sigley and Gabriella Eaton) is a visual tribute to Coco Chanel with everything in black and white apart from some subtly coloured light. This is reflected in the slick costuming (Show Off Costume Hire and Andrea Sanders). The second half unashamedly embraces the hippy aesthetic with colourful caftans (hilariously enjoyed by Morgan), swirly patterned bell bottoms, peace signs, and psychedelic lighting.

This is a joyous and highly enjoyable tribute to arguably the best decade of popular music, so turn on, tune in, and groove on down to Circa for a trip down memory lane and a night you’ll never forget.

CORE | Regional News

CORE

Written by: Hattie Salmon

Directed by: Madeline Kain

BATS Theatre, 30th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Erika (Hattie Salmon) and Asa’s (Thomas Steinmann) love story starts as all the best ones do: with a one-night stand gone wrong. Beginning with a brief but passionate encounter that blossoms into a lifelong affair, CORE is about how all-consuming, passionate, and volatile your first love can be.

This 90-minute two-hander is peppered with potential and beautiful moments. The chemistry and connection between our two leads is both believable and engaging. While Steinmann has an easy, natural performance style, Salmon’s ‘Ricky’ is more heightened, poetic. The juxtaposition is interesting to watch and serves the script well, which is real and surreal in equal measure.

Centring on a bed, Sid Williams’ functional set design transports us into the couple’s bedroom, while Max DeRoy’s lighting design conveys the passing of time from night to day. It’s lovely to watch as you imagine sunrays slowly spreading across your bed during lazy Sunday mornings with the person you love; moonlight and the amber glow of the city filtering through your window after a big night out in your favourite sparkly dress. All the while, Roco Moroi Thorn’s haunting sound design echoes the heady fever of young love.  

CORE would benefit from more concision and dramaturgical clarity, especially because time jumps are at play – will landlines still be a thing in the future? Regardless, it stands tall on strong bones: the performances, the design elements, and Salmon’s script, which pinpoints some (unfortunately!) relatable sticking points. I see elements of my past dysfunctional relationships in every beer can, hear them in every telephone ring, read them in every email I wasn’t meant to, feel them in every lingering touch. CORE distils a universal subject down into an accessible story sprinkled with specificity. Just like Ricky, I think it’s the small things that capture the true essence of love, and in those little, carefully curated details, you’ll find CORE’s strength and its beauty.

Where’s My Money? | Regional News

Where’s My Money?

Written by: John Patrick Shanley

Directed by: Oliver Mander

Gryphon Theatre, 23rd Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

American writer John Patrick Shanley is perhaps best known as a screenwriter, having won an Oscar for Moonstruck, but he is also a prolific, award-winning playwright. This lesser-known work is a cleverly structured witty, bitter, and sometimes brutal exposition of destructive relationships and poor life choices.

It starts with old friends Celeste (Gin Mabey) and Natalie (Stacey O’Brien) meeting in a café where the catty conversation turns much darker than either of them anticipates. Next, we see Natalie with her controlling lawyer husband Henry (Leon Beaton) and learn of her murky past with Tommy (Shay Tanirau) that has come back to haunt her. Henry then goes to see his friend and philandering divorce lawyer Sidney (Martin Hunt), whose toxic masculinity is carried through to a violent confrontation with his territorial wife Marcia (Lisa Aaltonen). There are further connections between these characters, but to say more would spoil the plot.

This ensemble cast is excellent, with each actor thoroughly owning the best and worst of their sometimes-over-the-top characters and the literal and metaphorical ghosts of the lies they tell themselves.

The changes of scene are managed through the installation of a revolve, the first I’ve seen on the Gryphon stage. This works well, although a gap between the set and curtains at one side and a central wall that’s a tad too flimsy to withstand the robust action at the end of the play let down the construction of an imaginative design (Oliver Mander). This staging gives a tight performance space for each pair of actors, but Mander’s direction largely uses it successfully to reflect the claustrophobic nature of their relationships.

Lighting and sound (Jamie Byas and Tim Gruar) work effectively to support the on-stage action. A highlight is the gruesome red glow that drenches Tommy the first time he appears.

Wellington Repertory Theatre’s deft production of an expertly crafted script certainly deserves a bigger audience than it had on its second night and is well worth your money.

The King of Taking  | Regional News

The King of Taking

Presented by: Kallo Collective and A Mulled Whine

Created by: Thom Monckton

Circa Theatre, 21st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I was lucky enough to see Thom Monckton’s The Artist in 2020 in my first foray back to live theatre since the pandemic began. I remember summarising the show as “one man procrastinates making art for an hour”, which, sure, doesn’t sound all that interesting. But in the hands of this consummate physical theatre performer, I noted that The Artist was one of the most engaging solo performances I’d ever seen.

The King of Taking is no different, with a summary that could feasibly read: King spends 35 minutes walking to a table to spend another 35 minutes opening presents. I have very few plot points to report and very little dialogue to dissect, save, perhaps, for the syllabic stress on the name “Jonathan”. And yet I could write for days about how every minute, every moment of The King of Taking is a highlight.

Looming centre stage is a stately throne (production design by Gemma Tweedie, set realised by Lucas Neal) that allows for many gags I don’t want to spoil here. Props like candlesticks, rope pulleys, and rolls of red carpet are further instruments of amusement. Clever lighting (Neal) and sound (Amanda Maclean) cues accentuate Monckton’s physical comedy as he makes excellent use of everything around him. This extends to not just the set pieces but to the gifts bestowed on him by the audience prior to the show – a unique concept I’ve not seen on stage before.

Monckton speaks a thousand unscripted words with the mere twitch of a lip, the bat of an eyelash, with an energy that intensifies when it comes time to open the King’s presents. His portrayal of all-consuming, childlike joy that borders on madness emphasises themes of greed, corruption, and power. In short, of taking. This resonates the loudest when the King continues to tear open his gifts without a thought for the wellbeing of his surprise guest, Tess Sullivan. What a showstopping cameo.

A Fat Girl’s Cry | Regional News

A Fat Girl’s Cry

Written by: Celia Macdonald

Directed by: Celia Macdonald

BATS Theatre, 21st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Passionate, perky, and powerful are three of the many words that can be used to describe Celia Macdonald’s first original show, A Fat Girl’s Cry. Macdonald takes us on a musical journey about the importance of plus-size representation in the musical theatre industry. The show feels autobiographical and strikingly similar to Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, but of course with Macdonald’s unique, charismatic flair.

Songs are well placed throughout the show, providing an exciting new context to some beloved musical theatre numbers such as All That Jazz from Chicago and Children Will Listen from Into the Woods. Macdonald and fellow actor Scott Christie performing the treasured As Long as You’re Mine from Wicked feels right and questions why we don’t often see plus-size performers in leading roles such as Elphaba.

I have never seen BATS’ The Stage so stripped down. I feel this aids the performance as it allows Macdonald’s potent story to be the focal point, rather than the razzle dazzle that most musicals bring. I love how stage manager Jess Weston takes part in the show, adding another talented performer into the mix.

My heart shatters into pieces at the climax of the show. The performers execute this perfectly. I feel Macdonald’s pain. No performer should ever have to feel how she has felt. It breaks me to think how toxic the musical theatre industry can be to those who don’t ‘fit the bill’.

Whilst specifically addressing the struggles of being plus size in the musical theatre industry, the show feels universally relevant, touching on the idea that oftentimes the things we get ridiculed for the most are our greatest assets. The final number Absolutely Everybody is a fantastic way to end the show by celebrating people of all shapes and sizes.

Macdonald is a genuine, talented performer and I sincerely hope that she continues to take the spotlight that she deserves.

A Fat Girl’s Cry is truly a show for every body.

Get Stuffed | Regional News

Get Stuffed

Created by: Semi Cho

Bedlam & Squalor, 9th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Get Stuffed promises so much: “a creepy uncle’s man cave showcasing a curated taxidermy collection” and a line-up of comedians who “ask the hard-hitting questions around the double standards of stuffing a bird”. And, indeed, there are some choice examples of weird stuffing on display – an inflated blowfish with stuck-on googly eyes, a sexily reclining fox, and a toucan being embraced by a Barbie doll. These are the “4am delusions and drunken purchases” of comedian Semi Cho whose debut Fringe Festival Show this is.

The delivery of this promise, however, comes up a little short. Cho’s introduction is amusingly quirky, starting with a confession about how much she loves funerals because most people are just there for the catering, and her obsession with “glamorous roadkill”.

She then introduces the first of her guests, Australian Darryl Wilson. His short set is fine in and of itself with a bit of politics and a diatribe about bringing one’s whole self to work. It’s hard to see how it fits with the theme of stuffed animals, though, as it seems like a routine he would perform anywhere rather than one tailored to this show.

Michael Macaulay, Cho’s second guest, does try to get with the programme and relates three surprisingly funny jokes he asked ChatGPT to create on the theme of animals. He also recreates what Sir David Attenborough sounded like before he lost his Middlesborough accent (the TV legend actually grew up in Leicester but hey, don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story!) and tells a titter-inducing tale of accidentally peeing on a hedgehog.

Both guests are also invited by Cho to perform a touch test on a stuffed animal hidden under a blanket. Wilson’s turns out to be a rooster, spawning the inevitable cock joke, and Macaulay’s is a surprised-looking cat, clearly once someone’s much-loved pet.

Get Stuffed is a brave effort at an original comedy show but needs stronger attention to unity of theme.

Moonroe’s Happy Hour | Regional News

Moonroe’s Happy Hour

Created by: Laura Oakley and Jackson Cordery

Te Auaha, 7th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Marilyn Moonroe (Laura Oakley), a diva with a lunar crescent for a head, and her sidekick Sonny (Jackson Cordery) warmly welcome you to Te Auaha for 60 minutes of variety performance.

Using a miniature leaf blower to recreate the classic moment from The Seven Year Itch where Marilyn Monroe’s white dress is blown up by a subway vent, this is a cute and quirky hour of songs, silliness, and sensational circus.

‘Stage manager’ Britney Spears pops on to set out six hula hoops on the floor and we’re treated to a flawless hoop-twirling display by Lightning Lola (Oakley). An attempt at a sexy striptease by Mark Malady (Cordery) to the song Fever is comically ruined by COVID symptoms, and so the fun continues.

Sitting in the front row is not for the faint-hearted as several audience members are brought into the action. One gamely pops a balloon from between the legs of Oakley while she’s in an open-legged handstand. Another has an improvised song written about her by a nervous pomegranate with a tiny ukulele.

Always polite and inclusive, Oakley and Cordery are charming performers with some mean circus skills. Cordery’s silks and aerial routines are spectacular and Oakley’s floor routines slick and strong. They also have a gift for light-heartedness and audience interaction that makes everyone feel a part of their world. It’s refreshing to experience a comedic performance that is uplifting rather than relying on putting others down.

A bare, black-box stage is used well to deliver the big circus numbers and the smaller, more intimate pieces. Dean Holdaway’s lighting creates a dazzling whirl of spotlights and two blinders at the back of the stage facilitate a dramatic entrance for Moonroe at the start of the show.

If you’re looking for something a bit different this Fringe Festival where you’re made to feel you belong, you can’t go wrong with Moonroe’s Happy Hour. After all, as Moonroe says, we’re just seeds in one big pomegranate.

Women Drinking Hemlock | Regional News

Women Drinking Hemlock

Written by: Sacha Acland

Directed by: B Wilson Kilby

Gryphon Theatre, 7th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

I never thought I would see a sitcom presented not on television, but on stage. In Women Drinking Hemlock, writer Sacha Acland executes a theatrical sitcom with ease. Inspired by the title of a lost Greek play, the show follows two rival breweries seeking out their slice of Wellington's nightlife. One is owned by Archie (Nathan Arnott), entrenched in misogyny and toxicity. The other is owned by Maven (Alanah Munn), new to the brewery business, overflowing with optimism and hope.

The show strikes a perfect balance between realism and comedy. Through the expertise of the actors, the action doesn’t feel too slapstick, but nor does it feel too dreary in tone. The hijinks aren’t too ridiculous, and likewise, the heavier moments aren’t too turgid. Even though we only get to meet the characters briefly, it feels we have known them for quite some time.

I find it clever how the set design (Helen Oliver) and lighting design (Teddy O’Neill) clearly differentiate the two breweries. We can see a striking contrast between Archie’s dark and barren brewery and Maven’s, which is more enticing and homely. Not only that, but the show is extremely accessible, providing audio descriptions as well as captions by Alexander Garside throughout the performance. Additionally, touch tours of the set are available.

I feel that an incorporation of music would alleviate the few awkward silences and assist in portraying the emotions of the scenes better. I would also be interested to see the character of Sam (Holly Kennedy) fleshed out a little more, as they feel like the only character to not have a complete story arc. I can certainly see this play being translated into an actual televised sitcom easily.

Women Drinking Hemlock is thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it if you want a night of both laughter and drama that doesn’t sacrifice one for the other.

Two Very Serious Plays  | Regional News

Two Very Serious Plays

Presented by: The Awkward Company

Written by: Ryan Holtham and Alex Fox

Gryphon Theatre, 4th March 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Are you ready to get enlightened? The Awkward Company invites us to learn two very serious lessons from Two Very Serious Plays.

First on the double bill is Tightbutt, a crash course on how to be tough presented by Johnny Beranucci (Ryan Holtham). The youngest Don of his Mafia family, he knows a thing or two about being tough and breaks it down in his 10-step programme. Johnny is the epitome of what he preaches – “Chew gum. Get yourself a nice weapon. Have a catchphrase.” But the veil soon slips, and the weight of ‘sucking it up to be a man’ becomes too much. A witty yet heart-rending piece.

Next we learn The Meaning of Art from not just any artist, but the great
Phillip James-Lucy-Smith XXVIII (Alex Fox). Phillip deconstructs what art, theatre, and acting is, all while poo-pooing comedy as an artform. He is steadfast in his volition that artistry and comedy are unequal, with ironic results. The more Phillip tries to show the integrity of art, the more stage blunders he encounters. As a final resort, a letter from the first of his line turns everything he believes on its head.

Across both pieces, our protagonists come from a long lineage and have carried on both their names and their ideals, perhaps intended as a reminder of how prior generations impact and shape us – even when it's not always productive. This makes for a lovely through-line between the pieces that unlocks extra depth.

Both Tightbutt and The Meaning of Art present their own commentary on seriousness: the seriousness of being open with your emotions and the true strength it requires, and the need for joviality and comedy to help us through the seriousness of life and its everyday tragedies. This perfectly summarises the efficacy of Two Very Serious Plays and the impression it leaves – a hilarious joy to watch with the heart to match.

Wage Against the Machine | Regional News

Wage Against the Machine

Written by: Matt Harvey

Directed by: Matt Harvey

Te Auaha Cinema, 2nd March 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

In contrast to some of the more offbeat shows that the Fringe Festival serves up, Matt Harvey’s Wage Against the Machine is classic stand-up comedy – an hour of humorous stories spoken directly to the audience. Harvey talks us through his experiences working a variety of minimum-wage jobs, from a theme park to a sex shop, with the infuriating struggles of dealing with Centrelink (Australia’s version of Work and Income) in between.

Harvey has brought Wage Against the Machine to us across the ditch after having performed it in Australia already, but Te Auaha’s cinema is less than an ideal venue for a stand-up gig, with fluorescent lights and steeply tiered seats that make us feel disconnected, like we are staring down at Harvey from above. The movie screen behind him is also left blank throughout the show. Despite this, Harvey works well to connect with the audience, spontaneously picking out and commenting on our reactions to his stories, letting us know that he can tell when we have perhaps been through something similar. There is a genuine hopefulness and a sense of camaraderie in the telling of the story, and those with experience in customer service jobs particularly will find much to connect to in Harvey’s tale.

The humour is relatable and engaging as Harvey explains the feeling of being a cog in the machine, working boring jobs for corrupt and exploitative companies. The show digs into this idea, taking a satisfying dive into a powerful anti-capitalist message. Although much of Harvey’s story is centred on Australian politics, he does well to explain the context, such as Centrelink’s Robodebt scheme. In saying that, mistreatment by large corporations is not a foreign concept, and neither is anger at a poorly run social welfare system.

Harvey does well to cover a broad range of experiences, some of them quite bleak, all tied together with authentic, personable delivery that invites the audience in. “It’s okay, you can laugh”, he says. “I’m still alive. It’s fine.”

Truly Friday – Before They Were Famous | Regional News

Truly Friday – Before They Were Famous

Written by: Jackson Herman and Nathan Roys

2/57, 2nd March 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Back in 2011, in New York City, I giddily bought tickets from a tout for an intimate Flight of the Conchords show. Alas, my mother questioned the legitimacy of the tickets and marched us back for a refund. 12 years on I still regret that missed opportunity, but that changed after watching Truly Friday – Before They Were Famous.

I almost feel guilty making the comparison but the musical duo of Truly Friday – Jackson Herman and Nathan Roys – beat me to the punch, quipping that their “sustainably made comedy” recycles chord sequences straight from the Conchords. That’s not shade if you want something familiar, nostalgic, and hilarious, then this show is for you.

We witness Herman and Roys as they attempt to find that one song that will catapult them to fame. We open with a short film (by Kelsey Robson and edited by Ashneil Dutt) of a dramatic shootout with parallel and future versions of the boys, dead set on stopping our heroes from making it to the stage and setting off an unavoidable sequence of events. The footage ends with the duo wrestling with the blackout curtains, breaking the fourth wall as they take to the stage.

Set against acoustic love letters to pop punk and mid-2000s indie, we are taken on a journey through a myriad of cleverly crafted topics. The raunchy Sexy Serial Killer perfectly pokes fun at the misplaced fascination with and borderline eroticism of true crime, followed up with more on-the-nose hits about everything from killing billionaires to single moms and grieving that men can never experience lesbian sex. You know, the big stuff.

On top of their hysterical lyrics and musical flair, these two have chemistry in spades. Their banter between songs – both with each other and the audience – is infectious, all culminating in an onstage meat raffle and an ode to the great Kiwi tradition, Crate Day.

If you like your music funny, and your funny musical, you need to see this show. The future depends on it.

The Sensemaker | Regional News

The Sensemaker

Presented by: Woman’s Move

Created by: Elsa Couvreur

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Nikolai Bain

Imagine, if you will, a barren stage containing nothing but a chair, a seat, and a home phone. With just a couple of simple elements, what follows is a show based around an idea that is taken, flattened, stretched, bent into a triangle shape, and then thrown off the side of a building. It’s clever, it’s unusual, and it plays with awkwardness to lengths you’d have never thought possible.

The Sensemaker is a genre-bending solo performance from Elsa Couvreur (concept, choreography, soundtrack) featuring the back-and-forth of an answering machine robot and a woman waiting patiently. We can all relate to being stuck on hold on for far too long whilst having to endure some form of pop music or elevator chimes, but this show imagines just how bizarre and extreme this scenario could become. What if instead of responding by voice, you had to respond with claps? What if you had to agree to all terms and conditions over the phone? What if you had to perform a dance routine from High School Musical just to get your request submitted? In The Sensemaker, nothing is off the table. 

The show is as gripping as it is uncomfortable, with the performer standing still on the stage waiting for extended periods of time. That’s not to say that little is happening though; Couvreur knows exactly how to use awkwardness in a way that provokes and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats for the entire duration of the show. She is as skilful a writer as she is a performer, having to utilise precise timing to sync her movements and dance with the backing track that keeps The Sensemaker on course. 

We’re left to wonder – what exactly could she be waiting on the line for that makes it worth jumping through so many hoops? After everything that the performer goes through, let’s hope it’s for more than just to cancel a flight.

The Culture | Regional News

The Culture

Written by: Laura Jackson

Directed by: Bethany Caputo

Gryphon Theatre, 28th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

I don’t know how to begin a review of a show that made me feel virtually every emotion on the planet. Never have I laughed so much or felt so uncomfortable (in a good way) at the same time! This is all kudos to one fantastically crafted production. Written and performed by Laura Jackson as Katie, The Culture explores – through the close friendship of Katie and Will (the humorous Mina Asfour) – the dangers of romance in the modern world. Every word has been crafted for maximum impact. We get an intimate view of this dynamic duo, an ambitious woman and a gay man who take us on a journey of finding love that becomes all too real. So visceral, so captivating.

The lighting design (Capri Harris) and sound design (Charlotte Leamon) allow us to seamlessly flow from Katie and Will’s lounge to the wider Sydney area. This show translates well onto New Zealand soil; particularly because of how relevant the themes are to us. It finds a perfect balance of telling an important story beautifully interwoven with comedy and seriousness.

The Culture is an important conversation piece that all need to see for the way it addresses partner violence. People need to become aware of how real this is, how it is quite literally happening under our noses. What’s scary is I don’t know who I know that has gone or will go through this. What’s even scarier is I might know or be friends with the perpetrators of such actions. One-third of women in New Zealand have experienced partner violence to date. This show brings voice to the voiceless. It empowers those who are faced with such events that it is okay to stand up for yourself; it shines a light on something that is seldom spoken about or seen by others.

This piece moves me. I know that I will be thinking about it for weeks to come, and I hope that anyone who gets a chance to watch it will. The Culture is not to be missed.

Enter the Sandman | Regional News

Enter the Sandman

Written by: Keegan Thomas

Directed by: Keegan Thomas

The Fringe Bar, 28th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Part stand-up, part informational slideshow, Enter the Sandman sees comedian Keegan Thomas detailing how, in 2022, he watched every Adam Sandler movie ever made – all 42 of them – just because he wanted to. Now, he gets to share all of the highs and lows of Sandler’s filmography with us.

The show begins with a video montage of Academy Award winners being announced, with Adam Sandler noted to be missing from the list. The use of the projector screen is a great warm-up act that has the audience laughing before Thomas even steps on stage. The screen is then used for the remainder of the performance as Thomas clicks through a hilarious slideshow, covering every one of Sandler’s films. A sound board is also used to support Thomas’ improvisation, and the lighting changes subtly for different emotional moments (lighting and music by Leki Lyons).

Thomas’ performance brings us into this manic hyperfixation with Sandler’s films so convincingly. The delivery is hurried and frantic, the slideshow looks like a school project that has been slapped together the night before it is due, and the soundboard is pushed to play absurd soundbites at random moments. The script is exceedingly varied, featuring such moments as an audience singalong, three different AI-generated raps about the Hotel Transylvania movies, and a crowd member being brought up to read a role in a scripted skit.

Thomas makes the most of every second on stage, squeezing in jokes and ideas at a speed that becomes a little unhinged – because who wouldn’t be after a whole year of Adam Sandler movies? At times the performance becomes rushed and unfiltered, and perhaps could have been edited down to make the comedy more apparent, but it also feels like the point is that the show is a chaotic rollercoaster ride.

The finale is a dive into the ‘Sandler-verse’ conspiracy theory, which alleges that all Adam Sandler films are connected in a shared universe. This theory does not entirely convince me, but Thomas’ frenzied energy on stage sure does.

In Bed with Schoenberg | Regional News

In Bed with Schoenberg

Written by: Dave Armstrong

Directed by: Conrad Newport

Circa Theatre, 26th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

It's Friday the 13th of July 1951 and composer Arnold Schoenberg (Gavin Rutherford) has taken to bed in his Los Angeles home, convinced this is the day he will die. Having been forced to move to the US by the rise of Fascism in Europe, Schoenberg reminisces about his early life in Vienna where his atonal compositions and “horrible music” caused uproar and his students became more successful than him, his struggles in an unappreciative Hollywood, and his often-fractious relationships.

Andrew Laing who was originally cast as Schoenberg had to pull out at the last minute and his role has been admirably filled by Rutherford, who makes the stage his own. Shuffling around in pajamas and silk dressing gown, he is by turns grumpy and self-aggrandising, then vulnerable and undervalued. Coming from the pen of Dave Armstrong, the script was always going to be funny, and Rutherford especially shines in the moments of wry humour. He holds a full audience in thrall from start to finish.

Supporting, but never directly interacting with, Rutherford is a superb string quartet led by Dave’s brother Donald Armstrong on violin. Sophie Bird (violin), Sophia Acheson (viola), and Brenton Veitch (cello) work seamlessly alongside him to play snatches of Schoenberg’s work along with that of other greats, such as Mahler and Mozart. Somewhere Over the Rainbow even sneaks in. This balance between script and music is the play’s great success and brings to vivid life a composer whose work many Kiwis will be unfamiliar with. Schoenberg’s compositions were as eccentric as his personality and it is entirely appropriate to give them equal weight.

A beautifully simple set (William Smith) of bed, music stands, and oblong panels that look like beaten copper is cleverly lit (also Smith) to spotlight actor and musicians. A well-placed side light spectacularly throws half of Rutherford’s face into shadow when he talks about the Holocaust.

Overall, this is a beautifully scripted, played, and rendered production that hits every note.

U R Here | Regional News

U R Here

Presented by: Barbarian Productions

Directed by: Jo Randerson

Martin Luckie Park, 25th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

U R Here by Barbarian Productions is a unique experience – a choose-your-own adventure walk through Martin Luckie Park filled with surreal attractions and a story that can only unfold through exploration. Despite damp weather there is a reasonable turnout of people, so the park is bustling with an audience of all ages, surrounded by performers in loud, eccentric costumes. It feels like a carnival from another planet, and appreciation must be given to the craftsmanship of the quirky costumes, puppets, props, and set elements (set and costume design by Frankie Berge, puppets by Roxanne Black).

We are guided through the first part of the experience by enthusiastic ‘aunties’ in 80s athletic wear before setting out “into the unknown”. Our journey begins in a field with a range of games and activities. I particularly enjoy the zone covered in balls of mud with popsicle sticks in them, created by the audience over the day. We are asked to make one ourselves and write on the stick something we “know to be true”. This is one of many subtle ways that we are asked to reflect on ourselves before setting out on the wider adventure through the park. These self-observations turn the experience introspective as we consider who we are and genuinely see ourselves in the space. This idea is expanded on as we continue through the park and the devoted performers react to our input – we are as much a part of the performance as they are, and the story only progresses if we do.

This makes for a fascinating experience. The large performance area is taken advantage of to continually hide the next attraction from view around a bend. However, this does mean some of the walks between attractions are rather steep and slippery.

I find myself often asking, “Is this part of it?” when coming across different parts of the park, which, depending on your perspective, could be exasperating or exciting. U R Here is what the audience makes of it, and if you aren’t excited to participate, the frustration can outweigh the fun. Overall, I enjoyed the experience, and applaud Barbarian Production’s experimentation.

Lesbihonest | Regional News

Lesbihonest

Written by: Laura Piccinin

Ivy Bar and Cabaret, 24th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Friday night at Ivy Bar, and the crowd is instantly on Laura Piccinin’s side as she begins to recount her coming out stories. Her wry, ironic delivery coupled with moments of expressive physicality get big, satisfying laughs from the audience along with enthusiastic whoops and cheers. The venue is intimate enough that there is opportunity for Piccinin to engage with us on an individual level, furthering our sense of familiarity and inclusion with her experiences.

Many parts of her show have broad relatability, and the listeners are just as likely to be nodding along as they laugh. Piccinin has dated both men and women, and knowingly tells us that “men are stupid, and women are insane”. This is one of many quips that have the audience roaring with laughter as she explains the experiences that have informed this oversimplified reasoning of hers. Piccinin also takes the opportunity to explain identities that exist between and outside the gender binary and their personal exploration of this, one of many satisfying moments where the audience feels seen; the room is welcoming and cosy for everyone along the sexuality and gender spectrums.

The social commentary that is mixed in is also witty and acute, covering ideas like the changing nature of what it means to be queer as society becomes more welcoming, but how the feelings of shame and guilt can linger – only making us feel more shameful and guilty for not being able to let go. Ultimately, this is a tale about learning to love oneself, despite all the confusion caused by the reactions of our loved ones, and the myriad of labels that can feel prescribed. Piccinin asks why queer people have to bear the responsibility of explaining and quantifying queerness – let straight people work it out, she says, and stop feeling an obligation to “come out”.

Piccinin doesn’t claim to have all the answers, and acknowledges personal slip-ups and confusion in her journey. It is this unabashed honesty that is so endearing about her performance.

Access | Regional News

Access

Presented by: Hamish Annan

Created by: Hamish Annan

Te Auaha, 22nd Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Fringe is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get. And that unpredictability, that suspense, that adventure, is what keeps audiences coming back. The pieces I find most exciting are the ones that are ever-shifting. The ones that can be influenced and shaped by the audience, as well as the delicate nuances and energies in the room. These shows are rare, but when you find them they are always interesting. All of that rings true with Access, created by Hamish Annan in collaboration with Katie Burson and Rob Byrne.

I’ve returned to Te Auaha for the third time in a week to soak up more of that delicious mystery. The audience is welcomed into a well-lit gallery space with sparse seating. At the centre are two vacant chairs inside an intimate performance space, tidily marked out with tape. On the wall are the instructions for engaging with the performer, Annan: “This performance includes: Aggression, Happiness, Grief, Lust, Disgust”. Audience members are instructed that one person at a time may sit with Annan and request an emotion. The prompted emotion is then performed for as long as the contributor remains seated. 

Access is an exploration of authentic human emotion. Emotions of performer, prompter, and we the spectators. The audience becomes part of the work, with every empathic tilt of their head in response to grief, every eyebrow lift to lust, and each flinch from aggression. Each response is incredibly moving and visceral.

Annan is a valorous performer, poignantly expressing each emotion with breath and facial expressions, without physical contact or dialogue. The result is something truly guttural and deeply confronting.  At its heart, this performance art is about human connection and emotional vulnerability. An unforgettable, alive, and incredibly unique experience, existing solely for the participants who happen to be there in that place in time – like a journal entry. And since every performance is different, what will your entry be?

Just The Tip or A Guide to Strip Club Etiquette | Regional News

Just The Tip or A Guide to Strip Club Etiquette

Written by: Vixen Temple

Directed by: Shaun ‘Cloud’ Swain

Ivy Bar, 22nd Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Nikolai Bain

Come one, come all, and experience the tales from a strip club that you never thought you’d hear, including the highs and lows of the culture, clientele, and craziness of what happens on stage and behind the curtains. 

Just The Tip is an eye-opening storytelling comedy show that explores the etiquette of strip clubs by weaving through the stories of several different personalities that stop by. Set from the point of view of the audience as a new stripper on the first day of the job, writer and performer Vixen Temple talks the audience through the kind of customers she often sees before transforming into the various roles before our very eyes. 

From Bruce the Tradie (“Don’t get too close ladies, I’m a married man!”) to Leo the Male Feminist (“I’m actually in a band, we’re called The Generic White Guys”), Vixen delves into these examples of obnoxious strip club ‘civilians’ (the sex industry’s name for the non-sex-industry population), and their various different excuses for why they don’t need to tip. The audience even meets some female ‘civilians’ that end up being just as bad as the men for different reasons, including Sarah the Girl Boss and even a hens bride who’s had far too much to drink and fails to grasp just how loud her “WOOOOOO”s are. 

Just The Tip was the perfect show to grab a drink at the bar, find a good seat, and sneak in sips between the all-too-frequent laughs. Vixen’s performance was outstanding, offering valuable insight and perspective into an industry from a person who clearly knows it better than a fish knows water. The show was a joy to watch, funny till the very end, and more importantly, showed a side of the industry that we don’t often reflect on. If you’re lucky enough to catch the show, know that you’re in for a ride and above all else, don’t forget to tip!

Where the Water Lies | Regional News

Where the Water Lies

Written by: James Ladanyi

Directed by: James Cain

Meanwhile Gallery, 21st Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

In the stark but intimate Meanwhile gallery, the audience is seated on an assortment of borrowed chairs to hear James Ladanyi’s monologue Where the Water Lies. Ladanyi tells us about events in his life – from a date at the beach, a movie night with friends, to watching rugby at the pub. His story highlights the cause and effect that tie these moments together into something more significant, and while at first the pieces of the story are jumbled and unrelated, they come together like a satisfying puzzle. This is underscored by his description of the background of the Rubik’s cube, then solving one on stage after a member of the audience has shuffled it – all while effortlessly continuing in his telling of the story.

A table lamp that flashes different colours and ethereal music to begin and end the show (design by Nino Raphael, direction by James Cain) help to make the most of the simple space, but it is Ladanyi’s energy and connection with the audience that really suck us in. At times he is infectious and dynamic, and at others wistful and nostalgic, balancing changing between these emotions skilfully. While at first the audience is waiting for the point of connecting the pieces to become apparent, and some of the comedic timing gets lost, the structure of the script engages us as the picture Ladanyi is painting comes into focus.

During the show, Ladanyi hangs pieces of art by local artists that reflect ideas in the work, and at the end we are invited to come forward to appreciate them more closely. This is a nice touch, and imparts the feeling that the telling of his story has changed the space.

Where the Water Lies is a personal but relatable story about moments when life decides to happen to us, the cause and effect normally invisible behind events in our lives, and appreciating the coincidences and serendipity this all energises.

Hell School: The Musical | Regional News

Hell School: The Musical

Directed by: James Wenley

Hannah Playhouse, 21st Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

“I work 24 hours a day to make this hell a home”, Joker (Jules Daniel) exclaims, and I have to be honest here, Hell School: The Musical does make me feel back at home… in the halls of high school. Dun dun dun.

You either peaked in high school or it was your living hell. Hell School: the Musical encapsulates exactly that, with a little bit of demonic possession and the supernatural to really hammer it home. Hell School captures the ethos of teenage angst, when everything seems like the end of the world. The show exaggerates this but also honours those feelings without diminishing them from a perspective of hindsight.

A product of the Victoria University – Te Herenga Waka Theatre 302: Conventions of Musical Theatre course, Hell School: The Musical is a full-length, well and proper musical with two acts, catchy numbers, plot twists, smashing choreography (Elora Battah), some brilliant lighting effects (show designer Scott Maxim), and an oh-so-suave band, The Butt Plugs. Though the audio was rough – the mics cut in and out and at times the music could be louder than the singing – Hell School was a hellishly devious adventure, sits on extremely promising bones, made everyone laugh maniacally, and had some truly divine moments.  

The whole cast wrote and composed the songs, which is a monumental achievement. In fact, I would especially like to praise Lily Fitzgerald as musical director and in her role as Ed… you are so cool. Daniel’s Joker has great stage presence; Jayden (Caleb O’Halloran) and Jessica (Battah), the high school sweethearts, are honest and tender; Liv Pettitt as Dana is the epitome of a snooty celebrity; Sophie Helm, playing Maggie, has a gorgeous voice; former head prefect Alice, portrayed by Annie Black, is expertly acted throughout her entire arc; and Ezra (Aylana Francis-Darrah) is oh-so loveable.

My favourites, however, are Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades (Zayne Barefoot, Marie Katsanos, Faith Holley, and Lulu Harkness respectively). Oh, you want to know why? I guess you’ll have to go find out! Muahahaha.

CAUTION WET FLOOR  | Regional News

CAUTION WET FLOOR

Presented by: Brick Haus Productions NZ

Directed by: Genoveva Reverte

Te Auaha, 21st Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Grab your passport and turn on your out-of-office, we’re heading to the airport. And you won’t even need to queue for security. Winner!

It’s Christmas Eve and we are introduced to Francis (Jackson Burling), a loveable but lonely airport cleaner. While scrubbing floors and cleaning up explosive post-curry messes, he dreams of a life where he is in the spotlight. We accompany Francis in his reverie away from this less-than glamorous existence, transported ourselves to a fantastical life of romances, far-off islands and numerous prestigious accolades for ‘best cleaner’ (seven nominations and seven wins, naturally).

As each new daydream unfolds, we can’t help but be swept away by the loveable character and his fantasies. The world Francis builds is so engaging that when reality inevitably comes crashing back, punctuated by every berating phone call from his boss, it’s not just Francis that has to wake up and smell the er… let’s say roses… coming from the toilet cubicle. The audience feels that deflation too.

Burling is such a stunning performer. He has an incredible command of his physical range and comic precision that will make you laugh and then break your heart in two seconds flat. This is most evident during a glimpse of Francis at, arguably, his truest self. He is at home, alone, no longer a cleaner nor living in his imagination. Just simply watching an episode of The Chase and heating up leftovers. An impactful and beautiful juxtaposition to the comic unfolding of Francis’ escapist fantasy, and yet so relatable – haven’t we all wished for something more?

There is little dialogue, but Burling’s impeccable physicality and expression, accompanied by the selective soundtrack and creative lighting (Genoveva Reverte), speak volumes. The synchronicity of these elements keeps the piece engaging from start to finish.

Brick Haus Productions are quickly becoming known for their thought-provoking work that asks us to think of our relationships with ourselves, our communities, and one another. CAUTION WET FLOOR is no exception.

End of the Rainbow | Regional News

End of the Rainbow

Written by: Peter Quilter

Directed by: Jeff Kingsford-Brown

Opera House, 18th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The decline of Judy Garland (Ali Harper) in the months leading up to her death from an overdose in 1969 forms the basis of this tragic, yet darkly funny, play with music. Judy is staying at The Ritz along with her new, much younger fiancé Mickey Deans (Glen Horsfall) and besotted friend and pianist Anthony (Tom McLeod, who doubles as musical director), preparing for a five-week run of shows. She hopes her act will maintain her high profile, but she struggles with addictions to booze and pills and her complex and strained relationships with the two men.

Having witnessed Harper’s gift for vocal mimicry before, I had no doubt that she could carry off a convincing portrayal of Judy Garland in song, which she does magnificently. However, it is her acting chops that come to the fore in End of the Rainbow. She’s constantly on the move, a twitchy bag of drug-deprived nerves, with a sharp wit and a yen for manipulation. The men don’t stand a chance as she bullies and cajoles them into indulging her needs, by turns the acid-tongued adult and the petulant teenager she was when the Hollywood studio machine started plying her with drugs. This is clearly a passion project for Harper, one which she fully embraces with the skill and energy of a seasoned performer.

As her foils, Horsfall and McLeod support Harper superbly and Kevin Orlando steals the show with his brief appearances as a porter and stage manager. McLeod’s musical direction and piano playing are also excellent, as is the six-piece band that is perfectly balanced against Harper’s powerful vocals.

The production design (Ian Harman) is smart and unfussy with glittery costumes that belie Judy’s less-than-sparkly mental state and a simple but slick set. Jeff Hewitt’s lighting design is also highly effective, especially during the final number.

Don’t miss Ali Harper’s stellar performance of a falling star. This is one rainbow you’ll never want to end.

Nailed It – A Builder Play  | Regional News

Nailed It – A Builder Play

Presented by: The Awkward Company

Written by: Aimee Dredge, Sam Lewis, and Tom Hayward

Directed by: Aimee Dredge, Sam Lewis, and Tom Hayward

Te Auaha, 17th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Opening night of the 2023 New Zealand Fringe Festival and the anticipation is building (pun intended). We’ve been invited to grab a hammer, take a smoko, and scoff a pie as we join the ragtag cast of builders in The Awkward Company’s brand-new play Nailed It – A Builder Play.

We open with the untimely demise of Pete-o, a 106-year-old tradie gone too soon. Knocking down the number of days without an incident from 3 to 0, Pete-o’s death summons the much-maligned safety inspector, Donald – or Quackers (Sam Lewis). I can still hear the audible sigh from tradies in the audience upon his arrival.

At the play’s heart, as is with most real-world tradie jobs, is the camaraderie. The audience becomes one of the work crew, as the loveable site manager Crusty (Tom Hayward) welcomes us, “Smithy, Robbo, Benny, Lenny…” to a new day on site. This is where we meet Pete-o’s replacement, the new apprentice Dylan (Aimee Dredge), but Dylan is not what the team expects. How will our boys handle their first woman comrade?  

Dylan hopes to quickly gain their respect and no longer be seen as the ‘Sheila’ on site. But she must first fall victim to some classic tradie pranks of fetching ‘the long weight’ and the 1D10T planks.

The script is sharp as a tack, witty, and light-hearted, and performed stunningly by the entire cast. Still, rivers run deep with the writing; there is an underlying sensitivity which is highlighted in snippets of the characters’ bigger dreams and morals. Crusty loves to write musicals, Dylan doesn’t want to be a newbie forever, and Bubbles (Shauwn Peter Ethan Keil) is fiercely loyal to his trade and his team. There is also a highlight (literally, thanks to the hilarious utilisation of spot lighting by Ryan Holtham) of women in trade and apprenticeship opportunities from the play’s sponsors, BCITO.

A feel-good show with knock-out performances, pranks, pies, and Kiwi humour, The Awkward Company nailed it. Frank the Sentient Nail, the site mascot, was a bit wooden though.

Wonderful | Regional News

Wonderful

Written by: Richard Huber

Directed by: Richard Huber

Te Auaha, 17th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

We stare back at them as impressions from beyond the drawing room window. Never truly within but never without either, the audience and the actors both “hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature”, as Shakespeare said. Or is it all just make-believe?

The eccentric yet quintessentially upper-class Lady Hermione (Sarah Barham) drapes herself artfully and aloofly over a chair, her loyal butler Roberts (Blaise Barham) in suspended animation until she pulls his strings to distract her from the tedium of a socialite’s existence. Set in the drawing room of a British estate in the 1920s, Wonderful is a witty and absurdist investigation into love, shifting values, and the lost generation. Discussing monocles, sex, bohemian Berlin, “what the actress said to the bishop”, and Lady Hermione’s play, the pair grapple with the inherited values that are no longer relevant and the utter disillusionment of a post-war world.

Writer and director Richard Huber describes Wonderful as “one part drawing-room farce, two measures of love, and a splash of the comedy of manners”. With only a chair and drinks cart for props, there is nothing for the characters to dance around except each other and their banter. Having known each other since childhood, Hermione and Roberts are in love with each other. She sees the entire relationship as a game, suggesting they run away to become “lesbians in Berlin”; Roberts, who fought in the Great War, is more cynical and realistic, knowing that a servant and a socialite don’t stand a chance against Britain’s entrenched classism. Therefore, Roberts and Hermione create a play within the play, where they can be together.

Using lighting (by Meko Ng and Jordan Wichman) to transition in and out of reality and imagination, the present and memory, Hermione and Roberts blur the lines between what is real and what is not for both themselves and the audience, making a space of their own somewhere in between where everything is Wonderful.

The Big HOO-HAA! | Regional News

The Big HOO-HAA!

Produced by: Locomotive

BATS Theatre, 17th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A warm, weird, and wacky welcome to the pure chaos of the Fringe season, The Big HOO-HA! is a competitive improv show originally founded in Perth some 20 years ago. It’s had great success in Melbourne and now, hopefully, Pōneke. By hopefully, I mean that it must stay here forever. I simply insist.

Our host Jennifer O’Sullivan introduces us to two teams: Hearts (Megan Connolly, Jed Davies, and Guanny Liu-Prosee) and Bones (Elliott Lam, Tara McEntee, and Malcolm Morrison). With the adept assistance of Matt Hutton on live keyboards (plural!), Sam Irwin on real-time lighting design, and Matt Powell on scorekeeping, the teams face off in a battle for glory by competing in timed rounds that feature various popular improv games. Challenges span storytelling, direction, narration, songwriting, muffin incorporation, and much more. Everything you see onstage is made up on the spot.

Group improv is, first and foremost, a team sport. You can be the wittiest, speediest, sharpest tool in the shed – and each one of these cast members is just that – but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t collaborate, share the spotlight, and (to throw in an improv buzz phrase,) accept offers. Friday night’s Big HOO-HAA! players work beautifully together and there is a palpable camaraderie not just within the teams, but between them too. This results in a wild night of unbridled joy, silliness, and, of course, laughter.

Now for the highlights! Davies’ deliciously macabre delivery of 99 percent of his offers complements my favourite character of the night: McEntee’s Suspicious Moon, who turns out to be quite the perve in an encore appearance. Moon is made all the more ~suspicious~ by a great collaboration between Irwin and Hutton. Lam and Connolly write an absolute banger: Cry on my Face. O’Sullivan – who is generally a very charming riot – keeps mispronouncing Powell’s brilliant pun about bran muffins and Banksy (‘branksy’). Liu-Prosee takes a turn as a tiger hunter in possession of the famed, highly illegal ‘master bullet’, while Morrison’s wickedly disturbing tooth fairy sets… my teeth on edge. Sorry.

A big hoorah for The Big HOO-HAA!

The Tempest | Regional News

The Tempest

Presented by: Wellington Summer Shakespeare

Directed by: Megan Evans

Wellington Botanic Garden, 11th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Summer Shakespeare is an institution in the city and an annual highlight of our arts calendar. The Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Season of The Tempest sees many a happy camper sprawled on The Dell lawn to enjoy an eco-ethical production of William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy that asks what maketh man a monster, and what maketh monster man.

The Tempest is set on an unnamed island, where the usurped Duke of Milan Prospero (James Bayliss) and his daughter Miranda (Tori Kelland) have taken refuge. Prospero has enslaved the island’s only other inhabitants: the half-fish, half-man Caliban (Rachel McLean) and a host of otherworldly beings commanded by the spirit Ariel (Maea Shepherd). When a storm sees Prospero’s brother Antonio (Tom Vassar) and other members of the Naples royal family shipwrecked on the island, Prospero seeks his revenge. 

Shakespearean language can be hard to wrap your head around – even for someone who studied it! For me, the key to understanding the dialogue is in the vocal delivery of it, and it’s clear here that each cast member has a good grasp of their character’s intent. I want to give a particular shoutout to the imperial Bayliss; Shepherd, who has the most stunning singing voice; and the impassioned McLean for helping me to follow the action with the exceptional delivery of their lines. Another special mention to the hilarious Philip Nordt as the drunken butler Stephano and Anna Kate Sutherland as the jester Trinculo for the comedy gold they sprinkle into an already-sparkling sea of talent.

Megan Gladding’s production design makes for a magical viewing experience and works in harmony with Neal Barber’s lighting design, a treat to watch come to life and light as the sun goes down. Sarah Bell’s costume and wardrobe design is outstanding, particularly when it comes to Caliban’s floating fish head, which has a huge bearing on the way the audience relates to the character.

I did find the background spirit dancers a little distracting, but overall this was a totally absorbing production that gave me a much-needed break from reality – to an island far far away, where magic and mayhem reign supreme! 

Guy Williams Presents: Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy | Regional News

Guy Williams Presents: Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy

Te Auaha, 8th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

After introducing himself in the mic from the wings, Guy Williams comes charging out on stage to Dark Horse by Katy Perry, energy and enthusiasm up the wazoo. When our lacklustre response is not to his satisfaction (in our defence, it’s Wednesday and we’re not tiddly), we’re barraged by a relentless stream of insults and expletives. Wellington sucks, we’re told, as we’re called f-wits and the like.

I bloody love it.

I’m a big fan of Guy from 7 Days, Jono and Ben, and New Zealand Today, but had only seen his stand-up in small bursts as part of gala nights. I was interested in seeing how he might structure an hour-long set and fare in a long-form comedy setting. He nailed it.

Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy has Guy take “a break from arguing with people on the internet to try and make the world a better place”. Conversations billed are racism, colonisation, and misogyny, but we’re treated to much more taboo topics too. While some comedians broach these subjects just to shock and provoke their audience, and I’m personally someone who’s very easily offended (nothing wrong with that), Guy’s comedy is somehow… charming? It’s random and clever, padded with layers, context, and bizarre segues that make very little sense but wind up being my favourite parts of the show. His loud, somewhat erratic delivery keeps the momentum going and the laughter flowing well after the curtain call. In this case, the curtain call is WAP by Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion.  

My only feedback is that I’d love to see Guy get a little more personal. I’m thoroughly entertained but want to feel something a bit deeper too – as if comedy isn’t hard enough, right? Although it’s oddly timed (about a quarter of the way in), Guy’s support act and sister Maria Williams’ set resonates with many of us. The heartfelt interlude means that by the end of the show, all my boxes have been ticked.

I snorted, bark-laughed, and had a brilliant evening with a comedian at the top of his game. Cheers, Guy.

Caburlesque: Rock & Rhinestones  | Regional News

Caburlesque: Rock & Rhinestones

Presented by: LadyTramp Designs Ltd

The Fringe Bar, 4th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

For those of you who haven’t been to a Caburlesque show, think of it like cabaret meets burlesque… then pour a pound of glitter over it and amp it up to a thousand. For Rock & Rhinestones, we have SpongeBob SquarePants meeting Billy Idol, pole dancers meeting shotgun weddings, Tina Turner meeting rhinestone cowboys, and oh so much more. The theme is rock music, and the dress code? Sparkles, sparkles, and more sparkles.

The night opens with a warm welcome from our shiny-silver-suited MC Sadie Von Scrumptious, who has a good sense of timing and a knack for reading the room. Between acts, she engages us with terrible jokes (excellent) and witty banter but never for too long, keeping the momentum flowing at all times. Sadie also hosts air-guitar and best-dressed competitions straight after half time, a tried-and-true Caburlesque format that gets us involved and helps us release some of the energy and over-excitement we’ve built up over the past hour. The energy in the room is electric from start to end.

Some absolutely stunning acts take the stage over the course of the evening. Pandora Cherie mesmerises the crowd with a sensual, silky burlesque dance to Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence, while Pip E-Lysaah & The Red Queens: Gold Edition sizzle with an incredible showcase of strength and agility on chairs. Also showing a chair who’s boss is Velma Cherry, who puts on one of the most charismatic, infectious performances I’ve ever seen to Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah) by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Fun and fab Felicity Frockaccino finds the naughtiness in Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, and a moustached Maree & Giada set my jaw a-tumblin’ to the floor with remarkable pole feats as hilariously aloof cowboys.

There’s a reason these are the longest-running regular burlesque variety shows in Wellington. Get your bling on and go see for yourself.

Summer Improv | Regional News

Summer Improv

Te Auaha, 20th Jan 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Improv is one of my favourite things to watch. Often integrated into the action, the audience becomes one giant sponge, absorbing the adrenaline coursing through the cast as they scramble to make up scenes on the spot. It’s thrilling when things go right and equally so when things go wrong. It’s a communal experience for both its makers and those witnessing their creation: a show that can’t be repeated, will never be seen, again.

When you line up some of the best improvisers in Wellington – in this case, Alayne Dick, Jennifer O'Sullivan, Dianne Pulham, Matt Powell, and Wiremu Tuhiwai, with special guest David Correos from Christchurch – you’re pretty much guaranteed a great night.

Interestingly, the players only take one audience suggestion (the theme, Easter), instead of prompts for each scene. While I’ve seen the latter more often, I prefer the Summer Improv format – without interruptions, the action has more momentum than a bear devouring an entire jar of manūka honey that its flatmates were entitled to two-thirds of. Big shoutout to Tuhiwai here, whose portrayal of a bear that can’t get its scat sorted at home or work is one of the highlights of the night.

Animals – both fictional and real – become a recurring theme. We have the Easter Bunny (but of course), not one but two bears, and the Squirrel Squad – Trash Squirrel, Ocean Squirrel, Air Squirrel, and Forest Squirrel, a gang pictured here that I desperately wanted to assemble again. While I did fight the urge to cry out for a Squirrel Squad encore, the players incorporate many a great hark-back, consistently getting the audience in on the joke.

Just a few more gold nuggets include O’Sullivan’s wise-man Mark, Pulham’s gaslighting mother, Correos’ sober driver, Dick’s incompetent manager, and Powell’s irate flatmate. Matt Hutton’s improvised keyboard soundtrack and Sam Irwin’s snappy lighting transitions tie it all up neatly in a bow befitting for a young girl named Gavin.

Summer Improv is on for one more Friday in January, though I hope to see it become a regular fixture on our stages. It’s certainly earned its place!

Pinocchio the Pantomime | Regional News

Pinocchio the Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 23rd Dec 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Ahh, the Circa pantomime. Giving our favourite fairy tales topsy-turvy topical treatment, these riotous rollercoaster rides have been an annual Christmas tradition for families from Wellington and beyond for nearly two decades.

This year’s pantomime sees writer and director Gavin Rutherford retire as the show’s sassy, saucy Dame after 12 years. Stepping into the kitten heels with grace and gusto is Jthan Morgan as Kahurangi Fairy, a fairy godmother embroiled in an eternal spat with the dastardly Fox (Emma Katene) and her sidekick, Thorndon Key (Tabatha Bertei-Killick). Meanwhile, lonely widower Gepetto (Sepelini Mua’au) finds a hunk of wood, boots out its former resident Willami Wētā (Finley Hughes), and carves a puppet son, Pinocchio (Nī Dekkers-Reihana) – much to the dismay of his cat and wannabe influencer Ms. Claws (Natasha McAllister). And all the while, ‘hee-haws’ echo down the streets of Wellywoodington as donkeys multiply without explanation.

It sounds nuts because it is. But oh boy, I reckon Pinocchio is my favourite pantomime yet. While this show is by no means subtle (in fact it’s still as mad as a whale with a hernia), it does feel more restrained in its approach than past pantos. Rather than colourblind the audience with spectacle, it plays more of a long game, allowing Leary and Rutherford’s references and jokes – not to mention the presumably unscripted adlibs (shoutout to Hughes and Mua’au for the brilliant banter) – to really shine.

The cast is a tight unit, with a recurring gag of talking animals unwittingly enjoying pats (McAllister and Katene) a hilarious highlight. I particularly love the general disdain but secret sentimentality Hughes brings to the role of Willami, Dekkers-Reihana’s defined physicality as a puppet, and Morgan’s inspired interactions with the audience – especially the whispers of “don’t tell anyone”.

Tying it all together are the arrangements of inimitable musical director Michael Nicholas Williams, with bangers and bops bound to appeal to millennials like myself.

Get your lovely friends by your side for a happy conclusion and a measure of magic at Circa Theatre this summer.

Avenue Q | Regional News

Avenue Q

Created by: Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez, and Jeff Marx

Directed by: Ewen Coleman

Gryphon Theatre, 24th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

If potty-mouthed puppets are your peccadillo, then Avenue Q is for you. Billed as Sesame Street for adults, it’s a musical comedy that tackles racism, homosexuality, homelessness, suicide, and internet porn. It feels contemporary as the issues it traverses haven’t gone away and are arguably more prescient now than they were when the show won a Tony Award in 2004.

The shadow of COVID over Wellington theatre is still a long one and the announcement at the beginning of the performance that the character of real-life former child star Gary Coleman was going to be played by a white guy only added to the comedy.

Wellington Repertory Theatre’s production features an expanded cast of 15 actors and puppeteers, plus an ensemble of five. This allows for some fun choreographed sequences (Melanie Heaphy) that make good use of the extra bodies. The set design (Scott Maxim) of three row houses along the back of the stage offers a variety of spaces for actors and puppets to pop in and out and gives lighting designer Riley Gibson plenty to play with. His backlit drain that gently oozes smoke is a delightful touch.

The cast is a strong one and works seamlessly together, particularly those who operate puppets as a pair. The influence of puppet master Kenny King is in evidence. The puppeteers have clearly learnt his golden rules of keeping their eyes on their puppet and not letting go of them unless they’re dead, which does happen in one hilarious scene.

Vocal performances are mostly strong too. The singers don’t have microphones which occasionally makes it hard to hear them over the backing track, but the balance is generally good. All the singers deserve praise for their enunciation; I could hear every glorious word.

Avenue Q is not for the easily offended or the children in your life, but it’s uproariously funny and this production does an excellent job of bringing it to Wellington.

Homemade Takeaways | Regional News

Homemade Takeaways

Written by: Ben Wilson

Directed by: Cassandra Tse

BATS Theatre, 23rd Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Having seen Homemade Takeaways performed as a rehearsed reading at Circa Theatre last year, the chance to see a fully fledged production was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Much of the cast and crew remain with three of the four main actors reprising their roles. This is a good thing as the quality of performance is top-notch and the actors are demonstrably comfortable within their characters and each other.

Ben Wilson’s comedy-drama set in an unspecified South Island town deservedly won Best New Play at Playmarket’s Playwrights B425 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Adam NZ Playwriting Award. It’s an awkward family Christmas as a Dunedin-based drummer (Dryw McArthur) suddenly uproots his job and city to return to the family home where his recently dumped self-help expert of a sister (Kate Johnstone) is quietly self-destructing. Their young stepmother (Tabatha Pini-Hall), a primary school teacher who is trying to write dark children’s fiction, has recently inherited the house and her 31-year-old, skateboarding, Emma Thompson-obsessed man-child bestie (James Cain) is sleeping on the couch. Overlaying each of their individual traumas is a shared patina of grief for a lost father and husband.

On paper, it seems like a doom-laden mix, but this play is funny with Cain’s character often providing comic relief as the tension builds to a metaphorical and literal storm on Christmas Eve. It’s ultimately uplifting as they somehow manage to make each other feel less alone.

The set (Rosie Gilmore) is unusually fulsome for the BATS stage, with a raised central area that is the kitchen cum living room of a rural house surrounded by fluffy toetoe with a bench outside where the characters retreat to smoke, talk, and attempt skateboard tricks. It’s carefully lit (Bekky Boyce) and the sound design (Maxwell Apse) features appropriately cheesy Christmas music and well-placed sound effects.

All up, this is an excellent show with stellar acting of a great script supported by sharp production values.

The Griegol | Regional News

The Griegol

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith

Directed by: Hannah Smith

Te Auaha, 16th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

After Granny (Elle Wootton) dies, Child (part-puppet, part-Stevie Hancox-Monk) starts to see monsters in the throes of their grief. Specifically, the Griegol, a spooky smoke demon Granny used to tell stories about. Child has a key from Granny, but doesn’t know what it opens. Dad (Paul Waggott) is understandably distrait as he struggles to navigate his own sense of loss and plan a funeral at the same time, so Cat (puppet design by Jon Coddington) pounces in to help, providing clues by sleeping near the locks in the house. Good kitty!  

The Griegol is a play without words that intersperses puppetry and projections, silhouettes and shadows to explore the ever-shifting shape of grief. A black hole of loss and fear, incomprehensible in its magnitude, gives way to acceptance and understanding; dark becomes light as beauty starts to billow from the smoke.

Excuse the excessive alliteration, but innovative, inventive, and integrated really are the best words to describe this production design. Cast members magic up a lot of the action under a camera that transmits a live feed onto a large screen set centre stage (set design by Sylvie McCreanor and Rose Kirkup, technical design by Brad Gledhill). Illustrations (Hannah Smith) and stop-motion animation (Ralph McCubbin Howell) play out in sync with incredible music composed by Tane Upjohn-Beatson and performed live with virtuosity by Tristan Carter, who cuts a deliciously macabre figure thanks to Marcus McShane’s lighting design. Actors flicker in and out of scenes, behind and in front of the screen. They are seamless, speaking 1000 words without uttering one. 

The Griegol is meticulous and specific in its approach while still hitting a universal message home. It’s a big subject, grief, and it can be overwhelming. But while The Griegol is poignant, even powerful, it’s accessible for all ages and languages. I feel seen, and safe to feel my feelings – even if that means crying three times!

Thank you, Trick of the Light, for such a beautiful, evocative, and meaningful work.

Rites of Passage | Regional News

Rites of Passage

Written by: Long Cloud Youth Theatre

Directed by: Ben Ashby and Shania Bailey-Edmonds

Te Auaha, 15th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

A downstairs space at Te Auaha that I didn’t even know was there has become the intimate venue for Long Cloud Youth Theatre’s latest self-devised work. With its 16-year history of providing a development hothouse for the next generation of writing and performing talent, the company has created a raw and authentic piece based on each performer’s real-world experience of a rite of passage in their own lives, centred around the Head Boy’s end-of-school party.

The white-box space fronted by glass is cleverly employed as a traverse stage with some of the action happening behind the glass or in the next room above the opposite side of the stage. Excellent use is made of light and shadow by set and lighting designers Grace Newton and Hollie Cohen. Initially covered by a fabric screen, the action behind the glass is humorously revealed to not always be what it seems later in the performance. As the party ebbs and flows, we smoothly transition between what’s going on inside and outside the house.

Starting with an angst-ridden discussion about cannabis giving you orange wee, this is an often-funny rollercoaster ride of teenage dramas about breakups and makeups, breakdowns, grief, toxic masculinity, self-consciousness, first dates, inebriation, crushes, and relationships old and new. It’s the exquisite pain of growing up to which we can all relate in some way, presented mostly literally and sometimes more figuratively with movement and dance (choreographed by Nadiyah Akbar).

The stage floor is interestingly covered in patches of carpet and other soft textures with loose white sheets laid on top. I fear that these sheets will be tripping hazards but the cast all having bare feet seems to mitigate the risk and, by the end of the performance, the carnage of tangled cotton neatly reflects the emotional chaos we have witnessed on stage.

Long Cloud Youth Theatre always comes up with something uniquely their own and Rites of Passage is no exception.

Olive Copperbottom | Regional News

Olive Copperbottom

Written by: Penny Ashton and Charles Dickens

Circa Theatre, 9th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Penny Ashton is back in style at Circa Two with her trademark fridge magnets for a riotous, boisterous, and side-splittingly funny take on all things Dickens.

With a minimal set of a wooden trunk, barrel, and chair, the stage very much belongs to Ashton as she takes us through the life of poor waif Olive in Victorian England. Her mother’s dying advice is for Olive not to be at the mercy of men and their need for “fleshy carnival rides”, which Olive takes to heart as she makes her way in the world. In fact, misogyny – both Victorian and modern – is a strong theme throughout the performance and adds an extra layer of spice and freshness to Ashton’s witty narrative.

Ashton’s energy is unparalleled and for nigh on 90 minutes she flits between multiple larger-than-life characters with whom Olive’s colourful life is peppered. There’s Mrs Sourtart, keeper of the government-funded orphanage where Olive spends her youth; Edward “fill me with your love spores” Goodsort, Olive’s long-time besotted friend and eventual husband; Betsy Sozzle, the one-eyed tavernkeeper of the Cock and Swallow; Tiny Tommy Tidbit, the crippled orphan who turns out to be impossibly related to one of the other characters, and many more.

Littered with quotes, tropes, and the titles of just about every novel Dickens wrote, this is a satirical homage to the literary great that seeks out and exploits the best moments of his biting humour and sense of social justice. Ashton’s songs add an extra layer of fun and props to Michael Bell and his band who recorded the music specially – the quality is noticeable.

Technician Tom Smith’s straightforward lighting prettily colours the action and provides spotlighted pools for Ashton to work in. His precise timing of sound effects with Ashton’s stage movement is brilliant and makes for hilarious fight scenes. A nod of sage approval must also go to Elizabeth Whiting for Ashton’s effervescent and multipurpose dress.

Don’t miss this extraordinarily entertaining dose of Dickens.

Bill! Bill! Bill! | Regional News

Bill! Bill! Bill!

Written by: Jeremy Hunt, Felix Crossley-Pritchard, and Georgia Kellett

Directed by: Jeremy Hunt, Felix Crossley-Pritchard, and Georgia Kellett

BATS Theatre, 8th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Produced by Dastardly Productions and Knot Theatre, Bill Bill Bill is a riotous, rollicking ride of absolute joyfulness. Three solo clowning performances are threaded together by moments of simple storytelling and physical comedy. Each new piece introduces a new character with a unique costume, and each delights in its own way. The show is almost entirely non-verbal, which only makes the emotional depth even more impressive.

Jeremy Hunt’s performance Papa is set in a train station as a young lad attempts to entertain himself. Hunt makes clever use of scale, reaching up to take his imaginary father’s hand, and embodies childishness perfectly. His audience interaction is excellent, prompting me to bowl him a cricket ball (which promptly breaks a window). I adore the simplicity of his set, a railway line produced from two stretches of hazard tape.

Treble in Paradise follows a self-obsessed conductor (Felix Crossley-Pritchard) who dies, goes to heaven, and learns to appreciate his orchestra. My personal favourite, Crossley-Pritchard manages to portray genuine remorse and remarkable character development in such a short piece. His sound design is impeccable, and the conductor’s miffed facial expressions at God’s mysterious ways are subtle enough to be hysterical.

The final solo is Georgia Kellett’s Piccup. It starts as a tale about Peek, a flightless bird reaching for the skies, but seems to abandon this narrative to instead focus on Peek trying to pick up a bar of soap to bathe. I’m a little disappointed not to see the costume pictured in the programme, which would have strengthened the piece enormously. Kellett shines during the interludes between solos, but Piccup feels held back by a weaker premise and distracting scenography.

Bill Bill Bill is a silly, endearing exploration into our world and beyond. All three performers demonstrate an absolute mastery of clowning and Kellett’s lighting design is crisp and evocative. The show’s Fringe awards are well earned, and it deserved a fuller house than it had.

Owls Do Cry | Regional News

Owls Do Cry

Presented by: Red Leap Theatre

Directed by: Malia Johnston

Circa Theatre

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Red Leap Theatre’s performative rendering of Janet Frame’s seminal novel Owls Do Cry is more of a commentary than a clear-cut adaptation. It tries to read between the lines of the evocative prose and lock onto its complexities and the things that are left unsaid. Did it work as a piece of multi-disciplinary theatre? It depends on who you ask, but I know that I left with complicated feelings.

Director Malia Johnston is a powerhouse in the arts world. Many will be familiar with her through her work on the World of WearableArt® Awards and her multimedia approach to performance. Going into a show with Johnston’s name attached guarantees a spectacle and a remarkable line-up of collaborators – from the performers through to the lighting (Rachel Marlow), sound (Eden Mulholland), and AV (Owen McCarthy). Owls Do Cry did not spare on any of those components but it may have muddied the premise. There was always something happening, whether it was broad physical theatre from the inimitable Ross McCormack, a magical display of light, or a gut-busting vocal solo by Hannah Lynch. It felt like your brain didn’t always get a chance to process the meaning.

Despite the sensory overload, the work exhibited a clever arrangement of dance, theatre, song, and design. Every element felt heartfelt, and each performer brought their own powerful presence. Margaret-Mary Hollins gave a delightfully understated performance as the troubled mother, and she was the one that I left thinking the most about. It was haunting, the way she seemed to float on the cusp of the action, there but not really there, acting as a silent witness. Then there were the handful of intimate duets performed by Hollins and McCormack, which transcended the physicality and inspired a deep, emotional response.

Owls Do Cry is a great example of what live theatre can be but for some it may sit in a mysterious realm of abstraction. While it might not be for everyone, Red Leap Theatre can be applauded for their bold interpretation of a New Zealand treasure.

Fab Beasts  | Regional News

Fab Beasts

Written by: Ryan Cundy and Catriona Tipene

Directed by: Catriona Tipene

BATS Theatre, 2nd Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Sitting in the stalls of The Stage, being serenaded by a pair of cheerful musicians (Joe Raea and Eddie Kerr), I can’t help but wonder what we’re in for. A unicorn had just welcomed us into BATS. A pink one, in a fluffy bikini.

The costumes, designed by Salome Grace, are nothing short of extraordinary. Five unicorns, played by Ryan Cundy, Kate Anderson, Brendan West, Katie Boyle, and Grace herself, take the stage, each a brighter colour than the last. The gang is threatened by God’s great flood, but only two can join Noah (Tom Kereama) on the Ark. Once I’ve wrapped my head around the premise, I can start to appreciate the sitcom style. The commentary on Wellington flatting is on the nose but still relevant and grounded by Victoria Martin.

Unfortunately, act one ends before the unicorn plot fully concludes. The musicians return and transition us to the second story, a Law and Order parody involving salami-related murders, but I’m left wondering whether the two narratives are independent or not. The songs are good fun with some excellent punchlines, but Raea seems to lack confidence. He has a fantastic voice that would benefit from higher energy.

My admiration of the show’s design is only magnified with the appearance of Boyle as the Loch Ness Monster in the second act. Somewhere between costume and set piece, the two-person ‘puppet’ towers above her friends and delights the whole house with her shenanigans.

Fab Beasts is almost brilliant. The actors themselves are excellent and I can’t compliment the costumes (and whatever Ness is) enough. However, the storyline feels like an afterthought, hastily pulled together to accommodate unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster. The scenography is a mixed bag. Some moments are clean and effective, especially the fire alarm gag, but the blackouts are painfully abrupt. With a little polish and a rejig of the script, this could be a truly fabulous beast of a show.

The Woman in Black | Regional News

The Woman in Black

Written by: Susan Hill and Stephen Mallatratt

Directed by: David Cox

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 12th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

An old Arthur Kipps (Martin Tidy) has hired The Actor (Tim Macdonald) to help tidy up his five-hour manuscript, a story about an experience he had while visiting the small market town of Crythin Gifford some years ago. Kipps intends to read the manuscript to a small audience of friends and family, but The Actor has other ideas, employing a sound engineer and a host of special effects to bring the story to life.

The play switches between the actors in rehearsal and a dramatisation of the story, where Tidy as the real Arthur Kipps plays a host of different characters and Macdonald as The Actor plays a young Arthur Kipps. It sounds more confusing than it is! We are transported to Eel Marsh House, the ill-forsaken residence of the recently departed Mrs Alice Drablow. Kipps is Alice’s solicitor and must get her affairs in order, but is haunted by a spectre of a woman in black with a wasted face, whom the townspeople refuse to speak of.

Tidy and Macdonald rise to the challenge of a two-hour two-hander where neither actor is ever offstage. They are both marvellous. I hang off every word Macdonald says while Tidy shines as the reclusive Keckwick, with stellar accent work throughout. Another highlight of this Stagecraft production is Riley Gibson’s lighting design, an evocative interplay of smoke and shadow, darkness and vividity.

With an intriguing lack of music, Tanya Piejus’ sound design utilises silence and recorded sound to good effect, although opening night hiccups mean one important cue is unfortunately late. This is during the door scene in the first half, which I find jarring due to Macdonald’s sudden dramatic turn. There’s an expert build up of fear and thrill in the rest of his performance, and indeed, the production itself. Oftentimes, The Woman in Black is exhilaratingly scary. What fun it is to watch half a show between your fingers!

Pudgy Mediocre White Men Solve Your Problems | Regional News

Pudgy Mediocre White Men Solve Your Problems

Created by: Dylan Hutton and Austin Harrison

BATS Theatre, 18th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Welcome to the Hataitai Bowling Club and Dave and Bryan’s Improvaganza! They’ve just spent six weeks attending community “impro” classes (drop the V to be really cool) and will now solve your problems using their newfound passion and skills. As they claim, “There’s no issue you can’t ‘word at a time’ your way out of!”

Dylan Hutton (playing Bryan) and Austin Harrison (Dave) are veterans of the Wellington improvisation circuit and have created a cute premise and charmingly deliver a simple concept for an hour-long show that delighted its opening night audience. Dave and Bryan are indeed a bit pudgy in their colour-coordinated polo shirts and jeans, but the performers certainly aren’t mediocre as they bounce around their homely set and interact warmly with the crowd.

They’re ably assisted on keyboard by the oddly hirsute, 14-year-old Gabe (Matt Hutton) who needs to go home at 9pm and Scotty (Scott Maxim) who, with his trusty fire extinguisher Old Veronica, provides inspired lighting choices to elevate the action. His spotlighted diversions from the main scenes created some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Improv shows need a hook to distinguish them and in this case Harrison and Hutton turn audience members’ domestic and workplace annoyances into (somewhat dubious) life lessons by reinterpreting them through classic improv games and offering post-scene analysis to the problem’s owner. They achieve their aim of reframing issues such as a snoring girlfriend with varying degrees of success but always with a lot of laughter. They even manage to incorporate a couple of topical references, including the current stoush over funding for Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand’s University of Otago Sheila Winn Shakespeare Festival, and end with a sweet song about their friendship.

While improv is a common feature of Wellington theatre, Harrison and Hutton have created a show that is fresh and engaging with their own energy and problem-solving spin. And I now know why my cat has furballs (something to do with licking the carpet, apparently).

 

 

 

High Rise | Regional News

High Rise

Written by and performed by Cameron Jones

BATS Theatre, 14th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

It’s the early 1980s and Henry Lewis, in a world of nobodies, wants to be a somebody. After a shaky start door-knocking to pitch property deals, he becomes a top real estate salesman, then successfully invests in stocks and shares. He finally achieves his dream of building New Zealand’s first New York-style, deluxe high-rise apartment building in Auckland’s Herne Bay, the Shangri-La (which is still there).

Described as a “solo adventure”, High Rise is a captivating one-man work of extraordinary physical theatre that started life as a Toi Whakaari student project and has grown and expanded into a fully fledged, award-winning tale of hubris and excess. It draws on the Ancient Greek myth of Icarus as Henry’s dubious moral choices lead him to fly too close to the metaphorical sun of financial affluence, causing him to crash and burn.

Cameron Jones uses little more than his body, a briefcase, swivel chair, hard hat, and a stack of papers, plus some well-placed lights and music, to tell Henry’s story. With clown work, self-created sound effects, and outstanding physicality, he brings us along on the road of ‘greed is good’ in an entirely original way. Anyone who remembers the 80s will revel in this yuppie character you love to hate, but this is one who can stand on his head on top of a briefcase holding a yoga pose while cheesy affirmations play.

Jones’ physical theatre prowess makes High Rise highly entertaining and fun, while posing interesting moral questions about the human desire for wealth and status. If you’re sitting in the front row, expect to be drawn literally into Henry’s world as Jones breaks the fourth wall and ad libs with the audience. The poignant ending to the story is a stab in the heart.

High Rise combines great storytelling with strong characterisation and unique presentation from an entirely committed actor to create a production that will leave you pondering the meaning of success long after you leave the theatre.

Sense and Sensibility | Regional News

Sense and Sensibility

Written by: Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay

Directed by: Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay

Cochran Hall, 13th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Jane Austen’s classic tale of restraint versus passion is given a freshen-up for the stage by zooming in on the thoughts of Elinor Dashwood in this new adaptation. The novel is written strongly from Elinor’s point of view, so it’s a logical step for her to become the narrator as well as one of the main protagonists. Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay have resisted the temptation to add much content of their own, a wise choice that allows Austen’s words and stories to shine.

As Elinor, who is on stage for almost the entire play taking part in or quietly watching the action, Amy Vines carries a huge responsibility. She manages it with dignity, grace, and strength as her reserve is offset by the bigger, more histrionic characters around her.

Hellyer and Kay’s decision to use a smaller cast and double several roles is an excellent one. The actors are highly capable and make the most of their opportunities to multi-task. Paul Stone’s boisterous Sir John Middleton and bilious Doctor Harris are a delight, and a moment of comedy gold is provided when Lee Dowsett morphs from the shy and awkward Edward Ferrars into his uncredited second character.

As Elinor’s sister Marianne, around whose love life much of the action revolves, Talia Carlisle is beautifully dramatic, her animated eyebrows deserving a credit of their own. The rest of the cast provide expert support and work together well as an ensemble without the urge to scene-steal.

The large costume team led by Meredith Dooley has done an outstanding job with a lush wardrobe that aptly suits the wealth and class of the characters. Amy Whiterod’s pretty set design, supported by Dave Soper’s lighting, is appropriately Regency as well as allowing the flexibility to house several locations through rearrangement of furniture.

Altogether, this is a successful adaptation and KAT Theatre production that will please Jane Austen fans and entertain those less familiar with her work.

 

Soft Carnage | Regional News

Soft Carnage

Created by: Brynley Stent

BATS Theatre, 11th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Brynley Stent’s got Mummy issues. The character, that is! The real Stent, a well-known New Zealand comedian and actor, plays a version of herself in this solo sketch comedy show, set in a therapist’s office over one painful session that costs $200-and-something but thankfully has a good outcome... in the end.

The whole premise of Soft Carnage is highly entertaining. We watch on as Stent uses humour as a coping mechanism, trying to avoid the hard questions by presenting comedy sketches that exasperate her therapist to no end but delight each of us in turn. Especially when we get handed a Cookie Time or bag of Mexicano Corn Chips. Pro-tip: sit in the front row.

As my plus one points out, solo sketch comedy is hard. Stent nails some sketches with massive energy (particularly when she does parkour), slick transitions, and an excellent incorporation of technology, from projections to sound effects to voiceovers by both automated voices and people with voices that sound automated. The best sketches feature super relatable content, like the torturous process of calling the IRD or getting rid of empty tech boxes. My favourites – which I’ve taken the liberty of naming here – are Peeing at Night, Throw it Away (Kids’ Edition), Bake Sale for Carol, and Mambo Italiano. As you can probably tell, this show is absolute chaos and I’m here for it.

Where I think Soft Carnage would really benefit is in the unpacking of some of the poignant themes within. I’d love to see Stent lean into the vulnerable moments, dive deeper into the big stuff. I absolutely get that humour as avoidance is a running theme of the show, so it’s clever that this literally plays out onstage. At the same time, I think the best comedy is the kind that makes you think, makes you feel, maybe even makes you cry as well as laugh. Stent hits the ball out of the park for the laughs, so I can’t wait to see her bounce the baby to the next level. Inside joke.

Why Are My Parents So Boring? | Regional News

Why Are My Parents So Boring?

Written by: Dan Bain

Directed by: David Ladderman

Tararua Tramping Club, 4th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

What a fun silent show for the kids! My four-year-old (going on 40) son absolutely adores the characters and laughs from his belly as the cast members Laurel Mitchell, aka Mum, and Riley Brophy, aka Dad, start engaging the audience even before the show starts by looking for their oh-so-bored son, portrayed by Damon Manning. The kids all get involved in the hunt and their reactions are so funny.

This KidzStuff Theatre for Children production is suitable for all ages and has every child and parent laughing and participating. It really paints the picture of boring parents and an active, imaginative child. There are some unexpected surprises and tricks that keep you engaged – so much so, that my poor potty-training son almost didn’t go to the loo during the show, because he didn’t want to miss out on anything!

The costumes and props, created by Amalia Calder and David Ladderman, are great and well designed to change with the scenes. Amalia and Chrysalynn Calder did a great job with the sound effects and music, which bring the actions of the characters to life. I also have to mention that the theatre itself is very welcoming and upon entering, you get a whiff of freshly popped popcorn for sale as well as some lollies, and you get a very warm greeting from Tom Kereama. The seating area is versatile, and you have a choice of sitting in rows, along the wall, or even on the carpet right in front of the stage.

I loved asking my son what his favourite part of the show was. He answered that the kite was his favourite. It was pure magic to him, and based on the reaction of the other children, it definitely made an impression.

Why Are My Parents So Boring? is well worth a watch these school holidays!

A Boy Called Piano | Regional News

A Boy Called Piano

Written by: Fa’amoana John Luafutu and Tom McCrory

Directed by: Nina Nawalowalo

BATS Theatre, 4th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I’ve been staring at a blank screen most of the day and still can’t find words that would do A Boy Called Piano justice. How do you write a review when you’re speechless?

This Conch production follows three boys, Piano (Matthias Luafutu), Wheels (Rob Ringiao-Lloyd), and Piwi (Aaron McGregor), who are made wards of state and sent to Ōwairaka Boys’ Home in Auckland 1963. As director Nina Nawalowalo says, “this is the first time the experience of those in state care has come directly to the New Zealand stage told by a man who lived it” – Fa’amoana John Luafutu, whom she calls both a master storyteller and a survivor. I couldn’t agree more.

The Conch’s award-winning documentary feature A Boy Called Piano – The Story of Fa’amoana John Luafutu is woven throughout the show. Aural excerpts are intermingled with Mark Vanilau’s exceptional live piano playing, while shots from the film are projected onto three white fabric panels to great effect. Many of the scenes – especially conversational ones that lean towards realism – take place in front of the panels, while dream or symbolic sequences often unfold behind them. Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting design works in breathtaking synergy with both the performers and projections, particularly when creating dream states, flashbacks, and speckled light that filters down through the recurring theme of water.

The performers go where I’ve not seen many go. Luafutu deftly shifts between adult and child, bringing a gut-wrenching vulnerability to the latter. Ringiao-Lloyd is our vital comic relief and does it brilliantly, translating humour into a coping mechanism for his character, and McGregor gives his all to express unspeakable trauma.

In A Boy Called Piano what’s left unlit, unsaid, unsung still bruises. The volcano erupts and the lava is cooled by humour and restraint before bubbling to the surface again. Nawalowalo sculpts it all together with a featherlight touch or strong hands when needed, only adding to the power, the force, of this landmark work.

Krishnan’s Dairy | Regional News

Krishnan’s Dairy

Written by: Jacob Rajan

Directed by: Justin Lewis

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 17th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I have been lucky enough to see four Indian Ink productions in my time. I loved each one, and each increased my desire to see Krishnan’s Dairy, Jacob Rajan’s breakout solo work that helped launched the prolific theatre company 25 years ago.

With this year’s TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, I finally got the chance to meet Gobi and Zina Krishnan, a married couple from India who run a corner dairy here in Aotearoa. Rajan plays both characters, as well as Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Krishnan’s Dairy entwines the two stories to show that epic love isn’t only found in epic places. Equally, it nestles in the small stuff: the silly squabbles, the safety of home, and the little shops that stock far too many Minties.

Rajan uses half-masks to glide effortlessly between characters. I say glide because even though he often changes masks in full view of the audience, with the exception of the stunning reveal of Mumtaz Mahal (costume design by John Verryt, mask creation by Justin Lewis), blink and you’ll miss it. In the scenes where the transitions are made a deliberate focal point (a hilarious rapid-fire dialogue between the Krishnans for instance), none of the illusion is suspended, none of the magic broken. In fact, it’s all the more marvellous to see the mechanics at play. Gifted doesn’t come close to describing Rajan or director Justin Lewis, who shapes the building blocks of Krishnan’s Dairy with the hands of a master craftsman.

Verryt’s set design shines in a special interaction with the lighting design (original by Helen Todd, development by Cathy Knowsley) that helps us see beyond the veil. Rajan and Conrad Wedde’s compositions (performed by Rajan and Adam Ogle) include a sweet song that ties it all together in a satisfying instance of ring composition. All of these elements take us even further into the magical realm. The result is an unforgettable, inimitable work of theatre that deserves all the acclaim it’s received – and then some.

Gag Reflex: A Scandalous Solo Show  | Regional News

Gag Reflex: A Scandalous Solo Show

Written by: Rachel Atlas

Directed by: Sabrina Martin

BATS Theatre, 16th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

The atmosphere in the theatre is intoxicating as I take my seat for Gag Reflex, on as part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance. Rachel Atlas takes centre stage, dressed to impress, and it’s absolute chaos from then on.

From New York to London, from pornography to family heartbreak, Atlas leads us on a wild ride through her life in any number of flabbergasting professions. She goes through more costume changes than I can count, all designed by Go Go Amy and all flawless. The scenography team of Bekky Boyce and Erika Takahashi have also done a fabulous job with a simple yet effective stage setting.

The piece was produced by George Fowler, and that unmistakable Hugo Grrrl vibe is everywhere. However, this is Atlas’ story, and she claims the space as her own. Every audience member is on the edge of their seat, uproarious in their applause and laughter. Atlas is a born performer and welcome addition to the Wellington theatre scene.

Intertwined into death-defying circus acts and astonishing tales of sex work is a heartfelt message. Powerfully feminist and unapologetically honest, Gag Reflex is a tale of empowerment and autonomy told by a woman who has lived an incredibly full life. Atlas takes her own scandalous exploits and turns them on their head, seizing worth and control from those who would withhold them.

The show is by no means perfect. A number of knives miss their mark (non-fatally) and an unfortunate audio cue mishap steals part of the monologue, but Atlas takes it all in her stride. I question the necessity of ‘The Hand’, but it seems to garner the audience's favour almost as much as The Gimp. I leave the performance energised, elated, and with a strange sense of conspiracy; as though I’ve learnt truths I wasn’t supposed to. Though certainly not for the faint of heart, Gag Reflex is an absolute triumph.

Colour Me Cecily | Regional News

Colour Me Cecily

Written by: Bea Lee-Smith

Directed by: Hilary Norris

BATS Theatre, 15th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Upper Hutt in the 1980s is the newfound home of Cecily, a recent divorcee from a cheating husband in London and star of this joyous production in the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance. Writer Bea Lee-Smith gives a powerhouse performance not only as the adorable Cecily but also as a host of other colourful characters that Cecily meets as she casts off on her own.

Arriving at local pub The Embers, where white wine from a box is the height of sophistication, Cecily meets an eclectic group of women intent on fulfilling their dreams. One wants to travel, another to publish a children’s book, and a third to open her own Italian restaurant. With their encouragement, Cecily joins a watercolour class to rekindle her childhood love of art and from there enters the bright and exciting world of style consultancy with Colour Me Beautiful.

Lee-Smith has performed Colour Me Cecily before and it shows. Constantly switching posture and accent with ease, Lee-Smith takes us on a journey of discovery while always letting us know where we are and who we’re with. Just a small table and its crocheted tablecloth, a chair, a handbag, and four coloured scarves representing the seasons keep her company. The rest is left to our imaginations.

This minimalism is an excellent choice as it allows Lee-Smith’s impressive performance skills to shine. With Hilary Norris’ careful direction and some choice snatches of 80s pop (Golden Brown and White Wedding included), the world of the Hutt in the decade that taste forgot is successfully conjured up, even for those who have never experienced the joy of snacking on Cheds and reduced cream and onion dip while sipping cask wine and ‘having your colours done’.

A delight from beginning to end, Colour Me Cecily is a warm, humorous, and touching tale of personal empowerment at a time when even educated women still had little to look forward to apart from wifely duties and motherhood.

The Changing Shed | Regional News

The Changing Shed

Produced by: Katrina Chandra

Written by: Michael Metzger

BATS Theatre, 15th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Michael Metzger's award-winning PhD performance piece The Changing Shed deserves every iota of praise it has received thus far. Metzger is effortlessly hilarious and instantly relatable to all as he takes us through the trials and tribulations of a queer farmer's son.

From the moment we enter the space, I am entranced. Metzger limbers up as we take our seats then lays out the groundwork, both literally and metaphorically, setting down masking tape crosses to form a map of the Otago area. This wonderfully engrossing technique humanises our protagonist and grounds the story simultaneously. Before long, we are deep into marathon training and chicken raising, seeing both past and present alongside one another.

Metzger's magnetic stage presence and easy charm make him an absolute pleasure to watch. He cracks wise, treats us to a remarkably impressive flower arranging demonstration, and makes regular use of the on-stage treadmill. All the while, he paints a picture of his childhood, of all the things that push him to run. It is a marvellous performance that tugs on the heartstrings of the rightfully packed house.

My only complaint is that there wasn’t more. The piece felt like it was building to something that never quite came, a finale to round the performance out. With such a complex character portrayed by such a talented performer, I would have happily eaten up another 20 minutes of anecdotes and musings.

On as part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, the piece deals with a number of topical issues, primarily bullying and homophobia, and it does so with class and finesse every time. It manages to be hopeful without being preachy, condemning without being hateful. Even the references to assault are somehow tasteful. The Changing Shed takes a snapshot of 1970s Aotearoa and holds it up to the modern day. Some things are still awfully familiar, but the show offers a message of unity and growth. The last thing I would call it is ‘timid’.

Title and Deed | Regional News

Title and Deed

Written by: Will Eno

Directed by: Jeff Kingsford-Brown

Circa Theatre, 14th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Theatre veteran Steven Ray has chosen an extraordinary and challenging piece in Title and Deed to perform as part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance. Although written in 2012, Will Eno’s meandering prose poem is remarkably pertinent to the existential crisis we’ve all been living through for the last two and a half years. The COVID pandemic has made many of us think at some point about the nature of life and death, and what it is to be human. That self-examination is captured beautifully and lyrically in Title and Deed, which is an ultimately uplifting ode to the weirdness of being us.

The skill in Eno’s writing is that it shows us ourselves from a highly quirky outside perspective, that of an unnamed traveller who has recently arrived here with nothing other than a white suit and a bag containing a long stick and an empty box. Is he an alien or is he human? Even by the end of his monologue, I’m not sure. But that doesn’t matter. He tells us plenty about the nature of his unspecified homeland. It is a place of perpetually rumbling blue skies, reverse weddings, and terrible Saturdays where the main exports are sarcasm and uric acid. Despite the traveller’s claim that it’s a weak and dying place, I still have an urge to go there.

Ray’s subtle and engaging performance, Jeff Kingsford-Brown’s unfussy direction, and Niamh Campbell-Ward’s soft lighting design let this strange text comfortably breathe. Thanks to the frequent non sequiturs, Ray occasionally calls “Where am I now?” to the lighting box while staying fully in character. This is a bold and wise choice to avoid the awkward pauses of an actor reaching for his lines in a first-time performance and keeps the quiet energy flowing.

The best theatre makes you think about it well after you’ve left the auditorium and that’s certainly the case with Title and Deed. Long may its blue skies rumble.

Agents Provocateurs  | Regional News

Agents Provocateurs

Written by: Jo Marsh

Directed by: Sameena Zehra

BATS Theatre, 14th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Loud, proud, and disavowed; Agents Provocateurs tells the story of half a dozen female spies throughout history, spanning some 400 years. Each tale of bravery and brutality is accompanied by a pop song parody, with snippets of Jo Marsh’s life threading a narrative together. Though this entire TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance piece is delivered with fierce enthusiasm, I am left feeling like we’ve barely scratched the surface.

The set design I applaud. The stage is set as an archive room out of time, with file boxes scattered everywhere and a sprout of cardboard tubes. Dynamic lighting takes us from scene to scene, from a melodramatic performance realm and back to Marsh’s direct address. These transitions are slick and effective, demonstrating the show's high production value. I’m only slightly perturbed by the sudden appearance of a pair of puppets, which are equal parts amusing and confusing.

The format is established as Marsh takes us through Mata Hari’s journey during WWI. We get the key points of each spy's life, but never much more than that. I feel we miss out on juicy details and the nuance and intrigue that are so inherent to the appeal of spy stories. The songs are fun, the rewriting clever in some places and verging on cringeworthy in others. I’m swept along by Marsh’s passion for her craft and her insatiable fervour as she regales us with each woman's life story.

Throughout the performance, the audience is bombarded with feminist and antifascist sentiments. Marsh reminds us that trans folk have existed for centuries, that women have been fighting out of the spotlight forever, that Nazis are… y’know, bad. While these are all obviously excellent messages, they’re nothing I don’t already know, and Marsh seems hesitant to delve deeper into her subject matter. These are powerful characters and I’d love to learn more about them. Next time I hope to see a more aggressive message from such an powerhouse performer.

Joy | Regional News

Joy

Directed by: Sally Richards and Kerryn Palmer

BATS Theatre, 8th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

What constitutes joy? That’s the question this production seeks to answer.

Conceived in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and commissioned expressly for the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, Joy is a set of five monologues and a sweet vignette written by female and non-binary artists Mel Dodge, Etta Bollinger, Indigo Paul, Elspeth Tilley, Nī Dekkers-Reihana, and Stevie Greeks.

As anyone with a shred of life experience knows, things that bring you joy come with an often-equal measure of pain and that is the great success of this new collection of work. Childbirth, a sibling’s wedding, or the rediscovery of single life after a relationship break-up can bring great joy, but they come hand in glove with fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. As the programme deftly puts it, “joy is a shifting creature” and these writers have captured it with compassion and care.

The three performers, Nī Dekkers-Reihana, Mel Dodge, and Stevie Hancox-Monk, are confident and courageous in owning these stories. They make us laugh, bring a tear to our eyes, and create relatable characters from the excellent writing. Hancox-Monk’s perfectly delivered line, “You’re so nice it bothers me” is my favourite of the night.

The actors are supported by a beautifully simple set and lighting design (Bekky Boyce) that employs soft yellows, oranges, and beiges, with pops of pink to unite the monologues under a strong visual theme. Masterful directing by Sally Richards and Kerryn Palmer, well-balanced sound and music (Matt Parkinson) plus two square frames, an old chair, some textiles, and a handful of props give the actors a comfortable but flexible place to work in and some business to keep them moving. A computer screen with the title and author of each piece subtly lets us know where we are in the narrative.

Not only have this group of artists created a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on the theme of joy, but they have also created a joyful production that engages and enlightens while it entertains.

Back to Square One? | Regional News

Back to Square One?

Written by: Anders Falstie-Jensen

Directed by: Anders Falstie-Jensen

Circa Theatre, 3rd Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, Back to Square One? is a reflective, personally engaging, and intimate view of the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020 inspired by regular Skype conversations between the show’s creator and his 95-year-old grandmother Inga in Denmark. The drawings his daughter and her friend made on their shared driveway during this time were the source of the highly flexible format of the show that consists only of some sort of floor and a big box of coloured chalk, meaning it can be performed pretty much anywhere.

As the audience enters, we’re invited to pick a stick of chalk in our colour of choice and write our names along the edge of the ‘stage’, a simple dotted line. Falstie-Jensen then introduces himself and proceeds to sketch out Inga’s living room where she spent much of her lockdown watching Game of Thrones and Skyping her distant relatives.

By switching characters between himself and Inga with a subtle change of bodily posture, drawing on Inga’s bedtime stories of Danish mythology, and charmingly employing his box of chalk on the floor and walls of Circa Two, Falstie-Jensen weaves a beautiful tale of connectedness and renewal that overcomes the despair of isolation.

Falstie-Jensen also talks directly to the audience throughout and engages us in an exercise of shared connection and experience, so that when he finally poses the question of whether we have gone through all this pandemic-driven anxiety for nothing, we clearly understand the answer. The post-show offer of a delicious, buttery Danish cake and coffee is a lovely final touch.

So much discussion of the COVID-infested world focuses on the negative and it’s refreshing and uplifting to be offered a different way of thinking about what we’ve all seen and felt for the past two-and-a-bit years. Congratulations to The Rebel Alliance for taking the road less travelled.

No Exit | Regional News

No Exit

Written by: Jean-Paul Sartre

Directed by: Joshua Hopton-Stewart

Gryphon Theatre, 2nd Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The source of the contention that “Hell is other people”, No Exit is Jean-Paul Sartre at his bitingly existentialist best.

In Stagecraft Theatre’s impressive production, the three protagonists are as far from fire and brimstone as it’s possible to get in their poppy 1970s TV-show set (Amy Whiterod) with its amoeboid shapes, bright colours, and harsh lights (Devon Heaphy). With only three couches, an abstract bronze sculpture, a doorbell that doesn’t work, and an ominous knife on a shelf, this is a stunningly unbiblical place to spend eternity.

Pacifist journalist Joseph Garcin (Slaine McKenzie) is the first to be introduced to this garishly claustrophobic damnation by a jaded valet (a brief but excellent George Kenward Parker) who has seen it all many times before. Not far behind Garcin is Inez Serrano (Kate Morris), the only one of the three who knows she’s damned, and finally rich socialite Estelle Rigault (Karen Anslow). Their layers of apparent respectability are quickly peeled away as the truth is revealed about why each of them has been sent to The Bad Place. They come to the steady realisation that they are, in fact, each other’s torturers, destined to taunt and tease each other forevermore while those they left behind on Earth forget them.

McKenzie, Morris, and Anslow are equally strong and each inhabits their deeply flawed character with conviction and energy, never letting the pace drop or the latent brutality of these immortals lapse into sympathy. Joshua Hopton-Stewart’s slick direction keeps the movement flowing in the intimate acting area created by a well-chosen three-quarters seating layout that cleverly emphasises the discomfort of watching three people tear each other apart psychologically. The wardrobe (Helen Mackenzie) has a 1940s vibe, while also seeming appropriately modern.

This surprising production succeeds in making it easy to laugh at three vile bodies while having the uncomfortable feeling in the back of your mind that a special kind of Hell could be waiting for all of us.

The Book Addict | Regional News

The Book Addict

Written by: Annie Ruth

Directed by: Robin Payne

BATS Theatre, 30th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Annie Ruth bears all, much to her mother’s dismay, in her autobiographical monologue The Book Addict. The performance makes some bold choices but ultimately falls short of its potential.

I am initially impressed by the set design, which is tasteful and elegant, with piles of books and a martini glass arranged around a barstool. Ruth enters, speaking directly to the audience as if we are old friends. Before long, we are deep in a collection of stories from across the whole of our protagonist’s life. The content is engaging; fascinating tales of love and loss, family and friends. I am utterly envious of Ruth’s adventures across Greece, Aotearoa, and beyond.

The strength of the show is in the universal appeal of powerfully human stories. I am clearly not quite the intended audience, and as such a few of the references and name drops go over my head, but the heart of the piece is relatable. A number of audience members are mentioned by name, which grounds the show in reality but also excludes those of us who don’t know Ruth personally. A little more movement would prevent the piece from becoming static, and I would have appreciated a suicide content warning, but I am engrossed regardless.

Throughout her monologue, Ruth draws from books to help frame and explain her tales. While this is an interesting technique, and I am delighted to recognise a number of her favourite titles, I’m unconvinced of the overall significance of the books. Ruth’s musings on the uncontrollable nature of our lives and the importance of fighting for happiness are interesting but never quite come to fruition, leaving me wondering about the overall message of the play.

Ruth’s natural abundance of charisma carries her through, but I do wish there had been less setup and more punchline. The Book Addict has some golden moments but is more akin to a lecture from a relative than a theatre piece.

Skin Tight | Regional News

Skin Tight

Written by: Gary Henderson

Directed by: Katherine McRae

Running at Circa Theatre until 24th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Based on Denis Glover’s poem The Magpies, Skin Tight follows Elizabeth (Ella Gilbert) and Tom (Arlo Gibson) through the ups and downs, twists and turns of marriage. The play explores their journey with dialogue and movement (Luke Hanna), carrying the beautiful, apt tagline “A muscular piece of poetry”.  

The design elements of this production are exceptional. Brynne Tasker-Poland’s lighting scheme is filled with shadows and highlights a set that looks slick yet rustic, contemporary yet reminiscent of a 20th century farmhouse. Metal framing looms large and still beckons us in. A bathtub filled with water stands at the heart while buckets of apples overflow in the corners. Lucas Neal’s set design takes my breath away and is somehow practical – apparently, the bathtub even drains!

Music is vital to the whole and Oliver Devlin’s emotive compositions together with Ben Kelly’s sound design punctuate a marriage that is at once passionate and safe, deafening and hushed, whole and teetering on a knife-edge. Hanna’s explosive choreography features moments of stillness, softness, tenderness that further accentuate these juxtapositions, ultimately capturing a marriage through movement.

Director Katherine McRae brings all the moving parts together as one, deftly guiding the actors to navigate such peaks and troughs. Gilbert and Gibson pulsate with chemistry and conviction. While the dialogue is a little too heightened for me, it would be hard to find two more capable or better-cast performers to tell this story. 

What’s special about Skin Tight is that no matter your age, whether you’ve been married or not, if you live on a rural farm or in a steel city, something about the work will hook you. You might find little lines of dialogue that ring true, moments of a relationship that you remember, quirks of a couple you can relate to, or you might just hope you’ll get to experience a love like theirs someday.

Midnight Confessions | Regional News

Midnight Confessions

Presented by: Heartbreaker Productions

BATS Theatre, 23rd August 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Four young women (Abby Lyons, Alia Marshall, Anna Barker, and Mia Oudes) come together for an adult sleepover to relive the intimate memories of their girlhood and teenage years. Inspired by the classic play Love and Information by Caryl Churchill, Midnight Confessions is a series of often-amusing, occasionally heart-breaking flashbacks and direct-to-the-audience monologues that traverse many of the difficulties and joys of being female. It starts with a hilarious scene about a stuck menstrual cup and goes uphill from there.

The performers are a seamless and democratic unit who all contributed to the writing, directing, and presenting of this beautiful piece. They work effortlessly and energetically together to share their feelings on celebrity and real-life crushes, pubescent bodily urges, depression, latent lesbian desires, being grown up but still missing your parents, fat shaming, toxic friendships, and much more. This could easily have been a mess of mixed-up ideas, but the skill of this team is such that this isn’t the case and the whole is united under the consistent and enduring themes of friendship, love, and unwavering support of each other.

Rebekah de Roo’s wonderfully creative eye comes to the fore in the set design, projections, and lighting that create a soft, pink-drenched pillow fort that is the setting for and visual guide to the back-and-forth movement of the vignettes through the lifetimes of the four women. A simple wardrobe of black singlets and pale pyjama pants (Nicky Barker) serves well to emphasise that these are experiences all women (and men and non-binary people) can relate to and empathise with. Touches of music (Cameron Fox) and sound (Alia Marshall) appropriately underscore the action.

While young female characters on stage are often still presented as ingénues, jezebels, or troubled teens, it’s refreshing and empowering to see the female perspective given a bold reworking in Midnight Confessions. The voice of the Heartbreaker Productions team is strong and true and deserves a wide audience to appreciate their fun-filled yet meaningful exposition of growing up.

In Blind Faith | Regional News

In Blind Faith

Written and composed by Cadence Chung

Directed by: Lewis Thomson and Hazel Perigo-Blackburn

BATS Theatre, 23rd Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

In Blind Faith shoots for the moon, misses, but lands among the stars regardless. A two-act original musical is a phenomenal undertaking, one which Cadence Chung has demonstrated herself fully capable of achieving. The Otago goldrush never looked so much fun.

Entering the Dome, I find myself apprehensive. There’s no set in sight, and a full band right there on stage. However, my concerns of sparcity and overwhelming music are quickly dismissed; naive new girl Edith (Kassandra Wang) opens the show with a beautiful ballad, and immediately after the stage is flooded with a delightfully Dickensian chorus. I’m swept away into a romantic world of gorgeous gold miners and personified philosophies.

We are quickly introduced to the charming Polly (Tara Terry), who melts my heart throughout with her honest adoration of Edith. Before we can reach a happy ending, though, we meet the dastardly Augustus (Karmeehan Senthilnathan), Disney-villain-seductress Helen (Shervonne Grierson), and grim pessimist Sybil (Lilli Street). Their songs are funky and evocative, their performances just half a step back from melodrama. Senthilnathan’s epistemological comments are genuinely insightful, Grierson clearly has tremendous fun with her role, and Street’s creepy carnival number had my foot tapping.

At its heart, the show is a discussion around personal morals: nihilism versus hedonism, knowledge versus desire. It is a show that doesn’t quite know what it wants to say, but says it wholeheartedly anyway. There are moments that are pleasantly anti-capitalist, but the world is so romanticised that capitalism doesn’t feel like a real threat.

Unfortunately, Chung’s songwriting prowess doesn’t quite carry over to the dialogue; some of the exchanges feel repetitive and on the nose, and I find myself yearning for the next song.

Despite its narrative imperfections and bemusing finale, however, In Blind Faith manages to be a slick, well-produced, unapologetically sapphic musical that will appeal to all.

The Trojan War | Regional News

The Trojan War

Presented by: A Slightly Isolated Dog

Directed by: Leo Gene Peters

BATS Theatre, 16th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A Slightly Isolated Dog creates interactive theatre that mashes music, sketch comedy, improv, and physical theatre into something that can only really be described as stage magic. It’s difficult to put into words and even harder to capture the joy it brings, but here goes nothing mon chéri.

Faux-French fashion icons Cherie Moore, Jack Buchanan, Susie Berry, Andrew Paterson, and Jonathan Price lure the audience into BATS Theatre by dolling out compliments like candy. I have always suspected that A Slightly Isolated Dog makes interactive theatre enjoyable for even the shyest of audience members by lavishing praise on them – you know you’re not onstage to be the butt of someone’s joke, but to be positively fawned over. How delightful and affirming.

In The Trojan War, we’re treated to the story of the 10-year war that started over Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. Cast members intersperse Greek mythology with modern-day anecdotes about key figures that give us an indication of their character, for instance that Helen is the kind of person who’d make an effort to remember your name at a UN conference. I’d be really interested to see the company tackle Shakespeare as I think this novel approach could make the Bard far more accessible.

With sound cues for characters and killer music, Sam Clavis’ sound design helps audiences keep their place in the chaos which is vital, because let me tell you, The Trojan War is hectic. There’s fighting! Gods! Rap! Garbage can helmets! Miley Cyrus! Cast members talk over each other constantly but somehow their little asides still feel like they were made just for you. I want to be in 10 places at once so I don’t miss a moment of brilliance.

These gifted performers and improvisers together with the genius of Leo Gene Peters have created something explosive and remarkable here. There’s nothing else like it and nothing I’d want more out of a night at the theatre.

Tea with Terrorists | Regional News

Tea with Terrorists

Written by: Sameena Zehra

Directed by: Sabrina Martin

Running at Circa Theatre until 27th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In Tea with Terrorists, Sameena Zehra shares stories of a fascinating life lived and still being lived in. From wandering outside the green zone in war-torn Kabul to tales of Kashmir set against a backdrop of civil unrest, arguing with mullahs to having a cup of titular tea with titular terrorists, Zehra intricately weaves poetic sparkle through a dark comedy show that centres on family, belonging, and hope.

Tea with Terrorists started out as a stand-up performance and has morphed into a solo show, retaining the best bits of both. Zingy one-liners pepper stories textured with a depth you don’t often experience in comedy sets. My absolute favourite aspect of stand-up is hark-backs to earlier jokes that make the audience feel like they’re in on something, and at 70 minutes, Tea with Terrorists has several clever instances of this. I’m sure anyone watching will agree with me when I reference the stalking sheep here. And Grandma!

As funny as Tea with Terrorists is, you might have gauged from the title that it does deal with heavier subject matter. Zehra’s consummate control of humour balances the light and the dark, the silly and the sombre, sobering the audience even as we chuckle in our seats. It’s a fine line that only a master of storytelling and comedy could straddle.

Music (Mike Mckeon, composer and music director) is used to great effect and not once for the sake of it, never overshadowing a performer who could comfortably hold a room captive in complete silence. Marcus McShane’s lighting scheme gorgeously accentuates the bright reds and oranges of Isadora Lao’s warm and welcoming set, taking a less-is-more approach during the action. Showing restraint in the lighting and sound design is the perfect choice – both are subtle, sophisticated, and allow Zehra to shine. 

To watch Tea with Terrorists is to be a part of something special.

Apartment | Regional News

Apartment

Written by: Tama Smith

Directed by: Tama Smith and Belinda Campbell

Gryphon Theatre, 3rd Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Set in April 2020 during the first nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, Apartment centres on a disparate group of tenants in a Wellington apartment block as they negotiate life, relationships, and work during an unprecedented period of social isolation.

After a rather slow start with three lengthy monologues, the pace, energy, and humour kick in when young supermarket worker Hendric (a charming Austin Harrison) catches a ride home with Uber driver Ben (Tim Gruar). A shoutout here to whoever built Ben’s car, which was the highlight of a clever, multi-level set design (Tama Smith), excellently and effectively lit by Scott Maxim.

From there, the various characters talk to each other or directly to the audience about their experiences of the pandemic. Particularly touching is nurse Marissa (Helen Jones) who trudges exhaustedly between home and work and receives disturbing voice messages from the UK where her elderly mother is gravely ill with the virus.

Apartment bills itself as “A play about us, two years ago” and that is exactly what it delivers. However, I would have been more interested in a less literal take on this concept given we’re still well inside the pandemic and a good chunk of the audience was wearing masks, unlike the actors in the supermarket scenes who oddly weren’t.

The play shines brightest in the scenes of absurdist humour, such as Adele (Lucy Fulford) venturing to the supermarket in ridiculous homemade PPE to sort out the delivery failure of her online shopping order, and her and Hendric meeting unmasked in the apartment block elevator.

At almost 90 minutes, Apartment is long for a one-act play. More character development and funny moments would turn this into a successful full-length play that allows for a toilet break and more time to reflect on the themes being canvassed.

All power to Smith, co-director Belinda Campbell, and their cast and crew for taking on these themes and to Wellington Repertory Theatre for taking a punt on a new work.

Cinderella | Regional News

Cinderella

Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet

St James Theatre, 3rd Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) makes a long-awaited return to the St James Theatre with the Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella. Choreographed by Loughlan Prior, with music by Claire Cowan and costuming by Emma Kingsbury, this ballet is ambitious with shades of a Baz Luhrmann epic.

Prior and his cohort of co-creators have taken the traditional Cinderella story and given it a modern twist. It explores the familiar plotline of navigating love and the social constructs that come with it, but in this iteration Prince Charming and Cinderella are not the power couple. Instead they are forging separate relationships, Cinderella with The Royal Messenger and Prince Charming with a prince from a neighbouring kingdom. Perhaps Prior and RNZB have taken a gamble with this interpretation for ‘traditional’ ballet audiences, but it absolutely works and is a welcome shift into the contemporary space.

Cinderella is danced deftly by the ever-graceful Mayu Tanigaito, while Prince Charming is performed by Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, who demonstrates tight technique and balletic discipline. Laurynas Vėjalis and Shae Berney are cast as the love interests, Vėjalis as The Royal Messenger and Berney as Prince Dashing. Both prove excellent partners to Tanigaito and Guillemot-Rodgerson. Entwining and connecting through ethereal choreography, the pas de deux between Guillemot-Rodgerson and Berney are particularly touching. Prior’s artistry and sensitivity shines brightest in these duet sequences.

There is a lot to absorb throughout the performance. Orchestra Wellington performs Claire Cowan’s dynamic composition with panache; however, there are times where the symphony overwhelms the dance, and I miss key moments of magic trying to study Emma Kingsbury’s elegant costuming. But I have never sat in a ballet audience that has whooped and hollered quite like Cinderella’s audience.

There is beautiful synergy between the dancers on the stage, who look like they are genuinely having fun – although some seem to struggle with the more choreographically loose scenes. It’s not easy to ask a ballet dancer to fall over on purpose. Prior’s retelling of the classic tale holds you captive and breathes fresh air with clever comedic marks and energetic, modernised choreography.

Girl From the North Country | Regional News

Girl From the North Country

Written by: Conor McPherson

Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan

Directed by: Conor McPherson

The Opera House, 23rd Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Girl From the North Country weaves more than 20 Bob Dylan songs into the lives of 13 wayward souls living through the Great Depression in Minnesota, 1934. Nick Laine (Peter Kowitz) and his wife Elizabeth (Lisa McCune), who suffers from dementia, their alcoholic son Gene (James Smith), and their adopted, pregnant daughter Marianne (Chemon Theys) live in an old guesthouse. Characters from all walks of life wander through: the formerly wealthy Mr and Mrs Burke (Greg Stone and Helen Dallimore) and their son Elias (Blake Erickson), who has a cognitive disability; the widow Mrs Neilsen (Christina O’Neill); the corrupt Reverend Marlowe (Grant Piro); and a young boxer by the name of Joe Scott (Elijah Williams). Narrating the crossroads and intersections of their lives is the Laine family physician, Dr Walker (Terence Crawford).

With so many characters to factor in, some storylines aren’t revisited and don’t resolve – like an instance of blackmail against Mr Burke and the ill-fated love of childhood sweethearts Jean and Katherine Draper (Elizabeth Hay). Nevertheless, I’m invested in everyone onstage. Some characters I hate, like the predatory Mr Perry (the oft-hilarious Peter Carroll), while some I love – especially Elizabeth thanks to McCune’s brilliant comedic timing and vocally unbelievable performance of Like a Rolling Stone.

Vocally unbelievable suitably sums up the entire cast and ensemble. Theys’ Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?), Williams’ Slow Train, and O’Neill’s Pressing On leave me shaking my head in disbelief, while Erickson’s Duquesne Whistle is both shocking and phenomenal.

The production strikes an interesting balance between the over-the-top stage theatrics that come with a show of this scale, juxtaposed against a neutral, grubby palette and of course, the pensive poetry in motion of the great Bob Dylan. This results in moments of softness and stillness that I often crave but rarely get from a big Broadway musical.

Girl From the North Country paints a deeply affecting portrait of loss, hardship, and resolution – humanity’s innate capacity to persist, survive, against bleak odds. I’ll remember it for years and years to come.

The July Project | Regional News

The July Project

Presented by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Greta Casey-Solly with musical direction by Hayden Taylor

Te Auaha, 16th Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The July Project is a theatrical concert performed by a cast of 14, many of whom play instruments, and an excellent band of four – conductor Hayden Taylor (keys), Bec Watson (percussion), Steve ‘Shack’ Morrison (guitar), and Logan Hunt (violin). While some songs are softer and sweeter than other rowdier ones, they’re all big, with a large portion of the setlist comprising musicals like Waitress, Into the Woods, and Songs for a New World.

The two pieces from Groundhog Day: The Musical are among my favourites for their comedy. Aimée Sullivan gives a masterful performance of One Day, while Stuck, featuring a large ensemble centred on Jackson Burling, has the audience laughing out loud – and loudly at that. Third up on the bill, Stuck is where The July Project starts to really shine.  

The setlist order means sometimes the energy is brought up by a raucous number like Hundred Days performed by Aine Gallagher and William Duignan, the memory of which still brings a grin to my face as it circles around my head, only for a power ballad to swoop in (Jade Merematira’s unbelievable My Future) just when the audience is getting ready to boogie in their seats. That same juxtaposition plays out earlier in the electric Over and Done With, followed by Cailin Penrose and Ben Emerson’s Simple and True, which envelops me in whole-body chills. ‘Scuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. On that note, a special mention to the te reo rendition of Don’t Dream It’s Over by Merematira, Burling, and Mia Alonso-Green for the shivers it shoots up my spine.

There’s a 70s aesthetic I don’t quite understand (although it makes for a colourful picture), nor am I clear on the theme or what ties the songs together. But ultimately, this is all small fish for a show that makes us feel part of something special, where a radiant cast fizzes with genuine camaraderie and more talent than you could slap a banjo at. Thanks to WITCH Music Theatre for an utterly joyful experience.

Wonderkind | Regional News

Wonderkind

Created by: Timothy Fraser, Emma Rattenbury, Ana Lorite, and Kerryn Palmer

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer

Circa Theatre, 9th Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

A magical way to kickstart the school holidays is to go see Wonderkind! Tim (Timothy Fraser) and Em (Emma Rattenbury) take you on a magical journey exploring the deep oceans, the hot savannah plains, and even the abyss of space – all while remaining in one room. Their friendship and imaginations inspire their young audience to join them on their adventure, which excites the children and parents alike.

The play emphasises visual and sound effects that can be understood by various age groups. The sound effects and music by composer and sound designer Craig Senglelow are on cue with the lighting (AV and lighting design by Sean Coyle), enhancing the different scenes. The well-executed combination of the lights and music transports you to where the characters are, taking you to the imaginary world that Tim and Em envision. The props really surprise you at how simple, everyday objects can be anything you want them to be.

Puppet designer and performer Ana Lorite is brilliant. The puppets are so well designed and portrayed that you barely notice her in the background. They really enhance the imaginary worlds and have the children laughing at their silliness. The shadow puppets give a different visual effect to the physical puppets, adding mystery and flow to the many environments that are explored.

Along with the other children, my three-year-old son was excited and captivated throughout the whole show, giggling away and commenting on all the wonderful discoveries in the play. He loved the puppets and was in awe of the light show that changed with the different scenes. The performers kept him and others engaged and involved with interaction. I asked him what his favourite part of Wonderkind was and he commented that he loved the animals, the planets, the music, and the dancing – so our overall experience is that it is definitely worth a watch.

Ngā Rorirori | Regional News

Ngā Rorirori

Written by: Hone Kouka

Directed by: Hone Kouka

Circa Theatre, 25th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

“I want to make something that I’ve never seen before in Aotearoa.” These are the words of celebrated playwright Hone Kouka (Bless the Child) who describes Ngā Rorirori as a culmination of three artforms that intrigue him: dance, farce, and theatre. I couldn’t put it better myself: Ngā Rorirori is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I doubt I will ever see anything like it again.

Pillow (Regan Taylor) and Manuela (Mycah Keall) Rorirori stand to come into some moolah from their marae, which could become a cash cow if they impress the Chief Executive of the Department of ‘Whenua, Whakapapa and Whatever’ Ripeka Goldsmithworthy (Hahna Nichols). Newly heartbroken filmmaker Stacey Li Paul (Nomuna Amarbat) documents Pillow’s life while he tries to dazzle Manuela’s partner Rere Ahuahu (Sefa Tunupopo) instead in a classic case of mistaken identity with hilarious consequences.

I could tell you that you’re in for a surprise when Ngā Rorirori segues from dance to theatre, but I don’t think that would cover it. We open with contemporary choreography (Braedyn Togi) that aches and thrusts to measured, precise beats (compositions and karanga by Sheree Waitoa, compositions by Maarire Brunning Kouka and Reon Bell, who infuse a hip-hop and R&B flavour into the sound design). And then we’re bowled over by an unrestrained tornado of colour, sound effects, physical theatre, and clowning in scenes where actors lip sync to dialogue performed by a separate vocal cast.  Only the characters of Pillow and Stacey share the same actor both onstage and off it.

The dubbing is super jarring at first but ultimately serves to heighten the dialogue so it can thrive in the magical, elevated realm of Ngā Rorirori. Cohesion is achieved here because if naturalism was integrated at any point, it would stand in too stark a contrast with… well, everything else! One can’t really interact with a surtitle machine come to life and act normal about it now, can they?

Elements of cinema come into play with said surtitles, which incorporate te reo translations (Hōhepa Waitoa) to great effect. Aspects of French farce and melodrama, Italian commedia dell'arte, Broadway musicals, children’s TV shows, and more influences than I can count are woven into a work where te ao Māori beats fast, hard, and loud at the centre.

All the while, actors throw mammoth energy into delivering and honouring Ngā Rorirori. How big, how bizarre, how beautiful.

The Final Hours Hour | Regional News

The Final Hours Hour

Written by: Ben Volchok

Directed by: Sandy Whittem

BATS Theatre, 14th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Alone in a dripping, derelict, dinghy basement at the end of the world, Victor Bravo (Ben Volchok) hosts a radio programme called The Final Hours Hour. It’s quite possibly the only radio programme on quite possibly the only radio station, Apocalypse FM. In the midst of a perpetual nuclear winter where the only thing that grows is onions, Victor endures with just a few things to keep him company. He has an old iPod, some tapes, a cassette player, a telephone, and an action figure with an onion for a head. Onion Boy watches on, bemused, while Victor valiantly insists: “It’s a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful day”.

Written before COVID but taking on a new meaning post-pandemic, The Final Hours Hour is an exploration of loss and loneliness, isolation and desolation. And onions. The onions are important. In fact, the smell of onions permeates the BATS Theatre Studio, especially after Victor blends them to make a banana milkshake sans banana, sans milk, and sans shake. Just onions, then.

The Final Hours Hour has a strong concept. We watch a man try and fail to distract himself in the unrelenting face of the apocalypse, and for brief interludes we too forget his inevitable fate. We have hope when he does. We laugh when he makes jokes, although he rarely laughs himself. And we – or at least I – become inextricably invested in The Continuing Adventures of Onion Boy, especially when a space alien gets involved. Volchok’s performance and speech work here are excellent.

The scope of Victor’s loss plays out painstakingly in an inspired and cluttered set, with sound and lighting design (all three by Volchok) emphasising place and hopelessness. The slow build is cut short by one extended scene of sorrow that doesn’t impact me as much as watching Victor just try, desperately, devastatingly, to carry on.

Humour and pathos balance precariously on diced onions in The Final Hours Hour. While they sometimes topple a tad, largely, they stand their ground.

The Professio(nah)ls | Regional News

The Professio(nah)ls

Presented by: Sincere Muckabouts

Te Auaha, 4th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Three fresh-faced, besuited but barefoot office workers unpack their desks and take to their keyboards for the first time. Their introduction to the world of work starts nicely enough as the two main protagonists (Caspar Ilschner and Otto Kosok) settle into their bland pods, wrestle with a box of tangled cables, joke with each other, and persuade their computers to work. However, as they get sucked into the unrelenting grind of corporatism, they are compelled to battle with constant phone calls from unseen managers, tedious meetings, a presentation about the latest financial report, business jargon, the effects of excessive caffeine consumption, and an overbearing competitiveness that descends into a literal and figurative fight for superiority. Finally, a headless, paper-stuffed boss arrives in a red-drenched nightmare to end the destruction and chaos.

For anyone who has spent time in an office job, this is all painfully familiar, but it’s unlikely you’d have ever seen your big business experiences presented in this way before. Ilschner and Kosok are consummate physical theatre cum dance performers whose athletic and carefully choreographed movements frequently mirror each other, only to be thrown into conflict as their initially friendly banter turns to vicious rivalry. They rarely speak, so their physicality is the main channel for their sophisticated symbolism and satire, which they deliver with great skill.

Martin Greshoff, as the third corporate lackey, provides a stunning live electronic soundtrack from his desk. His stark melodies are mixed with dial-up modem sounds, computer bleeps and dings, and disembodied voices. A further shoutout to Greshoff for his trombone-playing, which is a tender final counterpoint to his jangling digital soundscape.

Hollie Cohen’s design makes clever use of white cardboard boxes, paper screens, and animated projections that beautifully support the idea of an office environment while allowing the performers to create carnage in safety.

At one point in this highly original performance, a distant voice asks, “Do you work well under pressure?” The answer for these three is clearly and unequivocally, “Nah”.

Rope | Regional News

Rope

Written by: Patrick Hamilton

Directed by: Paul Stone and Helen Cashin

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 11th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

At first glance, Rope looks like your classic British murder mystery. There’s a murder, a motive, and a swanky cocktail party where the whisky flows freer than the secrets. There are also murderers, Wyndham Brandon (an unwavering Slaine McKenzie) and the erratic Charles Granillo (Tom Foy). Before you cry out that I’ve spoiled the show, I haven’t, and that’s what makes Rope so interesting. From the very first scene we know whodunnit and why.

The play then becomes an exercise in suspense. Will the party guests find the bones in the chest that they dine on? Will the murdered boy’s dad (Sir Johnstone Kentley, played with presence and pluck by co-director Paul Stone) discover his son lies crumpled but two feet away?

Because suspense is so integral to Rope, there are a handful of things that would get this production cracking along with more electricity. The pacing could accelerate in some scenes, particularly the long opener in the dark and the finale, where a slower build to the climax means it doesn’t have as much impact. Snappier exchanges of dialogue and more staccato vocal deliveries from the cast, plus tense music used more frequently (sound design by Jake Davis), would help to up the stakes. Davis’ lighting is often used to great effect, especially with a few well-timed blackouts, and there is an excellent rainy soundscape that could be ramped up with thunder and lighting.

The opulent set (Oliver Mander) positions the chest as a character in itself, while Hayley Knight and Wendy Howard’s sleek wardrobe adds to the absorbing aesthetic of an evening in the 1920s. Stone and co-director Helen Cashin’s decision not to modernise the setting proves to be a good one.

Special mention to Tim Macdonald as the gormless and charming Kenneth Raglan and Mandy Eeva Watkins as Leila Arden, who takes delight in everything ghastly. Together with Susannah Donovan (always a highlight), the fabulously French Stephanie Gartrell, and the shrewd Nick Edwards, these two outstanding performers complete the committed cast of this dark and sinister Wellington Repertory Theatre production.

Snapchat Dude Live! | Regional News

Snapchat Dude Live!

Directed by: Holly Chappell-Eason

The Opera House, 31st May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

You may recognise writer, actor, director, and comedian Tom Sainsbury from Wellington Paranormal or Give Us A Clue, a televised charades gameshow hosted by Paula Bennett. The former deputy prime minister of New Zealand is one of the many politicians Sainsbury has parodied on social media app Snapchat, so working with her on the show was quite the hoot, he tells us between endearing drags of his imaginary cigarette. Endearing because as he says, he doesn’t smoke in real life, only in his reenactments of it.

Snapchat Dude Live! is a mix of banter, storytelling, and Sainsbury’s famous Snapchat satires of middle New Zilunders. Snap videos of these impressions are projected onto two screens shaped like smartphones that form the centerpiece of the show (set by Chris Reddington, technical by Peter van Gent and Paul Randall). With wigs, a few costume staples, clever scripting, and whip-smart timing, Sainsbury interacts with pre-recordings of his characters live to tell a story in real time. And what a story it is!

I never thought I’d be so invested in a quietly sensitive lumberjack and a not-alcoholic cat lady who played hockey in high school. But Gav and Liz, I love you and I love your love.

Sainsbury brings his characters to life with a glint in his eye and a spring in his step. He adds a layer of depth to the shallowest of them and makes me like even the most unlikeable ones (although still screw you Tracey and Stacey) with the strength of his storytelling and performance.

I’d love to see Sainsbury’s confidence come up a notch when he’s interacting with the audience as himself. He tells some killer jokes and personal anecdotes that he doesn’t quite let land, moving on too quickly when we’re still busy laughing. I hope this doesn’t come out of a fear that he’s not as funny as his characters, because he certainly is.

Wicked fun and unexpectedly touching, Snapchat Live! is a blast from beginning to end with all the snooty cats in between.

Sublime Interludes | Regional News

Sublime Interludes

Created by: Bjӧrn Åslund and Tabitha Dombroski

Circa Theatre, 26th May 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Sublime Interludes is created and performed by recent New Zealand School of Dance graduates Bjӧrn Åslund and Tabitha Dombroski, and it had its first staging in the 2022 New Zealand Fringe Festival. Through a minimalist set and evocative choreography, the work seeks to explore the highs and lows of human existence in a raw and unrefined way. The hour-long performance is a hypnotic journey through varying types of fear and anxiety, from the feeling of isolation, hopelessness, loneliness, to the ultimate battle or acceptance of those demons.

Åslund and Dombroski make a striking choreographic pair. Through closely danced duets and physicality they convey an impressive sense of one another’s presence and movement story. There is something special about a duo on stage, which allows more opportunity for the audience to understand and get to know the artists behind the work. For the emotionally charged and vulnerable purpose of Sublime Interludes, this is an ideal composition.

The dancers shift seamlessly between moments of serenity and soothing patterns then into extreme hyperactivity, which successfully emphasises the unpredictability of depression and anxiety. While they are both lovely to watch, their strength as performers shines in the more tender and balletic sequences. They easily create eloquent shapes with their bodies and leap deftly across the stage, highlighting elements of classical training.

Despite tackling a heavy theme, the creators ease the load by interweaving elements of humour and lightheartedness. In one scene, Åslund and Dombroski leap and spin across the stage, with large smiles on their faces to the tune of Baby Shark. And at the end we witness the performers coming to an acceptance and achieving reconnection, which is both beautiful and heart-breaking.

Sublime Interludes and the respective artists show a lot of promise, and their partnership is compelling, but there may still be a degree of untapped energy or confidence holding them back. I believe that with time and perhaps a few more performances under their belts, they will be able to uncover and cultivate their full potential.    

Too Much Hair | Regional News

Too Much Hair

Presented by: Butch Mermaid

Created by: Ania Upstill and William Duignan

BATS Theatre, 24th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Too Much Hair is a musical cabaret about gender euphoria (the state of bliss and comfort that happens when our gender expression is aligned with our identity). Starring Ania Upstill, William Duignan, JTHAN Morgan, and Felix Crossley-Pritchard, it feels like hanging out with your friends at a house party. With a band. And rainbow glitter everywhere. Everyone’s wearing sequins. You’re inside but you can pretty much guarantee unicorns and bunnies are frolicking around in the garden, where there are almost certainly fairy lights strung up in the trees. Honestly, it feels like the best house party ever.

Joyful is the best word for Too Much Hair and I’m going to keep coming back to it, not for a lack of access to a thesaurus, but because it’s the most appropriate and accurate way to describe this show. It makes me feel joyful and the cast radiates joy at every turn, particularly in songs like Joyfriend (complete with rap segment, kudos Upstill) and Affirmed in a Bookshop, a rocky number with killer guitar riffs by Duignan and rowdy vocals from Crossley-Pritchard, who plays keys beautifully throughout the show.

The structure is much like a concert, where audiences are treated to a considered setlist with interludes of banter outlining the context of the songs. Spoken word poems are woven throughout, with the three-part Traveller a poignant highlight. Tony Black’s lighting design captures the starlight in the performers’ eyes in these deep and emotional segments that fill my tummy with butterflies.

Another highlight is Morgan’s jaw-dropping performance of Monster, with powerhouse vocals that elicit many a whoop from the starstruck crowd. Monster further illustrates co-creators Upstill and Duignan’s expert navigation of the bouncy and the still, the moving and the silly, the joyful and the tender.

Too Much Hair moves a mile a minute and is so fun. It knocks you right off your feet with colour and sparkle (costume design by Sarah Bell, set design by Jade Alborn). And the titular song? Still stuck in my head!

Cringeworthy – The 80s | Regional News

Cringeworthy – The 80s

Directed by: Andrea Sanders

Circa Theatre, 20th May 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

I should state upfront that the 1980s is my decade. I turned 13 in 1984 and my iTunes library is even now loaded with hits from that era. This also seemed to be the case for much of the well-sauced preview night audience at Circa as Cringeworthy – The 80s took to the stage in all its big-haired, Lycra-clad, fluoro glory.

Beneath a giant glitterball, the cast of four (Andrea Sanders, Devon Neiman, Susie Dunn, and Matt Mulholland) energetically pump out Kiwi classics by everyone from Split Enz and Jenny Morris to The Mockers and The Holidaymakers in a first half dedicated to homegrown talent. The fact that three-quarters of the cast weren’t even alive in the 1980s doesn’t deter them from fully embracing the decade that taste forgot. Despite occasionally erratic sound levels and fuzzy mics, they intersperse the pop favourites with factoids about 1980s Kiwi history to knowing murmurs from the audience. A recurring theme is the unfortunate trend for New Zealand bands of the time to move to Australia to find fame as the local music scene wasn’t developed enough for their ambitions.

The energy and cheese amp up in the second half when the cast explode onto the stage with Mi-Sex and follow it with a non-stop deluge of British New Wave hits from the likes of The Human League, Culture Club, and Depeche Mode. Moving onto dance movies and power ballads, Sanders and Dunn’s rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, complete with billowing sheet, is the highlight of the show for me.

With impressive dance moves, especially from Neiman and Mulholland’s lizard-like hips, strong singing voices, a gorgeously pink set (Shiloh Dobie), funky lighting (Joshua Tucker), and ridiculous get-ups (Sanders and Creative Show Off Costume Hire), this show is fun with a capital F. Audience participation, singalongs, and clapping are strongly encouraged and don’t forget your lighters (read cell phone torches) for the finale of Crowded House’s Hey Now.

Long live the 80s!

Bunny | Regional News

Bunny

Written by: Barnie Duncan

Directed by: Barnie Duncan

BATS Theatre, 17th May 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Having thoroughly enjoyed last year’s Taphead, another show by comedic polymath Barnie Duncan was too good an opportunity to pass up. Written in the wake of the death of his adored mum Robyn, Bunny is a much more personal performance exploring grief through his love of clubbing.

For a bit over an hour, Duncan takes us on an acid trip of verbal and physical comedy accompanied, and sometimes facilitated, by a scrolling LED sign. This effective piece of technology is by turns illustrative, mocking, and directorial, asking us to laugh and applaud at appropriate moments and becomes a sidekick character to Duncan.

Duncan aptly describes Bunny as “a porcelain vase wrapped in a protective layer of dumb jokes”. His trademark dad jokes are here (“That’s a good sign”, he says as he points to a kind word passing across the face of his digital companion), but comedy is best when it comes from a place of vulnerability and it’s the segments where he talks openly about his mum’s decline and eventual death that are the strength and heart of this show.

In between these short and more serious ruminations are entertaining mimed sequences of a hard night’s clubbing to a banging house music soundtrack by DJ and producer Dick ‘Magik’ Johnson and what a David Attenborough documentary might look like while high on LSD. Duncan’s slow-mo butterfly causing a confused turtle to cry so it can drink his tears is something I won’t quickly forget. His alternative meaning of clubbing (no seals were harmed during the making of this show) and his break from the nightclub for a sneaky cigarette morphing into a male emperor penguin carrying an egg on his feet during the polar winter were equally memorable.

Having steadfastly refused to offer up the emotional denouement of his show, Duncan leaps back into hardcore dancing and then delivers it anyway to stunning effect. For a hilariously unique take on grief, Bunny is hard to beat.

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit? | Regional News

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit?

Directed by: Luke Eisemann

Dillinger’s Brasserie & Bar, 14th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

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

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

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

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

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

Dry Spell | Regional News

Dry Spell

Presented by: Footnote New Zealand Dance

Opera House, 11th May 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

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

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

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

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

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

Translations  | Regional News

Translations

Written by: Brian Friel

Directed by: Mary Coffey

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 14th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

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

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

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

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

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

Follow The Money | Regional News

Follow The Money

Presented by: Long Cloud Youth Theatre

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

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

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

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

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

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

His/Herstory | Regional News

His/Herstory

Written by: Kate JasonSmith and Jan Bolwell

Directed by: Jan Bolwell and Kerryn Palmer

Circa Theatre, 23rd Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Booty Calls: The Rebooty | Regional News

When Booty Calls: The Rebooty

Presented by: Comedy Gold

Directed by: Troy Etherington

BATS Theatre, 22nd Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

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

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

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

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

Timberrr…! | Regional News

Timberrr…!

Written by: Damon Andrews and Matt Chamberlain

Directed by: Damon Andrews

Circa Theatre, 8th Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

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

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

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

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

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

UNDOING | Regional News

UNDOING

Presented by: House of Sand

BATS Theatre, 7th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

When you are confronted by three naked forms and an existential Ed Harris-sounding voiceover, you could be in for either emotional catharsis or an eye-rolling debacle. House of Sand’s UNDOING treads a fine line between both. 

Billed more toward performance art, UNDOING fuses movement, spoken word, and physical theatre into an absurdist work that is meant to be interpreted subjectively by the audience. Sometimes contemporary work claims that it’s ‘totally subjective’ but often there’s an underlying message and as an audience member you’re ‘too uncultured’ to see it. But House of Sand feels genuine in the sentiment that you should read into and connect with what you want. Occasionally it’s nice not to think too hard when you go to the theatre.   

Led by director, choreographer, and producer Eliza Sanders, UNDOING is carried by a cohort of young dancers whose bodies contort and convulse in equally grotesque and gorgeous ways. Not every performer is technically perfect, but it suits the raw intention of the show. It feels like the epitome of a slow burn, with the dancers repeating synchronised sequences and writhing on the ground. It would be remiss not to mention one of the focal points being the isolation of a dancer who is tasked with taking the duration of the show to cross from one end of the stage to the other. Every now and then I would find myself focusing on this lone dancer, just to determine how much longer the show had to go on.

In between moments of cringingly ‘self-aware’ monologues and inexplicable grunting, there were instances of well-thought-out choreography and resonance. Towards the end, the performers engage in more energetic bouts of movement coming to a crescendo as the isolated dancer finally meets the other side of the stage.

UNDOING feels like a brain dump of ideas and feelings, possibly reflective of surviving the various lockdowns or pushing through a creative block. It certainly won’t tick the boxes for everyone but there is something to be said for House of Sand’s confident approach to creativity and performance.          

Sundays at Ira’s  | Regional News

Sundays at Ira’s

Created by: Jane Keller and Michael Nicholas Williams

Directed by: KC Kelly

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Apr

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Jane Keller’s great-aunt Alice doesn’t like to name drop but she was a close personal friend of Ira Gershwin’s. In fact, Alice lived in the apartment below Ira and was often privy to the ceiling-shaking soirées he would throw after the last Broadway performance of the week – the Sunday matinée. The likes of Noël Coward, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter would also attend these lavish parties, forming the soundtrack for Sundays at Ira’s.  

Keller intersperses spoken excerpts of Alice’s diary with performances of iconic ditties from the 1930s, which I’m ashamed to admit I don’t recognise half of. I’m not the target demographic for this show but I can appreciate the joyous vibrato ringing in my ears as many of my fellow audience members sing along.

I can also appreciate the exceptional piano playing of Michael Nicholas Williams, the lovely, sparkly outfits and set adorned with art deco statement pieces (Meredith Dooley and Keller), and Keller’s strong vocal performance.

Name dropping is a running theme and joke throughout Sundays at Ira’s but I’d love to hear more about the people with these big names. Thanks to Keller’s humorous rendition of Vodka it quickly becomes my standout number, but I don’t learn much about the people who wrote it, including George Gershwin who is mentioned countless times. I understand these people are famous but I struggle to connect with them or indeed with Alice herself, so little do I know of her or her story. More of a human element woven throughout the story would help make the music more accessible to younger generations like myself.

Keller is one of my favourite actors and has huge, effortless stage presence. I’d love to see a little more choreography or movement in the songs, plus more direct eye contact. Keller often adopts a distant, faraway look when she starts to sing, and while her eyes capture the light beautifully, I crave more intimacy and connection.

Boys, Wake Up! | Regional News

Boys, Wake Up!

Created by: Jackson Burling

Directed by: Jackson Burling and Bella Petrie

BATS Theatre, 5th Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

COVID thwarted the first attempt to stage the premiere season of Boys, Wake Up! as part of the Fringe Festival. Luckily, Brick Haus Productions has been able to find a new slot at BATS Theatre for its brave exploration of toxic masculinity.

Four hormone-ravaged teenage boys (Renata Mahuika, Caleb Pedro, Isaac Andrews, and Jackson Burling) leave a house party in the wops on the verge of starting a fight and make the terrible decision to drive home despite being well over the limit. Unsurprisingly, they spin off the road and roll down a steep bank. They then spend a cold, wet night in the bush with no cell phone coverage, waiting for uncertain rescue while they nurse increasingly serious injuries.

Initially full of adrenaline and bravado, they gradually reveal the vulnerabilities of young males on the verge of manhood with their frustrating mix of dumb childishness and genuine concern for the welfare of their friends, along with the ability to call each other out for their despicable attitudes towards the girls in their lives. Most of us have known boys like these at some point in our lives and while these characters and their behaviours are not particularly likeable, the skill of the four actors is such that the inevitable tragic ending is heart-breaking.

Burling should be congratulated for a script that feels fresh, real, and natural despite traversing familiar themes. His performance on stage is also nuanced and affecting, even though he speaks much less often than the others. Mahuika, Pedro, and Andrews are equally strong with a maturity and fearlessness to their performances that belies their age.

Charleigh Griffiths’ lighting and sound design provide superb support for the action on stage with an unintrusive soundtrack of native birds, passing cars, and a munching goat, and dips to chilly blue that effectively show the passing of hours in the dark.

This polished, timely, and moving production deserves full houses.

The Spitfire Grill | Regional News

The Spitfire Grill

Written by: James Valcq and Fred Alley

Directed by: Jen Goddard

Gryphon Theatre, 23rd Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

With the New Zealand premiere of The Spitfire Grill, Wellington Repertory Theatre has successfully brought to the stage a boutique 1970s-set American musical and made it relevant for a COVID-impacted 2022 Kiwi audience.

Percy (Sara Douglas) is freed from jail and heads to the small town of Gilead, Wisconsin (nothing to do with The Handmaid’s Tale) on little more than the promise of beautiful autumn leaves. There she meets the local Sheriff (Alex Robertson) and falls into a job at the only eating place in town, the Spitfire Grill, run by the spiky Hannah (Gillian Boyes), and strikes up a friendship with Hannah’s daughter-in-law Shelby (Natalie Gay). Frequenting the grill daily are Shelby’s misogynistic husband Caleb (Leon Beaton) and town gossip Effy (Amy Bradshaw). Lurking in the shadows is a mysterious visitor (Carl Johnstone) whose identity is the culmination of a steady peeling back of the secrets and tragedies of this small community that has become isolated and abandoned through economic depression.

As the three leading women, Douglas, Gay, and Boyes are strong, engaging, and polished. Their harmonies are spot on and one of the highlights of this intimate but weighty production. Ultimately, this is a story of women taking responsibility for their own empowerment and these three deliver that mission convincingly. Beaton’s excellent and expressive voice gives dimension to the otherwise unlikeable Caleb and Bradshaw’s snarky comments and facial expressions bring lightness to the heavy themes. Robertson’s Sherriff is sweet and appealing.

Balancing the sound from the band with the singers is always a challenge at the Gryphon, but Thomas Perry’s design gets it right. Angela Wei’s lighting design is excellent and Oliver Webber’s operation timed perfectly to highlight each scene in the small space and support the lyrics. The drab and frumpy clothing (Wendy Howard) fits the era and themes appropriately, and Jen Goddard’s unfussy direction works well.

This slick production of a gem of a musical is well worth a watch.

Miss Brontë | Regional News

Miss Brontë

Created by: Mel Dodge

Directed by: Lyndee-Jane Rutherford

BATS Theatre, 22nd Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

In the words of Charlotte Brontë herself, Mel Dodge’s Miss Brontë is “condensed, powerful energy”. With over 80 percent of the script from Charlotte Brontë’s own letters and novels, and the remaining 20 percent gleaned from extensive research, Miss Brontë feels as though it comes straight from the author’s own heart.

Dodge’s performance is second to none. Raw, pure, and utterly “based in truth”, Charlotte Brontë comes to life onstage in every iteration of her being; “not man, not woman, but author”. Cloaked in Letty Macphedran’s beautiful period piece costume, Brontë appears to us “a free independent human being [who] will write because [she] must” . Her childhood memories, her great loves, her heart-wrenching loneliness and grief, but most of all her unmitigated brilliance all take up residence in Dodge’s own soul onstage before us.

Matching Dodge’s performance is Marisa Cuzzolaro’s design and creation. Stage right is a writing desk, centre a dining table, and stage left a side table and armchair, all locations for Charlotte’s hours of writing. In each of these locations piles of books and papers take up residence, the stage a physical representation of Charlotte’s world and mind. The year is denoted upon the cover of each book Brontë picks up as she tells her story, and as the story and Brontë herself evolve, the stage becomes littered with page upon page of the Brontë sisters’ poetry and prose. Papers overflowing with words fly through the air just as thoughts would have flown through Brontë’s own mind, life, and heart.

Fiercely independent and steadfast in her ideals, Charlotte Brontë’s truths are laid bare in Miss Brontë as we see into a soul only glimpsed through the pages of her novels. “Imagination lifts my head when I am sinking”, the author pens, though her imagination, her stories “based in truth” depict women as intense, thoughtful, learned, complex, and human as herself and her sisters. Miss Brontë recognises the author’s soul, and for this it is unequivocally Brontë herself.

Smilestuff | Regional News

Smilestuff

Devised by: Daniel Nodder

Directed by: Austin Harrison

Te Auaha, 8th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Some days are good, and some days are not so good, but each day is valid and each day is followed by a fresh new one. Smilestuff encompasses all the ups and downs and in-betweens of life, giving space and acceptance to the bad days while inspiring us to find joy in even the smallest moments.

Smilestuff is a movement-based solo performance. Daniel Nodder’s performance looks light as feathers, easy, and free, but every movement is incredibly intentional and impactful. Nodder seamlessly involves the audience throughout the work, making them integral parts of the story, engaging them directly as well as through balloons and other items.

Throughout Smilestuff, both Ben Kelly’s musical accompaniment and Campbell Wright’s lighting design are as integral as the performer himself. Spotlights are used as an interactive companion to Nodder’s character: the spotlight becomes a keyboard on the floor that Nodder (and Kelly) plays, or a mirror in which Nodder discovers various facial expressions and emotions, a friend that dances alongside Nodder, and even the spark of life inside himself.

Smilestuff is infused with childlike wonder and innocence. From the moment Nodder discovers the use of his limbs, each movement is tender and pure. Nodder learns the basics before going through the motions of everyday life, each moment saturated with the simple joy of being alive. However, with living comes other complexities; Nodder quickly learns that as time wears on, each moment will not necessarily be as joyful as it was in the beginning. Finding himself in a slump, unable to come to terms with the burdens of life, musician Ben Kelly re-awakens Nodder’s joy and through a moment of quasi-puppetry Nodder lip syncs to Kelly’s beautiful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Smile.

Smilestuff celebrates the joy in everyday life and in mundanity, imploring us to cherish every moment. In the same breath, it recognises that joy cannot be constant. In this challenging time, everyone should go see Smilestuff.

An Ice Thing to Say | Regional News

An Ice Thing to Say

Presented by: Vertebra Theatre

Online, 7th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

This year’s Fringe Festival boasts no less than 20 online events, thanks to the influence of COVID-19, which gives festivalgoers an exceptional opportunity to experience local and overseas work in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

I have to admit to being lured as much by the pun in the title of An Ice Thing to Say as I was to the promise of a blend of ice installation, original music, and physical theatre exploring the human being of the Anthropocene and our impact on nature. It draws inspiration from Erich Fromm’s seminal book on the need for socioeconomic revolution To Have or to Be? and invites the audience into a multi-sensory experience of our inner and outer icy landscapes. It attempts to challenge the idea that humans are at the centre of the universe and why that view of ourselves has caused the current climate crisis.

Having started life as a stage show, An Ice Thing to Say has been translated successfully into a short film. With effective videography, editing, and lighting from Theo Prodromidis, the visual interest has been expanded from the theatre, dance, and musical elements. The central installation of four large blocks of ice and the often-discordant music (Gregory Emfietzis) create fertile ground for visual, auditory, and textural experiences of an element of nature with which the performers interact in various ways from the sensual to the violent.

Without the explanation of the premise of the production, it risks being a little esoteric. However, sections in which the principal dancer, Stella Evangelia, wears a penguin-like mask and crams fruit into her mouth speak clearly of polar melting and rabid consumerism. Her sensuous caressing of the ice blocks equally speaks of the need for kindness towards the natural environment. Spoken interludes reflect the disorder of the modern mind and the human inability to be still, listen, and let instinct reign. As a meditation on Man’s inhumanity to nature, it is absorbing, challenging, and thought-provoking.

The Scottish Kiwi | Regional News

The Scottish Kiwi

Presented by: Wake Productions

Cavern Club, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Ryan McGhee and his warm-up guy Michael Macaulay were waiting outside the Cavern Club when I arrived. They warmly introduced themselves, didn’t freak out when I told them I was reviewing their show, and we had a lovely chat about COVID and how lucky they were to be able to perform. Both were friendly and down to earth, the best examples of what the Fringe Festival is about.

Their charming openness and willingness to connect continued in an hour of quality stand-up comedy that traversed continents, climates, and cultures. Macaulay, originally from Teeside and now Paraparaumu, opened the show with a dig at Jimmy Carr’s racism and a claim that he doesn’t feel English despite a Geordie accent untouched by decades overseas. Before introducing McGhee, he drew belly laughs from pubic hair, dating before the age of mobile apps, oral sex with a Bee Gee, and his dad’s cremation.

The most successful stand-up comedy often comes from people who are willing to display vulnerability about their own life experiences and laugh at themselves. This McGhee happily does as he talks about being a ‘born and fled’ Glaswegian who is fiercely patriotic about all things Scottish but would never want to live there again.

Starting with his staunch Catholic upbringing, through coming out as gay, to moving to Australia and being half of one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married – and divorced – there, he brings us on his colourful journey to New Zealand and genesis as the Scottish Kiwi.

In his All Blacks shirt and kilt, McGhee pokes gentle fun at, among other things, New Zealanders’ passion for winning at sport, anti-vaxxers and their inability to deal with ‘three wee pricks’, why bungee jumping is the Kiwi equivalent of haggis, and his drunken purchase of a scarily huge sex toy called Dennis the Destroyer. All of this is peppered with hilariously smutty gay jokes and a disarming ability to tell a great story, making a great hour’s entertainment.

Shift Your Paradigm  | Regional News

Shift Your Paradigm

Created by: David Bowers-Mason and Mitchell Botting

Directed by: Mitchell Botting

BATS Theatre, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

As I write this review it feels like the world is on fire. Certainly, Parliament grounds are literally on fire. But thinking back to the Fringe show I went to last night provides a wonderful escape, as did seeing Shift Your Paradigm. I truly forgot about all my troubles and cares – and our global ones too – for one hour thanks to this hilarious, twisty-turny, emotional rollercoaster of a production.

Eric (David Bowers-Mason) is the senior CEO of Do Be Us, a company that is not at all dubious and totally not a pyramid scheme. Under the all-seeing eye of the High Chair Man (Kevin Orlando), Eric has excelled in selling heaps of chairs (read: enlisting others to do it for him) and is now headed for a promotion. With the help of his junior-CEO-in-training Zoe (Isabella Murray), he just has to offload the last 25 of the latest collection before the ink on his new vague contract is dry.

Bowers-Mason is a gifted actor who rides the highs and lows of a desperate man with ease and panache. Murray acts as an anchor and counterpoint for Bowers-Mason’s performance so it doesn’t reach hysterical heights. And then we have Orlando, who reminds me instantly of The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry and might be just as funny. Appearing only onscreen but with excellent comic timing is Adam Herbert as the Fax Man, while Sara Douglas plays Eric’s sister Jessica with sensitivity that beautifully balances the action.

Shift Your Paradigm has high production values, with projection design (projector by Emii Wilson, graphics and filming by Mitchell Botting) greatly enhancing the experience – especially thanks to clever FaceTimes projected onto the screen. Coupled with cohesive, dramatic sound (Wilson) and lighting (Herbert), the show reaches multiple climactic points that put me in mind of watching a thriller on the big screen. Thrilling!

A huge bravo to all involved in the witty and raucous Shift Your Paradigm. Thanks for taking me out of my life for a hot minute!

Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes | Regional News

Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes

Written by: Lee Stanton-Barnett, Leonid Wilson, Brooke McCloy, and Lewis Thompson

Directed by: Lee Stanton-Barnett, Leonid Wilson, Brooke McCloy, and Lewis Thompson

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

The Garden of Eden: beautiful, serene, bountiful, and perfect. Until the humans arrived. How could God’s ‘most perfect’ creation be so imperfect? Well according to two tigers Big Stripes (Lewis Thompson) and Sharp Claws (Leonid Wilson), the ‘hewmans’ aren’t perfect at all. In their mind all beasts, no matter the legs or fur, are all created equal; but Adam (Lee Stanton-Barnett) and Eve (Brooke McCloy) seem to disagree.

Written, directed, and performed by ‘You be good. I love you’, Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes is a touching tale (or tail) about both the differences and similarities between human and beast, what defines a beast, and ultimately what defines a human. Providing a new take on the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes follows the rise, climax, and fall of Eden from paradise to what we inhabit now: Earth.

Specifically touching about the show is how similar the tigers and the humans behave. Though clearly different species, the tigers celebrate their differences to other animals but do not see themselves as superior. Adam and Eve however see themselves as special from their incipience. As Big Stripes wisely proposes: “Humans have a particular quality different from tigers; they want to be like God”. Eve and Adam both eat the apple in this rendition, but they do it to become special to God, to get closer to God.

Post-apple, the world changes: different species can no longer communicate, fear and hunger pervade the world, and life becomes all about survival. Humans and beasts seem to drift further apart, no longer living in harmony. Big Stripes ponders how despite our differences we share so many similarities and we all want the same things: a full belly and a place to live. Maybe our shared desires are what make us fight.

The tigers can’t understand why the humans feel such a strong need to be special. Perhaps only us humans can answer that.

The Door knobs | Regional News

The Door knobs

Odlins Plaza, 26th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

A last-minute venue change from Cuba Street to Odlins Plaza made finding The Door knobs a challenge this weekend. Once I’d unearthed their social media post and hot-footed down to the waterfront, I discovered I hadn’t missed the start as feared because they were running half an hour late.

My second frustration was realising that my understanding of what I was about to see wasn’t what I’d interpreted it to be from the advertising. I’d arrived expecting to see four performances in one one-hour show. However, each artist performs only once per day, so the stated show duration of 240 minutes is literally that. Like most people, I don’t have four hours of my life to devote to street theatre and had a different expectation of something included in the Fringe Festival.

Organisational and advertorial sketchiness aside, the two Door knobs performances I did catch were entertaining. Clown Fraser Hooper was on first. Fortunately, he is not the traditional white-faced clown that I always found terrifying even before the movie version of Stephen King’s IT. He is of the modern, surrealist style with a cute dance, silly electronic sound effects, and a predilection for ducks. His show relied heavily on the cooperation (or not) of the mostly young audience members who gamefully held inflated balloons, chased a motorised mallard, and wore a fish head to swim in a fake pond. The fact that his final stunt was an epic fail due in part to the overzealous propulsion of a plastic duck into the air by an audience member was probably funnier than if it had worked.

The second, shorter, performance was by Patrick ‘Tennis Tricks’ Federer. Anyone who can squeeze their whole body through a destringed tennis racquet deserves praise, as does someone who can ride a two-metre-tall unicycle and juggle three tennis rackets while doing so. He also made the valid point that laughter is great for mental health, which is what street theatre is all about. And I did laugh.

I Know You, Fish | Regional News

I Know You, Fish

Presented by: Brickhaus Productions

BATS Theatre, 25th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Genoveva is a fish who likes jazz, black and white films, and philosophy but loves only fish flakes. She wasn’t always a fish. Once she was a cheeky little girl, but now she inhabits a tank in an undisclosed domestic location with an unseen woman shouting in a distant room.

The powerful one-woman performance from Genoveva Reverte centres on intimate monologues about a fatherless childhood that created her self-confessed daddy issues, bad relationships with men steeped in patriarchy and misogyny, a brush with religion, and other relatable life experiences that range from the amusing to the deeply traumatic.

Genoveva’s excellent writing could easily engage an audience for an hour by itself. The extended metaphor of a woman as a house speaks strongly of female oppression and elicits murmurs of agreement from the audience.

As presented in this performance, the spoken narrative is interspersed with physical comedy, clowning, and Epic theatre techniques that force the audience to engage with the confronting shape of Genoveva’s addiction to fish flakes – a stand-in for destructive human coping mechanisms such as drink, drugs, and sex – in novel ways. We are treated to a mimed display of developing alcoholism through a comedic rendition of the song A Horse With No Name that is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and painfully sad.

This could all be doom and gloom, but Genoveva comes to understand that no matter how hard she tries, she’ll always be a fish because she is the sum of her experiences. And that’s okay.

The minimal staging consists mainly of filmed material projected onto the back wall. This is largely effective in supporting the narrative, although the Apple toolbar that lurks at the top of the screen when the AV elements are inactive is a distraction. The placement of lighting was also a little off so that Genoveva sometimes struggled to find her light. With a little more spit and polish on the production side, this has the potential to be a great show.

Spitz & Crumple | Regional News

Spitz & Crumple

Directed by: Jennifer O’Sullivan

The Roxy Cinema, 25th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A word to the wise: Spitz & Crumple is an entirely improvised concert. The banter, the stories, the songs, even the choreography are all made up on the spot. In the first 10 minutes I sat dumbfounded, thinking it had to be one of the strangest and worst shows ever. When it clicked, I did a full 180. “This is one of the strangest and best shows ever”, I whispered to my friend. 

Eleanor Spitz (Liz Butler) and Barney Crumple (Ben Jardine) are a married couple from Florida who have been in love and making music for 50 years. Together with The Captain (Matt Hutton) on keys, the famous lounge band is celebrating the release of their Greatest Hits album with us, their adoring fans, who are dotted about in stylish cabaret seating.

We begin with tracks Diamonds In Your Eyes and You Are Like Candy, where Jardine pulls off an incredible trumpet solo sans trumpet. We’re then treated to a taste of Spitz and Crumple’s number one LP Gift Giving (1983), which started Pitchfork as the first album to ever be reviewed on the site. It earned 17 pitchforks and reached heights that all the greats still aspire to.

More show highlights – although the whole thing is a highlight and a half – include The Bond Song (James Bond Under the Sea) (I’ve made that title up, but the song tracks the time James Bond went nautical and sees a stroke of red-lit genius from lighting designer Nino Raphael). Let’s not forget the highly niche and experimental Before the Grease Wars; Citrus Baby One More Time (yes Brit did steal that one, but thankfully she didn’t get her mitts on the citrus part); and the minimal-lyrics, maximum-impact Cha Cha Wow.

Butler and Jardine are two masters of musical improv whose chemistry and cleverness leap off the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an improv show more, and I’ve seen Whose Line Is It Anyway? live. 

Being Prey | Regional News

Being Prey

Written by: Gabrielle Raz-Liebman

Directed by: Gabrielle Raz-Liebman

BATS Theatre, 22nd Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

This New Zealand Fringe Festival solo show follows Hero (Gabrielle Raz-Liebman), a budding academic who is conducting some really super important ecological research on termites in the Kakadu National Park of Australia’s Northern Territory. When Hero is paddling about one day, happy as can be, she unwittingly strays into the path of a crocodile, who promptly eats her.

Like the real-life person Being Prey is based on, philosopher Val Plumwood, Hero survives to tell the tale. But while her body recovers, her mental health remains in tatters from the traumatic experience.

Raz-Liebman is a consummate physical theatre and comedy performer. Her character work is exceptional, particularly when it comes to the seedy old academic and the seedy old doctor. It’s unclear whether these are two different characters or not, which certainly makes a statement about men in positions of power. The scene with the victim-blaming doctor makes me deeply uncomfortable and winds up being my show highlight.

Raz-Liebman transitions effortlessly between dream sequences, storytelling, and startling choreography, particularly in the final scene. The lighting and sound (Felix Olohan) help to distinguish state and place and are integrated well. Raz-Liebman handles opening night technical hiccups with good humour and grace.

There’s a wonderful blend of humour and pathos, silliness and meaning in the writing and dramaturgy (Jennifer O’Sullivan), although some scenes could be more concise while others could be fleshed out. Excuse that pun, but I reckon the poopy, liver-squelching mess of a crocodile dissection might have even more of a gross effect if trimmed. At the same time, I’m confused by the introduction of a virus so some explanation and expansion there would be helpful.  

The finale (it’s not a Fringe show until you see someone rolling around in carcass, right?) has a huge impact but what I desperately want to see is a little hope. A glimpse of recovery.

I’m excited for the future of Being Prey and to watch it go from very good to great.

The S**t Kid | Regional News

The S**t Kid

Written and performed by Sarah Harpur

Directed by: Carrie Green

The Fringe Bar, 22nd Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In The S**t Kid, Sarah Harpur exposes a knack for anchored storytelling and deceptive writing. With nothing but a minimal set, a few sound effects, and a colourful array of characters, she coaches the audience to visualise a complete world of snobby horse riders and nosy locals. Unfortunately, where it excels in story elements it falls short on genuine laughs.

Sharni (Harpur) loves her twin brother, she swears it, but can’t help but envy him. While she’s stuck back on the family farm raising a baby, teaching rich kids to ride, and selling horse s**t… I mean, ‘pony poo’… he’s off winning Olympic medals. But Sharni has a plan, if only she can raise enough cash to put it into action.

The S**t Kid deals with something we have all experienced, disappointment, and specifically the envy we can feel when others don’t seem to face as much of it as we do. Maybe it was the time your best friend got a promotion while you were left feeling stuck, or in school when your sibling seemed to rack up accolades while you dawdled. Sharni’s story is particular but the emotions she’s feeling are not, and this makes the story relatable to all in our audience, even if some of us have never set foot in a stable.

Sharni is a likable character, and we certainly root for her to conquer, but I was left a little disappointed in the show’s final minutes. Most of what she does manage to achieve is, seemingly, handed to her. While she does learn some valuable lessons, I feel there is a stronger wrap-up out there.

Another disappointment is the hit-and-miss rate of The S**t Kid’s jokes, which is surprising given this is Harpur’s first solo play but sixth comedic outing. The show is still in development, and I feel a more varied tone could up this aspect of the show – as it stands, there’s simply too much wink wink, nudge nudge, and not enough solid, unexpected punchlines to earn anything more than a chuckle.

What Harpur has discovered with The S**t Kid is a raw talent for playwrighting. With more development, I am sure it could morph into something special.

Breakfast Time | Regional News

Breakfast Time

Written by: Bon Buchanan and Bella Petrie

Directed by: Genoveva Reverte, Bon Buchanan and Bella Petrie

BATS Theatre, 22nd Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Breakfast Time is coming in hot, and it’s definitely a tasty meal of a show. A mixed media piece featuring a short film (Aiden Fernando) followed by a deconstructive ‘duologue’, this Fringe show serves up the story of two (not very well acquainted) young adults, Reuben (Bon Buchanan) and Ana (Bella Petrie) cooking breakfast together the morning after their parents’ wedding. The laconic, obligatory, and forced conversation that sautés in the film however quickly sizzles and boils over in the live show to follow as the pair analyse the scene from the film itself, their childhoods, their backgrounds, their opportunities, their challenges, their traumas, and their futures.

Though ‘deconstructed’ wouldn’t normally sound appetising, Brick Haus Productions serves up a show that feels much more like comfort food despite the guise of haute cuisine. The actors excellently portray both renditions of the characters. Buchanan and Petrie are both subtle and obvious in the film, politely masking their contempt yet clearly intending to cause discomfort to the other. The live show however could be likened to Hell’s Kitchen with both characters voicing exactly what the subtleties of the film scene were meant to mask.

It is both satisfying and refreshing to see in the live show what you assumed the characters were thinking in the film. Reuben’s condescension to Ana’s higher social class is palpable and then overt as he deems her a spoiled brat while he slaved away washing dishes since 14 to go to university so he wouldn’t die broke like his grandfather. Ana however shows haughty disdain for Reuben’s materialism and martyrdom for her lonely childhood in which she grew up too fast in order to care for her father and herself.

While both characters yearn for the other to understand them, they do something much more powerful: they lay bare the human condition; normalising trauma, accepting inadequacy, allowing for mistakes, and most importantly connecting us all through our imperfect yet inherent humanity.

No! I’m Not Australian!  | Regional News

No! I’m Not Australian!

Written and performed by Ocean Denham

The Fringe Bar, 18th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Part stand-up, part musical odyssey, comedian Ocean Denham fought a tough opening-night crowd for her New Zealand Fringe Festival show No! I’m Not Australian! to score well-earned laughs. After settling in, our audience comes to appreciate her candid and open approach to storytelling, not to mention her stellar singing voice, the combination of which make her stand out as a unique talent.

Over the course of an hour, Denham reminisces on her weird, wild, and occasionally gross OE. Her trip to the UK was full of hilarious stitch-ups and stories too bizarre to make up. We all know what it’s like to be a fish out of water, and in No! I’m Not Australian!, Denham mines that feeling for comedy gold.

Billing this show as a cabaret is somewhat misleading, as Denham’s strongest asset is her natural talent for stand-up. She knows how to pull an audience into a bit and make it relatable, even if she’s sharing experiences that we can only pray we never have to endure first-hand. What would you do if you showed up to a fancy-pants dinner party only to discover it was a drug-fuelled madhouse? Or how about if your IBS flared up moments before you were to meet your new flatmates in a foreign country? She makes every story feel visceral and presents them in the most high-octane way possible, wringing out laughs all the way.

While her material may have been too honest for some in the crowd, a slow start turns into a big finish as the audience becomes accustomed to the fact that this is a performer expressing herself unapologetically. The same goes for her songs. Lyrically, they’re just as graphic as her bits, but when delivered via Denham’s powerhouse vocal chops, the contradiction makes many of them the highlights of the hour.

Some minor technical difficulties on the part of The Fringe Bar are the only thing that halt an otherwise flowing performance on Friday night. Delivered with confidence and gusto, Denham is clearly a comedic talent to keep your eye on.

Destination Mars | Regional News

Destination Mars

Written by: Kip Chapman

Directed by: Kip Chapman

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 5th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Conceived and created by HACKMAN (Kip Chapman and Brad Knewstubb), Destination Mars is an interactive experience perfect for young people and their whānau. Suitable for those aged six up, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts show puts the audience in the driver’s seat of a space mission on Mars in the year 2034. As the engineers in the control room, we’re responsible for maintaining the base’s support system, powering up the next rocket launch… and saving the day when it all goes wrong.

The technology is a high point of Destination Mars. Each audience member is in charge of their own touch tablet, where space lingo and highly detailed systems information flash across the screen. Games of Space Tennis and Cosmo Run hide out in the entertainment tab – a great touch from the digital design team led by Pedro Klein.  

Deftly guiding our session, charismatic performers Isadora Lao and Arlo Gibson ad-lib with each other and interact beautifully with the audience, assigning tasks to many of us by name. Young faces light up when they are called upon, with a six-year-old Evan getting a round of applause as surely the youngest engineer to ever work on Mars. You go, Evan!

It’s clear the kids absolutely love this unique experience. For the grownups, there’s the slick tech and overall design (directed by Knewstubb) to appreciate, heightened by Sophie Sargent’s costume design that transforms the performers into true space explorers. I do want for more of a human element to latch onto, as I don’t know a whole lot about who or what I’m trying to save when the rocket hits the fan.

I have the young audience member sitting next to me to thank for my favourite moment of Destination Mars. Through blaring alarms, flashing alerts, and a bellowed countdown, us engineers manage to work together to avert total destruction. In the calm after the chaos, Master 10 looks across to his family and whispers, “Can we all agree that was actually quite stressful?”

Paper Jam | Regional News

Paper Jam

Created by: Imaginaries Theatre

Directed by: Belinda Campbell

BATS Theatre, 25th Jan 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Part of the Six Degrees Festival at BATS Theatre, Paper Jam comes from the creative young minds of Master of Fine Arts in Theatre students at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka.

Sal (Anna Barker) is broke and caught in a whirlwind of mundane work in the mailroom of an unnamed corporate with shy Travis (Dylan Hutton). She thinks her life is under control and has ambitions for promotion, but her superior Mary (Zoë Christall) has other ideas. Cracking under the strain, she actualises her chaotic and mischievous childhood friend, Biscuit (Daniel Nodder).

The cast of four work exceptionally well as an ensemble. They are highly energetic, create believable and empathetic characters, and imbue their relatable story with equal measures of fun and pathos. Barker excels as the well-meaning hero, and Hutton’s creepy Graham and adorable Travis are hilarious and in fine contrast. Christall’s icy Mary and nerdy intern are also beautifully juxtaposed, and Nodder’s Biscuit is engagingly bouncy and naughty, pushing Sal out of her comfort zone.

As well as producing well-crafted and entertaining theatre, the creative team of Paper Jam has emphasised accessibility and sustainability as part of their production values. Instead of falling into the trap of being overly worthy, this choice works to Paper Jam’s favour.

Sadly, the burgeoning Omicron outbreak has put paid to the pre-show touch tour, but stage manager Felipe McDonald-Cuevas instead describes the set, props, and costumes for the particular benefit of people with visual impairments. This ethos continues throughout the performance with the actors speaking their stage directions, which amplifies the comic effect for seeing audience members.

The clever set design (Rebekah de Roo) relies on recycled and reused materials, such as wooden pallets and cardboard boxes. The back wall of the stage is covered in flattened boxes to make a projection screen, which is used to good effect throughout the performance.

From this joyful and thoughtful production, it’s clear that Wellington theatre’s next generation of creatives is in great form.

A Natural Woman | Regional News

A Natural Woman

Produced by: Ali-Cat Productions

Running at Circa Theatre until 22nd Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

It’s clear there are many Carole King fans in the house at A Natural Woman. While I’d happily belt out hits like I Feel the Earth Move, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, and the titular A Natural Woman (cue a rousing chorus of “you make me feeeel!”) on karaoke night, I know very little about the master musician behind them. I am however a big fan of Ali Harper, which is more than enough to get me through the door.

Supported by her talented band of Nick Granville on guitar, Scott Maynard on bass, and Francis Meria on piano, Harper performs a range of King’s most popular and lesser-known songs with soaring vocals and dazzling star power. Between the songs the audience is treated to brief spoken interludes that give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into King’s life and music. These moments shine the brightest when Harper speaks of her personal connection with the American singer-songwriter and often lead beautifully into the next song.

The main sensation I feel during A Natural Woman is surprise. Wait, Carole King wrote that? And that? And that? This is a particularly special feeling when Harper starts singing Where You Lead, the theme from Gilmore Girls… which my friend and I were talking about just before the show!

Around the halfway point, guest singer Francis Leota walks onstage and wows with vocals that blend beautifully with Harper’s. Two voices matched in heaven. Performing a stirring solo of Child of Mine, not to mention ably supporting on the congas, Leota is a wonderful addition to the band of consummate musicians.

When Granville and Maynard are recruited to sing backup, they do so well but look out of their comfort zones. I hope their nerves dwindle over the course of the season, because they have every reason to feel confident in their vocal abilities.

In A Natural Woman, Ali Harper honours Carole King with an uplifting and astounding performance.

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret | Regional News

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret

Created by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Ben Emerson and Greta Casey-Solly

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret is an all-singing, all-sparkling stage spectacular. This WITCH Music Theatre production pays homage to the magical musical moments of the silver screen, with songs like Singin’ in the Rain, Lady Marmalade, and Sparkling Diamonds (Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend) performed by a stellar cast of 23 fabulously dressed (costume design by Emma Stevens) singers, dancers, drag artists, and even an aerialist.

ROXY doesn’t let up once. While I crave more moments of softness, I’m swept up in the spectacle and blown away by the talent on display. Bailea Twomey’s outstanding Cut, Print… Moving On, Pippa Drakeford’s hilarious Science Fiction/Double Feature (and her entire character for that matter), Aine Gallagher’s moving Over the Rainbow, and Swings Both Ways, performed by Fynn Bodley-Davies and Zane Berghuis (both of whom shine in a band of stars conducted by music director and arranger Hayden Taylor) are all show highlights.

Then there are numbers that leave my jaw on the floor, like Jade Merematira’s Black & Gold with aerial choreography and silks by Jackson Cordery. My heart soars out of my chest and into the palm of Jason Chasland’s hand thanks to what I’m calling the performance of the year, Losing My Mind. Chasland’s The Hot Dog Song is one of the best and raunchiest things I’ve ever seen, with Patrick Jennings upping the entertainment factor as the hotdog vendor.

The ensemble work in ROXY is tight, especially when it comes to Karli Holdren, Björn Aslund, Thomas Laybourn, and Emily McDermott, who are equal to the relentless, dazzling choreography by Greta Casey-Solly, Leigh Evans, and Briar Franks.

Every single performer remains the picture of professionalism in the face of opening night technical problems with mics, feedback, levels… and one drunken audience member who exits mid-song to buy a bag of chips and re-enters mid-song to eat them deafeningly. A huge shoutout to Lane Corby, who doesn’t let the obnoxious behaviour affect her powerhouse rendition of Stars and the Moon. Multiple audience members cause more distractions on their phones, texting and scrolling through Instagram because they were told at the start they could take pictures. I’d really recommend rescinding that permission for future performances.

These teething issues don’t keep ROXY down. I’d love to see it a few nights on as it’s clearly a world-class production that belongs in the hallowed halls of Broadway.

HOLE | Regional News

HOLE

Written by: Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards

Running at Circa Theatre until 18th Dec 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Antarctica is a heartbeat. Once a year it doubles its size, and then retracts. For millennia. One heartbeat.

Set in the 1980s, HOLE follows Greenpeace activist Bonny (Stevie Hancox-Monk), US Navy SEAL Ioane (Sepelini Mua’au), and Kiwi ozone scientist Stella (Elle Wootton) as they navigate not only a complex love triangle but also a clash of perspectives. Though vastly different in their ideologies, motivations, sexual orientations, and cultures, they learn that they all have one thing in common: their reverence and yearning to protect that which cannot protect itself; Antarctica.

A powerful call to action, HOLE is very clear in its intentions. Lynda Chanwai-Earle calls upon each and every one of us to recognise our impact and responsibility towards our climate crisis. By likening the continent to a heartbeat, Antarctica is rendered human, and suddenly we become intrinsically connected to what seemed like an abstract social phenomenon. By placing the climate crisis alongside other social issues such as racism, sexism, LQBTQIA+ rights, reparative justice, and global politics, climate change suddenly becomes a more pressing, urgent, even vital issue.

It is not only what HOLE says however but what HOLE does that is most commendable and inspiring. HOLE is eco-powered off-grid. Powered by Ice Floe Productions Tapui Ltd through solar and wind, the specially designed LED lights (lighting design by Isadora Lao) and sound production (sound design by Phil Brownlee, compositions by Gareth Farr ONZM, and AV design by Rachel Neser) aim to draw off only one-tenth of the power of normal theatre productions. On top of that the beautiful set, collaboratively designed by Jason O’Hara alongside directors Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards, is made from recycled and repurposed materials, along with the props and costumes. Even the wind turbine and solar panels that were originally donated have been repurposed from Chanwai-Earle’s past show HEAT.

HOLE is not only a story underscoring the climate crisis and urging us to make change; HOLE goes one step further and enacts that change. This production goes sustainably on tour across Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 and everyone should see it.

The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime | Regional News

The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 15th Jan

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale and by loosely I mean hardly at all. We have our Little Mermaid (here named Coral, played by Natasha McAllister), her handsome love interest Lyall (Jake McKay), and her crustacean friend Crabby (Trae Te Wiki), plus her voice-stealing, leg-bestowing aunty Bermuda (Kathleen Burns) and overbearing parent, the all-powerful Neptuna (Jthan Morgan). On the other hand, Morgan also plays a shag, assistant to the Land King Lando (Simon Leary), and Leary also plays a stingray. Then of course we have Gavin Rutherford, 12 years a Dame, as one Ms Shelly Bay. And did I mention the year is 3021?

If you can’t tell from my intro, The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime is an absolute hoot.

The cast gives 110 percent, with Morgan’s overenunciation as Neptuna a show highlight. McAllister is every bit the Disney princess while fizzing with feminist energy, and as her ‘prince’ Lyall, McKay is suitably clueless and wholesome… but never mean, which Disney sometimes forgets matters! Burns’ villainous turn as Bermuda prompts many a hearty boo, which she hilariously relishes. Leary plays a king under her spell and it’s so believable I’m quickly under his. As the energetic Crabby, Te Wiki’s quest for a home is both adorable and exploited – by our Dame, whose attempt to cook the hermit crab is one of my favourite scenes. Actually, every scene Rutherford’s in is my favourite!

The absolute fabulousness of Sheila Horton’s costume design is accentuated by Marcus McShane’s radiant lighting, which establishes whether the action is underwater or on land. Music director Michael Nicholas Williams’ brilliant arrangements are show stealing, especially thanks to McAllister and Morgan’s flashy choreography. With production design by Anna Lineham Robinson, it’s all tied together in the biggest, brightest bow by the all-knowing hand of director Susan Wilson.

Overflowing with puns and incorporating an inspired use of Sign Language, The Little Mermaid – The Pantomime is a whirlwind of colour and joy, sparkles and pure, blissful escape. Boy did I need that!

Tandy Dandy | Regional News

Tandy Dandy

Written by: Laura Gaudin

Directed by: Hamish Gaudin

BATS Theatre, 17th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Even if you’re not old enough to remember the TANDY-12 handheld arcade game from the early 1980s featuring “12 challenging games of skill” from electronic baseball to mole-catching and roulette, there is still much to love about this quirky physical theatre production in the intimate Studio space at BATS Theatre.

Tandy Dandy concerns a painfully agoraphobic young woman (Laura Gaudin) for whom the very thought of opening the front door of her house causes uncontrollable anxiety. Then, one day in the shower, she finds a comically long piece of string in the drain, on the end of which is a chirpy TANDY-12. Through its friendship and gentle encouragement, the young woman eventually finds the courage to face her fears and venture into the outside world.

With its flat cardboard set, paper cut-out props, and sliding shower curtain rails for scene changes (also Gaudin), Tandy Dandy has a charmingly homespun and wonderfully creative quality. Gaudin is also responsible for the music, much of which sounds like it has been generated from the electric beeps and trills of the TANDY-12’s Song Writer game (“Record a song of up to 44 notes!”).

As well as her creative talents, Gaudin is a gifted physical theatre performer whose delicate hands and feet, glimpsed through windows in her cardboard world, provide much of the wordless narrative. She anthropomorphises the visiting TANDY-12 into its own living, loving character that peeps round corners, performs a sexy dance with a towel, and creeps outside to pick a flower for its new human friend. Why it has mysteriously appeared from her shower drain is entirely unimportant.

Gaudin is ably supported on the lighting and sound desk by director Hamish Gaudin. He has done a fine job of presenting a well-developed story in a very limited space that is super cute and leaves a smile on the face. At just 25 minutes long, this is a tiny bundle of theatrical joy.

Hangmen | Regional News

Hangmen

Written by: Martin McDonagh

Directed by: Andrew Cross

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 27th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Written by the man responsible for Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I knew Hangmen would be dark. But I certainly wasn’t expecting the side-splitting humour, nor the pathos lurking beneath shades of grey in this disturbingly entertaining rollercoaster ride executed to perfection by Stagecraft Theatre. ‘Scuse the pun.

Harry (Chris O’Grady) is a hangman in the UK, second only to his arch nemesis Pierrepoint (Marty Pilott). When hanging is abolished in 1965, barflies hover at Harry’s pub. We have journalist Clegg (Rob Scott) seeking comment, Arthur (Barry Mawer) wanting clarification and Charlie (Steve Bell) providing it, Harry’s wife Alice (Simone Kennedy) watering Bill (Felicity Cozens) with pints, Inspector Fry (Lee Dowsett) on a very long lunch break, and Harry’s daughter Shirley (Maddy Johnston) just looking for a place to mope. At least according to her parents, anyway.

When mysterious stranger Mooney (Bruno Hart) arrives, immediately unsettling both characters and audiences alike, the plot thickens like rancid Guinness. More complications come with Syd (George Kenward Parker), Harry’s former assistant who helped hang the (maybe) innocent Hennessy (Robbie O’Hara).

I can’t begin to express how talented this cast is, with Hart in particular hitting every single beat while crafting his own with the help of formidable director Andrew Cross. Hart has the best sense of timing for black comedy that I’ve ever seen. O’Grady leans into the narcissistic elements of Harry beautifully, creating a protagonist I sometimes dislike more than Mooney. The snivelling Kenward Parker is another standout, eliciting sympathy for Syd that turns out to be quite unwarranted. I’ll have that sympathy back, thanks. And as our punters, Cozens, Bell, and Mawer bring out the heartiest laughs of them all.

Special mention to the elaborate set (Amy Whiterod) and Tanya Piejus’ sound design, which amplifies the tension with transitional music we all hum along to before being smacked in the face by the next scene.

Wow. Just wow. I’ve got no other words except… Go. See. This. Production.

I’m Not Going To Lie To You | Regional News

I’m Not Going To Lie To You

Written by: Tessa Redman

Performed by Tessa Redman

BATS Theatre, 27th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Tessa Redman is already onstage dancing energetically to pop music when the BATS audience files in. The pink light (Elekis Poblete Teirney), small bed of potted flowers, and hanging window frame (design by Trantham Gordon) behind which she gyrates are reminiscent of the Amsterdam Red Light District, an appropriate place to start this “solo exploration into female performativity, lust, and uncontrollable desire”.

The aptly described “dance theatre explosion” starts with stylised, kapa haka-like movements, no music, and a declaration from Redman that “I like dancing”. She then states she doesn’t care for the title of the show but hasn’t renamed it because she doesn’t know what it’s about. Clearly, this is the lie, as for the next 60 minutes she performs an energetic, expansive, partly spoken, mostly danced narrative about growing up, meeting an exciting new partner and having sex with them, heartbreak, and learning to love being alone.

Her only companion on this journey is the suspended white window frame that variously becomes a seat, a swing, a confidante, and her first-time lover in a highly entertaining sequence of boring, bad sex performed to Madonna’s Crazy For You.

Redman’s unequivocal talent as a contemporary dancer shines strongest in a manic segment filled with writhing anger and lust, red light, and haunting music (sound design by LANCE). She’s not afraid to get naked on stage, expose her inner desires, and confide her experiences.

The lighting, music, and set design admirably support Redman’s story and choreography, allowing her to be intimate or to break out across the whole, wide stage of the Dome as it suits her need. A gorgeous pink dress and lustier red slip and bikini provide enough costuming to mirror the stages of her sexual and emotional development.

I’m Not Going To Lie To You is brave and sensual, funny and moving, showing us with raw drama what it is to be a young woman navigating the world.

Live Through This  | Regional News

Live Through This

Written by: Jonny Potts and Jean Sergent

Performed by Jonny Potts and Jean Sergent

Running at Circa Theatre until 13th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Live Through This is a double bill of two solo shows: The Best Show in Town is at Your Place Every Night, written and performed by Jonny Potts, and Change Your Own Life, written and performed by Jean Sergent. The two tragicomedies address love, life, and loss in very different ways.

In The Best Show in Town is at Your Place Every Night, Potts takes the audience on a tour of Wellington’s video shops, from the big players like Amalgamated and United Video to cult icons such as (the still-standing) AroVideo. By ‘takes us on a tour’, I don’t mean Potts waxes lyrical, although he does plenty of that. It is as if we’re on a bus, riding through the suburbs with a suited-up guide whose passion borders on delirium at times. Potts’ references are incendiary, kindled by genius, elusive, alluding always to something lurking beneath. A lover, a mistake, a death.

Lucas Neal’s clever, prop-heavy set here doubles as the video stores of yore and a person’s house (where the best show in town is on every night, of course). Brynne Tasker-Poland’s lighting helps establish drama, setting, and pace – especially when our bus chugs up the one-way hills of our damp city.

Change Your Own Life is Sergent’s true story of losing her best friend and brother nine months apart. As she responds to this insurmountable grief and we learn more about her life, tarot cards are slowly revealed on the back wall. It feels part-confessional, part-seminar, and part-magic, especially thanks to interludes lit in vivid purple and green by Tasker-Poland. Rapid shifts in Sergent’s performance – from gentle to explosive – at first throw me off guard. I come to realise these dramatic contrasts and conflicts must echo her experience. Grief is not linear, pretty, sitting in a shoebox. It’s loud and messy. The lid is open and we cling to those precious shoes, our breath stolen by the unfairness of it all. Thanks to Sergent for this brave, bold, and beautiful work.

Suddenly Last Summer | Regional News

Suddenly Last Summer

Written by: Tennessee Williams

Directed by: Emily K. Brown

Gryphon Theatre, 20th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

As a 90-minute one-act play, this rarely performed work by American great Tennessee Williams is unusual. His work is always intense and lyrical and this piece is especially so. Its language is visceral and violent and yet devastatingly beautiful.

Society doyenne Violet has invited to her home a young doctor hoping to benefit from her philanthropy to discuss performing a lobotomy on Catherine, Violet’s young niece. Catherine was the only witness to the death of Violet’s son Sebastian and shutting her away in a mental hospital run by nuns hasn’t been enough to stop her babbling about what happened suddenly last summer in Spain when he met his end.

It’s tempting to resort to histrionics when performing Williams, but the excellent cast, under the careful direction of Emily K. Brown, exercise restraint in their performances which are all the more powerful because of it. As Catherine, Margot van de Water is astounding. We are left in no doubt as to the trauma caused by what she has witnessed and when she reveals the gruesome truth about Sebastian’s death, it is truly shocking.

Stephanie Gartrell clearly enjoys inhabiting the daiquiri-swilling shrew that is Violet and as the earnest Dr Cukrowicz, Slaine McKenzie excels. Helen Mackenzie and Finn Nacey provide energetic and petulant support as grasping relatives. Simran Rughani and Maria Buchanan make the most of their smaller roles as housemaid and nun.

The simple garden set with its lush pot plants and creeping ivy provides an appropriately sub-tropical background to the narrative. Whoever painted the floor deserves a special mention for their beautifully rendered flagstones.

The lighting (Riley Gibson) is exceptionally well designed and responsive to the action on stage and the wardrobe (Mandy Watkins and Cara Ngajar) is lush and period appropriate.

Everything about this production is polished and professional, which is even more impressive when you consider that the country went into COVID lockdown a week from its original opening in August. Full marks, Wellington Repertory Theatre.

Ted Talks Crimes | Regional News

Ted Talks Crimes

Written by: Jeremy Hunt and Ricky Dey

Directed by: Ben Ashby

BATS Theatre, 19th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

When performer Jeremy Hunt announced that Ted Talks Crimes is a work in progress, my jaw dropped open. I’ve never seen a more developed development season! On as part of the TAHI Festival of Solo Performance, this brilliant one-man show needs little improvement, but because Hunt asked, and seeing as I’m in the business of feedback…

Ted (Hunt) is a New York crim who collects money on behalf of his mafia boss, The Don. Ted’s chosen debt-extraction method is the talk of the town. He’s a formidable tickler. After tickling the life out of one too many down-and-out marks, he begins to re-evaluate his life decisions. What kind of legacy will he leave behind? Is tickling for money a good use of his time? And why is his cut so small… Wait, I mean, is he a good man?

So begins this mile-a-minute tale of soul-searching, vengeance, and deadly bananas.

Utilising different accents to great effect (occasionally slipping out of Ted’s Italian Brooklyn lilt but mostly keeping it up), Hunt embodies multiple characters with ease, flair, and commanding physicality. His sense of comic timing perfectly serves the script (Hunt and Ricky Dey), especially when it comes to the deliciously obscure anecdotes and references woven throughout. Ted Talks Crimes is rife with my favourite kind of absurdism, where the unusual and usual squelch into a potion of crab jelly that occasionally smacks you in the face, killing you instantly, but mostly smiles down at you from its innocuous jar on the shelf. I swear this reference is relevant.

Bekky Boyce’s lighting design effortlessly distinguishes the setting as we hop between a market, an office, a bar, and more. There’s just the right amount of set furnishings and props – many of which rouse a wicked laugh – but I’d love to see a louder and more dramatic sound design (director Ben Ashby) that hypes up the drama and plays into the emotional moments, like when Ted’s life is changed by a kindly gorilla.

Whānau | Regional News

Whānau

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards

BATS Theatre, 19th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The theme of this uplifting TAHI Festival production is exactly what you’d expect from the title – family. More precisely, “lifting the lid on the complexity of family relationships from disastrous to delicious”.

This aim is achieved through four actors (Emma Katene, Daniel Gagau, Ngahiriwa Rauhina, and Melissa Sutherland) performing 13 short extracts from 11 solo works by New Zealand writers. With the help of assorted chairs, a few bits of wardrobe, and a couple of props, they deliver warm, empathetic, poignant, and often laugh-out-loud vignettes of what it means to have whānau.

The playwrights whose work is showcased here are Vela Manusaute, Felix Desmarais, Rob Mokaraka, Jamie McCaskill, Toa Fraser, John Broughton, Emily Duncan, Tom Scott, Melissa Sutherland (doing admirable double duty as playwright and actor), and Nicola Pauling. Each has their own rich way of shining light on the trials of being human through the lens of family.

The lovingly created characters we meet over the hour of the production range from a miracle baby produced from the remaining half of a fallopian tube after several ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, to an 11-year-old girl with a superhero Samoan mum, a literal and metaphorical Karen and her daughter, a young man revelling in his half-Māori/half-Pākehā ancestry, a family with projectile-vomiting children heading to the beach, and an angry mum whose kids have been removed by CYFS.

Co-directors Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards have chosen their extracts carefully and well. In addition to being woven together by theme, the pieces flow seamlessly from one to the next with appropriate music, well-applied projection onto the back wall of the theatre, sensitive lighting, and some cool dance moves from the actors who occasionally interact.

The mark of a successful theatre production is that you’re left wanting more. I could have happily watched this group of talented actors telling their uniquely Kiwi stories with genuine pathos and humour well into the night.

Peregrine V | Regional News

Peregrine V

Directed by: Jonathan Briden

BATS Theatre, 16th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Clearly drawing heavily on cult sci-fi TV shows like Star Trek and Babylon 5, Peregrine V starts with a smart projected introduction to the improvised tale of a rag-tag spaceship crew that we are about to see created.

The all-knowing computer then randomly assigns six actors (Gabrielle Raz-Liebman, Jerome Cousins, Malcolm Morrison, Brendon Bennetts, Emma Maguire, and Liz Butler) their characters. They are of varying species with an expected collection of roles on the ship ranging from the shapeshifting captain and human engineer to the mutant therapist and AI entertainer. Also along for the ride are an avian diplomat and an amphibian mercenary. The actors gamefully embrace these characters, give them names, and set the audience and themselves off on a journey of discovery.

An added element of character is the beautifully animated talking computer (operated by director Jonathan Briden) that always sits on the wall behind the actors and offers droll commentary, jokes, and interaction with the characters, even condemning one of them to death with a coldness reminiscent of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The story that unfolds is more existential than the typical storylines of the TV series this show pays homage to. Some characters are not who they appear to be, causing significant angst among the crew, much of which neatly unfolds in the therapist’s office. My favourite line of the night is “I smell emotions!” yelled by the therapist just before he bounds on stage to analyse another tortured crewmate.

Costuming plays a significant part and each actor selects an appropriate outfit, which some alter to good effect during the course of the narrative to reflect their story arcs. Sound effects (Briden again) and lighting (Bethany Miller) are also used well to give context to what the actors are doing and mark the end of short scenes.

All involved with this NZ Improv Festival show obviously enjoy the sci-fi genre and its tropes and create an irrepressibly fun hour of nerdy entertainment.

The I-Files | Regional News

The I-Files

Directed by: Daniel Allan and Laura Irish

BATS Theatre, 13th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

All power to BATS for pushing ahead with the NZ Improv Festival under COVID Alert Level 2 and making it work. Suitably spooky music from the keyboard of Matt Carroll greeted the masked-up audience as they entered the Random Stage and found their physically distanced seats for this one-off supernatural story.

Those familiar with The X-Files would have immediately recognised the premise of this show with intrepid Agents Smoulder and Gully of the Federal Bureau of Improvisation investigating the unusual disappearance of an unnamed woman who has been drawn into a desert canyon near Cactustown, Arizona by mysterious voices from the past.

Even though some of them are too young to have seen the original TV show, the ensemble cast of Aaron Douglas, Christine Brooks, Ben Jardine, Liz Butler, Trubie Dylan-Smith, Laura Irish, and Daniel Allan cleverly weave a tale worthy of the X-Files scriptwriters using the scant offering of a generic outdoor location from an audience member.

Utilising their enviable physical theatre and characterisation skills, we’re soon introduced to hapless white-trash couple Clarice and Chuck and their parents, the local sheriff and his wannabe deputy Cletis, an 86-year-old librarian, and The Town Psychic. Collectively, they help the agents solve the mystery of the Lost Girls who disappeared on a Hanging Rock-style picnic in 1903 and have now somehow been transformed into a drooling monster from an unearthly, triangle-based realm, accessed through Cactus No. 3, that just wants a family. They even manage to exploit the underlying sexual tension between Mulder and Scully that so titillated X-Files audiences in the 1990s.

The cast are supported by appropriate lighting changes and blackouts that occasionally cut them off or leave them hanging to hilarious effect and Carroll’s background music that neatly highlights the tense finale. Some basic costuming and four red blocks provide just enough setting.

The great joy of improv is that you never see the same show twice and as a one-off festival performance, The I-Files delivered in spades.

Dungeons & Improvisers | Regional News

Dungeons & Improvisers

Directed by: Brendon Bennetts and Ciarán Searle

BATS Theatre, 13th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the Dungeons & Dragons lore or a newbie looking to find your way in the mystical realms of world building, the Dungeons & Comedians troupe, all the way from Christchurch, is possibly one of the funnest ways to approach the famous fantasy role-playing game. Taking a game already inherently rooted in improv and interactive storymaking, Dungeons & Improvisers brings another layer of fantastical performance and personality to Dungeons & Dragons… and improv!

In this NZ Improv Fest show, DM (Dungeon Master Brendon Bennetts) guides three characters chosen at random through a world of fantasy and adventure, comedic mishaps, and (un)lucky dice rolls. As the DM creates a scene, they employ the help of their ‘imps’: six cast members who contort and transform their bodies to form both inanimate objects and living characters for the three protagonists to interact with on their journey. The audience too is called upon to create obstacles, perils, and plot points, bringing the show to life. Tonight, an old wizard in a red coat named Nimbus the Blue (Wiremu Tuhiwai), a sparky rogue called Bella Doone (Amelia Cartwright), and a comical fighter introduced as Gregnog (Tara Swadi) find themselves facing the amphibious frog prince, usurper of the town of Spawn.

The characters are accompanied by Matt Carroll on the keyboard, who expertly and seamlessly provides atmosphere, anticipation, and aesthetic to every scene. Meanwhile Zoe Higgins masterfully lights the show with a myriad of hues and shades depending on the scenario... or flashes of red for dangerous combat scenes! Both the lighting and the tailored soundscape add a sense of heightened reality to the already very real world unfolding on stage.

Perhaps the best part of the show is the pure, unadulterated imagination on display. Already improvisational in nature, the performance qualities of Dungeons & Dragons truly lend themselves seamlessly to an improv stage show. It’s easy to see why Dungeons & Comedians have sold out shows for the last four years!

Murder on a Boat | Regional News

Murder on a Boat

Directed by: Christine Brooks and Maria Williams

BATS Theatre, 12th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Walking into BATS Theatre for my first NZ Improv Festival outing, I’m thrilled to be greeted by a staff member with a bright orange sticker. I’m told I can wear it if I want to participate in the show, which I think is a brilliant innovation. Some people are put off improv simply because they don’t want to be singled out. As a Leo, I of course take the sticker and stick it straight on my forehead.

Agatha Christine (Christine Brooks) welcomes us to the Random Stage and sets the scene for Murder on a Boat, where a cast of 10+ scramble to solve the whodunnit aboard the SS Maria Williams. As this is improv, who plays who and who murders who is decided in real-time over one hour of spontaneity and rapid-fire thinking.

Although there are instances of players talking over each other and misinterpreting offers, I thoroughly enjoy Murder on a Boat from start to end. Tightening it up a tad would simply help the great premise and enthusiast cast shine even brighter.

Standout members include Matt Powell, whose detective Sebastian Le Crabbe perhaps isn’t as ready to hand over the reins as he first thought; Marea Colombo, whose charisma as the overworked Beverly nearly steals the show; and Tara Swadi, whose Duchess Fox is killed off far too early. This doesn’t count as a spoiler because it’ll be a different murder victim next time!

Moments of brilliance have me cackling into my mask. One such is a passionate encounter between star-crossed lovers Beverly and the Captain (Daniel Allan), whose impromptu shanty To Sea, ably accompanied by Matt Hutton on keys, is another favourite scene of mine. When there’s a danger of boring ol’ misogyny creeping in, Laura Irish flips the narrative as the ship’s singer Maxine.

As Murder on a Boat comes to a close, I look at my friend and declare it to be “really, really, really good”. I’d love to see it again.

Mr Fungus | Regional News

Mr Fungus

Created by: Fergus Aitken

Directed by: Fraser Hooper

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Oct

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

New Zealand’s loudest mime takes the stage at Circa Theatre to deliver school holiday fun for kids aged four to 94. This short, snappy, silly show starts with Fergus Aitken’s beloved Mr Fungus enjoying a coffee at home before a radio ad reminds him he’s got to get to Circa… we, the audience, are waiting!

The first half of Mr Fungus sees him riding the bus and battling the elements to make it to the theatre on time and the second is the show itself, where Mr Fungus bursts through the curtain of a light-up box that serves as a stage on the stage (meta set design by Aitken himself).

This structure is easy to follow for the kids. Even with very little dialogue they seem to keep their place and increasingly become more engaged, yelling suggestions like “check your suitcase!” or “the other banana!” or “I don’t know who that cat is!” or “Poppa, that’s where Cinderella was born!” Kids say the darndest things.

Though this isn’t an interactive or improv show so to speak, Mr Fungus responds beautifully to the littlies, giving them their moment in the sun while teasing them just a tad before driving the action forward. It’s clear how much the children love the show, especially when it comes to the addition of colourful props like the flying, farting balloons that make up the spectacular finale.

As a grownup (legally speaking), I’d love to see Aitken ham it up a bit more when things go wrong. For instance, when a juggling ball or a banana is dropped, a slapstick slip gag would satisfy that diabolical desire for disaster that kids have but that I don’t because adults are much more sophisticated than that…

What strikes me the most is Aitken’s gift for physical comedy. The way he embodies multiple characters with a simple gesture or makes his body appear weightless while fighting Wellington’s driving horizontal rain and gale-force winds (highly effective sound design by Aitken and director Fraser Hooper) is simply astonishing. Bravo!

Maximum Benefit | Regional News

Maximum Benefit

Performed by Max Porozny and Ben Jardine

BATS Theatre, 1st Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The cleverly named Maximum Benefit is Max Porozny and Ben Jardine, who specialise in long-form improv. Taking a few suggestions from one audience member – in this case, accidentally, me – the duo perform an entirely made-up story from start to finish over one hour of laughter and joy.

Our Level 2 masked-up affair starts with the two asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. I shouted “astronaut”, but when asked to go into more detail about my failed career plight, panicked and changed my answer to popstar. I also managed to outline my first ‘gig’ standing on a chair at Valentines Buffet Restaurant at the age of 11.

And so began a show about a jazz musician named Sanders Valentine, an agent with a dubious accent (or four), a budding young busker-hating police officer on his first day on the force, a kindly burger-maker, and perhaps most importantly, taco night at Mum’s place.

The great thing about reviewing improv is that I can’t spoil the show – because no two shows are ever the same. Unless you were in the audience with me, you will never see what I saw, which was two alarmingly calm and collected actors ready for whatever the night threw at them. Their quick wit, intellect, craftsmanship, and chemistry served as catcher’s gloves when a ball was dropped. 

While there were a few hiccups, most were minor and quickly saved by these proficient players. The only real confusion for me was when they switched established characters – for instance when Porozny suddenly became Sanders after Jardine had played him for most of the show. Just a few solid anchors, like a couple of main characters that don’t change, would help the audience to keep their place amongst the sea of silliness, fun, and chaos.

Overall, this was a supremely entertaining show that I’d happily watch again and again. Just ignore me when I yell about astronauts next time.

Murder on the Menu  | Regional News

Murder on the Menu

Written by: Devon Williamson

Directed by: Braden Lister

Gryphon Theatre, 29th Sep 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

First-time director Braden Lister has made a good fist of his debut production, despite COVID disruptions and a last-minute pack-in at the Gryphon Theatre, which is not New Players Theatre Company’s usual venue.

In Murder on the Menu, friends Skye (Ruby Braam) and Sophia (Sarah Upston) buy a dilapidated theatre which soon reveals itself to be full of the ghosts of Shakespearean characters who roam the auditorium declaiming lines from their famous plays. ‘Tights Boy’ Romeo (Pippa Liley) is the first to appear, followed in quick succession by Hamlet (Lyndon Jones) forever searching for drama queen Ophelia (Danica Frentz), a vain Juliet (Liv Calder), and the haggis-obsessed Macbeths (Euan Lucie-Smith and Yvonne Fisher). Skye and Sophia need to rid themselves of these pesky ghouls to be able to open a café, but how do you kill a fictional character who is already dead?

While the script is not high on intellectual challenge, Shakespeare fans will enjoy the revisioning of the most famous of his characters and the meta theatre jokes that pepper it. Those not so familiar with the theatre lexicon will enjoy the lively comedy that arises out of the murderous intentions of two people trying to off a group of ghosts.

The cast playing the Shakespearean characters all inhabit them with energy and relish, clearly enjoying the expanded dialogue and larger-than-life histrionics as they interact with each other. Lucie-Smith gives the performance of the night as Macbeth, revelling in his brash bonhomie, healthy appetite, and predilection for fart jokes. Braam and Upston are the glue that holds the narrative together and deliver that function with verve and good chemistry.

The lighting design by Jonassen Productions deserves special mention for its appropriateness and attention to detail. In one lovely moment, three lights that are seemingly just props unexpectedly come to life to great effect.

Congratulations to the whole team at New Players for a fun night of theatre that brings a splash of joy in these COVID-limited times.

Community Noticeboard | Regional News

Community Noticeboard

Presented by: Best on Tap

BATS Theatre, 15th Sep 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Community Noticeboard has the dubious honour of being literally the only show in town, thanks to COVID-19. If you can drag yourself off the couch, it’s well worth an hour of your time to head to BATS, join the masked-up and physically distanced audience, and let your mind be absorbed in this beautifully rendered piece of “truth-based, spontaneous theatre”.

The premise is a simple one: take real-life notes found on the community noticeboards at supermarkets throughout Wellington and explore the needs, wants, desires, lives, and relationships behind the notice writers and readers.

This is improv, so a member of the audience is invited pre-show to pick a dozen notices from a bowl and pin them to the board that forms the minimal set, which the actors then choose from and read out to form the basis of each scene. While the detail of the short scenarios is improvised, the flow is structured well to keep it varied and interesting.

The excellent ensemble cast of Best on Tap (Nicola Pauling, Mary Little, Geoff Simmons, Tim Croft, and Barry Miskimmin) creates a stream of poignant and often hilarious mini stories of the human condition from offers of sale as diverse as a train set, silver horseshoe, and Insinkerator. Their talent for instant but genuine characterisation is evident in the diversity and warmth of the relationships they produce from set-ups such as a couple on a first date, a mum and two annoying teenage sons, women bonding over the physical decline of a loved one, and even two fish in a tank being terrorised by a cat.

The action on stage is expertly supported by Matt Hutton and his keyboard and lighting improvisor D' Woods. In one particularly brilliant moment, the lights in the dome respond perfectly to the mimed actions of a young man being taught wiring skills by his dad.

Community Noticeboard runs only until Saturday the 18th of September and ticket sales are necessarily limited. It’s a treat. Don’t miss it.

Gays in Space | Regional News

Gays in Space

Written by: Tom Sainsbury and Jason Smith

Directed by: Tom Sainsbury

BATS Theatre, 10th Aug 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Gnoagh McGower (Daryl Wrightson), a straight-seeming NASA employee, is getting ready for the first all-gay space mission to probe Uranus. He is joined by Brahim Akbar (Zak Enayat), a model who believes the stereotype that he’s good-looking but stupid, and Dayj Cheeseman (Chris Parker), an ultra-camp social media addict who’s doing it all for Instagram. Also present on their suspiciously penis-shaped rocket is Sexbot (Blaise Clotworthy), who quickly becomes the subject of much jealously among the three astronauts.

On their seven-year journey to Uranus, they fend off a glamorous asteroid (Tom Sainsbury), have a Grindr date with a big-bottomed, bright pink alien called Zabian (also Sainsbury), and suffer space-induced conditions such as moonface and loss of bone density while all sharing the same bed. When they finally arrive at their destination, all is suddenly not what it seems.

These narrative shenanigans are accompanied by catchy, clever, and well-executed songs (Jason Smith), a highlight of which is the title track which my friends and I find ourselves singing in the foyer after the show. We also laugh like drains at the deliberately awkward rhyming of ‘love’ with ‘approve’.

The cast clearly enjoy performing this show and all deliver it with polish and energy. Special mention must go to Clotworthy whose beautiful singing voice, strong dance moves, and ability to create a fully rounded and sympathetic character from a robot are a standout. Sainsbury also showcases his enviable versatility in a variety of supporting roles.

Designer Molloy does a great job with the set and lighting, which are uncomplicated but appropriately spacey and effectively support the action on stage.

A quirky, fun, laugh-out-loud musical with a twist, Gays in Space does much more than just provide “great escapism”, as claimed in the programme. It also highlights with genuine pathos the pains, pressures, and prejudices faced by gay men as they navigate their lives and is all the stronger for it.

SUPER, NATURAL | Regional News

SUPER, NATURAL

Presented by: Discotheque

Te Auaha, 6th Aug 2021

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Discotheque (DTQ) are an independent Wellington-based dance company who have been bringing chaotic energy to the stage since 2016. Their works to date are steeped in irreverence, experimentation, and a pure love for the act and idea of dance. Their latest creation SUPER, NATURAL is no exception.

Co-directed by Holly Newsome and Elekis Poblete-Teirney, SUPER, NATURAL is a charming 50-minute romp of sci-fi abstraction, disco, and theatrical effect. The performance relies heavily on experimentation with light, sound, and texture, all of which ultimately lend well to the intended otherworldly atmosphere. It is also carried by six female dancers who ooze charisma and seem to relish and thrive in its quirky realm of existence.

Setting a cinematic, extraterrestrial scene, the performance opens with an ominous sequence of shadow play, robotic voiceover, and plenty of dry ice. The dancers are revealed wearing various iterations of the same green dress. They move in perfect, inhuman unison like aliens trying to fit into a human nightclub or a 30-year-old trying to vibe with surrounding 18-year-olds (no shade intended, I am in the former demographic). It doesn’t take long for the dancers to shed their discipline and spiral into a wild frenzy of leaps and bounds, unveiling their inner party animal.

Adding to the hectic energy, the soundtrack is a layered, pulsing mash-up of disco, talk show fragments, and poppy anthems. Then there is a series of colourful costume changes, from abstract swimsuits to glittery 70s body suits. Disco comes in hard and strong with the dancers imitating the pointed fingers and bouncing hips of the decade. And what would a homage to disco be without a few disembodied disco balls?

SUPER, NATURAL is a genuinely fun and absurd piece of work. DTQ are trying to create a new chapter of accessible dance and I think they are well on their way to achieving that by not taking themselves too seriously. I am excited by their development and am eager to see what weird and wonderful place they end up next.

Red! | Regional News

Red!

Composed by Lucy Mulgan

Directed by: Jaqueline Coats, with musical direction from Brent Stewart

Michael Fowler Centre, 4th Aug 2021

Reviewed by: Ruth Corkill

Red! is a modern operatic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. The heart of the production is a 400-strong children’s chorus. The children dominate the stage, and their singing, gestures, sound effects, and contributions as part of the creative team bring dynamism to the production.

Clearly an effort has been made to modernise and sanitise the story. The classic red hood becomes a red hoodie, the picnic basket is a backpack, and Red’s mother texts Granny to let her know that Red is on her way. The principles, Natasha Te Rupe Wilson (soprano), Robert Tucker (baritone), and Catrin Johnsson (mezzo soprano), wear jeans and sneakers. Presumably the intention is to make the story more relatable, but in the process we lose the fantasy and opulence of traditional opera.

The strongest section comes when Robert Tucker’s suave and unnerving Wolfie intercepts Red (Wilson), overcomes her initial reluctance to talk with him, and persuades her to linger in the bush. Wilson and Tucker are marvellous together, and Red’s intuitive fear of Wolfie is perfectly expressed in the score. The compelling and modern message here is that children should listen to their own intuition when dealing with abusive and manipulative characters.

But the show becomes more panto than opera once Wolfie arrives at Granny’s house, where Granny (Johnsson) challenges him to a boxing match. Both the children’s chorus and the audience enjoy the chaos, booing at Wolfie and cheering for Granny. Red sees through Wolfie’s grandmother disguise immediately, and we sadly miss out on the disquieting moment in the traditional version “oh Grandmama, what big ears you have”. Instead of eating people, Wolfie is reduced to being simply ridiculous. At the end he wags his tail and asks for carrot cake. 

Narrative choices aside, the score is wonderful and moves deftly between playful and serious. The accompaniment by Orchestra Wellington is superb. Parts of a section workshopped by the children falter but contain interesting ideas. Each of the principles give strong performances, with Wilson demonstrating particularly impressive vocal agility. Most importantly of course, children both on stage and in the audience are completely engrossed.

Winding Up | Regional News

Winding Up

Written by: Sir Roger Hall

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 28th Aug 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

As Ginette McDonald pointed out to me at halftime, I (a 20-something) am not quite the target demographic for Winding Up, the latest play from Sir Roger Hall about 70-somethings Barry (Peter Hayden) and Gen (McDonald herself). Seeing as the two-hander picks up on the lives of the central couple from Conjugal Rites, which Hall wrote before I was born, I’m inclined to agree. But I didn’t need context to root for Barry and Gen in this tender and touching chapter of their 50-year marriage.

Winding Up is set in the retired couple’s upmarket apartment while other happenings – like family dramas and flirtations with nosy neighbours – occur offstage. Barry and Gen often bicker and tease each other but their love shines through above all else, accentuated by a script that jumps from sharp to sassy to sweet in a heartbeat. Moments that make me fall in love with them in turn include a hilariously awkward (attempted) love-making scene and a gentle slow dance in which the full gamut of emotions runs across McDonald’s face, beautifully lit by Marcus McShane.

Hayden’s portrayal of a kind man with lots of zest (and patience!) is wonderfully offset by McDonald’s nuanced but no-nonsense Gen. Both veteran actors, their chemistry sparkles and sizzles as five decades of marriage are expressed in the touch of a hand, an exasperated eye roll, the tucking in of a blanket.

With the couple contemplating going on a cruise, I initially hope the setting will shift from the apartment to a boat but end up enjoying the slice-of-life perspective from their living room. Plus, seeing the pictures of their holiday afterwards (set and AV design by Lisa Maule) is a lovely touch. Together, Maule’s sleek set, Sheila Horton’s sophisticated costume design, and Michael Nicholas Williams’ gorgeous classical music design (particularly effective during the transitions, some of which are a tad too long) show a well-off couple in years made golden not just by age but by love.  

The Yellow Wallpaper | Regional News

The Yellow Wallpaper

Presented by: Yellow Cat Collective

Katherine Mansfield House & Garden, 29th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

I expect you, like me, have never wondered what happens when a wallpaper realises it is being watched. However, this fascinating “three-course meal” of domestic history, spoken word, and sensory dance experience seeks to answer that very question.

On arrival at Katherine Mansfield House, audience members have 15 minutes to enjoy the hors d’oeuvres, the lovingly recreated rooms of the home of one of New Zealand’s most famous writers. We’re told that rooms in the house have been reclad in facsimiles of the original wallpaper that neatly sets the scene for what’s to come and helps make this venue an inspired choice.

Once settled in an upstairs room, the petite audience of 10 is treated to the sumptuous main course, a reading from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 19th-century short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. This is the tale of an unnamed narrator who is prescribed bed rest in an old country estate and eventually grows fond of her cage-like room and its garish wallpaper. The lush and poetic descriptions of the patterns and shapes on the walls that surround the narrator are beautifully read by Liz Butler, who wears a suitably yellow dress, and conjure unexpectedly creative imagery from something as mundane as a wall covering.

Dessert is taken in a different room and, like all good sweet treats, it tickles the senses with its scent of spicy incense, hypnotic music (Aaron Dupuis), and soft, yellow light (Matilde Vadseth Furholm). Two dancers (Abi Sucsy and Ellen Butler) employ sensuous and sinuous movement – often in harmony, occasionally in conflict, sometimes together, sometimes apart – to bring the spirit of the yellow wallpaper alive.

With creative direction from Butler and Andrew Ford, Yellow Cat Collective have pulled off the seemingly impossible – making wallpaper interesting. Having sampled their tasting plate of creativity, I’m left hungry for the full buffet of storytelling they presented at this year’s Fringe Festival to describe “the sprawling waves of optic horror” that so enthralled the unnamed narrator.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Regional News

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Written by: Mike Hudson

Directed by: Lynn Coory

Cochran Hall, 22nd Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is based on the beloved 1876 novel by Mark Twain – which, ashamedly, I haven’t read! I do however know of Huckleberry Finn (Alfie Byrne), who gets up to all sorts of mischief (I mean adventures) with his good friend Tom Sawyer (Thomas Neville).

Set in the 1840s, this play focuses on Tom’s perspective and upbringing in a small town in Missouri, where director Lynn Coory notes “children’s currency was a dead rat and a brass doorknob and where children roamed free from breakfast to supper”. From grave robbing to buried treasure to miraculous resurrections, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer certainly is one great big adventure.

This Khandallah Arts Theatre production stars a number of youngsters and seasoned actors working as one. Neville, Byrne, and Josh Harford as Joe Harper share a wonderful chemistry, especially when bellowing around a campfire together. All of the kids do very well, with Ira Crampton deserving a hearty clap for his energy and enthusiasm as Ben. In the grownup category, Hayden Rogers makes an excellent villain of Buckshot Joe and as his would-be victim Widow Douglas, Marj Lawson’s lively performance is a favourite of mine.

The world building on display here is fantastic, with audiences transported to simpler times thanks to clever costuming (wardrobe collator Theresa Donnelly), a charming old-world suburbia set (Stephanie Woodman), and scene-setting music from talented guitarist Jack Dryden. Idyllic projections by designer Brian Scurfield work in harmony with the lighting design of chief technician Chris Collie-Holmes to establish different locales – from a cemetery to a cave to a haunted house – so the audience never loses their place. The thundering rain outside certainly added mystique to the spooky scenes!

Overall this Khandallah Arts Theatre production has great heart. I’d recommend more music through some of the transitions, as the energy does dip while the audience waits for the next scene to start in silence. A bit more pace and we’ll have a firecracker on our hands!

Tap Head | Regional News

Tap Head

Written by: Barnie Duncan

Performed by Barnie Duncan

Directed by: Katy Maudlin

BATS Theatre, 13th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

With Tap Head, comedian Barnie Duncan has achieved what his mum Robyn, to whom this show is dedicated, always claimed was possible – that you can feel more empathy for an inanimate object than a human being.

The inanimate object in this case is a lonely cold tap who works in a public toilet in Waitangi Park, desperately trying to engage with those who pass through his sterile world. By day, he stares at the smooth mound that resides where the hot tap should be and daydreams about taking his non-existent partner in plumbing to the park to play table tennis. By night, he tries out his vaguely crude and pathetic stand-up routine at comedy clubs.

Also plying his trade on the comedy circuit is Barnie Juancan who, with his freshly shaved knees, uses surreal dad jokes to provide multiple excuses for his literal lateness in starting the show, interspersed with salsa dances. Between digs at Jair Bolsonaro and an Uber ride with a German wasp, he brings a whole new meaning to turning on a tap.

Duncan’s greatest of many performance skills is an aptitude for mime and physical comedy that renders Tap Head a fully formed character with deep feelings. He even bares his buttocks in a sad shower scene that provokes an audible “Awww” from the opening night audience. Sharply contrasting this pathos with the arrogance of Juancan, he leaves us in no doubt as to who we’re rooting for.

Aiding Duncan’s performance is a precise and clever combination of lights (Kaitlyn Johnson), sound and music (Daniel Nixon), and animated projections (Caiden Jacobson). BATS’ Co-Pro model that allows more pack-in time clearly worked to this show’s advantage as these technical elements are outstanding.

It’s only since coming home from seven years in Melbourne that Duncan has found a truly appreciative audience for his Monty Python-esque humour. With Tap Head, he has done his mum proud.

The Lion King | Regional News

The Lion King

Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice

Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi

Directed by: Julie Taymor

Spark Arena, 10th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A diehard The Lion King fan, I walk into Spark Arena barely containing my excitement, only to have my sky-high expectations met and exceeded by the very first note. Two minutes into Circle of Life and I’m already crying. Those tears flow five more times as I feel The Lion King transport me back to my childhood with stage magic the likes of which I’ve never seen before. The sad scenes aren’t what get me but the sheer spectacle, the unfathomable artistry on display. As I say to my husband Dean after the show, I’ve never cried at how good something is before, and yet here we are.

To even begin to comprehend why The Lion King is so good, we must start with Julie Taymor. Not only the director but the costumer and the co-designer of mask and puppetry with Michael Curry, Taymor’s vision is monumental. From ginormous giraffes to mischievous meerkats, “from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope”, her designs capture the vast scope of the animal kingdom and are brought to life by world-class choreographer Garth Fagan, who emboldens a cast painted by hair and makeup designer Michael Ward to truly embody each animal. The stunning masks of Scar (the standout, terrifically terrible Antony Lawrence) and Mufasa (the gallant Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile) feel as if they move, even breathe, on their own.

Two highlights for me are moments not on film: a powerful and poignant scene in which Rafiki (the extraordinary Futhi Mhlongo), Young Nala (brilliance from Filia Te), and Sarabi (Lungile Khambule, the picture of mourning) grieve the loss of Mufasa and Simba; and the massive number He Lives in You, which is still stuck in my head!

While I can’t do The Lion King justice with words, and so few words at that, I’ll do my darndest by saying out of the hundreds of shows I’ve been to, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.

That’s All She Wrote | Regional News

That’s All She Wrote

Written by: Cassandra Tse

Directed by: James Cain

Te Auaha, 8th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Everyone should see That’s All She Wrote, for their mothers, for their grandmothers, for their wives, partners, and daughters; and for themselves. Presented by Red Scare Theatre Company, That’s All She Wrote is an ode to women and non-binary creators, vastly underrepresented in the world of musical theatre. The show features music from Broadway greats like Hadestown and Waitress, as well as lesser-known shows such as Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, and Heterotopia. There is even an original song written by the talented performer Cassandra Tse herself.

The No Man Band, composed of music director Katie Morton, Ellie Stewart, Jevon Wright, and Rachel Hinds, is wickedly talented and the perfect company for their powerhouse performer. Tse is phenomenally talented, and I could listen to her serenade me for hours.

That’s All She Wrote is in the traditional cabaret style. A single mic stands centre stage on a raised platform, the band encircling Tse. Large columns plastered with sheet music seem to scatter into the air and hang there, changing colour, form, and texture with Ruby Kemp’s lighting design. Tse gracefully and purposefully moves around the theatre in her elegant cocktail dress, bringing a dynamic and natural flow to the whole piece. A catwalk divides the audience seating into an upper and lower level, which Tse makes her way along throughout multiple songs. Rachel Hilliar’s set design adds depth and movement to the show, naturally guiding Tse throughout the room during the performance and allowing her to become the musical grande dame of her dreams. The show brilliantly balances history, memoir, narrative, and music.

That’s All She Wrote is professional, it’s important, it’s refreshing, and it’s relevant. By giving a voice to female and non-binary creators, we make more space for them to create, and with more space comes more representation. Female and non-binary creators need to be seen; That’s All She Wrote needs to be seen.

Elling | Regional News

Elling

Written by: Simon Bent

Directed by: Ross Jolly

Circa Theatre, 30th Jun 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Elling (Jeff Kingsford-Brown) is an anxious, tic-ridden, satchel-clutching mummy’s boy who has spent an undefined period of his life in a mental institution. His new roommate is the bold, sex-obsessed but virginal Kjell Bjarne (Gavin Rutherford) who takes a dubious approach to personal hygiene. Despite being chalk and cheese, they soon form a strong and empathetic bond such that, when the time comes, they are transferred to an Oslo apartment with the intention that they transition together into the ‘real’ world.

It’s clear from the get-go whose side we’re meant to be on. The health system representatives are hard and uncompromising while Elling and Kjell are sweet and self-aware, so we laugh with them, not at them. And there are laughs aplenty as they bumble through their new reality and the threat of returning to state care if they don’t adjust.

Initially, they retreat into themselves when faced with simple tasks, such as answering the phone or shopping. Then their self-isolated co-dependence is abruptly challenged by the arrival in their lives of heavily pregnant neighbour Reidun (Bronwyn Turei) and veteran poet Alfons (Steven Ray).

Kingsford-Brown and Rutherford give masterful performances in the main roles with nuanced physical and vocal characterisations that render Elling and Kjell as always sympathetic and never ridiculous. We’re drawn into their struggles and want them to triumph.

Turei, Ray, and William Kircher provide expert coverage of the personalities who surround Elling and Kjell. A highlight is Turei and Kircher’s turn as painfully pretentious underground poets at an open mic night.

Andrew Foster’s clean, IKEA-esque set design and the actors’ healthy disregard for the invisible walls gives a pleasing freedom of movement that is beautifully supported by sensitive lighting (Marcus McShane) and sound (Ross Jolly and Niamh Campbell-Ward).

While the chunky knits of the costume design (Sheila Horton) place us firmly in Norway, this story is universal. It’s charming, gently funny, and life-affirming; a wonderful antidote to the winter blues.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street | Regional News

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Presented by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Ben Emerson

Te Auaha, 30th Jun 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, many of us have attended the tale of Sweeney Todd. The musical follows the titular barber (Chris Crowe), who lost his wife and daughter Johanna (Olivia Stewart) to a great injustice at the hands of Judge Turpin (Thomas Barker) and Beadle Bamford (Jthan Morgan) some 15 years ago. Finally released from his internment, Sweeney returns to the “hole in the world like a great black pit” that is London hell-bent on vengeance. Here, he sets up shop with pie maker Mrs. Lovett (Vanessa Stacey) and earns his appellation as The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

It’s fascinating to see a large-scale musical with mammoth production values in an intimate space like Te Auaha. Seated in the very front row, my friend and I are at eye-level with action befitting a grand stage. This is deliciously overwhelming, especially in the ensemble numbers, made magnificent, dizzying by choreographer Greta Casey-Solly and honed to vocal perfection by music director Mark W Dorrell.

Giving us some welcome breathing room, some of the goriest scenes are set further back behind plastic strip curtains reminiscent of a slaughterhouse. Joshua Tucker’s inspired design screams of rank despair… God I love it.   

Both lead actors inhabit their roles in this dark, dank world entirely, Crowe with his thousand-yard stare, Stacey with her wicked spark. Together they are twisted, tormented dynamite. Sending shockwaves down my spine is Crowe’s Epiphany, with his world-class vocals heightened by Stacey’s journey from shock to terror to resignation, all in the shadows.

The blinding talent of the cast comes to the fore in Frankie Leota’s stunning vocal performance as The Beggar Woman; Zane Berghuis’ lovely legato lines in Johanna as Anthony; Stewart’s confident soprano; Ben Paterson’s hilarious turn as Pirelli; Jared Pallesen’s aching Not While I’m Around as Tobias; Barker’s suitably disgusting Johanna (Mea Culpa); and Morgan’s every greasy move. 

Bravo to director Ben Emerson and WITCH Music Theatre. Beyond outstanding.

Te Wheke | Regional News

Te Wheke

Presented by: Atamira Dance Company

Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre, 17th Jun 2021

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Sometimes, as a reviewer, you will attend a performance and wonder how on earth you are going to condense what you just saw into 350 words. Atamira Dance Company’s Te Wheke is one such performance.

Celebrating 21 years of creating significant Māori contemporary dance, Te Wheke is both a tasteful homage to Atamira artists gone by and a look into the company’s journey ahead; the fact that this piece was three years in the making does not go unnoticed.  

The title of the work refers to the octopus and the eight extraordinary dancers and eight choreographers symbolise the eight tentacles of the sea-dwelling creature. Over the course of the evening each dancer is given the opportunity to perform a representation of each tentacle and no two pieces are the same.

The show opens with a dreamy waltz between Sean McDonald and Emma Cosgrave, where the chemistry is simply breathtaking. It then quickly slips into an evocative frenzy of demonic proportions. Accompanied by a backdrop of archival footage and artistic projection, and a cleverly layered soundscape, Te Wheke proves to be a total sensory trip.   

The work weaves together elements of traditional Māori movement and contemporary dance in a way that challenges the dancers and highlights their individual dexterities. Cory-Toalei Roycroft moves as though her body is liquid and her being is on another plane, while Oli Mathiesen shows off his remarkable precision in a solo accompanied by the music of Alien Weaponry. The dancers hold their own in their respective pieces, but their power really comes through in the group sequences where they beautifully synchronise and meld into one essence.

Te Wheke is an excellent exploration of mātauranga Māori and our relationship with the physical and the metaphysical. It delves deeply into the human experience and draws up feelings of unity and identity. There are moments that make you shudder and moments that have you on the edge of your seat. I would see this work again in a heartbeat.

Popcorn | Regional News

Popcorn

Written by: Ben Elton

Directed by: Oliver Mander and Isaac Borgman

Gryphon Theatre, 9th Jun 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Bruce Delamitri (Max Nunes-Cesar) is a Hollywood hotshot who makes gratuitously violent films in the vein of Quentin Tarantino. When he wins an Oscar to the delight of his producer Karl (Martin Hunt), the critics rage. What message does it send to our most vulnerable members of society when we honour someone who glorifies guns?

Bruce is about to find out. When the infamous Mall Murderers, Wayne (Jonathan Beresford) and Scout (Sara Douglas), break into Bruce’s home while he’s doing the horizontal tango with aspiring actress Brooke Daniels (Stacey O’Brien), his very artistic integrity is in danger. Oops, I mean the thing he’s supposed to care about: his family, estranged wife Farrah (Tammy Peyper) and teenage daughter Velvet (Kaley Lawrence).

Directors Oliver Mander and Isaac Borgman have made some interesting choices for this Wellington Repertory Theatre production, like projecting images (read: visual innuendos) onto a screen that I end up liking after initially suspecting a glitch. Tanisha Wardle’s AV design is quick and clever, cinematising the action but sometimes overmilking the play’s raunchier elements.

Of which there are many! The actors do well to communicate passion and lust, particularly O’Brien, though I won’t spoil the motive of her pantyhose striptease here. Douglas too embodies desire, making Scout’s love for Wayne so believable, she somehow turns a maniac into a likeable character. The chemistry between the two actors and her gift for comedy helps, too.

Not likeable is Bruce. I’d be interested to see a full-on villain interpretation of the character, as Nunes-Cesar’s gentle approach suggests an attempt to portray nuance that isn’t there. I’m blaming the playwright for this, and for the clunky writing that makes Karl suddenly start ranting about the Mall Murderers for no reason, unaware that they are in the very same room as him?

Wellington Repertory Theatre have brought Popcorn to the stage with respectful trigger warnings, high production values, and a committed cast and crew. It’s a hell of a romp, not suitable for the faint-hearted.

Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream | Regional News

Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream

Written by: Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis

Directed by: Justin Lewis

Te Auaha, 25th May 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

One minute, Kutisar is putting on his Harvey Norman uniform and the next he wakes up in limbo, unsure whether he got his pants on before suffering the medical event that landed him there. We soon discover that the fate of the former chaiwallah depends on how he behaved on Earth. Kutisar begins to flash back to his younger days running a kulfi shop in Mumbai with Meera, whose people – the Parsi community – have a tradition called a sky burial where they lay their dead out in the towers of silence to be eaten by vultures. When Meera’s grandfather dies, the vultures don’t come. It turns out, in this one-man show and in real life, the birds are facing the fastest mass extinction of all time.   

Playing Kutisar, Meera, and five other characters – a hilarious highlight of which is Meera’s pompous aunty – is Jacob Rajan, who wears a set of oversized teeth as a form of mask to channel multiple larger-than-life personalities with joy and immeasurable talent.

I never lose my place thanks to Rajan’s gift for physical theatre and the transitions, made seamless by composer David Ward’s sound design and D. Andrew Potvin’s lighting design. These production elements transport the audience not just to different times, but through different worlds, where set designer John Verryt’s projected abstract images clarify the setting while enabling our imaginations to run wild. And then there is Jon Coddington’s exceptional, remarkably lifelike puppet, a vulture that at first terrifies me but that I soon learn to appreciate, to love, to mourn. The dancing helped!

Indian Ink’s Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream is an example of a team working together as one airtight unit where each part is vital to the whole. The whole, in this case, is a poignant production that I could not take my eyes off and won’t be able to stop thinking about for a long time to come.

Eat Your Landlord | Regional News

Eat Your Landlord

Devised and performed by Long Cloud Youth Theatre

Directed by: Ben Ashby

Te Auaha, 25th May 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Eat Your Landlord is a full-course meal of student life from chef (director) Ben Ashby. Entrées consist of freezing flat, the main dish certainly is Courtenay Place, add a side of lazy flatmate and uninterested landlord, and top it off with after town kick-on dessert. There is plenty to chew through and a substantial amount to digest later.

A movement-based piece, Eat Your Landlord is highly conceptual. Though I struggled to understand the full storyline, I believe Long Cloud Youth Theatre presents various scenes from the typical student lifestyle. The actors twist and contort themselves into various character tropes, forms, feelings, and situations. A single desperate tenant confronts the massive conglomerate that is their property management firm. Two flatmates attempt diplomatic discussion about dishes and toilet paper within a cage, but formal pretense quickly devolves into carnage. A night in town borders on pagan ritual. The ensemble channels frustration, rage, confusion, helplessness, love, and awe through their bodies into the performance.

Eat Your Landlord makes great use of space. The show is roving; the audience wander around the room while the performance happens around, behind, or above them. I often felt uncomfortable or in the way, as if I stumbled upon a tribal ceremony but was welcome nonetheless. As much as I did feel a part of the performance, I also felt alienated.

The lighting and sound design, both by the talented Bekky Boyce, bring the show together. The ever-dripping tap keeps you alert and on edge, while the brilliant soundtrack brings life to the dank room. The lighting (as well as the mismatched carpeted floor) consists of detachable lamps hooked up to hanging extension cords or bare bulbs creating the dark, stark setting, reminiscent of a dingy, but oh-so-cool student flat.

Though at times too conceptually complex to be accessible, Eat Your Landlord is a one-of-a-kind banquet full of young energy, pointed and overdue protest, and chaotic (but free) student life.

Bobby Wood: If You Met My Mum, You’d Understand | Regional News

Bobby Wood: If You Met My Mum, You’d Understand

Written and performed by Tess Sullivan

BATS Theatre, 18th May 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The brief online introduction and lack of a programme makes this NZ International Comedy Festival gem something of a mystery when entering the Dome at BATS. The stage is typically bare for what is apparently a one-man stand-up show, consisting of just the stereotypical microphone, stool, and bottle of nondescript beer. When the lights go down, we hear the expected cheesy night-club introduction over the PA system of Bobby Wood, the self-styled Sage of Hari Hari.

However, Bobby is late and nowhere to be seen. Instead, his kilted and bespectacled mum starts speaking from the front row of the audience. We soon find out why Bobby is late as Mum relates anecdotes and embarrassing stories from his childhood about an overly complex education in how to tell the time and a pathological fear of cuckoo clocks.

After requesting extra cushions for her piles and buoyed up by a glass of red wine, Mum soon takes the microphone and hits her stride. She treats us to a litany of hilarious stories of West Coast farming life involving microwaved beanbags, killer cows, and what happened that time she fell down a hill and broke both her legs.

The highlight is her retelling of a one-night stand with a hulk of a man called Jack Melbourne, with whom she locked eyes across a crowded RSA hall during a storm. With body hair like a dish scourer, he still causes her spasms of lust every time she says his name.

Eventually, Bobby arrives and starts his routine of appalling, farm-related jokes that fall delightfully flat for a sophisticated Wellington audience. Bobby is, in fact, the world’s worst stand-up comedian thanks to his traumatic childhood. We have met his mum, so we totally understand.

Character-based comedy that gently lampoons stereotypes is something Kiwis do particularly well and this show is no exception. It is unexpected, charming, and deliciously funny.

Giselle | Regional News

Giselle

Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Opera House, 12th May 2021

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) presented a relaxing evening at the Opera House with an ethereal retelling of Théophile Gautier’s Giselle. Like many of the classics, Giselle could do with a shakeup; a woman dying of a broken heart and accepting the infidelities of her lover may not be so relatable to modern audiences. That said, Giselle was never created for the story, it was created for the appreciation of dance.

Choreographed by Ethan Stiefel and Johan Kobborg, Giselle has become an RNZB staple, and it is easy to see why. The production is an opportunity for the dancers to home in on their technique and immerse themselves in an otherworldly beauty.

As Giselle, Mayu Tanigaito is a force to be reckoned with. She approaches the role with tenderness and remarkable expertise. Giselle is familiar territory for Tanigaito and it is clear that the character holds a special place in her repertoire. Extended sections en-pointe leave the audience breathless and her connection with fellow dancers is unflappable.

Laurynas Vėjalis and Paul Matthews perform the roles of Albrecht and Hilarion, Giselle’s besotted lovers. Vėjalis and Matthews are two sides of a coin, Vėjalis playing the refined nobleman with graceful leaps and pirouettes, while Matthews is a little more audacious and forceful in his movements. But both are striking to watch.

In the second act we enter darker territory with the cheating Albrecht haunted by his role in Giselle’s death. Led by a delicate Sara Garbowski, a stunning corps de ballet dance as the ghostly Wilis, creating a dreamy sequence with beautiful lines and delicate footwork. The women of the company deserve an extra round of applause for their poise and cohesion.    

Orchestra Wellington, conducted by the charismatic Hamish McKeich, were a welcome accompaniment and the costume design by Natalia Stewart was outstanding. The overall production value was impressive, and along with the charming performers, it was easy to settle into an evening of escapism.    

Another Mammal | Regional News

Another Mammal

Written by: Jo Randerson

Directed by: Jane Yonge

Circa Theatre, 8th May 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Wellington writer Jo Randerson has made a name for herself as a creator of dark social satire and her new play, Another Mammal, delivers that in spades, along with a healthy dose of absurdism.

A married couple, simply known as Y (Anya Tate-Manning) and Z (Natano Keni), are on the brink of divorce and attempt repeatedly to resolve their differences. However, every time they confront each other, one of them has a real or imagined gun. Their failed reconciliations inevitably lead to a comedic death as a broader metaphor for humankind’s tendency to solve problems with violence.

Tate-Manning delivers a standout performance as the female protagonist, injecting her stage presence with rapid-fire dialogue, physical energy, and expert comic timing. Keni offers a more restrained counterpoint to balance Tate-Manning’s fire. As the Stage Manager, Erina Daniels creates a subtle character who initially assists the action on stage, but then becomes an important part of it. The three mysteriously benevolent and hirsute Wolf-Apes, Peter Burman, Sean Millward, and Waitahi Aniwaniwa, gradually invade Y and Z’s sparse home with a quiet and charming bemusement.

The development of this play was one of many disrupted last year by COVID-19. That experience is evidenced through the improvised feel of the dialogue, the shapeless tracksuits worn by most of the cast, the unkempt hair and long nails of the Wolf-Apes, and the bunch of fake flowers unceremoniously squirted with hand sanitiser.

The in-your-face narrative is supported by a raw set (production design by Meg Rollandi) and lighting design (Joshua Tucker) and a loud Kiwi pop-rock soundtrack that forces the audience to stay engaged and propels them ever onwards into the next helter-skelter scene.

Another Mammal will not be every theatregoer’s mug of tea, but for those who revel in the surreal and enjoy a good laugh at the persistent failings of the human race, then this is an excellent hour’s entertainment.

Let It Out | Regional News

Let It Out

Written and performed by James Nokise

The Fringe Bar, 5th May 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

James Nokise put a mirror up to our own ridiculousness on Wednesday night, breaking down all the comical madness we saw throughout 2020. His intoxicating energy emits infectious good vibes from the word go, and our captivated audience couldn’t wipe the smiles from their faces for the entire hour.

Let It Out shines a light on all the emotional, silly, and downright peculiar behaviour Nokise observed over the past year, starting at the beginning, when he decided to return to New Zealand to surprise his dad for his birthday… for a week. 400 days later, he’s still here, watching on as New Zealand gets weirder and weirder. There’s our outrage at the result of the cannabis referendum, our unwarranted infatuation with Ashley Bloomfield, and our collective insanity whenever Slice of Heaven plays over a loudspeaker, amongst many other gems.

While Nokise’s natural energy and enthusiasm is responsible for getting us onboard, what truly sustains us is his refined approach to the written word. He knows that in order to wring laughs from us, it’s crucial that we first grasp the premise of each bit. His confident and emotive delivery is always clear and to the point, allowing him to plunge as deep as he likes into any given topic knowing we’re right there with him.

Another of the comedian’s abilities is his character work, which is on full display tonight. Nokise can, at a moment’s notice, transform his voice and mannerisms, inviting a sudden shift in tempo that injects an added dose of hilarity. His impression of Bloomfield is so spot on I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch a COVID-19 press conference the same way again.

Transitions from bit to bit are silky smooth, but the rapid-fire pace of the set leaves us in the lurch at times. Sometimes we’re still recovering from one joke as another begins, and a tad more breathing room would give the show definition. Although, this is but a nitpick in an otherwise flawless night of comedy.

Classy Warfare | Regional News

Classy Warfare

Written and performed by Tim Batt

Cavern Club, 4th May 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In his eighth stand-up hour, two-time Billy T Award-nominee Tim Batt presents a loose but consistently hilarious series of bits that never outstay their welcome and delivers punchlines that roll around in your head long after they land. His comfort onstage allows the audience to relax and settle in for a night of top-notch comedy that is sure to be a highlight of the NZ International Comedy Festival.

Batt begins by thanking us for our bravery in attending the first performance of his new show, admitting that he first has to set a stopwatch as he hasn’t even timed it yet. This would seem to suggest a scattershot show, but Classy Warfare is anything but. He spends the night ruminating on problems facing this and future generations, all with an overarching sense of anarchic glee. Without spoiling too many specifics for his remaining shows, Batt strikes a balance between playful anecdotes of childhood embarrassment, weed-induced deep thoughts, and past jobs with explorations of the absurdity of New Zealand politics, his dire financial situation, and his distrust of capitalism.

As fans of The Worst Idea of All Time (a podcast co-hosted with comedian Guy Montgomery) will tell you, Batt can chat, and it’s this enduring vibe that he bestows on our audience. For an hour, we simply feel as though we are chilling on the couch with that funny old mate of ours who hasn’t popped by for a while. The audience is clearly familiar with his style and him with his audience, yet we are still caught off guard time and time again.

A sign of Batt’s veteran status is his ability to know when a joke has come, served its purpose, and ridden off into the sunset, making his punchlines stick and his messages even more so. The puzzle pieces are all there, and I have no doubt Batt will quickly sculpt Classy Warfare into a tight-packed performance throughout the festival.

Best Foods Comedy Gala | Regional News

Best Foods Comedy Gala

The Opera House, 2nd May 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The NZ International Comedy Festival kicked off to a full house on Sunday night as roars of laughter and tubs of mayo filled The Opera House at the Best Foods Comedy Gala.

Introducing some of the best comedians in the country, MC Justine Smith keeps the three-hour show cracking along with whizbang jokes of her own. Her sense of comedic timing makes her the perfect ringmaster, while her humour – grubby, stroppy, yet somehow still charming – sets her up as a consistent audience favourite.

“I feel like I did not make the best use of my allotted time”, Ben Hurley says at the end of his set. It’s one of the funniest moments of the night, as is Nick Rado’s aggressive imitation of kids jacked up on Raro. Guy Montgomery’s takedown of the 6 o’clock news is my gala highlight. I’ve always been a huge fan of his absurdly clever, cleverly absurd comedy.

Rhys Darby and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer are both standouts, Darby for re-enacting his anything-but-calm audition for the Calm app, and Gonzalez-Macuer for his understated but hard-hitting set on anxiety. James Nokise has us chuckling with the political, while Angella Dravid has us blushing with the overtly sexual. Spouting absolute filth while looking like a deer in headlights is a whole mood, and I’m here for it.

Musically we’re spoiled with a few treats, especially from Paul Williams on keys. That voice! His song about the dangers of walking home at night echoes Laura Davis’ wicked set, which disarms the audience by entwining serious issues with laughter. Fresh from Broadway, Jonno Roberts dazzles with a ditty on the difficulties of raising children (to put it mildly), but creeps me out by lusting after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Closing the show is Two Hearts, Laura Daniel and Joseph Moore, with Tummy Rosé. A Kiwi take on The Lonely Island, this musical comedy duo always delivers a banging finale with high production values.

What an outstanding night of standout stand-up.

Things I Know to be True | Regional News

Things I Know to be True

Written by: Andrew Bovell

Directed by: Shane Bosher

Circa Theatre, 30th Apr 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Things I Know to be True is a poignant story of family, of loss, and of love. The play follows the Price family through the ups and downs of life over the course of a year, broaching problems and situations universally known to every family, to every human. The Price children (played by Heather O’Carroll, Jthan Morgan, Daniel Watterson, and Caitlin Rivers) have grown up and started their own lives, often fiercely independent from their parents, but seem to find themselves more often than not circling back to their childhood home, for advice, help, approval, rebellion, truth, and the comfort that only family can provide.

Things I Know to be True is exquisitely crafted. Each one of the actors portrays genuine, deep, relatable, and very real characters. Lara Macgregor delivers a phenomenal performance as Fran Price, flitting between anger, joy, pride, longing, fear, and devastation as she desperately tries to make the world right for her children. As her counterpart Bob Price, Stephen Lovatt delivers a much more subtle character, enacting a stoic yet utterly tender performance of a devout father and husband.

As the backdrop for the lives of the Price family, set designer Andrew Foster creates the garden world in which the story unfolds. Four rosebushes mark the passing of time and the seasons, changing in size, shape, and foliage throughout the play as we transition between summer and fall, or from one character’s story to the next. Leaves fall from the ceiling as well as real rainwater, making the play alive and dynamic.

Though heart-wrenching, Things I Know to be True is also heart-warming. Life is not perfect for the Price family but it is real. In their lives we see our own, raw and difficult, delicate and utterly beautiful. Through their story we find comfort in knowing that though all of us share heartbreak, we also share resilience and compassion in overcoming it; and this I know to be true.

Up Down Girl | Regional News

Up Down Girl

Adapted from Up Down Boy by Sue Shields

Directed by: Nathan Mudge and Michiel van Echten

Running at Circa Theatre until 1st May 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

19-year-old Mattie (Lily Harper) is about to move out of home for the first time. Mum (Trudy Pearson) is taking her to college in just a few hours, but here’s the thing… Mattie hasn’t packed her bag yet! You know when you’re spring cleaning or moving and every item you own suddenly springs forth memories that take you back to a different time or special moment from your past? That’s happening to both Mattie and Mum as they attempt to bundle her life into a duffle bag, reminiscing all the way. Meanwhile through direct audience address, Mum shares her experience of raising a child with Down syndrome.   

Mattie’s imagination is extraordinary, her memories vividly brought to life in Up Down Girl. A number of production elements help us see into her world. Firstly, her friends (the delightful Michiel van Echten and Mycah Keall) pop out of the wings to play police officers and doctors, evil grocery shoppers and hot Westlife singers. They also serve as backup dancers for the fabulous lip-sync numbers, which Harper nails with total star power. Then there’s Ian Harman’s bright, homely set and Isadora Lao’s colourful lighting design, which leans into Mattie’s every wonderful whim. Let’s not forget the old overhead projector that sets so many magical scenes.

From patient to cranky, loving to fierce, Pearson beautifully portrays all the nuances of a mother exhausted by prejudice. Harper’s performance is funny and sassy as all heck. The relationship between the two characters gives me tingles, accentuated by the chemistry and respect the two actors clearly share.   

Up Down Girl is a feel-good play that leaves the audience grinning from ear to ear. At the same time, it is a poignant, triumphant tale of overcoming adversity (preferably while wearing a cape), embracing our differences, and the unique perspective that a person with Down syndrome can bring to the world.

Needless to say, it hit me right in the heart.

Tale of a Dog  | Regional News

Tale of a Dog

Written by: Peter Wilson

Directed by: Fraser Hooper and Amalia Calder

Tararua Tramping Club Clubrooms, 17th Apr 2021

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Presented by KidzStuff Theatre, Tale of a Dog tells the tale of Dog, the ‘trickiest of tricksters’ and last remaining performing dog in the circus. After 30 years of the same old tricks, Dog, wonderfully brought to life by David Ladderman, wants to try new things.

Fergus Aitken, larger than life as Ringmaster and Narrator, is blind to Dog’s talents and is a stickler for things remaining the same. He strategically places a ‘vacancy’ sign on Dog’s colourful tent home. With no takers for the job, he steps in rather haphazardly as a replacement for Dog, confident he can fill the void. His attempt is pitiful at best. Dog’s unique talents are not easily replaced.

“Bring back dog!” echoes through the audience captivated in the front row.

Dog agrees to come back on three conditions: he has a piano, he has bones (lots of really big bones), and he and the Ringmaster perform together. What ensues is a new circus where Dog’s talents now surprise and delight. Some rather impressive juggling between Ringmaster and Dog brings a smile to many a young face, including my eight-year-old.

With his paw-by-paw rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle on his tiny piano, Dog appears coattails and all, and the Ringmaster is as wowed and awed as his audience. One keen observer from the audience is quick to admonish the Ringmaster with an incredulous “did you not see him playing in the beginning?”

Tale of a Dog is just right for the four to seven age group. It’s a great opportunity to cultivate a love of theatre in the young, with comedy, suspense, and a little slapstick in between. On a deeper level, Tale of a Dog is a lasting legacy of late writer Peter Wilson about learning to appreciate each other’s unique differences. With perseverance and by staying true to yourself, you can achieve great things.

The Wellington Comedy Club with Chris Parker | Regional News

The Wellington Comedy Club with Chris Parker

San Fran, 1st Apr 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

It’s a blustery Thursday night in Wellington, and San Fran is packed to the brim with punters hoping for the kind of belly laughs that can make the outside world disappear. That’s exactly what we get thanks to the Wellington Comedy Club. These regular stand-up shows always attract impressive line-ups of top local and national comedians, and tonight is no exception, with Funny Girls actor Chris Parker emceeing alongside headliner Sera Devcich. Supporting them is Shannon Basso Gaule, Ryan McGhee, and Lesa Macleod-Whiting.

Parker bursts onto the stage with an alarming energy that makes me like him immediately. A self-professed extrovert, his comedy is fast and frenzied but clearly constructed with care. He’s animated and personable, punctuating clever jokes with wild gesticulations (I can still see him screaming for Janet in the back room in my mind’s eye) and serving as the perfect host for the evening.

Next we have Basso Gaule, who is equally proud and embarrassed of the fashion choice he made in purchasing, then wearing, quite green trackpants. He makes a few great jokes about “fully furnished” flats in Wellington, then disenchants by being so ‘meh’ about his fiancée it’s borderline mean. Maybe they’ve broken up and I missed it?

McGhee is a softly spoken Scotsman with a twinkle in his eye. Cool, calm, and collected, he handles an infuriating heckler graciously and delivers my line of the night about coming out with choreography.

Macleod-Whiting shares meaningful stories of sexism and motherhood, galloping about the stage to act out ridiculous situations (like speed racing a car full of catcallers) with effortless effervescence. I would have named her Best Newcomer at the 2020 Wellington Comedy Awards too!

Sassy, sharp, and hilariously stroppy, Devcich creates a captive audience every second she’s onstage. From tampons in corpses to spoons covered in you-know-what, this is unapologetically rude comedy. Her easy, understated delivery means punchlines creep up on the crowd, causing collective cackling (and shrieking!) and bringing the house down.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin | Regional News

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Adapted by: Rona Munro

Directed by: Ewen Coleman and Stanford Reynolds

Gryphon Theatre, 31st Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A truly charming rendition of Louis de Bernières’ novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is well worth a watch. The show hits the mark and skillfully paints the story of star-crossed lovers Antonio Corelli (Jonny Marshall) and Pelagia (Ava Wiszniewska) amid a war-stricken community, ravaged but not destroyed.

The entire cast is extremely talented, navigating Greek, Italian, and German accents and language with great professionalism. Emotions are raw and heavy, especially for Wiszniewska and Richard Corney (playing Mandras), who navigate the tragedy of war as well as first love with expert balance. Georgia Davenport (the goat) and Gilbert Levack (Psipsina the pine marten) brilliantly add a second layer of humanity, suspending disbelief of their real human form and becoming their animal counterparts. Alister Williams (Iannis), however, steals the show. As father, doctor, and romantic, Williams’ performance shows true experience, authenticity, tenderness, and genuine love for his daughter, his community, and his beloved Cephalonia.

The show has a complex timeline and geography, spanning over 50 years and multiple countries. Theo Wijnsma’s minimal set masterfully brings Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to life, each location distinct yet ultimately connected. The backdrop consists of three staired levels which span the length of the stage, moulding mountains, battles, cliff faces, bramble patches, town squares, and barracks. These stairs are also mobile, enabling an extremely convincing earthquake effect. Downstage left sits Iannis and Pelagia’s front stoop and kitchen table, ever-present throughout the story, making the world of Cephalonia titular and stable despite the constant changes around it.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a beautiful and complex novel, and no small feat to bring to the stage. Wellington Repertory Theatre’s rendition expertly captures the story’s essence, sincerely portraying many forms of love and relationships against the backdrop of war and tragedy. In a world with so much human cruelty and horror, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin shows that beside, or perhaps behind it, will always flourish human love.

IDIOM 002 | Regional News

IDIOM 002

Directed by: Laser Kiwi

Te Auaha, 19th Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Cucumbers! Melons! Grapes! Bring your shades and get your weird on because this deliciously fruity show is so brilliant, it’s dazzling.

From chefs to clowns and looping violinists, IDIOM 002 features a variety of artists at the very top of their game. The acts aren’t all connected but the mood is carefully curated by our hosts, the only but indeed best surreal sketch circus trio in the world, Laser Kiwi. Plus, several cucumbers find their way onto the stage more than once. I don’t know why, but I like it.

The high-energy variety show begins with a rousing medley of artists giving us a small taste of what’s to come. Comedian Sowmya Hiremath then takes the stage, navigating ghost buses (and ghost husbands for that matter) with a relatable and refreshing honesty.

Over the course of the evening we meet aerial hoop artist Sophia O’Connor, whose athleticism astounds; Sharn Te Pou, who does flips and splits in roller skates and can even sing, mesmerising all every moment he’s on stage; chef Jack Shewell, who is really good at chopping and flambéing things; world-renowned circus artist Emma Phillips, who juggles whole tables with her feet and has the audience gasping for breath; and clown Fraser Hooper, who rides a tiny bike and wields giant gloves in a boxing routine for the ages.

Laser Kiwi’s programming of physical and stand-up comedy shows their aptitude for balance, echoed in their inclusion of MOTTE (violinist and composer Anita Clark). MOTTE’s otherworldly, experimental music isn’t upbeat like the other acts but it’s my favourite addition to the show.  

Tying it all together are our hosts Zane Jarvie, Degge Jarvie, and Imogen Stone, who delight the crowd with their rhythmic bobbing and unique brand of Pictionary, sometimes at the same time. Brothers Zane and Degge make quick work of chopping six airborne cucumbers while Stone’s impressive and dexterous candle-lighting act is another show highlight.

It might sound cliché but I truly mean it when I say there is never a dull moment in IDIOM 002.

Cuffs, Stockings and Two Smokin’ Barrels  | Regional News

Cuffs, Stockings and Two Smokin’ Barrels

Written by: Finlay Langelaan

Directed by: Finlay Langelaan

Te Auaha, 16th Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Finlay Langelaan’s riotous Cuffs, Stockings and Two Smokin’ Barrels feels like theatre on adrenaline. Though it passes by quickly, the Tarantino-esque story is captivating, innately suspenseful, and funny throughout, despite some technical letdowns that occasionally force the actors into hammy territory.

Believing that her husband Roger (Esteban Jaramillo) will be spending the night in hospital following cataract surgery, BDSM-savvy Cathy (Anna Barker) takes the opportunity to invite her lover Peter (Caleb Hill) over for an evening of pleasure. Their plans go out the window when a determined thief, Damien (Jett Ranchhod), crashes the party, soon to be followed by a recovering Roger.

Langelaan’s script wastes no time, taking us from zero to 100 the second the stage lights dim and Cathy and Peter burst into the living room with their lips locked. Our entire audience sit up in their seats, and this reaction does not subside for the next hour. Tonally, the dialogue is somewhat inconsistent, bouncing from natural to extreme at a moment’s notice. What is not inconsistent though is the plot, which is tightknit, clear, and effortlessly entertaining.

The jazz score, composed by Ben Kelly and performed by Magic Monké and the Banana Boys, sets the mood with ease. It’s seductive and intense, and paired with sharp lighting cues it helps to further define the simple stage design. The decision not to mic the cast unfortunately leaves many punchlines drowned out by the band. At times it feels like I am at a jazz gig rather than a play, and I am left jealous of the front row who appear to catch hilarious lines that are lost to the rest of us.

Barker deserves praise for her committed performance; sexy, smart, and slightly insane, Cathy is the show’s greatest asset. Sadly, the sound issues lead to some overacting all-round as the cast fights to be heard.

While a little unpolished, Cuffs, Stockings and Two Smokin’ Barrels is still an exhilarating ride from start to finish.

The Cool Mum | Regional News

The Cool Mum

Written by: Joanna Prendergast

Directed by: Joanna Prendergast

Cavern Club, 13th Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Jo Ghastly (Dr Joanna Prendergast) is a ‘cool mum’. She’s up with all the teen lingo, ya dig? She even knows how to dab. Jo is holding a seminar to teach her audience to be just as cool as her – not that we have a hope of reaching her level on the coolometer.

This one-woman comedy show has the potential to be excellent. Unfortunately, Jo is just a little too Ghastly, which my friend and I find alienating. I get the schtick – she’s an uncool mum who thinks she’s cool. But at times the character rides the irony past humour to needless nastiness, making it hard for me to invest in the show. Only an uncool person would roast one member of the audience over and over again, that’s the joke, but the fourth time it happens I’m for Bob and against Jo. This also means I’m reluctant to engage for fear of being ridiculed myself. You can feel how uncomfortable some audience members are when called upon, which is a problem in an interactive comedy show like this.

I’m really unsettled by the jokes about blind people, just one example of which is the flippant remark, “have you ever tried to explain a graph to a blind person?” Deliberate or not, is discrimination ever funny? There’s enough good stuff in The Cool Mum to make this content totally unnecessary.

Onto the good stuff, then. Prendergast has a wonderful stage presence and a way with wit, carefully measuring her approach to deliver punchlines to maximum effect. Structurally, The Cool Mum is brilliant, centred on a PowerPoint presentation that features my highlight of the evening: a role reversal video of a teenager and her mum. It’s clear from the appreciative laughter that a lot of people present love the show.

With the addition of a director, an outside eye to gauge audience response and curb some of the more offensive jokes, The Cool Mum would be lit AF.  

Fab Beasts | Regional News

Fab Beasts

Written by: Ryan Cundy and Catriona Tipene

Directed by: Catriona Tipene

Gryphon Theatre, 11th March 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Fab Beasts is a clever two-part show, featuring a beautifully crafted mythical world within which to address social issues through playful allegory. Act one details the plight of five elitist unicorn property managers jostling for the privilege of a place on Noah’s ark. Act two follows Detective (Loch) Ness (Katie Boyle) and her struggle to break through the glass ceiling.

The cast and crew make great use of their space by using ‘the magic of theatre’ to their advantage. They do not hide the set transitions, incorporating the set and its quirks into the storyline and often breaking the fourth wall. A large blue sheet is used for rising water levels in act one, making the audience feel as though they too are floundering. Musical interludes make for seamless transitions between stories and allow for the construction of Detective Ness’ imposing costume. David Conroy’s lighting design is instrumental in setting the tones of the show: natural during moments of comedic relief, red and hot in moments of tension. Costume plays a key role in making the imaginary world real. The complexity of the mythical characters’ costumes alongside the transitional and minimalistic set brilliantly work together to underscore the irony of social issues such as the housing crisis, gender inequality, and racial privilege. If the show’s world and characters are imaginary, could our world’s inequalities be a social construct and thus dismantled as well?

The world of Fab Beasts is tangible and authentic, despite or perhaps because of its fantastical protagonists. The actors make their characters believable, relatable, and inherently human. Though flawed and often whimsical, the protagonists navigate a mythical world similar to our own, and blossom into something genuine, sincere, and not unlike ourselves. Alongside its mythical setting, the borderline absurdism of the show underscores the irrationality of many social issues, rendering them farcical and calling into question often illusory problems created in our own (not so) mythical world.

INTROSPECTION | Regional News

INTROSPECTION

Written by: Liv Woodmass

Directed by: Regann Rees-Henry

BATS Theatre, 11th Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

It’s not often I see a piece of theatre where I can relate to a little bit of every character.

INTROSPECTION deals with the topic of mental health, depicting characters who each have a different battle to overcome. While the content warnings for this piece are extensive, I feel that the script treats the topics very delicately, touching on dark themes somewhat vaguely. We watch the characters develop, working towards the end goal of ‘leaving’ the space, or walking through the door into the unknown. The five characters are distinguishable by the colours which represent them, and by what appears to be their personality types and coping mechanisms.

Upon entering the space, I’m immediately intrigued; the set comprises several black boxes with painted abstract faces. At the back of the stage, against a wall of more faces, is a door. The set itself is simple, yet incredibly artistic and fits well with the overall piece.

The use of coloured lights (Bekky Boyce) helps to direct the audiences’ focus onto each character, and is an aesthetically satisfying and effective way to aid transitions. Sound (Boyce) is also a key element in the narrative, for it is what drives the characters toward the door, either pushing them to go through or scaring them away.

The dynamic between the actors on stage is truly comforting to watch; despite the conflict in the story, it is clear that these actors (Htoo Paw Thin, Ngarongonui Mareikura-Ellery, Kerris O’Donoghue, Liv Woodmass, and Kezia Thompson) have been working hard together to depict the complex and beautiful relationships we see in INTROSPECTION.

Unfortunately I often find myself confused about the literal setting, which is never made clear throughout the piece. I bounce between thinking it’s set in an individual’s mind, in a psychiatric ward, in a house which the occupants feel unable to leave; eventually I settle on the conclusion that it’s perhaps an abstract symbolisation of all of those things.

Overall, this was unlike anything I’ve seen before. With the creative staging and lighting, and the beautiful performances, INTROSPECTION is not one to miss.

Suit and Ties | Regional News

Suit and Ties

Written by: Li’i Alaimoana

Performed by Li’i Alaimoana

Cavern Club, 11th Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Suit and Ties is comedian Li’i Alaimoana’s swan song, his final hour following a six-year career in stand-up. He admits this will be a “brutally honest” window into his time in comedy, and while our audience is captivated by his presence and insights, a lack of structure falters what would surely be an airtight set if it had time to sharpen up.

Underground and dimly lit, the Cavern Club is certainly the appropriate setting for this tender performance. Alaimoana opens by discussing how personal tragedies nearly forced him to cancel this show, but his appreciation for an audience eager to hear him out clearly outweighs his heartache. He goes on to impart a behind-the-scenes look at a life in the New Zealand comedy circuit, how his Sāmoa heritage affected it, and ultimately, why he is choosing to leave stand-up behind.

Alaimoana is a natural-born storyteller. Our audience hangs on every word, aware that this is about more than jokes, it is about truth. Having said that, this is still comedy. While some jokes leave me in stitches, there are long lulls where I hope a story is leading towards a whopper of a punchline that unfortunately never comes. Although, as he approaches subjects like the true meaning of diversity in the entertainment industry, his family’s varied experiences with racism, and the difficulty of crafting relatable jokes for a majority that does not represent him, I am undeniably hooked. I simply wish I laughed more.

The core of Alaimoana’s set lasts roughly 40 minutes, after which he grabs his guitar and proceeds into crowd work. This fragment of the performance is a light-hearted treat after an intense opening, and possibly the funniest part of the show. It does, however, feel improvised. If Alaimoana was to spend a few more months developing Suit and Ties it would be one for the ages. Still, as the first of his final three shows, he should be immensely proud of the magnetic performance he delivers.

Love and Plastic Roses | Regional News

Love and Plastic Roses

Written by: Isabella Murray and Revena Correll Trnka

Directed by: Revena Correll Trnka

Te Auaha, 9th Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Starring its creator Isabella Murray as Bella, Love and Plastic Roses is a solo show about the pressure people can feel to make romantic and sexual connections with others.

Bella sits down for a date at a table set for two, with cheesy mood lighting and music (both co-designed by Revena Correll Trnka and Murray) setting the scene and creating a soft, pretty aesthetic. She faces the audience while her date is represented by a robotic voiceover and an empty chair with its back to us.

I experience some confusion while watching Love and Plastic Roses, at first believing Bella to be on one date. With the introduction of more Siris and Alexas, so to speak, I start to think we’re witnessing multiple dinners, with each date more mechanical than the last. After Bella mentions never having been out with anyone, I wonder whether we’re watching her rehearse these situations and they’re not real after all. Maybe the circumstances aren’t important and not knowing is the point, but while trying to piece the action together, I find myself missing some beautiful moments onstage.

Some decisions are clear and clever, with metaphors woven throughout that suggest Bella is just going through the motions, that everything is not coming up (plastic) roses. A gradual change of lighting state catches me by surprise and makes me chuckle more than once, while Bella’s soliloquies and asides feature some arresting lines that catch my heart in my chest.

Murray’s performance is heartfelt and captivating. While it’s possible she reaches peak panic mode as Bella a little too early, she puts in the kind of unreserved energy that I can’t look away from.

There are some great ideas brewing in this work, which has a strong backbone and an authentic story at its core. With a little more workshopping and development, Love and Plastic Roses has all the makings of a show you’ll never forget.

Dr Drama Makes a Show With You | Regional News

Dr Drama Makes a Show With You

Written by: James Wenley

Directed by: Rachel Longshaw-Park

BATS Theatre, 7th March 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A rollercoaster ride from the very beginning, Dr Drama Makes a Show With You flips your expectations and theatrical convention on its head from the moment the lights dim, or in this case brighten, for suddenly you become the star of the show! Dr Drama (James Wenley) playfully breaks the fourth wall, deliberately deconstructing what it means to be a performer versus an audience member, and what role we think the audience, the performer, and performance itself should play.

Dr Drama calls the audience onto the stage to become performers. Conventional performance pieces about Wenley’s personal relationship with and love for theatre, along with his experience isolating alone during lockdown, are interspersed with theatre games, didactic segments, conversation, and of course your very own show. Tim Fraser’s lighting design spotlights traditional performance moments while the audience remains in the dark, but illuminates the whole stage when the audience are to perform. Alongside Wenley’s narrative, Fraser’s use of lighting ingeniously underscores theatrical practice while simultaneously questioning its norms and boundaries.

Wenley’s show is artfully self-aware, broaching relevant topics such as loneliness, a shared struggle in the midst of a pandemic. Wenley brings theatre back to its choral roots, changing the notion of what it means to attend a performance into something much more human, much more collective. Each moment links together with a common thread of hope. Theatre acts as the binding force by which we can not only overcome loneliness, but also connect with others in a world where we are becoming increasingly divided physically, socially, and emotionally.

Dr Drama Makes a Show With You is both clever and effective. Wenley successfully involves his audience and navigates around (at least my) discomfort. The juxtaposition between actor and audience performance is exciting and fresh, but also thoughtful and constructive, inspiring me to consider less traditionally Western modes of performance and its effect in my own small world as well as society at large.

Wisdom of Waters | Regional News

Wisdom of Waters

Presented by: Speaking Spines

BATS Theatre, 3rd March 2021

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone | Regional News

Alone

Written by: Luke Thornborough

Directed by: Luke Thornborough

Harbourside Function Centre, 3rd Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

I genuinely don’t remember the last time I was so invested in a piece of theatre. Alone is a sci-fi thriller that explores feminism, climate change, space, and whether tomato sauce belongs in noodles. Beginning to end, I am with them every step of the way.

Set on a spacecraft called The Lily of the Nile, the story follows Dr Sarah Taylor (Kat Glass) and Jessica Holland (Courtney Bassett) as they near the end of a two-year space mission. Dr Taylor believes her work with alien micro-bacterium is the answer to climate change, while Holland is the quirky and fun pilot responsible for ensuring their safe return home.

Together the set (Luke Thornborough, James Wright, Glass), lighting (Michael Goodwin), and sound (Thornborough) create a truly surreal atmosphere. While I clearly don’t know what it feels like to be on a spacecraft, this team has created exactly what I might imagine. The technical aspects of the production perfectly complement the narrative. With the slow build to the climatic chaos, the theatrical sound and lighting almost go unnoticed, as they feel so natural to what is happening in the story. From the frightening bangs and chilling flashes of light, to the silent darkness, every choice is executed with clear intention, and adds exactly what the narrative demands.

Despite their unimaginable circumstance, Dr Taylor and Holland are two complex, likeable, and passionate characters whose stories simply feel real. The two actors, dressed fantastically in matching jumpsuits (costume by Courty Kayoss), are just brilliant. They command the attention of the audience, and turn that wide open room into a space built just for them; it is their spacecraft, and I am so on board.

Alone is intimate, powerful, a little bit scary, and absolutely incredible. For a full 90 minutes I forget that I’m in a vast function room, watching a piece of theatre with a group of people. I’m holding my breath, on the edge of my seat, with my eyes open wide, and absolutely desperate for their every move.

Cupid’s Guide to Modern Romance  | Regional News

Cupid’s Guide to Modern Romance

Created by: the Rom-Comrades

BATS Theatre, 3rd Mar 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Modern dating is hard enough. Finding love? Oof. Created by Pippa Drakeford-Croad, Nina Hogg, Matt Powell, and Alayne Dick, Cupid’s Guide to Modern Romance depicts awkward first dates in one improvised hour where even the couple’s characteristics change every night.

The evening begins with a winged Cupid (Powell) asking who in the audience is looking for love. It’s a heavy opening, perhaps one we’re not ready for, and no one responds. Not to be deterred, Powell asks who amongst us has found love. Newly married, I’m unable to restrain myself and put my hand up. Now, the entire character of Nikki (Dick) is based on how I’ve described Dean: “warm, kind, and secretly weird.”

Nikki’s love interest Jojo (Hogg) is based on another audience member’s attribute of indecisiveness. It makes for a wonderful ride, with Nikki embarrassed to admit she paints dinosaur collectables and Jojo unable to choose between five jobs. While the two actors ham up these qualities at the start (which isn’t a bad thing as it gets the crowd giggling), they gradually lean into more nuance as their characters evolve and storylines develop. By the end of the hour, we’re wholeheartedly rooting for them – both as individuals and as a couple.

This is largely thanks to the brilliant comedic timing of the actors, who hold onto an astounding amount of information and consistently bring the audience in on the joke. Their conversation is realistic and genuine, especially when it’s allowed to flounder past a scene’s natural end (as in the travellator in an aquarium awkward silence that leads to a squee-worthy kiss). It truly feels like we’re witnessing new love take its first steps. As our quick-witted, charismatic ringmaster, Powell sets the scene while Charlotte Glucina on keyboard helps to build it to a climax.

My friend looked at me after Cupid’s Guide to Modern Romance and said, “I needed that”. I think that’s a beautiful way to sum up this achingly sweet, funny-as-heck queer love story.

Campfire Calamity | Regional News

Campfire Calamity

Written by: Stacey (Ace) Dalziel and Isaac Andrews

Directed by: Stacey (Ace) Dalziel and Isaac Andrews

Te Auaha, 27th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Bloody Woman | Regional News

That Bloody Woman

Written by: Luke di Somma and Gregory Cooper

Directed by: Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay

Gryphon Theatre, 24th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls

Written by: Sarah Boddy

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer

BATS Theatre, 16th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

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

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

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

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

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

Caburlesque – cABBAlesque | Regional News

Caburlesque – cABBAlesque

Presented by: LadyTramp Designs Ltd

Fringe Bar, 6th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

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

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

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

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

Brown Crown | Regional News

Brown Crown

Written by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

Directed by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

BATS Theatre, 4th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

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

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

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

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

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

The Look of Love | Regional News

The Look of Love

Written by: Ali Harper

Performed by Ali Harper

Circa Theatre until 20th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Burt Bacharach: a name synonymous with musical genius. And yet, I know his name, I know so many of his hits, but I had no idea he wrote them! The Look of Love, Ali Harper’s latest show, sees the award-winning singer honour the songwriter responsible for I Say a Little Prayer, What the World Needs Now, and Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. My friend and I had more than one ‘aha moment’. “Wait, he wrote that one too?”

With twinkling fairy lights, a sleek piano, and a couple of bar stools and mic stands the only adornments, the stage is set for intimacy and glamour. Harper is cloaked in sequins (clothes design by Roz Wilmott-Dalton) that catch the light and accentuate her star power. She is accompanied by resident musical director and pianist Tom McLeod (what chops!) and guitarist Callum Allardice, who brings a distinctly cool, laid-back vibe. Backing them all is the full might of musical director Tom Rainey’s arrangements, recorded with brass, strings, drums, the whole shebang.

The whole shebang is a great way to describe The Look of Love, a show in which everybody gives their all and then some. Harper’s joy is palpable, infectious. There is no way you can watch her perform and not see it radiating from her. There is no way you can leave the theatre without feeling it yourself. Her talent is difficult to put down in words; not only does she nail every note, her voice runs the full gamut of emotion, articulating the love and love lost that Bacharach’s songs so masterfully express.

In between songs, Harper shares Bacharach’s stories and waxes lyrical about her onstage and offstage collaborators, showering them with praise, adoration, and respect. Judging by the thunderous applause and standing ovation, the audience feels exactly the same way about Harper herself.

Go to The Look of Love and let Ali Harper catch you between the moon and Wellington City.

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show | Regional News

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

The Fringe Bar, 11th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Until tonight, it didn’t feel a lot like Christmas, but these performers truly have “made the Yuletide gay” with their festivities.

Tonight’s host is none other than Judy Virago, whose exceptional costumes are gifts in themselves. Judy keeps the audience entertained between acts with storytelling, flirting, and even a performance of her own; there’s not a moment in the night that we aren’t completely encapsulated in the show.

The first act of the evening is everyone’s favourite Aunty, Pamela Hancock, who brings such beautiful variety with her live singing and storytelling. Her character is so well established, I feel completely invested in Pam’s life. Next, The Everchanging Boy beautifully executes a simple concept through aesthetically satisfying costume and props, and elegant dance. Judy shares that they are the only person she refuses to stand next to on stage, because they’re too beautiful, and now I understand; I simply can’t take my eyes off them. Homer Neurotic is wearing a giant Christmas advent calendar, and immediately I’m taken back to the Christmases of my youth. This time, it’s absolutely adult content. What’s in Homer’s boxes? I can’t wait to find out. With his brilliant combination of funny and sexy, this king is a crowd favourite. Christmas isn’t complete without a Grinch, so Willy SmacknTush is here to deliver. When he performs, he commands the attention of the entire room. Donning a shiny suit and some very big, green hair, Willy retells a story we've all heard, but this time when The Grinch destroys Christmas, we absolutely love it. Once of the most polished drag performers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, Hariel is the gift that keeps on giving. With her burlesque-style performance, Hariel is cheeky, flirtatious, and wonderfully lewd, while somehow... tasteful? Her lip-sync is flawlessly articulate, and completely mesmerising.

Finishing the show with a festive group act, these performers have me completely invested, and ready to sing Christmas carols. With tinsel, music, and a whole lot of glitter, it finally feels like Christmas.

Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show  | Regional News

Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

Ivy Bar & Cabaret, 5th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

The Ivy Bar stage is covered in absorbent sheets, and the front row are equipped with waterproof ponchos; if you aren’t prepared to get messy, you’re in the wrong place.

Splosh: to cover one’s self in food in order to achieve sexual stimulation or arousal. As a show title, it’s enough of a content warning. Willy SmacknTush, the “hoist with the moist,” makes a powerful entrance to open the show, and assures us that by the end of it we’ll be “begging for second helpings.”

First up, Robin Yablind treats us to his specialty ‘draglesque’ style, revealing several thoughtfully positioned citrus squeezers; they say he’s sexually confusing, but with fresh orange juice dripping down his chest, I’m not confused at all. Jezebel, head to toe in cow print, bathes in a pool of about 10 litres of milk. Soaking up the audiences’ squeals, this truly messy queen does not hold back. Braiden Butter is an audience favourite, and with his signature combination of comedy and dance, his beet cannot be beat. Harlie Lux, while nailing a lip-sync, invites us to eat an ice cream sundae off her chest. This queen is always a treat, but tonight she takes it to the next level. Amy Thurst, Wellington’s favourite bogan mum, genuinely makes me thursty as she guzzles a couple bottles of red. My shirt may now be wine-stained, but it’s worth it. The Bombay Bombshell’s dedication should be commended, but she has me literally gagging as she makes out with a fish. It does not smell good. It’s fantastic.

The finale act, no matter how many times I see it, is mind-blowing. Ju Majin and Brenda? Areyouintheaudience are back with their human PB&J sandwich, and food porn has never been better.

I often find myself describing drag shows as delicious, mouth-watering, gag-worthy queer magic. In Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show, these adjectives became literal, leaving me covered in sparkling wine, and wondering if I’d just experienced my favourite drag show of all time.

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