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Reviews

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.            

Mayflies | Regional News

Mayflies

Written by: Andrew O’Hagan

Faber and Faber

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

It’s interesting that this book starts in 1986, just four years after the release of the CD. Why is this important? Well, for some it was the start of the decline of music per se. This is nonsense of course – technology, as good as it is, never stifled creativity. The decline of vinyl over the next few years is crucial. Though never mentioned here, it was a pivotal moment when the album was described as having sides A and B. We no longer think in those terms, but for the author, O’Hagan, splitting the book into two halves means a wander down nostalgic paths before confronting the stark realities of growing up, changing music habits, losing friends, taking jobs that you never thought you would, and the inevitability of death.

Each generation thinks the protests he makes will impact the future. For these close-knit friends from Glasgow, the enemy is Thatcher, the decentralising of government, and the closing of the mines. More importantly to them, it’s the music of the times that keeps them going. The chance to get down to Manchester to see The Smiths, New Order, Happy Mondays, and The Stone Roses is not passed up. Needless to say, it’s a weekend lost in the fog of booze and drugs and fleeting memories of one-night stands and half-remembered acts.

Cut to the second half of the book. The year is 2017. Tully, best friend of the narrator Jimmy, also known as Noodles, declares he’s dying. The caveat is that Jimmy must help with an assisted dying pact which opens a Pandora’s box of ethical questions.

Openly opposed to this is Tully’s girlfriend, soon to be wife. But a pact is a pact.

As the months pass, the reflection between laughter and tears grows closer. It’s maudlin and funny in turns. Mayflies is about the baggage you take with you through life. We see Tully’s mask slip as he thinks back to the father he hated whilst seeing something of his father in himself. You will laugh, you will cry. An important book.

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops | Regional News

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops

Written by: Shaun Bythell

Profile Books

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

As a reader and bookshop-goer, you will most likely fall under one (or multiple) of Shaun Bythell’s many categories in his taxonomy. And it’s a fun game trying to place yourself into one of the many Genus and Species within Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops.

Though extremely caustic, satirical, and undoubtedly wry, Bythell’s book is not for the easily offended bookshop visitor, as he certainly does not hesitate to expose every habit or attribute of even the most benign customer. Nevertheless Blythell somehow manages to endear both himself and his fraught characters to the reader. Perhaps because though detestable and despite some truly laughable behavior, each and every one (well most of them) still shares a love for books.

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops is very fun and frankly quite an easy read. It’s not difficult to pick the book up and after many fits of laughter and just as many internal cringes as you see yourself reflected in the pages, you’ll realise you’ve already reached the end of the book. I for one found myself wanting more. His classification system (though Blythell vocally regrets his decision) lends itself well to the flow, making each character clearly defined and distinct from the others. The prose is very witty, imbued with sarcasm and even a sense of pretention, yet you can’t help but empathise with Blythell as he recounts various anecdotes of his experience as a bookshop owner.

Though at times he loses himself in his own digressions, Blythell always seems to find his way back to the character, by which time you so enjoyed the journey getting there you don’t even mind the detour of biting commentary. “Loath as [he is] to quote the creator of Game of Thrones”, Blythell agrees that “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one”; and our sardonic author can’t help but love every booklover that enters his store.

With the Wind Behind Us | Regional News

With the Wind Behind Us

Written by: Matt Elliott

HarperCollins

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For as long as anyone can remember, sailing has been synonymous with the New Zealand lifestyle. The fact that we have a city (Auckland) unofficially named after the sport is a testament to that. With the Wind Behind Us is a collection of small anecdotes that tell the story of our country’s love of the ocean and the strides we’ve made ever since getting that first taste for sailing in the early 19th century.

While I have to admit to never being much of a seadog or having sea legs in general, I really enjoyed reading about our boating culture and the stories behind New Zealand’s maritime history. There have been people in the past who’ve called yachting a so-called ‘rich man’s game’. Such a generalisation is a bit of an insult since our connection with the water and boating goes way deeper than that. It’s a rich tapestry that is something to be very proud of, even if you’re not into sailing.

It’s clear that writing this book has been a labour of love for Matt Elliott, and it shows with the amount of information and detail that he’s poured into it. His style’s extremely down to earth, and his stories – sometimes funny, sometimes informative – are always well put together.  One of my favourites would have to be the one titled Snow White and the Seven Sailors, where a group of seamen survives being shipwrecked at sea for several days before eventually being rescued. 

The only real problem is that we’re not all born sailors, so I can definitely see With the Wind Behind Us not being everyone’s cup of tea. That’s an incredible shame since With the Wind Behind Us represents a slice of history that we should really try to learn more about. But for those of you willing to give it a go, Elliott’s book is an excellent place to start.

The Fire of Joy | Regional News

The Fire of Joy

Written by: Clive James

Picador

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Late last year I reviewed my first poetry book, Magnetic Field by Simon Armitage, and like the great cliché “you wait for one bus, then two come along”, another must-read poetry book arrives. The Fire of Joy is Clive James’ last book before passing away in 2019. It’s a wonderful tribute to a word scholar who prized language above anything else.

This final chapter celebrates the poets and poems that had guided him through life. It also comes with the instructions to speak these poems out loud, something I attempted. Twirling spectacles in one hand and the book at arm’s length I strode manfully up and down the living room, five paces up, turn, repeat.

Not unlike the idea of Alan Bennett’s Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin (2014), James introduces us to over 80 poems with the neat trick of dissecting each of them in his own unique way. It might have been prescient to see the forthcoming suicide of Sylvia Plath in Cut, James muses.

Philip Larkin’s An Arundel Tomb is essentially about an earl and his countess. I’ve always felt it’s about death. The ossuary where the couple lie is adorned by a carving. James notices, in the poem, one hand from the earl has slipped from his gauntlet and holds tight the hand of his beloved. Suddenly, Larkin’s last line, “What will survive us is love” is at once prophetic as well as succinct.

James is not above caustic remarks. He notes that E. E. Cummings had nothing but scorn for capitalism but lived on a trust fund. Dorothy Parker’s One Perfect Rose displayed her famous wit before James informs us that Parker became a hopeless drunk. Likewise, Wallace Stevens was spoiled by bourgeois dependability. I’m sure James wanted them all starving in a garret somewhere.

The short pithy essays explain the structure, and the story behind such seminal works from so many poets is a welcome tool for beginners and scholars alike. Simply put, this is a book that should be in every school library and home.

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.

Cousins | Regional News

Cousins

(PG)

83 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Like many great films, the quietest moments in Cousins often ring the loudest. A story entrenched in Māori heritage, a few forced lines and predictable plot points barely detract from the near-spiritual realm it takes us to, or the significance of its creation.

Cousins was adapted from Patricia Grace’s novel of the same name, following three separated cousins throughout their youth, adulthood, and later years. Mata, who now wanders Cuba Street seemingly aimless, was adopted by a European family when her mother died and made to feel ashamed of her Māori roots. She reminisces over the short time she spent with her true whānau while cousins Missy and Makareta long for her return.

Directors Briar Grace-Smith and Ainsley Gardiner keep a firm hand on the source material and bask in the story’s inherent power. For a film that doesn’t even reach the hour-and-a-half mark to define three characters at three different points in their lives is an achievement in itself. Defining the world they inhabit in visceral detail adds the necessary colour and mystique, and director of photography Raymond Edwards deserves praise for creating an atmosphere that makes the character’s whenua (family land) appear like a rural fantasy.

The co-directors wisely centralise Mata, doing well to familiarise us with the cousins considering they are each played by three different actors in a non-linear tale. Although, with some mixed results. Sharp changes in behaviour sometimes make me lose sight of the progression of these women, though Tanea Heke (Older Mata), Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne (Adult Makareta), and Rachel House (Older Missy) deliver standout performances, plus Ana Scotney is absolutely transfixing as Adult Mata. Somehow, editor Alex Boyd manages to weave their stories with ease, they just contain too few surprises.   

Grace-Smith and Gardiner linger on poignant moments, capturing traditional cultural practices like the hongi and tā moko in intimate ways. As a Kiwi, these small moments resonate, even if the dialogue around them feels unnatural at times. Cousins will transcend you to another world, albeit a familiar one. 

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.