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Reviews

Dream Girl  | Regional News

Dream Girl 

Written by: Joy Holley

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Dream Girl by Joy Holley is a collection of short stories about women who wear their hearts on their sleeves, who do a tarot spread to deal with life’s burdens, and who twirl under the moonlight with hearts full of desire. The protagonists are haunted by love that slips from their reach as they cling to the details of the moments they had and what those moments could have been. 

The author starts to find her footing a few stories in. When her stories stretch desire away from just the sexual kind is when her writing really shines. Fruit brings a charge of life to the collection. The details of fruit paralleled with something all-consuming alongside a relationship gives a unique depth of insight into the compelling nature of desire. Pets showcases a friendship group’s shared ambition to have the most interesting pet, adding another stroke to what desire can be. 

Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents is a beautiful, evocative piece about young love. It follows the loss of an all-consuming friendship as the news story of the young girls from Heavenly Creatures breaks out and has a knock-on effect on society. 

Blood Magic has an eerie undertone that introduces a haunting tone to Dream Girl. The sense that you’re not aware of everything that is happening adds an exciting twist of anticipation to the later end of the collection.

Music is a huge character throughout Holley’s work – the importance of the stories it can tell and the lives it can shape. As a reader, you can picture exactly what sort of parties are being thrown and get inspired to make your crush a playlist.

I would have loved to have seen further exploration of what desire is and can be. Some stories blur together as the repetition of a mysterious love interest who ghosted becomes monotonous. But overall, Dream Girl is a dreamy, hot, and haunting read.

Ruin and Other Stories | Regional News

Ruin and Other Stories

Written by: Emma Hislop

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Ruin and Other Stories is a series of short stories about women who are on the edge of ruin and how their lives have been completely rewritten by the actions of a man. Women who will always be looked at for what they did and didn’t do, what they did and didn’t know. “Sabine knew, they didn’t really think of her. They thought about him and the things he did.” 

Power imbalance bleeds through every story and not just in the behaviour of men. There’s the stickiness of friends and sisters, twisted dynamics that unravel and tighten. Love that doesn’t always go the distance. These are stories of women who lose their power again and again and struggle to see their way through. Hislop’s writing makes you feel like you’re slipping into the skin of her characters, that their lives could easily be yours, and the questions they face you may have to one day answer. 

Ruin and Other Stories hones in on the fear of what wasn’t done and asks big questions. What is consent when you’re trying to protect someone? When do you stop trying to help? How do you know that what you did was enough?

It is not a book that can be easily devoured in one sitting. There is rape and paedophilia in almost every story. There is no break. And although not described, the relentless repetition serves as a reminder. Assault doesn’t just sometimes happen to one person,
it is not just one person’s story – it happens a lot and we can’t ignore that.

Some of the stories blur together and some stand out more than others. But Ruin and Other Stories stands as an important reminder that we still have power imbalances and some of us may have forgotten that. These women have hands that are full of nails but no hammer. How do they rebuild from ruin and who will help them?

One Heart One Spade | Regional News

One Heart One Spade

Written by: Alistair Luke

Your Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

One Heart One Spade captures the mood of the 70s well, an era with distinctly different attitudes and a different vibe. But despite this, it’s still uniquely Wellington as the story plays out across the streets and suburbs of the capital. Its backdrop is critically local, lending gravitas to the gritty urban feel of the crime story and to the lead characters, who feel sublimely present.

One Heart One Spade centres around the disappearance of Felicity ‘Flick’ Daniels, the missing granddaughter of a retired judge, and Detective Lucas Cole and colleagues as they investigate her disappearance. Interwoven between is the investigation of one of their own when it appears he is connected to the murder of a local drug dealer.

Alistair Luke paints a vivid picture of each character. There’s Felicity’s grandfather McEwan, poised with all the airs and graces you would expect from someone used to having power over others. His disdain for Felicity’s boyfriend Miles Weston is palpable. McEwan derisively describes Miles as a “hippie”, a “bangle-wearer”, and a shoeless one at that. Yes, by McEwan’s accounts, Miles is a wasteful person, much like the “wasters” he has spent his whole life putting away. But McEwan’s fawning preoccupation for his homegrown roses – even after his supposedly beloved granddaughter is missing – and reluctance to open up Felicity’s room in his house makes him stand out in his own right as an oddball when detectives question him about Felicity’s disappearance.

One Heart One Spade sometimes feels a little stunted, with conversations between characters intersecting a little too briefly, too succinctly, running too closely into each other. I found I wanted just a bit more out of the narrative. Regardless, the mysterious, compelling tale of the missing 21-year-old Felicity, her conceited grandfather and ex-judge with secrets to hide, and a dogged detective in the form of Lucas Cole is inviting.

It’s where the detective’s professional and personal life begins and ends that draws you in, as too does his burgeoning relationship with his new colleague Erena Wilkinson.

The Artist | Regional News

The Artist

Written by: Ruby Solly

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

It’s not often I need a dictionary on hand when writing a review, but I did in the case of The Artist. The dictionary is a Māori-English one, and my knowledge of te reo has increased markedly due to a perusal of Ruby Solly’s verse novel.

It’s a work of fiction, explains the author, and it’s based on the history of the iwi who have shaped her being. Indeed, the word “being” is central to this work, occurring in evocative phrases like “A world is sung into being” at the outset.

The natural world is incorporated here, with rivers, sand, and wind as much characters in the story as humans. The artist of the title emerges as a kind of painter of dreams, somehow connected to “the ache of potential”, another recurring theme.

Predictably perhaps, the advent of Pākehā into the Māori world provokes such stark images as “There is talk of stolen stone / of moko slipping from the face” and “we possess a pile of kūmara / as well as a pile of bodies”.

The story really gets under way when Hana (a Southern woman) meets Matiu (a Southern man). Hana’s subsequent pregnancy and experience of childbirth are dramatically described, and twins are born. But the family, relegated to the back of the pa, fail to gain acceptance from their own people and must forge their own fates.

The second half of this verse novel continues the story with the natural world and that of the dreams, ambitions, and experiences of the characters firmly intertwined. In Carving, Matiu the father introduces stones to Reremai his son. “Reremai cradles the stone – a field of potential, with the form of a wāhine swirling towards them”. And the artist’s signature appears again in Discovery, in the form of a fresh moko on Kiki’s skin.

Reading The Artist resembles walking through a forest: dreaming, wondering, sometimes suffering, touching, and being touched. Its writing is a tribute to its author just as much as to the iwi she celebrates.

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?

The Tank | Regional News

The Tank

(R)

100 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I would like to preface this review by saying I’m not a horror movie gal. Quite frankly, I’m a big wuss. Give me the weirdest Fellini film or a twisted Coen brothers’ movie and I’ll be happy as Larry, but one jump scare and boom: blanket up to the ears. Don’t laugh – it is a proven fact that a blankie can protect you from anything.

I would also like to say I watched the new Kiwi film The Tank alone. I will take my gold star stickers now, thank you.

That said, I recently had the privilege of speaking with the director, writer, and producer of The Tank, Aucklander Scott Walker (check out our next issue for a fun close-up on him), and he informed me his 11-year-old and company were not scared in the slightest.

Well, I was. But isn’t that a good thing?

The Tank follows Ben (Matt Whelan), Jules (Luciane Buchanan), and their daughter Reia (Zara Nausbaum). After mysteriously inheriting an abandoned property along the Oregon Coast, the family accidently unleash an ancient creature (Regina Hegemann) that has terrorised the region, and Ben’s ancestors, for generations.

Initially the story seems to follow the classic creature-feature, but there is a great twist which I won’t spoil. It’s quite satisfying to see the mould broken a bit. The Tank also comments on human greed and impact on the environment, begging the question: who is the real monster here?

It’s set in the 70s, and the 40s technically, and Paul Murphy’s set decoration as well as Nick William’s production design are superb. You also will have noticed that the creature holds a credit. That’s because this entire film is made using practical effects instead of CGI. This is hands down the coolest thing; simply phenomenal. I love it.

The Tank is out in cinemas on the 6th of June. New Zealand has a long history with genre films, and Scott Walker now joins that legacy. So grab a mate and a blankie for protection, and go support Aotearoa’s newest feature film. It’s a doozy, and pretty cool if you ask me.

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.