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Reviews

Empire City | Regional News

Empire City

Written by: John E. Martin

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Empire City is the most impressive book I think I have ever experienced, and honestly I did not think that I’d be as blown away by it as I was. Everything about it screams pure class, from the handmade drawings to the fold-out maps that show you what Wellington looked like in the mid-19th century.

Every legend started somewhere, and in the case of Wellington, it was with Indigenous Māori and the New Zealand Company (an organisation to help settle the country) first meeting each other. It also tells us about Edward Gibbon Wakefield, whose vison helped settle what we now call Wellington – or Britannia as the then-new settlement was briefly called. Back then there were plenty of dangers to contend with: misunderstandings between Pākehā and local iwi could turn violent, earthquakes, and a lack of supplies made creating a permanent settlement difficult.

It was an amazing read that made me appreciate New Zealand all the more. In fact, I would dare anyone born here to not be impressed by the enormity of what our forefathers went through. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the people living today, including me, really are standing on the backs of giants. We talk about our Kiwi ingenuity all the time – well, now I know where it comes from.

Empire City is a very expansive book that goes into a huge amount of detail and unfortunately, I think that might be its downfall. It’s just so big. That may put some people off reading it, as it will be a bit of an investment of their time. It’s also a niche book, focusing on one specific area at one specific time, so unless you are mad crazy about New Zealand history, this may not appeal to you. 

I suspect that this book is geared toward a particular reader, one who will really get a kick out of reading about this country’s founding. If you are that person I can recommend this wholeheartedly.

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.

The Portable Door | Regional News

The Portable Door

(PG)

155 minutes

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

From what I have heard from fans of Tom Holt, the highly acclaimed, accomplished, and prolific British novelist, the book The Portable Door is one of the most beloved young adult novels of all time. But what about the film rendition of the same name? The reviews online have been mixed, with people ranging from overjoyed to disappointed and even angry. Supposedly the movie doesn’t follow the book. As for my review?

I’ll start with the good. Christoph Waltz as CEO Humphrey Wells and our very own Sam Neill as right-hand man Dennis Tanner, as always, never fail to amuse and entertain. I have the utmost respect for both of these silver screen powerhouses, and in all honesty, they carried the movie with their talent, gravitas, and natural presence. Without these formidable villains, the film would have been – albeit beautifully designed by Matthew Putland and cinematically engaging thanks to Donald McAlpine – quite frankly a corporate spinoff of Harry Potter… but not as good.

That said, The Portable Door book was written well before J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world came to life, so perhaps it’s the other way round. From the palpable disappointment from Tom Holt fans though, The Portable Door film simply did not meet its full potential.

In the film, J.W. Wells & Co is a company that deals in crafting “coincidences” in the real world. However, the mysterious disappearance of John Wells Senior (also Christoph Waltz) has led to Wells Junior attempting to data mine the world’s collective consciousness to advertising companies. This concept is eerily close to home and quite interesting. The execution just doesn’t deliver. Wells Junior employs lost-soul Paul Carpenter (our lead, Patrick Gibson) to find his missing portable door. Why? Well I’m not sure as it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the threat of data mining the entire world. The story doesn’t connect, causing the audience to disengage and thus the stakes just simply aren’t high enough.

It’s fun for sure, but it’s nothing to write home about. If you’re after a rollicking and predictable fantasy-adventure story, then it will hit the mark. In retrospect I feel I watched two separate films sitting on opposite sides of The Portable Door.

Fundamental Forces  | Regional News

Fundamental Forces

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 15th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Orchestra Wellington’s season started with a bang with Marc Taddei’s inventive programming drawing an integrating arc over two masterpieces from the 18th century and two from the 20th century. CPE Bach, son of the illustrious Johann Sebastian, is seen as the father of symphonic form. His Symphony in E minor demonstrates the greater emotional freedom of expression that emerged through his music. This was seen again in Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 in G minor, Tempesta di Mare.  Stravinsky, though his discordant tonalities broke from convention, harks back to the structural order and rationality of earlier times in his Violin Concerto in D, while Prokofiev puts dramatic effect before all else in his Scythian Suites with an astonishing amount of brass and percussion creating an ear-assaulting volume level. The count of 17 brass instruments and 10 percussionists tells all!

So the audience was treated to a music history lesson as well as four wonderful performances. The energy in CPE Bach came from strongly punctuated rhythms, sudden changes in volume and pace with very marked rallentandos, and changes in texture through the addition of wind instruments and horns to the predominant strings. Tempesta di Mare had even greater contrasts with beautifully produced string pianissimos, dramatic interjections, and suspenseful pauses. The performance of both works was sparkling.

The excellent soloist in the Stravinsky Violin Concerto was Natalia Lomeiko, a winner of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition and current professor of violin at the Royal College of Music. The concerto is unconventional: the soloist hardly ever stops playing, has no dashing bravura solo, and the predominant orchestral components are brass and wind rather than strings. Contrasting rhythms between different players give the work a restless quality. The sheer beauty of the second movement brought an audible murmur of appreciation from the audience. For me, the concerto was the concert’s highlight.

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.

Young Artists Showcase | Regional News

Young Artists Showcase

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Hamish McKeich

Michael Fowler Centre, 12th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Six young concerto soloists and 16 orchestral instrumentalists had time to shine on the stage at the Michael Fowler Centre.

The opening piece, Moirai by Cameron Monteath, set a high bar. Winner of the 2022 Todd Young Composers Award, Monteath made excellent use of the orchestra. Moirai’s three distinct sections were ethereal, tumultuous, and sustained.

Alina Chen (17) set a cracking pace in the first movement of Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, and led the string section on a fine chase, dancing with the wind section before regathering the orchestra and leaving us with no question as to who was leading.

Ryan Yeh (11!) was brimming with confidence and capability in the first movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, managing some extremely tricky fingering and balance.

Christine Jeon (16) brought her own tone to the fourth movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, showing sensitivity and a strong finish.

Alex Xuyao Bai (12) made a good choice with the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, allowing him to display emotion and feeling beyond his years.

Shan Liu (13) took on Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor. His intensity was matched by the orchestra. This is not a simple piece; he showed impressive expression and technique.

Louis Liu (15) also chose a technically demanding piece in the third movement of Ibert’s Flute Concerto. He took on some very challenging breath control and fingering to produce a remarkable array of sound.

The 16 young instrumentalists joined the orchestra on stage for the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, a bold, noisy, and exuberant piece that tested all the players and most exposed the two young men who performed perfectly on bass drum and cymbals.

Hamish McKeich led from the podium after a stroke last year. His skill and expertise seem strengthened and concentrated in his left arm. It was an outstanding team performance.

The Axeman’s Carnival | Regional News

The Axeman’s Carnival

Written by: Catherine Chidgey

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

One author that I have had the pleasure of reading in recent memory is New Zealand novelist Catherine Chidgey. Her writing style captures the imagination like no one else and really gets the emotive juices flowing. One minute her stories make you cry, and the next you’ll find a little smile sneaking its way onto your face. I felt this way about her last novel Remote Sympathy, and while the story did break my heart, there were also moments of joy sprinkled in.

The Axeman’s Carnival is no exception. This time the protagonist is a young magpie named Tamagotchi (named after the toy from the 80s), or Tama for short. Saved by humans at a young age, Tama finds himself struggling to find his place in a human world.

While he’s undoubtably the star of the show, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his human parents: Marnie who initially rescued him, and her farmer husband Rob, the titular axeman whose farm is in a precarious situation. While Tama is the window through which readers see the world, and he is the source of much of the book’s humour, it’s Marnie and Rob who provide the tension and keep the plot moving forward.

Tama makes the most refreshing hero I have come across yet. He makes innocent observations about everyday human life – details that seem mundane to us but come across to him as unfamiliar and strange. This adds a real breath of fresh air to the classic fish-out-of-water plotline. His distant relationships with other magpies, especially his original father, create an interesting dynamic where it’s hammered home how alien he now appears to his birth family. I loved this complexity as well as the bird’s unique take on humanity.

There really are no downsides here. It all gels together, there’s no filler or fluff; everything works and comes together to create an incredible read. If you can get a hold of The Axeman’s Carnival,
get it.