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The Jane Austen Remedy | Regional News

The Jane Austen Remedy

Written by: Ruth Wilson

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book can change a life” runs the subtitle of The Jane Austen Remedy. Readers familiar with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will recognise this re-imagined quote from that book’s opening paragraph.

That a book can indeed change a life is the substance and theme of Ruth Wilson’s unique and highly personal homage to one of our best-loved writers. Into her seventh decade, Wilson became aware of overwhelming feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction, despite a life of academic success and personal happiness.

Her response? To abandon home and husband for a cottage in the Southern Highlands of her native Australia, and there to undertake a re-reading of all of Austen’s novels, viewing them as essentially an antidote for her unhappiness. What could she learn? An extraordinary amount it seems.

Wilson describes Pride and Prejudice as the sunniest of Austen’s novels, enlivened as it is by the personality of Elizabeth Bennett’s gaiety, coupled with her initial refusal to be impressed by Darcy. That this heroine’s journey to wisdom is accompanied – and rewarded? – by a happy romantic conclusion is something Wilson takes to heart.

Emma offers the author the opportunity to be grateful for living in more enlightened times where gender equality is concerned. She admires the way Austen manages, chiefly through irony and dialogue, to cleverly poke fun at ideas about women’s deferential role in relationship with men.

With Sense and Sensibility, Wilson is confronted with yet another chance to reflect and learn. Following her son’s decision to spend time in Israel, she and her family packed up and went to join him. Just as the Dashwood family, following the death of their father, are forced to contemplate resettlement. A forced move, as opposed to a free choice one – yet another cause for reflection and gratitude.

Wilson’s farewell to her cottage and solitary life meant a return to Sydney and a LAT (living apart together) relationship with her husband – an arrangement based on friendship that suited both. I think Jane Austen would have cheered.

Young Mungo  | Regional News

Young Mungo

Written by: Douglas Stuart

Pan Macmillan

Reviewed by: Ralph McAllister

Every so often a book comes along which you know will remain with you, embedded, for the rest of your life.

Such is Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, a follow-up to 2020 Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain by the same Scottish author. It will be no surprise if Stuart wins again this year.

Shuggie spent most of his oh-so young life looking after his alcoholic mother and surviving in the poverty-torn Glasgow of the 80s. Now adolescent Mungo faces similar problems with his Mo-Maw Maureen, who loves him dearly – but not as much as the fags, the booze, and the men.

Jodie, the elder sister hopefully university-bound, tries her best but she has her own school and relationship problems. While Hamish the eldest has a career of disasters with drugs, underage girls, and violence, which leaves little time for caring for Mungo.

Then amidst all this chaos Mungo falls in love with James, a 16-year-old Catholic from across the street.  

Now to be labelled queer is similar to receiving a death sentence so the relationship between the boys is hidden yet tender, tentative but delicate and shot through with the beauty of first love.

Their first kiss? It was “like hot buttered toast when you were starving. It was that good”. Think Romeo and Juliet.

Two stories merge and diverge in terrifying and shimmering climaxes where a camping weekend and a pitched playground battle made me scared to turn the pages.

“Be wary of sittin’ among the refuse of other people’s lives”, Mungo is advised.

Mungo and his refusal to succumb to mediocrity moved me to tears, time and time again. The final tears because I did not want this wonderful novel to finish.

Politics in a Pandemic | Regional News

Politics in a Pandemic

Victoria University Press

Edited by Stephen Levine

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

The 19th of March 2020 will go down in history as one of the most important dates of the early 21st century. Everyone old enough will be able to look back and remember where they were the day New Zealand closed its borders. I certainly do since I ended up celebrating my 44th birthday in Level 4 lockdown.

Politics in a Pandemic goes through what happened in New Zealand with a fine-tooth comb. Not only do we get a rare behind-the-scenes view of why our Prime Minister and other elected officials did what they did, we also get to see their thought processes throughout that period.

I found the writing very well done, mixed with humor and a great deal of insight. What I liked most was the input from the politicians involved and their brute honestly when it came to what they did, why they did it, and any regrets they had along the way. We get to see them not just as politicians but as people who, whether we agree with them or not, honestly did the best they could with the facts they had access to at the time.

Politics is sometimes viewed as a fairly dry subject, and having the politicians chime in and contribute to the book gave it a personal touch, which helped to lighten the tone.

Facts of the matter are written very clearly and I was able to understand everything without any of it going over my head. I know from personal experience that there was a lot of confusion about how it was all going to work, especially in the early days, so this should help answer any lingering questions you might still have. If you know someone who ever had a grumble about the lockdowns, I think you should pick this up to let them see the other side of the coin, as it were. Definitely worth it.

The Smallest Man | Regional News

The Smallest Man

Written by: Frances Quinn

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Part fact, part fiction, The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn tells the story of an unusual man and his perspective on the 17th century reign of King Charles I of England. This is not the story of Charles I or the parliamentarians. It is told through the perspective of Nat Davy, who was called the Queen’s dwarf, and was by her side through two decades that were pivotal for the country and changed England forever. Nat starts as a pet to the young Queen but eventually becomes someone she confides in and whose advice she seeks. He is a fictional character inspired by a real person called Jeffrey Hudson.

There is a romantic plot interwoven into The Smallest Man and a strong theme of friendship and loyalty. But at its heart it’s a historic novel. It’s a good read, an easy read, and a feel-good read. It’s not taxing even though it is about a complex and fascinating piece of history. I also liked that it was history told through the eyes of someone who was different, which made me stop and think.

Nat’s story is an interesting one and he’s undoubtedly the character the reader sides with. However, I also enjoyed reading about these moments in history as the Queen, or a close confidant of the Queen, might have experienced them and particularly through the eyes of Queen Henrietta Maria of France, whom we don’t otherwise read very much about.

However, to borrow a football analogy, this did feel like a book of two halves to me. I was fascinated by the first part of the book where Nat works for the Queen and witnesses history unfurling from close quarters to one of the major players. But the latter part of the book, where he leaves the Queen in France and returns to England, wasn’t as compelling or pacey for me. 

This is an excellent debut novel with a good message about being accepted and accepting yourself.

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces | Regional News

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces

Written by: Laurie Winkless

Bloomsbury Sigma

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces contains myriad interesting facts that explore the intricate nuances of surface science around friction and adhesion and their interactions with the world around us, even on a molecular level. Irish physicist and author Laurie Winkless explores the world of sticky – from Ancient Egypt to the structures on a gecko’s amazing feet – and covers adhesion through surface energy and how some plants are extraordinarily water repellent.

Did you know that oil paint doesn’t dry by losing water, or that Post-it Notes have glue for their glue?

Laurie Winkless takes us on a journey from the Australian Outback and the Resene paint factory in Naenae, through supersonic flight and NASA engineering, to our own households and everyday environment, covering the balance of downforce and friction that helps keep our cars on the road and the (accidentally discovered) Teflon that coats our pots and pans.

While Sticky was interesting, my lack of love for science certainly (and excuse the pun) led to a lack of stickability in reading this book wholeheartedly. I just found it hard to read. So much so, that I roped an unsuspecting household member and lover of science into doing the hard yards with me. This is what he had to say after reading Sticky. “I suspect I was already aware of some of the so-called ‘hard sciences’ written about here. This is possibly why I found the chapter about touch, its features, and how it works so illuminating and full of surprises.”

“If you’ve ever wanted to know how golf balls fly so far, how sharks swim quite so fast, or why superglue was initially considered a nuisance, then this is a book for you.”

He concludes that Sticky is a very rewarding read for the non-scientist in smaller bites, and I tend to agree. Winkless certainly has the expertise and skill to make an otherwise innocuous occurrence entertaining, but it was just not for me.

Translations  | Regional News


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.

Everything Everywhere All at Once  | Regional News

Everything Everywhere All at Once


140 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Anyone heading to see Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s new sci-fi comedy adventure Everything Everywhere All at Once should be prepared to walk away with their head spinning, their eyes sore, and their mind questioning everything they just witnessed. In other words, this film is utter madness! However, although I often found myself lost down its endless rabbit hole Everything Everywhere All at Once is also extremely original, funny, well acted, and a fun ride from start to finish.

Feeling as if she didn’t accomplish any of her dreams, an ageing Chinese immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) is trying to pay her mountain of taxes when she is suddenly swept into an insane adventure by her husband from another universe (Ke Huy Quan). She alone can save the world by exploring other universes, fighting bizarre dangers, and connecting with the lives she could have led.

Led by Yeoh’s outstanding performance, the acting throughout was a highlight. You truly feel that her character, Evelyn Wang, is just as confused as you when the adventure begins. This is supported by some fantastic interplay with the other cast members, great editing, and a well-written script. It is also hilarious, and although I don’t want to spoil the fun, you won’t ever look at a hotdog or bagel the same. This original movie is also touching, with overarching themes that many of us can really relate to.

Everything Everywhere All at Once loses points for its drawn-out ending and sometimes hard-to-follow storyline. Running for almost two and a half hours, it feels as if the film is coming to a close for the last hour and I often didn’t really get what was happening, who was bad, or even who it was following. However, in a film like this I think it’s best just to roll with it.

Like nothing I have ever seen before, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a bit like a roller-coaster. Make sure you’re hydrated and well feed, strap in, and prepare for an insane ride where by the end you’re not quite sure if you want to hop straight back on, or if you never want to see a roller-coaster again.

His/Herstory | Regional News


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.