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Redemption of a Rogue | Regional News

Redemption of a Rogue


85 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

The prodigal son returns… to Ballylough. As improbable as that sounds, that is the central crux of Redemption of a Rogue, Irish playwright Philip Doherty’s directorial film debut.

Jimmy Cullen (Aaron Monaghan) returns to his hometown after seven years to say goodbye to his dying father (Hugh B. O’Brien), after which he intends to hang himself. The story begins its slow descent when Jimmy and his brother Damien (Kieran Roche) learn that their father’s will stipulates he cannot be buried in the rain. So it proceeds to rain for 40 days and 40 nights, during which Jimmy is stuck in limbo: Catholic symbolism drenching the town, superstition puddling in the corners. Meanwhile, Jimmy meets Masha (Aisling O'Mara), the self-branded town bike and his Mary Magdalene. Together they embark on a quest to save the town’s children – who have refused to eat or talk – and bring about Jimmy’s salvation.

Director Philip’s brother Joseph Doherty’s production design is soggy and miserable… in a good way. Dank and damp permeate the film, while the nightmarish dreamscape of Jimmy’s mind imbues Ballylough. Cinematographer Burschi Wojnar deserves a shoutout (for shooting entirely in the rain), and the film takes on a blues musical vibe thanks to Robbie Perry’s score. The sharp cuts of Allyn Quigley’s editing style along with the acting take Redemption of a Rogue to the next level.

A mix of absurdism, magical realism, and biblical parables sprinkled with a heaped dose of self-deprecating, deadpan, dark comedy, Redemption of a Rogue is Irish to its core. The story both local and universal. In his flashbacks, Jimmy retains his adult form, making you wonder if you are inside his deranged mind. The Virgin Mary (Lorna Quinn) bums a smoke rather than offering salvation. In a moment of clarity, Jimmy scientifically explains the 10 plagues of Egypt, blaming the rain on the plastic factory rather than his uninterred father.

I will always praise magical realism for its ability to critique the plagues of our reality by rendering the rest of the world absurd through a simple shift in perspective. And for this same reason, I commend Redemption of a Rogue.

Mahler 3 | Regional News

Mahler 3

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 31st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Exhilarating. Spectacular. Breathtaking. Magnificent. When something is so good you can’t begin to describe it to others, all you have are words that feel inadequate. Luckily, readers curious as to why words aren’t enough can livestream the entire performance on the NZSO website.

The scene was set by the most beautiful waiata sung unaccompanied and with excellence by the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, and a children’s choir comprising Wellington Young Voices and the Choristers of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. Robert Wiremu’s waiata, Tahuri koe ki te maunga teitei, was written to be performed alongside Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D Minor. An unlikely pairing but intimately connected in spirit and intent as well as the music. The 80 singers did an impeccable job, so much so that the ‘ear worm’ Wiremu had embedded (a single bar of Brahms, also found in the Mahler) was at home in my ear for several days.

“I see him as a composer for us and our times.” This was a family member’s response to my report of the Mahler and it captures the feeling I had. 130 years have gone by since Mahler wrote this epic symphony but it sounds entirely contemporary and directly relevant to the complex, disturbed, fascinating, and incredible state of our world in 2023.

There were too many amazing individual and sectional performances to pick out the best, but I cannot let the children’s stamina (a long night for young ones) and Sasha Cooke’s beautiful mezzo-soprano voice go unmentioned. The balance between her voice and the orchestra was just about perfect and her diction was immaculate. “O Mensch! Gib Acht!” O man! Take heed!

We did take heed. The house was full. The applause was long and rapturous and almost everyone got to their feet to congratulate and thank Gemma New, the NZSO, Sasha Cooke and all the singers, over and over, for another spectacular concert experience.

CORE | Regional News


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.

Dick Seddon’s Great Dive and Other Stories | Regional News

Dick Seddon’s Great Dive and Other Stories

Written by: Ian Wedde

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The stories that compose this volume were written 50 years ago. Does writer Ian Wedde tell us this by way of apology or explanation? That maybe depends on what the reader makes of the characters and situations he depicts.

The ones in his lengthy, eponymously titled first story may be difficult to sympathise with, and their hazy, drug-induced states are reflected by the writer’s style.

And that may be why I infinitely preferred the nine far shorter tales that follow. They present everyday situations requiring immediacy of action; sentences are shorter and therefore have greater impact; consequences are easier to grasp.

In Clover features an endangered baby in a porch swing. The reactions of husband and wife, and the contrast between those reactions – he sternly practical but infuriatingly inattentive; she dreamy and philosophical – provide the interest, and a concluding wry observation on marriage will evoke sighs of recognition. “I love you,” she said, “God knows why, you’re such an idiot.”

Paradise – though I’m unsure why so titled given its content – gives us an old-fashioned postman dealing with rough weather, blurred envelope addresses, and troublesome corgis. There’s an intriguing reference to Oates of the Antarctic: “Gone out, and been some time, but not been missed.” A comment on the soon-to-disappear job of the postman?

Then our man needs a leak. He’s in his favourite spot for one when he is rudely interrupted. “The last lady hadn’t been Chinese, and she hadn’t come to the gate” captures the tone of this tale, and that, plus the postman’s imagined future as a poet, are enough to draw our sympathetic laughter.

The Gringos takes the cake for nostalgic indulgence. The Gringos are a rock and roll band of the 1950s – albeit fictional. Their outfits are preserved in tissue and polythene. But hey – Chuck Berry is coming to town! The Gringos are dazedly ecstatic. Their witnessing of old-style rock and roll is both moving and funny. Of course, you had to be there.

Anderton: His Life and Times | Regional News

Anderton: His Life and Times

Written by: David Grant

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For a lot of adult New Zealanders living and working in the 1980s, Jim Anderton might conjure up a number of different opinions. For some, he was a fighter who advocated for the less well-off, opposing Roger Douglas and his sale of state assets coined ‘Rogernomics’. Others felt he was a grandstander who used his natural charisma and boisterous nature to grab headlines while in parliament. Whatever your views, we can all agree that he was a particular breed of politician – one we may never see again.

Anderton: His Life and Times tells the story of both his triumphs and the roadblocks he faced while a member of the Labour, New Labour, Alliance, and lastly the Progressive Coalition parties. These include the formation of the locally owned Kiwibank, the friendships and enemies he made along the way, and his unshakeable faith that there had to be a better way forward for our small country.

I believe that you can tell a good memoir, biography, or autobiography by the lessons you learn from it. Well I can tell you that I learned a tonne from Anderton; his good-hearted stubbornness, unwavering loyalty, and determination to get things done for the electorate of what was then called Sydenham (now Wigram) showed that good things could be achieved through hard work.

I absolutely loved this book, and think that author David Grant has done an amazing job of capturing the man that Jim Anderton was. His refusal to quit on things he believed in, his love for the people he represented, and his aforementioned loyalty – that at times I felt was his own downfall (no spoilers here).

If I was pushed to find a negative, it would be that the nature of politics simply is not for everyone, and not everyone will pick up this book and appreciate like I have. It really was an amazing read, and after putting it down I found myself with a new appreciation for the man, and what he had done for me.

Step into the Spotlight | Regional News

Step into the Spotlight

Written by: Russell Pickering

TPG Publishing

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

All too often, being in the spotlight – whether it be a presentation, a Zoom meeting, or any other form of being on show – is an opportunity for the loudest, boldest, and most confident voice in the room to take centre stage; an arena for those whose very existence relies on getting ample airtime. Step into the Spotlight author Russell Pickering suggests that the quiet, competent, considered, and thoughtful among us also have great value, and should be encouraged and offered opportunities to show up and present too. “Don’t wait, we need you now, step out into the spotlight and shine,” he says.

In Step into the Spotlight, he shows you how. In his chapter on courage, Pickering shares a definition of anxiety from a psychologist friend. “Anxiety comes from an over-estimation of a problem or issue, coupled with an under-estimation of your ability to deal with it, or cope with it.” Don’t obsess over trying to be confident when you have to give a presentation; your job is to get your audience to have confidence in you and your ideas, Pickering says, and besides, “courage trumps confidence”.

Step into the Spotlight is a simple yet structured guide to presenting. Looking outwards is key; it’s not about you, it’s about your audience and what they may find engaging. Consider what your audience already knows about your topic, which will allow you to hone your presentation and visual aids accordingly. Gauge how your audience feels throughout your presentation. For instance, do they need a break? Pickering acknowledges the challenges of presenting, but offers practical advice to master these. He walks you through the characteristics of the three spotlight archetypes: The Analyser, The Storyteller, and The Inspirer.

In conclusion, if I ever have to give that all-important presentation to a bunch of people I do or don’t know, Pickering’s Step into the Spotlight will be the first thing I reach for.

The premise: trust your work, connect with your audience, and deliver.

A Lack of Good Sons | Regional News

A Lack of Good Sons

Written by: Jake Arthur

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Jake Arthur has dwelt in many universes, and in many guises. So says his poetry. A Lack of Good Sons transports us from the startling to the outwardly mundane, through the mythic and the biblical to the romantic. And he has a turn of phrase wondrously suited to his subjects.

Take the opening poem Jim Nevis. A vividly descriptive narrative about a neighbour’s behaviour from a young boy’s point of view captures curiosity, puzzlement, and eventual understanding in concrete everyday language. It’s impossible not to envisage the neighbour’s “sagging bottom, his hairy back” or “his chest hair that ran down like seaweed”.

Hair is about exactly that. It’s short – utterly unlike the unruly mane of the writer! I loved the metaphorical “My follicles had a condition / extra hard workers that don’t know when to quit”. The ending couplet comes as a wistful surprise.

Talking of wistfulness, Hand-eye coordination superbly captures an older woman’s longing for a young man’s body. “She wants him some time in the next now”. What economy of words to express such a sensation so perfectly! We fear for the young man’s virginity, but not to worry – a marvellous metaphor concludes with “and the boy over the road is safe again”.

Bare Choirs, though it may conjure up unintended visions, is a beautifully imagined nostalgic reflection on a ship mast’s former life as a tree. “But here it is, sawn and shorn, / grafted to these unnaturally arranged / woods from far-flung places”. We know that trees can’t feel – or can they?

I especially appreciate that Arthur provides an ending or a rounding off to most of his poems. I think a poem has to go somewhere, not just trail off inconclusively. An excellent example of this is Encounter. It’s a narrative, intriguing visually as well as verbally, and it ends with a philosophically wry reflection.

It’s a current fashion that poetry collections should centre on a particular theme. I am glad that this writer sees no reason to do so.

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.

Red, White & Brass | Regional News

Red, White & Brass


85 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Wellington was painted red on the 21st of March – red with the flag of Tonga.

On the 1st of October 2011, Tonga beat France at Wellington’s World Cup Rugby game in one of the biggest upsets in rugby history. First, they thanked God, and then they thanked their fans. Red, White & Brass is the story of this game, but it’s not about the players. It’s about Tongans and their māfana – their feeling of warmth, their pride.

“Straight up, this actually happened”, Red, White & Brass informs viewers on its title page. Inspired by the true story of co-writer and co-producer Halaifonua (Nua) Finau. The movie follows Maka (John-Paul Foliaki), a Tongan superfan who misses out on tickets to the big game. In typical Maka fashion, he comes up with a genius plan: signing his brass band up to play at the opening ceremony. The only problem is he doesn’t have a brass band.

Directed and co-written by Damon Fepulea’i, Red, White & Brass is truly a gem of a movie and another jewel in the crown from the production company that brought us The Breaker Upperers and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Filmed entirely in Wellington, Emily Mafile’o’s production design is *chef’s kiss*. Every scene includes some element of red, every moment is imbued with Tonga. Costume designer Daisy Chiara Marcuzzi employs a similar tactic in her clothing choices, adding red accents to every character’s style. The score by Three Houses Down, which is original and on Spotify by the way, is cheerful, vibrant, and fully embodies the film.

Similarly laudable is the cast of Red, White & Brass. Virtually every actor is a newcomer, yet so comfortable are they in their roles, they seem like veterans of the silver screen. Maka is Foliaki’s first official acting role, and he is superb. But the entire cast should be recognised, as each character is played so authentically you felt as though you left the theatre with a group of new friends.

“There is no I in band”, and it is the whole band that makes Red, White & Brass absolutely brilliant. A work of art and of Tongan ingenuity at its finest, māfana maketh the movie.