Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Don’t Worry Darling  | Regional News

Don’t Worry Darling

(R-13 )

123 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Olivia Wilde’s most anticipated film as a director yet, Don’t Worry Darling was a tale of two halves that had the potential to be a lot better. However, thanks to some outstanding performances, glamorous cinematography, and unique twists, I still found myself thinking about the film days after watching.

In the 1950s, Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) live in the idealised community of Victory, an experimental company town where the men work on a top-secret project daily. While the husbands toil away, the wives are free to enjoy the seemingly carefree paradise. But, when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, Alice can’t help but question exactly what she’s doing in the ‘perfect’ little town.

I didn’t enjoy the first hour of this film. The mid-century decor, candy-coloured cars, and picturesque homes make for pleasant viewing but the story itself was frustrating as Wilde and her writers tried way too hard. I felt like their only goal was to remind me that Don’t Worry Darling was a psychological thriller through a barrage of consecutive scenes intended to shock me. Instead, many of them fell flat and seemed unnecessary. Comparing this to a masterpiece of the genre such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out where the hair-raising revelations are subtly revealed in between scenes with substance, it simply felt amateur.

Just as I was about to write it off, Don’t Worry Darling suddenly had me on the edge of my seat. This turnaround was mainly thanks to the brilliance of Pugh – who supplies another characteristically strong and layered performance – and a gripping finale that ends with an outstanding final twist (don’t worry, I won’t spoil) that I would argue was well worth the wait. The longer, more dialogue-heavy scenes gave fellow star Chris Pine the chance to show he plays an equally good villain as he does a hero while Styles proved he has what it takes to shine on both the big screen and stage. The eerie score by John Powell continually added to the building pressure.

Although I’ve had more trouble deciding whether Don’t Worry Darling is good or bad than I would like, psychological thriller fans should definitely give it a chance.

A Boy Called Piano | Regional News

A Boy Called Piano

Written by: Fa’amoana John Luafutu and Tom McCrory

Directed by: Nina Nawalowalo

BATS Theatre, 4th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I’ve been staring at a blank screen most of the day and still can’t find words that would do A Boy Called Piano justice. How do you write a review when you’re speechless?

This Conch production follows three boys, Piano (Matthias Luafutu), Wheels (Rob Ringiao-Lloyd), and Piwi (Aaron McGregor), who are made wards of state and sent to Ōwairaka Boys’ Home in Auckland 1963. As director Nina Nawalowalo says, “this is the first time the experience of those in state care has come directly to the New Zealand stage told by a man who lived it” – Fa’amoana John Luafutu, whom she calls both a master storyteller and a survivor. I couldn’t agree more.

The Conch’s award-winning documentary feature A Boy Called Piano – The Story of Fa’amoana John Luafutu is woven throughout the show. Aural excerpts are intermingled with Mark Vanilau’s exceptional live piano playing, while shots from the film are projected onto three white fabric panels to great effect. Many of the scenes – especially conversational ones that lean towards realism – take place in front of the panels, while dream or symbolic sequences often unfold behind them. Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting design works in breathtaking synergy with both the performers and projections, particularly when creating dream states, flashbacks, and speckled light that filters down through the recurring theme of water.

The performers go where I’ve not seen many go. Luafutu deftly shifts between adult and child, bringing a gut-wrenching vulnerability to the latter. Ringiao-Lloyd is our vital comic relief and does it brilliantly, translating humour into a coping mechanism for his character, and McGregor gives his all to express unspeakable trauma.

In A Boy Called Piano what’s left unlit, unsaid, unsung still bruises. The volcano erupts and the lava is cooled by humour and restraint before bubbling to the surface again. Nawalowalo sculpts it all together with a featherlight touch or strong hands when needed, only adding to the power, the force, of this landmark work.

Legacy | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Alexander Shelley

Michael Fowler Centre, 1st Oct 2002

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

In a predominantly classical programme, I hadn’t expected to find the opening to be my highlight. Mozart and Brahms were musical prodigies, high achieving young men who made names for themselves early in their lives. Dame Gillian Whitehead is a New Zealand icon and Arts Laureate and her retrieving the fragility of peace was the outstanding item of the night.

A study in contrasts, it was both delicate and intense, fragmented but coherent, solo and ensemble, gentle and fierce. The devastatingly beautiful cor anglais solo was breath taking. Perhaps it was about being new to the ear (this was the world premiere) or the clarity of the composition and the quality of the performance but the music and musicians whetted our appetites in a most moving and spectacular way.

Another local talent, Stephen De Pledge, took to the stage in place of the unfortunate Gabriela Montero, who had arrived in NZ and then tested positive for COVID. While we missed her promised interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, we were well rewarded with De Pledge’s performance. His was a confident rendition and, although his improvised cadenzas didn’t always hit the mark, there was little to criticise in what must have been a last-minute replacement. The encore, a piece of his own choosing, was a lovely rendition of Schumann’s Träumerei.

Finally, under the direction of Alexander Shelley, the orchestra let loose on Brahms’s Symphony No. 1, giving size, shape, and power to a majestic and defining piece of music. Brahms felt the pressure of Beethoven’s legacy. He started his first symphony at 21 and was 43 when he finished it. The orchestra was solid and energetic but lacked something in tone and balance, not quite living up to the promise of the work’s long gestation.

It was a powerful performance which, more than anything, augmented the complexity and quietude of retrieving the fragility of peace.

The Bricktionary | Regional News

The Bricktionary

Written by: Ryan McNaught

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Ryan McNaught has perhaps one of the coolest jobs in the world. He is, as he says, a LEGO-certified professional – one of only a select few in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. His job is literally to make LEGO models for stores and events around the world.

Until I had the pleasure of reading McNaught’s The Bricktionary, I never knew LEGO made lightning elements in Powered Up or Power Function sets. These are designed to add a bit of drama or pizazz to your LEGO creations. Nor did I know about LEGO maths and pro techniques for creating a stunning illusion of water.

Putting things together is not my forte – transformers with missing arms and legs come to mind – except LEGO has always been different. There’s something quietly reassuring about sitting ensconced, head down in LEGO instructions (mostly with my child) knowing each coloured brick will bring us closer to the end product, whether it’s a Ninjago scene, a Minecraft something, or a Batman-inspired car. LEGO is cool, though never ever underfoot.

LEGO is serious business for McNaught, although there is a strange juxtaposition throughout this book of so much potential fun and interesting facts to be found alongside the serious business of LEGO creation. In the first few pages there’s a photo of McNaught holding a pretty impressive LEGO-comprised hamburger, while the carefully stacked containers behind him are telltale signs of someone further down the LEGO rabbit hole than first anticipated. Neatly stacked LEGO beams from within, colour coded, brick sorted, and size categorised.

Under ‘F’ I was able to expand my increasing LEGO vocabulary. FLU stands for a fundamental LEGO unit, which equates to the width and length of a one-by-one Lego plate or brick. Under ‘T’ I found the most impressive treehouse I’ve seen, LEGO or otherwise.

The Bricktionary will appeal to the LEGO-lover in you. Oh, and of course, your children.

You Probably Think This Song is About You | Regional News

You Probably Think This Song is About You

Written by: Kate Camp

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

In case you didn’t know it, the difference between an autobiography and a memoir is that whereas an autobiography delivers the reader a chronological, strictly factual, and detailed account of your life (yawn?), a memoir is much more selective. It rearranges content, and it can become reflectively fanciful.

Poet Kate Camp’s You Probably Think This Song is About You decidedly falls into the second category. Camp, in writing as in life, has taken on her mother’s mantra: “Never apologise, never explain”. Does that attitude demonstrate courage or defiance? One or the other, or maybe a bit of both, accounts for this warts-and-all story of a life.

From years of wetting herself, to smoking cigarettes and dope, to binge drinking, to attaching herself to drug dealing, sometimes violent boyfriends – Camp paints an unedifying picture. And sure enough, there’s no accompanying explanation for why a girl from Khandallah would for so many years – and for half a book – indulge in such heedless hedonism.

If there’s a price though, she’s paid it. A couple of bizarre accidents, plus grisly sounding, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to get pregnant through IVF, lead her to reflect. Though I’m at a loss to understand her dismay at her inability to conceive – is this liberated thinking? At about this time, too, Camp meets future partner Paul, whose treatment of her is exemplary. “Paul comes out of this story very well” is an understatement – the man is a modern saint.

Camp’s analysis of Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life is thought provoking. It examines the conundrum of a book on self-healing that contains questionable suggestions about self-responsibility – an apt comment on Camp’s own life?

But some of Hay’s affirmations worked! Chiefly: “I always find time for my own creative work” has surely been useful, ultimately giving rise to her life as a poet. I’m glad there is an acknowledgements section – we get Camp’s gratitude to those who have contributed to make her life what it was – and is.

Night Meditations | Regional News

Night Meditations

Allen & Unwin

By editors of Rock Point

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Night Meditations is a calming and restorative journal that traverses the seasons: winter, fall, summer, and spring. Helping to encourage a quiet mindfulness, it encourages restful and meditative sleep by creating the opportunity to identify what is holding you back or impeding your access to good sleep and rest.

Night Meditations poses many questions to consider and there are journal pages for you to document your thoughts. This helps prompt you to stop, pause, and consider your life holistically to identify what your creative outlets are and what you view as restorative. It helps you consider your environment, your faith, and awareness of self-care while encouraging you to find peace in stressful times.

Muted colours and sweeping illustrations only serve to further entice you to reflect on your life and how time and happenstance can either create great wonder or stressful burdens that can compete with your ability to sleep well.

Journaling is peaceful and contemplative and is a great way to delve into a quiet introspection that comes from stopping, resting, and taking the time to consider your frame of mind; it’s almost like your own hypnotic guide. A slower pace and uncluttered mind is all conducive to a better sleep. Night Meditations encourages you to disconnect, put pen to paper, and take the time to slow down.

I’ve read that the importance of sleep is often underrated, and I think it’s true. What can be done to get more of it? How can it be more restful, restorative, and beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing? These are all questions I’ve considered.

If you are looking for a simple yet very intentional way to pause and break down everything that may be hindering restful sleep, then Night Meditations is a good place to start.

“Identify the ‘weeds’ in your garden. Write about ways that take up space in your life, and how you can make room for new growth.”

Give Unto Others | Regional News

Give Unto Others

Written by: Donna Leon

Penguin Books New Zealand

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

I had to put pen to paper as soon as I’d finished Donna Leon’s latest novel Give Unto Others so no other fans of detective novels made the same mistake as me. My error was not reading this author sooner. 

Donna Leon’s writing is beautiful. Her character descriptions, particularly of her older characters, are exquisite in the little details of behaviour and interplay that reveal so much about the person. Her treatment of a scene where a former vice admiral with Alzheimer’s disease – a proud man with status – pockets the silver cutlery at a dinner and a conversation between the detective and a former upper-class neighbour are so gentle in capturing the unsaid that it would be easy to underestimate the quality of the writing.

A bit about the plot before I go on. This is the latest in a series of crime novels set in Venice, featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti is twiddling his thumbs in between COVID lockdowns and so agrees to look into the seemingly innocent concerns of a former neighbour and family friend about her son-in-law’s business. This sends him on a twisting path to get to the truth. He and the reader begin to wonder who is pulling the strings and whether Brunetti’s sense of obligation to an old family friend will get him into trouble.

Usually when I read a crime novel, I race through it to find out the killer. Donna Leon’s descriptions are so gentle yet so captivating that it forced me to slow down and enjoy every sentence. The pace of the novel though is spot on.

Occasionally – not often – as a reader I get a glimpse of a writer at the top of their game. Donna Leon, at 80 years old, is definitely a writer at the top of her game. I hope she has many more novels yet to come to share with this newfound fan.

East/West: A Symphonic Celebration  | Regional News

East/West: A Symphonic Celebration

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Brent Stewart

The Opera House, 20th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Wellington’s usual concertgoers were not much in evidence at this concert: a pity since the occasion was part of an initiative to introduce Chinese performing arts to audiences around the world. Members of the Wellington Chinese community made up most of the audience.

The programme included Pōkarekare Ana and an early work, Drysdale Overture, by New Zealander Douglas Lilburn, alongside five Chinese compositions.

Orchestra Wellington, conducted by the admirable Brent Stewart, was its usual excellent self, but the warmth of the relationship with its usual audience was missing, reminding me of how important that ingredient is in live performance.

Jian Liu, of the New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī and with an international reputation for performance, was the soloist in the Yellow River Piano Concerto. Madame Mao herself directed the collaboration of several musicians to arrange an earlier work to create this concerto. The work’s chequered history probably contributes to it not being the most subtle piece of music ever written.  It was great to watch, however, as Liu made seemingly easy work of the runs, trills, glissandi, and thunderous chords that the work demands.

Soprano Joanna Foote sang an appealing version of Pōkarekare Ana and was joined by tenor Bo Jiang in The Song of Yangtze River by Shiguang Wang to great applause from the audience.

Wang Xilin’s The Torch Festival and Bao Yuankai’s Chinese Sights and Sounds showed how Chinese composers have absorbed western idioms and applied them to Chinese subjects, creating descriptive works that incorporate eastern elements. Gift, composed for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra by Tian Zhou, is a more sophisticated work.  Zhou has written that he “wanted to create a reminder of the joy of music making, and along the way explore [his] own musical identity after 18 years of living abroad.” Musical identity was the stuff of this concert.

Krishnan’s Dairy | Regional News

Krishnan’s Dairy

Written by: Jacob Rajan

Directed by: Justin Lewis

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 17th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I have been lucky enough to see four Indian Ink productions in my time. I loved each one, and each increased my desire to see Krishnan’s Dairy, Jacob Rajan’s breakout solo work that helped launched the prolific theatre company 25 years ago.

With this year’s TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, I finally got the chance to meet Gobi and Zina Krishnan, a married couple from India who run a corner dairy here in Aotearoa. Rajan plays both characters, as well as Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Krishnan’s Dairy entwines the two stories to show that epic love isn’t only found in epic places. Equally, it nestles in the small stuff: the silly squabbles, the safety of home, and the little shops that stock far too many Minties.

Rajan uses half-masks to glide effortlessly between characters. I say glide because even though he often changes masks in full view of the audience, with the exception of the stunning reveal of Mumtaz Mahal (costume design by John Verryt, mask creation by Justin Lewis), blink and you’ll miss it. In the scenes where the transitions are made a deliberate focal point (a hilarious rapid-fire dialogue between the Krishnans for instance), none of the illusion is suspended, none of the magic broken. In fact, it’s all the more marvellous to see the mechanics at play. Gifted doesn’t come close to describing Rajan or director Justin Lewis, who shapes the building blocks of Krishnan’s Dairy with the hands of a master craftsman.

Verryt’s set design shines in a special interaction with the lighting design (original by Helen Todd, development by Cathy Knowsley) that helps us see beyond the veil. Rajan and Conrad Wedde’s compositions (performed by Rajan and Adam Ogle) include a sweet song that ties it all together in a satisfying instance of ring composition. All of these elements take us even further into the magical realm. The result is an unforgettable, inimitable work of theatre that deserves all the acclaim it’s received – and then some.