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The Book Addict | Regional News

The Book Addict

Written by: Annie Ruth

Directed by: Robin Payne

BATS Theatre, 30th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Annie Ruth bears all, much to her mother’s dismay, in her autobiographical monologue The Book Addict. The performance makes some bold choices but ultimately falls short of its potential.

I am initially impressed by the set design, which is tasteful and elegant, with piles of books and a martini glass arranged around a barstool. Ruth enters, speaking directly to the audience as if we are old friends. Before long, we are deep in a collection of stories from across the whole of our protagonist’s life. The content is engaging; fascinating tales of love and loss, family and friends. I am utterly envious of Ruth’s adventures across Greece, Aotearoa, and beyond.

The strength of the show is in the universal appeal of powerfully human stories. I am clearly not quite the intended audience, and as such a few of the references and name drops go over my head, but the heart of the piece is relatable. A number of audience members are mentioned by name, which grounds the show in reality but also excludes those of us who don’t know Ruth personally. A little more movement would prevent the piece from becoming static, and I would have appreciated a suicide content warning, but I am engrossed regardless.

Throughout her monologue, Ruth draws from books to help frame and explain her tales. While this is an interesting technique, and I am delighted to recognise a number of her favourite titles, I’m unconvinced of the overall significance of the books. Ruth’s musings on the uncontrollable nature of our lives and the importance of fighting for happiness are interesting but never quite come to fruition, leaving me wondering about the overall message of the play.

Ruth’s natural abundance of charisma carries her through, but I do wish there had been less setup and more punchline. The Book Addict has some golden moments but is more akin to a lecture from a relative than a theatre piece.

Olive Kitteridge | Regional News

Olive Kitteridge

Written by: Elizabeth Strout

Simon & Schuster UK

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Olive Kitteridge is a heavy yet deeply touching portrait of a life and the lives surrounding it in the small town of Crosby, Maine.

Olive, or Mrs Kitteridge, is a matter-of-fact woman. She taught maths in the local school, took her husband for granted in life yet was deeply devoted in illness, and her son seems to grow more emotionally distant by the day. Though perhaps not the most personable character, Olive is deeply human. Always sure of herself throughout life, she has never been one for sentimentality, yet in her old age she finds herself lonely and afraid, reflecting on life, love, and loss.

The residents of Crosby, all inextricably connected in their triumphs and tragedies, trudge through life and more often than not, move forward together. Despite the ups and downs, the whispers and the grudges, the deaths and the disappointments, the people of Crosby carry on, for better or for worse, cherishing the good and the moments in which the community bands together.

A highly sensitive and perceptive author, Elizabeth Strout writes people from their essence, from the most distilled part of themselves. Deeply psychological, each character is fully complex, often expressing troubling moral dilemmas and thoughts we may not even admit to having ourselves. The balance between what one thinks and what one does is executed seamlessly. Olive Kitteridge seems almost more a study than a story, each character’s portrait painted in all its colours, each mind whittled down to its deepest darkest thoughts and fears, each soul so innately human.

Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is not for the faint of heart. Fatalistic and at times unnecessarily depressing, very little good seems to happen, only stories of woe and misfortune. Yet life is both ups and downs. A series of events that go from bad to worse, none of the characters actually seem happy; rather slogging through a life with no light at the end of any tunnel. Olive Kitteridge is pragmatic, candid, and unapologetically human.

The Stupefying | Regional News

The Stupefying

Written by: Nick Ascroft

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This poet enjoys luxuriating in a linguistic lake, and with his collection The Stupefying he invites us to take a dip.

I dog paddled a bit, but truly caught up with him when I reached Why I Changed My Surname. Although a check with the end notes was necessary to learn the answer to the question posed in the title, this ballad was delightful for two reasons: it deals with teenage agonies most of us can relate to, and Ascroft uses rhyme to enhance his wry observations. “For co-ed summer camps I’m good to go. / I have no friends in French class though.” And “The taunts of others’ loathing / are internalised and worn as clothing”.

I thought I was coasting along, but not a hope. Next came Great-Grandad Rants over Current Affairs in which our poet’s luxuriating turns to lunging. What a marvellous poetic excoriation of our digitally dominated world! “If some goon lobs a Frisbee, or a cherub swats a golf tee, SLAP? / Where do you find that crap? / That app.”

Therefore We Commit This Body to the Ground takes on board another contemporary theme – our plastic waste. No amount of rhyming can, or should, save this subject from such bald statements as “Production will assault a giddy new high / of 100 million tonnes in 2022.” Or indeed “Paper to paper. Recycled paper to ash. / Ashes to en dashes.” (Our poet couldn’t resist such an esoteric punctuational allusion.)

The Third and most Stupefying Bike Spill references the title, but more effective stupefying is to be found in Knock Knock. Who’s there? Nietzsche. This is Ascroft at his best – most personal and most devastating. The poem ostensibly deals with comedians and their ploys for laughs. But nevertheless “Comedy is the last line of defence against dogma and puritanism. / The other lines of defence had best be / better suited to the job or we’re all f**ked.” I’d say Ascroft the serious comedian is doing his bit to keep us all afloat.

Tough Outback | Regional News

Tough Outback

Written by: Mike Bellamy


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If writing has taught me one thing, it is that everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do, has a story to tell. This is the story of Mike Bellamy, a New Zealander who spent 30 years mining in the Australian Outback.

Some of his stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and clearly happened before any real trade regulations or political correctness came into force. I say this because I am fairly certain none of these adventures would have been allowed to happen in today’s workforce.

And while I loved all his stories, it was the characters he met along the way that kept me the most engaged. As Bellamy himself put it, those that came to the mining industry were a mixed bag – or as the saying goes, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some even ended up calling him their friend and helping him out with his career. For me, the characters were the real stars of the show. This isn’t meant as a negative, but the work he did took a back seat and didn’t quite capture my interest as much as the people and the small Outback towns he encountered.

Bellamy’s writing style is very personable; it felt as if he was standing in the room next to me as I read. One real nit-pick is that the book never really gives you much of a time reference. When the author decides to move on, a date isn’t specified so I was forced to ‘guesstimate’ every time he left and started a new job. Again a small issue, but one that was noticeable, especially when other memoirs give you a timestamp of when events occur.

Mining made Australia a powerhouse almost 20 years ago, and if you want to see that from the perspective of one of the people who helped make that happen, Tough Outback may be just up your alley. It’s a genuinely funny, honest story told from a unique perspective.

Big Feelings  | Regional News

Big Feelings

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Big Feelings by Rebekah Ballagh explores the world of feelings and the raft of emotions children can feel. Big Feelings is immediately appealing with warm and charming illustrations; bright, encouraging, and inviting. Placing importance on expressing and normalising feelings rather than minimising them, Balllagh gives children insight into having their own agency to display their emotions, whatever they may be.

To me Big Feelings is a great introduction to emotional resilience. Who knows what future resilience will follow if children can let out all their big feelings from when they are little, knowing that everything will still be okay? One of my favourite quotes by Catherine M. Wallace is “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” As a mother of primary and teenaged children, I can certainly attest to the merits of having kids who have learned to express their feelings as they grow and develop. Big Feelings includes a section for parents and teachers to support children to do this.

I asked my son a question from this section: “How do you act when you feel…” He chose happy and responded, “I feel joyous, like a happy virus is running through my body.” I certainly liked the sound of a happy virus instead of the one of late. On the subject of mad and angry feelings, he was quick to mention his ‘frenemy’ who is sometimes nice and sometimes mad.

Big Feelings helps to teach kids that it’s ok to be mad, sad, excited, afraid, or ashamed – the world will carry on, just like they will, and if they can do so with the support of those who love them, they’ll be all the better for it.

“Feeling silly now and then releases stress and strife. It helps to have a little fun to weather storms in life,” Ballagh says.

Gloriavale | Regional News



89 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Gloriavale is a new observational documentary examining the widespread abuse inside the infamous West Coast Christian cult. It focuses on the experiences of two ex-members (John Ready and Virginia Courage) and their mother who still lives in Gloriavalle (Sharon Ready) as they all make serious allegations against the community. The film also examines the institutional failures that have allowed the physical, mental, and psychological abuse at the isolated society to continue.

As a fan of documentaries and someone who has been very intrigued by Gloriavale from a young age, I jumped at the chance to watch a documentary that exposed the religious cult’s darker side. The compelling opening scene set the tone for a film that achieved justice for its main subjects. John, Virginia, and Sharon were all given enough screen time to share their stories and these interviews painted a clear picture of what each of them went, and are still going, through. Directors Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth made great use of the West Coast’s beautiful landscape, with moody drone shots often setting the scene for what came next.

I found the pace of Gloriavale a little slow. Grady and Smyth ensured any interviews cut between relevant archival footage to add context, but I still felt some interviews could have been trimmed in half or left out completely as they repeated information. Something that I always find important when watching a documentary is that it includes two or three moments that (depending on the genre) give you goosebumps, make you say “wow”, or send chills down your spine. A heart-breaking scene towards the middle involving Sharon is the only time I experienced these heightened emotions.

Gloriavale succeeds in raising awareness that more needs to be done about the problematic community by the government and police. At times it was powerful and emotional as it revealed some of the true horrors that go on inside. But unlike many documentaries, I didn’t walk away feeling I needed to rush home to Google all those involved and what has happened since, and it lacked those significant moments that would have made it an incredible watch.

Skin Tight | Regional News

Skin Tight

Written by: Gary Henderson

Directed by: Katherine McRae

Running at Circa Theatre until 24th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Based on Denis Glover’s poem The Magpies, Skin Tight follows Elizabeth (Ella Gilbert) and Tom (Arlo Gibson) through the ups and downs, twists and turns of marriage. The play explores their journey with dialogue and movement (Luke Hanna), carrying the beautiful, apt tagline “A muscular piece of poetry”.  

The design elements of this production are exceptional. Brynne Tasker-Poland’s lighting scheme is filled with shadows and highlights a set that looks slick yet rustic, contemporary yet reminiscent of a 20th century farmhouse. Metal framing looms large and still beckons us in. A bathtub filled with water stands at the heart while buckets of apples overflow in the corners. Lucas Neal’s set design takes my breath away and is somehow practical – apparently, the bathtub even drains!

Music is vital to the whole and Oliver Devlin’s emotive compositions together with Ben Kelly’s sound design punctuate a marriage that is at once passionate and safe, deafening and hushed, whole and teetering on a knife-edge. Hanna’s explosive choreography features moments of stillness, softness, tenderness that further accentuate these juxtapositions, ultimately capturing a marriage through movement.

Director Katherine McRae brings all the moving parts together as one, deftly guiding the actors to navigate such peaks and troughs. Gilbert and Gibson pulsate with chemistry and conviction. While the dialogue is a little too heightened for me, it would be hard to find two more capable or better-cast performers to tell this story. 

What’s special about Skin Tight is that no matter your age, whether you’ve been married or not, if you live on a rural farm or in a steel city, something about the work will hook you. You might find little lines of dialogue that ring true, moments of a relationship that you remember, quirks of a couple you can relate to, or you might just hope you’ll get to experience a love like theirs someday.

Midnight Confessions | Regional News

Midnight Confessions

Presented by: Heartbreaker Productions

BATS Theatre, 23rd August 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Four young women (Abby Lyons, Alia Marshall, Anna Barker, and Mia Oudes) come together for an adult sleepover to relive the intimate memories of their girlhood and teenage years. Inspired by the classic play Love and Information by Caryl Churchill, Midnight Confessions is a series of often-amusing, occasionally heart-breaking flashbacks and direct-to-the-audience monologues that traverse many of the difficulties and joys of being female. It starts with a hilarious scene about a stuck menstrual cup and goes uphill from there.

The performers are a seamless and democratic unit who all contributed to the writing, directing, and presenting of this beautiful piece. They work effortlessly and energetically together to share their feelings on celebrity and real-life crushes, pubescent bodily urges, depression, latent lesbian desires, being grown up but still missing your parents, fat shaming, toxic friendships, and much more. This could easily have been a mess of mixed-up ideas, but the skill of this team is such that this isn’t the case and the whole is united under the consistent and enduring themes of friendship, love, and unwavering support of each other.

Rebekah de Roo’s wonderfully creative eye comes to the fore in the set design, projections, and lighting that create a soft, pink-drenched pillow fort that is the setting for and visual guide to the back-and-forth movement of the vignettes through the lifetimes of the four women. A simple wardrobe of black singlets and pale pyjama pants (Nicky Barker) serves well to emphasise that these are experiences all women (and men and non-binary people) can relate to and empathise with. Touches of music (Cameron Fox) and sound (Alia Marshall) appropriately underscore the action.

While young female characters on stage are often still presented as ingénues, jezebels, or troubled teens, it’s refreshing and empowering to see the female perspective given a bold reworking in Midnight Confessions. The voice of the Heartbreaker Productions team is strong and true and deserves a wide audience to appreciate their fun-filled yet meaningful exposition of growing up.

In Blind Faith | Regional News

In Blind Faith

Written and composed by Cadence Chung

Directed by: Lewis Thomson and Hazel Perigo-Blackburn

BATS Theatre, 23rd Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

In Blind Faith shoots for the moon, misses, but lands among the stars regardless. A two-act original musical is a phenomenal undertaking, one which Cadence Chung has demonstrated herself fully capable of achieving. The Otago goldrush never looked so much fun.

Entering the Dome, I find myself apprehensive. There’s no set in sight, and a full band right there on stage. However, my concerns of sparcity and overwhelming music are quickly dismissed; naive new girl Edith (Kassandra Wang) opens the show with a beautiful ballad, and immediately after the stage is flooded with a delightfully Dickensian chorus. I’m swept away into a romantic world of gorgeous gold miners and personified philosophies.

We are quickly introduced to the charming Polly (Tara Terry), who melts my heart throughout with her honest adoration of Edith. Before we can reach a happy ending, though, we meet the dastardly Augustus (Karmeehan Senthilnathan), Disney-villain-seductress Helen (Shervonne Grierson), and grim pessimist Sybil (Lilli Street). Their songs are funky and evocative, their performances just half a step back from melodrama. Senthilnathan’s epistemological comments are genuinely insightful, Grierson clearly has tremendous fun with her role, and Street’s creepy carnival number had my foot tapping.

At its heart, the show is a discussion around personal morals: nihilism versus hedonism, knowledge versus desire. It is a show that doesn’t quite know what it wants to say, but says it wholeheartedly anyway. There are moments that are pleasantly anti-capitalist, but the world is so romanticised that capitalism doesn’t feel like a real threat.

Unfortunately, Chung’s songwriting prowess doesn’t quite carry over to the dialogue; some of the exchanges feel repetitive and on the nose, and I find myself yearning for the next song.

Despite its narrative imperfections and bemusing finale, however, In Blind Faith manages to be a slick, well-produced, unapologetically sapphic musical that will appeal to all.