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Spring Symphony | Regional News

Spring Symphony

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 21st May 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

The undoubted highlight of this excellent concert was The All-Seeing Sky by John Psathas, Orchestra Wellington’s composer-in-residence. The work is scored for orchestra and two percussion instruments, marimba and vibraphone. They were played by Swiss artists, Fabian Ziegler and Luca Staffelbach, with whom Psathas worked during the composition process. Quite apart from the music, this was a visual delight with the percussionists wielding their mallets like magicians.­

Psathas described the music as grim, dealing with Dante’s underworld. But in fact, while there was furious strength and rhythmic drama, there was also great delicacy and the creation of beautiful soundscapes. This was partly thanks to the qualities of the solo instruments, and partly to the beautiful passages where they were coupled with individual instruments such as the bassoon, cello, clarinet, harp, and whispering strings.

Enough of Psathas! There were two other wonderful performances in this concert! Orchestra Wellington’s theme for the season is Circle of Friends featuring works by Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara, by Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny, and by Brahms and others whose lives were intertwined.  

Fanny Mendelssohn’s Overture in C opened the concert. After a thoughtful and graceful introduction, the work breaks out into a very attractive liveliness which leads to a bold, final burst of energy. What might Fanny have produced if she were not a woman at the wrong time in history, constrained by family wealth and position as well. The orchestra gave a sparkling performance of her work.

It was only when Robert Schumann married Clara that he turned to symphonic composition producing the masterly Spring Symphony, conducted by Mendelssohn at the first performance. It is a hugely joyful work with new life flowing and bursting out relentlessly. Taddei luxuriated in both the energy and the tender passion expressed in the work.

Thank you, Orchestra Wellington.

Tigre Gente | Regional News

Tigre Gente


93 mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Part of Doc Edge Festival’s virtual screenings, Tigre Gente is a powerful documentary that is brilliantly told by director Elizabeth Unger. Using the contrast of two completely different worlds, it provides viewers with a jarring look into the destruction caused by the jaguar trafficking industry and those willing to risk their lives to stop it.

The director of the Madidi National Park in Bolivia (Marcos Uzquiano) is determined to investigate and put a stop to a new, deadly jaguar trade that is sweeping through his park and South America. On the other side of the world, a young journalist from Hong Kong (Laurel Chor) goes undercover as she investigates the selling of jaguar teeth in China and Myanmar – connecting the dots between the trade in China and the influence of Chinese business in South America.

The strongest element of Tigre Gente is the parallel perspectives it uses to tell the story. While Uzquiano and his team tirelessly chase illegal hunters through the Amazon’s vast bush and rivers, audiences are left shocked as Chor witnesses the horrible effects of wildlife trading on the streets of Hong Kong and the attitudes that surround it. The film cuts between the two stories and as each new secret is releveled in Bolivia, its influence immediately becomes clear in China. The film showcases visually stunning cinematography. Unger captures the mystic beauty of Madidi National Park as well as the activity on the streets, markets, and cultural hubs of China.

Tigre Gente is extremely educational. In South America, the emotional connections with the jaguar are explored while it also investigates Chinese culture and misconceptions about those on the other side of the trade. It builds suspense when necessary – this element is most prominent when Uzquiano and his rangers are almost shot by a group of hunters they are pursuing. Told in Spanish, Chinese, and English, the documentary’s yellow subtitles were sometimes hard to read but this was just a small mishap in what was a compelling watch.

A unique look into the global jaguar trafficking trade, Tigre Gente is a fantastic take on a modern nature documentary that uses raw storytelling and breathtaking cinematography to touch on several important issues.  

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness  | Regional News

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


126 mins

(1 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Marvel’s latest film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has again proven why the franchise should have started fresh after Avengers Endgame in what was a fantastic, emotional, and natural end. However, the unfortunate reality in the movie world is that money talks, meaning that Marvel will continue to pump out mediocre movies that hide behind a popular overarching storyline for as long as… well possibly forever. 

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is swept up in a journey across the multiverse as he looks to protect his newest powered companion America Chaves (Xochitl Gomez) from fellow superhero Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Witnessing the power of the multiverse, Wanda has embraced her evil identity as Scarlet Witch, taking extreme measures in her pursuit of America’s power.

My problem with Multiverse of Madness is that it is not a good movie. Now that may sound like an unimaginative statement but hear me out. Marvel is such a beloved franchise that they don’t seem to need to make, or care about making, a good movie anymore. Instead of pushing the boundaries as they did for the original Iron Man, Black Panther, and Endgame, recent films like Morbius, Eternals, and Multiverse of Madness are cursed with uninspired effects, disappointing performances, and nonsensical stories. Sadly, the simple act of inserting a superhero from days gone by is enough to get crowds clapping and cheering for more.

Director Sam Raimi couldn’t even decide what genre Multiverse of Madness is – horror, action, family? We have also reached the point where CGI is not just overused, but it doesn’t even look great. Another issue is that you need an overwhelming knowledge of the Marvel universe to even understand what is going on. Gone are the days when you could enjoy most Marvel films as standalones, no, you now need to watch five films and a couple of TV shows to have a chance.

Half a star for some entertaining fight scenes and the odd funny joke but overall, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had the chance to step away from the mediocre, run-of-the-mill films Marvel has been pumping out – it didn’t.

Bunny | Regional News


Written by: Barnie Duncan

Directed by: Barnie Duncan

BATS Theatre, 17th May 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Having thoroughly enjoyed last year’s Taphead, another show by comedic polymath Barnie Duncan was too good an opportunity to pass up. Written in the wake of the death of his adored mum Robyn, Bunny is a much more personal performance exploring grief through his love of clubbing.

For a bit over an hour, Duncan takes us on an acid trip of verbal and physical comedy accompanied, and sometimes facilitated, by a scrolling LED sign. This effective piece of technology is by turns illustrative, mocking, and directorial, asking us to laugh and applaud at appropriate moments and becomes a sidekick character to Duncan.

Duncan aptly describes Bunny as “a porcelain vase wrapped in a protective layer of dumb jokes”. His trademark dad jokes are here (“That’s a good sign”, he says as he points to a kind word passing across the face of his digital companion), but comedy is best when it comes from a place of vulnerability and it’s the segments where he talks openly about his mum’s decline and eventual death that are the strength and heart of this show.

In between these short and more serious ruminations are entertaining mimed sequences of a hard night’s clubbing to a banging house music soundtrack by DJ and producer Dick ‘Magik’ Johnson and what a David Attenborough documentary might look like while high on LSD. Duncan’s slow-mo butterfly causing a confused turtle to cry so it can drink his tears is something I won’t quickly forget. His alternative meaning of clubbing (no seals were harmed during the making of this show) and his break from the nightclub for a sneaky cigarette morphing into a male emperor penguin carrying an egg on his feet during the polar winter were equally memorable.

Having steadfastly refused to offer up the emotional denouement of his show, Duncan leaps back into hardcore dancing and then delivers it anyway to stunning effect. For a hilariously unique take on grief, Bunny is hard to beat.

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit? | Regional News

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit?

Directed by: Luke Eisemann

Dillinger’s Brasserie & Bar, 14th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I dare you to say “1920s-themed murder mystery and cocktail night” and not get excited. Go on. That’s right, it’s impossible because it’s the coolest premise ever. Dillinger’s Who Dunnit? lives up to the hype.

From the minute I walk through Dillinger’s doors I’m immersed in the world of the speakeasy. A wonderful band plays while actor Calvin Standrill (playing Vincent Monoghue) greets me in a stellar American accent and gestures towards a free drink, my favourite kind. In this case, it’s a French 75 and it’s delicious. Costume designer Jessea St-Louis has done an exquisite job of decking the actors out in 20s garb, with audiences rising to the challenge too. Some are so well dressed I can’t tell them apart from the cast, which shows the level of enthusiasm at play here.

It's prohibition time, but thankfully, we’re treated to drinks that are totally not alcoholic or illegal. There’s rosemary not-gin, cinnamon barely-bourbon, and I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-absinthe, which we sample from Clara Cameron (played by Susannah Donovan), Jack Boggins (Tyler Clarke), and feminist icon Daphne Montgomery (Rebecca Wilson). Each character pours out their tipples and their hearts as sinister secrets start to emerge.

When mob boss Babyface Morraine (Blake Willis, who delivers minimum dialogue with maximum impact) dies under suspicious circumstances, it’s up to the audience to figure out whodunnit and why. We’re presented with clues while we snack on sliders and more nibbles in what turns out to be the tastiest treasure hunt ever. Audiences pry actors for more details and more tips, with some tables discovering titbits others don’t. Then, detective Lisa Mason (Ana Clarke) has us put it all together in an interrogation where we must uncover the murderer.

Every detail of this experience has been meticulously thought out, with total commitment from all parties on all sides. There’s even a special cocktail menu that utilises the ‘teas’ we’ve been sampling. Audiences are free to mingle or partake, but we all give it 100 percent in what turns out to be a dazzling evening filled with great food, drink, theatre, and laughter. Hear, hear!

Dry Spell | Regional News

Dry Spell

Presented by: Footnote New Zealand Dance

Opera House, 11th May 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Choreographed by the promising Rose Philpott and performed by five dexterous dancers, Dry Spell dives into budding external relationships and fraught intrapersonal relationships through hedonistic contemporary dance and introspective movement.

The dancers, Oliver Carruthers, Emma Cosgrave, Veronica ChengEn Lyu, Levi Siaosi, and Cecilia Wilcox, impress their youthful exuberance and release their inhibitions in this passionate work. They modulate between moments of unity and synchronicity and highlight their tight group dynamic in the way they share the stage and effortlessly weave their bodies together. There are impressive feats of contortion and evocative moments of choreographic repetition. However, the work lulls in parts and there is a lack of transitional cohesion, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch.

The beginning of the performance packs a punch with a fun retro sequence of movement and music, which seems to shift through different eras and into a futuristic existence. The dancers cackle and occasionally vocalise their thoughts and feelings, and we are briefly led to believe that the manic scape before us is in the head of one of the dancers. The overall vibe is a playful one but there is an underlying darkness and pressure to the work, which is particularly highlighted when each dancer mounts a set of stairs and then leaps off into an unknown abyss.

The diverse soundscape of Eden Mulholland is an excellent accompaniment to the undulating rhythm and mood of the piece. The dancers respond well to Mulholland’s loud and demanding composition and seem to thrive with its challenge. There is rarely a moment of reprieve, and each artist brings a unique energy to the stage. The standouts are Wilcox and Carruthers, the latter being a dancer that I have been impressed by before.

While aspects of Dry Spell could be teased out and explored a little more, Philpott has a distinctive style of artistic direction, and her dancers commit themselves wholeheartedly to the work, making for an engaging evening of contemporary dance.

Another Beautiful Day Indoors | Regional News

Another Beautiful Day Indoors

Written by: Erik Kennedy

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

What a breath of fresh air is this collection! With its theme of climate change, expressed in mostly accessible language, it was bound to win my approval. In Another Beautiful Day Indoors, writer Erik Kennedy thankfully doesn’t feel the need to indulge in any of the current fashionable poets’ practices – abuse of punctuation, inexplicable gaps in text, and lengthy obscure prose passages! I like to think his undecorated style is informed by his sense of urgency.

The contents page sets up a list of titles as intriguing as the cover photo of a formally dressed man seated at a desk with his jacket draped over his head. He’s enjoying another beautiful day indoors?

Microplastics in Antarctica is a striking example of the poet’s main preoccupation. “The snow contains a finer snow” is a telling description of microplastics, as is the uncomfortably graphic “Scratch the scalp of civilisation / And bits of it go all over the place”. Our writer even manages to lighten the seriousness of his message by concluding the poem with a whimsical rhyme.

And who wouldn’t be captivated by a poem titled To a Couple Who Had Their Rings Brought to the Altar by Drone at Their Garden Wedding? Is the couple concerned typical? They “are unafraid of the wind, which bucked the drone almost to ringlessness”. “It was just an everyday wind really”, observes the poet, thus pointing up the lack of awareness most of us are still suffering from.

In Shin-deep in Flood Waters, Already Afraid, our poet lets images replace the temptation to hit us over the head with blame or dire warning – which is why his work is eminently readable and palatable. “I’m just in my wellies / gawping at river spillover / out of curiosity”, suggests an onlooker – albeit a concerned one.

Kennedy has chosen a subject of world-changing import for his poetic attention. Not all the poems comment on climate change and the need for action, but I’m not apologising for including here only ones that do.

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel | Regional News

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel

Written by: Jo Morgan with John McCrystal

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

While you may have heard of Gareth Morgan, the famed New Zealand economist and erstwhile politician, and his son Sam the creator of TradeMe, you may not have heard of their family’s matriarch, Jo.

While she may not have the same celebrity as her husband and son, Jo Morgan’s life has been no less impressive. From traveling around the world (including into some pretty hairy hotspots) to climbing the highest mountains, it’s safe to say she’s had a pretty full life.

Dancing with the Machine is an honest, exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that seems more a work of fiction written by Tom Clancy than a down-to-earth New Zealander narrating their past. It is an exciting read, and her honesty and uniquely Kiwi sense of humour make her instantly relatable. Her get-up-and-go attitude made me think about what goals I would like to cross off my bucket list, and I’m sure others will feel the same way after reading this book.

Her stories are unique, and her experiences unforgettable. In North Korea, she wrote about her time with a humanity that news broadcasts and television documentaries have never been able to convey to viewers. A faceless regime suddenly becomes human and instantly relatable as people.

My favourite passages were the ones where she and her husband Gareth worked as a team, and were always there for each other.

I’m afraid that after reading the book, I cannot find a single thing wrong. Although, in my defence, it’s difficult to find fault with anyone who takes life by the horns and goes with it. My only gripe is that now that I’m finished with the book, I want more.

Dancing with the Machine might sound like a funny title, but it’s also a very apt one, not just to describe her love of motorcycles but life itself. We are all dancing with our own machines, and Jo Morgan shows us how to do it.

The Winter Dress | Regional News

The Winter Dress

Written by: Lauren Chater

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Lauren Chater travelled to the Netherlands to research this book, inspired by a real 17th century dress found underwater off the coast of the Netherlands, and it shows. She writes elegantly and concisely, with clear deference to the importance of the history of this dress and how the find impacted those involved. I enjoyed the glimpse into life upon the coastal Dutch island where The Winter Dress is partially set, through the lens of Jo Baaker, our indomitable heroine who is drawn to the discovery of a silk dress that has somehow survived centuries underwater, insulated by mud. Jo is determined to ensure conservation of the precious find while allowing the people of the island to view the gown and be part of its history.

Chater takes several notable women’s names from Dutch history and combines them to make the story a clear imagining, a mere suggestion of what could have been without committing to a historical statement. Chater introduces us to Anna, a young woman left alone in a vulnerable position in 17th century Holland due to the death of her family. Anna is swept up in an opportunity that takes her to live with Catharina van Shurman – based, I assume, on Anna Maria van Schurman, a real-life Dutch artist and intellectual, and Catharina van Hemessen, a Flemish renaissance artist.

Instrumental in advancing women’s education and social rights, Catharina brings a strong theme of feminism as a thread that runs through this book. I found the subtle noting of the power imbalance interesting – Catharina boldly studying, writing, and influencing men of her time while also using Anna as a handmaid, kept silent and in her place, merely hoping to survive.

This thread continues in Jo’s side of the story. As she researches the dress and the potential owners of it, she finds herself casually betrayed by a male colleague, viewing the opportunity to advance his own career as more important than anything else.

The Winter Dress was an enjoyable, if romanticised, read.