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Summer Improv | Regional News

Summer Improv

Te Auaha, 20th Jan 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Improv is one of my favourite things to watch. Often integrated into the action, the audience becomes one giant sponge, absorbing the adrenaline coursing through the cast as they scramble to make up scenes on the spot. It’s thrilling when things go right and equally so when things go wrong. It’s a communal experience for both its makers and those witnessing their creation: a show that can’t be repeated, will never be seen, again.

When you line up some of the best improvisers in Wellington – in this case, Alayne Dick, Jennifer O'Sullivan, Dianne Pulham, Matt Powell, and Wiremu Tuhiwai, with special guest David Correos from Christchurch – you’re pretty much guaranteed a great night.

Interestingly, the players only take one audience suggestion (the theme, Easter), instead of prompts for each scene. While I’ve seen the latter more often, I prefer the Summer Improv format – without interruptions, the action has more momentum than a bear devouring an entire jar of manūka honey that its flatmates were entitled to two-thirds of. Big shoutout to Tuhiwai here, whose portrayal of a bear that can’t get its scat sorted at home or work is one of the highlights of the night.

Animals – both fictional and real – become a recurring theme. We have the Easter Bunny (but of course), not one but two bears, and the Squirrel Squad – Trash Squirrel, Ocean Squirrel, Air Squirrel, and Forest Squirrel, a gang pictured here that I desperately wanted to assemble again. While I did fight the urge to cry out for a Squirrel Squad encore, the players incorporate many a great hark-back, consistently getting the audience in on the joke.

Just a few more gold nuggets include O’Sullivan’s wise-man Mark, Pulham’s gaslighting mother, Correos’ sober driver, Dick’s incompetent manager, and Powell’s irate flatmate. Matt Hutton’s improvised keyboard soundtrack and Sam Irwin’s snappy lighting transitions tie it all up neatly in a bow befitting for a young girl named Gavin.

Summer Improv is on for one more Friday in January, though I hope to see it become a regular fixture on our stages. It’s certainly earned its place!

Gaylene’s Take | Regional News

Gaylene’s Take

Written by: Gaylene Preston

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

I thought I knew some stuff about Gaylene Preston but I knew nothing! This book is a great insight into the way the world has moved on since the early days of filmmaking in New Zealand, especially when directed by a sheila. Gaylene was pretty resilient to get through some of the tough shoots and situations unscathed. She’s tenacious as nothing came easy, and boy did she fight for it.

It sounds like she had a lot of fun along the way and ‘faked it till she made it’. She did time in the UK, as is the Kiwi way, and worked in psychiatric wards putting on shows. I thought that was very brave but when you are young and fearless, you can do anything. She has worked with the best in New Zealand including Alun Bollinger, who she fondly refers to as AlBol (I always think of champagne). In those days you had to fill the cinemas across New Zealand and so she bought the Paramount for two weeks for $6000 to accomplish this. The Paramount, now sadly closed, used to show soft porn in the afternoons back then, but not when there was a Preston movie to screen.

Her family is her strength and she shares fond memories of her parents, even providing a sausage roll recipe from Tui (her late mum). The recipe starts: “Go down to the dairy and get frozen puff pastry, taking care to have a yarn with the shopkeeper about more than just the weather.” My kind of recipe and I will try it out.

As a storyteller, she has a great turn of phrase: “With the financial jersey not unravelling any further, we were sailing again.” “Tui was named after that dark metallic rainbow bird that swaggers and coughs through the New Zealand bush.”

I learned a lot about filmmaking and Gaylene’s successes from Gaylene’s Take. It took me back to a simpler time before tech got in the way. Happy days.

Waxing On | Regional News

Waxing On

Written by: Ralph Macchio


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For someone who has never thrown a punch in their entire life, watching The Karate Kid for the first time in the 80s was pure wish fulfilment. And now with Ralph Macchio’s new book Waxing On, we get to see how all the stars aligned to create what many consider to be one of the best movies of 1984.

From his very first audition for the role of Daniel LaRusso, to meeting the late great Pat Morita for the first time, Waxing On goes in depth into what it was like making The Karate Kid trilogy and the impact it had on Macchio’s life and subsequent career.

His down-to-earth personality bleeds onto the page and is reflected in his writing style, which makes him a more relatable storyteller. There are no airs or graces that you might associate with a Hollywood celebrity here, nor are there the kind of outrageous stories about wrecking hotel suites or extramarital affairs that plague other memoirs. Instead, he’s humble about his achievements, honest about his mistakes, and thoroughly entertaining along the way.

Little anecdotes litter the entire book. I interpreted some as teachable moments, while others were fun little titbits that had me gasping for joy as a huge fan. One such story that caught and held my attention was the almost universal concern people had about Pat Morita’s match fitness for the role of Mr Miyagi. Even Macchio admitted to harbouring concerns about Arnold from Happy Days in one of the leading roles. Fortunately, Morita blew them all away with his audition and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s stories like these that make Waxing On such a pleasure to review.

And on that note, I always try to approach my reviews and give feedback in a balanced way, but I really can’t find any downsides to Waxing On. If you have the opportunity to pick this up, don’t hesitate – just do it. It is a must read for 2022.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar   | Regional News

The Rarkyn’s Familiar

Written by: Nikky Lee

Parliament House Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is the story of Lyss, a human bonded and inextricably entwined in a blood pact with Skaar, a creature, some say ‘monster’, from the Otherworld. Their unholy union borne from a fight-for-life encounter binds the Rarkyn to Terresmir, and to Lyss as her familiar.

In Nikky Lee’s fantasy novel lives a world where the horrors of creatures from the Otherworld threaten to breach the boundaries of Terresmir. Embroiled in a reluctant bond with a fearsome monster, Lyss experiences a symbiotic melding of powers and energies with Skaar, with the ever-present threat that “control will fall to whoever has the strongest magic”.

Each carries a secret burden as they travel to the Illredan Empire in a desperate quest to find a cure before the inevitable madness of their blood pact becomes all-consuming for Lyss. Otherworld beings, the elite soldiers of The Order, and wayward mancer Archer threaten to derail them along the way.

Skaar will fight for freedom in his bid to escape the clutches of Archer again, the cursed mancer who had once held him captive; driven to cruelty by guilt and despair, and a madness-filled quest to save someone long gone. Lyss will fight to avenge her father’s death.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar will have you questioning who is the monster – is it the one who fights for freedom? Or the one who fights for retribution?

In Skaar and Lyss, Lee has created impressive character arcs, fleshed out and splat out, where horror, fantasy, and magic collide.

Through their shared fight for survival, and as they hone their minds and magic across hugrokar (a telepathic sense) to share their thoughts, feelings, and attack plans with no need for spoken words, a reluctant regard for one another develops.

Though Lee says it took 16 painstaking years for this book to come to fruition, I got to the end of The Rarkyn’s Familiar feeling like the story and adventures of Lyss and Skaar are far from over.

No Less The Devil | Regional News

No Less The Devil

Written by: Stuart MacBride

Penguin Books

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

If you want a page-turner, then look no further than No Less The Devil. But be warned: once you get into this book, you’ll be seriously hooked. I read it on the bus home and nearly missed my stop. Then I sat in my car parked by the bus stop and read for another 10 minutes before driving home because I got to such a tense part in the plot that I couldn’t put the book down.

This murder-mystery about catching a deranged serial killer is very different to my usual favourite cosy mysteries. When I first picked it up, I read a chapter and put it down, because this tartan noir novel was a bit too dark and gritty for me. I picked it up again a week later and once I got that it was dark Scottish humour and rolled with it, I loved it.

The characters are intriguing and well developed. Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh Lucy is fantastic and likeable even though you find yourself shocked to be rooting for her at times. I hope we see this detective heroine again. The scenes with and descriptions of her unfit lumbering partner DC Duncan Fraser, also known as the Dunk, made me smile. The most memorable scenes though are when DS Lucy meets her match with the calculating students and teachers at a posh but unnerving private school.

The plot is fast paced and not always predictable. At first, I thought I was reading a pretty standard police procedural novel or classic serial killer mystery but then the plot started to take some unexpected turns. The writing is excellent and builds tension effectively. The detailed character descriptions draw you in, even when you know you shouldn’t be liking some of them!

This mystery is different. It’s dark and a bit discombobulating but it’s strangely fun. I recommend it.

Here For a Good Time | Regional News

Here For a Good Time

Written by: Chris Parker

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Chris Parker is charming, charismatic, and chaotic. Everything in Here For a Good Time is an absolute delight. Parker takes you on a journey through his life and current musings. He’s not afraid to make fun of himself and I hope that like humourist author David Sedaris, Parker can just keep publishing his thoughts and make our days a little brighter. One of my favourite sections is how, in meticulous detail, he describes how to eat different types of biscuits (all worthy of the page and absolutely the correct way to eat them), and introduced me to one of my new favourite things: ‘a lolly to go’.

When a comedian ventures off the stage and onto the page, there’s a thrilling sense of the unknown. Without an audience to bounce off and real-time delivery, how strong is their voice alone? Well, you don’t need to worry about that here. Parker hits it out of the park, down the road, and past the dairy, where he can charm two-day-old free pies from the owner. As someone familiar with his work, it’s easy to picture him performing each chapter with all long gangly limbs flailing about, an ever-cheeky glint in his eye executed with his infectious energy. The joy of Here For a Good Time is that when reading you can’t help but laugh out loud. It’s hard to picture what it would be like to read this book without seeing him perform or checking out his Instagram skits first, but his voice, pacing, and delivery take away the need to have any knowledge of Parker’s prior work. 

The summary reads, “Here For a Good Time allows you to take Chris home for a much-needed pick me up whenever you need”, and never has a book description so aptly described the experience of reading it. Every musing he includes is like discovering a really good meme. Somehow he is able to effortlessly describe the human experience and make you laugh at the same time. I absolutely recommend it.

Desperation in Death | Regional News

Desperation in Death

Written by: J. D. Robb aka Nora Roberts

St. Martin’s Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

What amazes me the most is that even over several entries, the In Death murder mystery series still has so much to give. Neither Nora Roberts nor her star character Detective Eve Dallas seem to have run out of steam yet, and in her latest title, Desperation in Death, they both seem to have more energy than ever before. I think that’s partly because of Roberts’ emotionally charged writing style, which sucks me into her world and makes me feel for the characters involved – even the villains made me feel something (albeit in a very negative way).

At the centre of the story is Dallas and her team of police officers, who Roberts manages to inject with some real heart; almost to the point where they seem genuinely alive. While that might come off as hyperbole, the truth is Roberts is just that darn good. Special mention has to go to Dallas and her millionaire boyfriend Roarke, who cement their status as the unofficial power couple of their futuristic New York city.

One negative for me is that this might be one of the more disturbing adventures that Roberts has tackled. While I won’t spoil anything for you here, I will say that some of the subject matter gets quite dark, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There were times when I had to take a break from the story before coming back to it, simply because I found it so unsettling. However, I have to point out that this was more of a ‘me’ problem and you might not have any issue with the story at all.

Even if you are a bit on the sensitive side like me, if you stick with it, I think you will be rewarded with an amazing story that tugs on every emotion until the very end. Here’s hoping that Nora Roberts (aka J. D. Robb) and Eve Dallas return sometime soon in 2023.

Lost Possessions | Regional News

Lost Possessions

Written by: Keri Hulme

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Lost Possessions, a novella, is written in the style of a journal – a collection of pages of a notebook in which we learn about the writer, the character, via their self-expression. Author Keri Hulme captures the reader’s curiosity cleverly and instantly with an immediate mystery:
“They have left me.
The door is locked.
The room is entirely bare.”

Where the writer is, or why they have taken him, or indeed who they are, remains entirely a mystery for the rest of the journal. However, we are given hints. As the writer begins using the notepad to track the passage of time and the details of his experience as best he can, we learn that he is Harrod Wittie, a university lecturer. He only recalls a sack over his head and something like a belt around his neck before waking in a featureless room, alone, naked, with a bucket for company.

As days – or perhaps hours – pass and Harrod realises his state of mind depends entirely on whether he is given any food, he becomes a fabulous example of an unreliable narrator. We only see his surroundings through his description of them, and memories of his childhood, his family, his past relationships, swim to the surface while Harrod slowly starves.

A curious repeating theme of ‘rites of passage’ comes to the forefront of his musings. A bizarre obsession with race and skin colour is also impossible to ignore. As Harrod begins to focus on the fact that the people holding him hostage are Black, as far as he can tell, he reminisces about the last relationship he had, with a Black woman named Jaban, drawing tenuous connections between her and his current plight. They discussed differing cultures and their traditions around how and when one becomes a man. Is pain involved? Is there a real test? Just as he seems to be finally closing in on the possibility that he brought this situation upon himself, it ends in utter uncertainty.

A quick read, and a slow digest; Lost Possessions made me think for a long time.

In Memory of Travel | Regional News

In Memory of Travel

Written by: Grant Sheehan

Phantom House Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Photographer, publisher, and writer Grant Sheehan has lent his lens and penned a narrative to record his travels and adventures across the world in India, Moscow, and Antarctica to name just a few.

Perhaps my favourite chapter of In Memory of Travel is Café to Café. Here you will find images from his two previous books – Character Cafés of New Zealand and Cafés of the World. Collectively, they are a visual ode to café life in the 80s and 90s, a love of coffee, and some of the wondrous cafés he’s visited and photographed around the globe. Some looked sublime, others kitsch, most colourful, and one extraordinary: Caffé Florian in Venice looks like an exquisite art museum rather than, reportedly, the world’s oldest café. A black and white image of Espressoholic, once a favourite haunt of my youth, reminded me of the power an image has to take you back to a time gone by. In my case, it was a time filled with cappuccinos in an eclectic café in the wee hours of the morning in the heart of Courtenay Place in the 90s. Sheehan explores the power of our memories and in particular the nature of travel memory – how our brains process and recollect events and how this changes over time. For many of us, he says, it is our travels that form our most precious memories.

Whenever I look at an image, I can’t help but wonder of the photographer: were you a spectator or did you involve yourself in the happenstance or the moments you captured; either invited or uninvited? And what of the images you share with the world, are they raw in reality or manufactured through the manipulation of photographic artistry?

In a way, Sheehan answers these questions for me, explaining how he came to be somewhere, where he travelled to, and the stories behind the photographs.

In Memory of Travel invites you in, not only with its beautiful mix of imagery but with its narrative. Sheehan’s pragmatic and introspective take on photography and the circumstances surrounding his work gently projects you into his travels, the faraway places that exist beyond the landscape, and the life and people you are familiar with.