Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Messiah | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Umberto Clerici

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Dec 2022

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Musicians choose when to retire, as do most of the rest of us. NZSO musicians get to choose their own party music from the season’s programme. Michael Cuncannon (viola) and Yury Gezentsvey (principal first violin) chose the Messiah. In a relaxed but expectant and almost full house, Yury’s family had brought a banner reading “We love Yury”, which brought a smile to his face that remained for the whole show.

Umberto Clerici was conducting George Frideric Handel’s Messiah for the first time but you wouldn’t have known that from his confidence on the podium. The orchestra was reduced in number to a chamber orchestra. Clerici used this to great effect; he exposed the music and brought details to our attention. His use of tempo, volume, accent and attack, rise and fall, and a lyrical tone made the phrases shine. This is a very melodic work and, although it is a perennial Christmas feature, even new listeners would be surprised by how much sounds familiar.

The soloists and the wonderful Tudor Consort choir, supported by the orchestra, gave us many exceptional musical moments throughout the 48 verses. The soloists all started well and got better. Tenor Lila Crichton had a lovely, strong but also tender legato voice which perfectly suited the opening lyrics about seeking comfort and exalting the valleys. Last minute replacement bass-baritone Samson Setu stepped up with his own magnificent opening verse. His voice seemed much more mature than would be expected in someone so young. In his opening aria he sang of shaking the heavens and his technique made his voice shake distinctly and properly, not something you always hear in other performances.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble also impressed with her lovely expressive voice and soprano Emma Pearson likewise excelled in her part. In her final aria, rejoicing as Christ is risen, I was certain she sang with the voice of a true believer.

Faust | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre 3rd Dec 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Robert Schumann was inspired by Goethe’s tragic play Faust, and spent nine years writing Scenes from Goethe’s Faust. The work requires impressive forces: full orchestra, nine vocal soloists, and an adult and a children’s choir. It is an ambitious undertaking and has not been performed in New Zealand until now. Orchestra Wellington is to be commended for presenting it.

Schumann chose seven excerpts from Goethe’s play, leaving the audience to fill in the storyline from their familiarity with the play. Taddei provided surtitles, but they did not help much in elucidating the implied narrative. It paid just to immerse oneself in the music. 

The music was wonderful: dramatic, romantic, lyrical. Part 1 was romantic and tragic operatic fare of the highest order, concerning the consequences of an ill-starred relationship between Faust and a woman, Gretchen. Part 2 was darker and more dramatic, leading to the death of Faust. Part 3 concerns Faust’s transfiguration in heaven.

Playing Gretchen, Emma Pearson has a beautiful voice, being both pure and strong with a lovely upper register. Christian Thurston as Faust was not as convincing a character and had less cut-through against the orchestra. Wade Kernot as Mephistopheles, to whom Faust sells his soul, was impressive both in vocal quality and in characterisation. Of the several minor characters, tenor Jared Holt and soprano Barbara Paterson had strong voices and presence.  I wondered if the singers might have had more impact in conveying their characters if they were placed in front of the orchestra rather than behind it.

Schumann was more inclined to call this work an oratorio than anything else. The gorgeous choral writing, particularly in Part 3, explains why. Both Orpheus Choir and St Mark’s Schola Cantorum performed well, with Orpheus producing both power and a beautiful pianissimo as required. The piping children’s choir was perfect.

Pinocchio the Pantomime | Regional News

Pinocchio the Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 23rd Dec 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Ahh, the Circa pantomime. Giving our favourite fairy tales topsy-turvy topical treatment, these riotous rollercoaster rides have been an annual Christmas tradition for families from Wellington and beyond for nearly two decades.

This year’s pantomime sees writer and director Gavin Rutherford retire as the show’s sassy, saucy Dame after 12 years. Stepping into the kitten heels with grace and gusto is Jthan Morgan as Kahurangi Fairy, a fairy godmother embroiled in an eternal spat with the dastardly Fox (Emma Katene) and her sidekick, Thorndon Key (Tabatha Bertei-Killick). Meanwhile, lonely widower Gepetto (Sepelini Mua’au) finds a hunk of wood, boots out its former resident Willami Wētā (Finley Hughes), and carves a puppet son, Pinocchio (Nī Dekkers-Reihana) – much to the dismay of his cat and wannabe influencer Ms. Claws (Natasha McAllister). And all the while, ‘hee-haws’ echo down the streets of Wellywoodington as donkeys multiply without explanation.

It sounds nuts because it is. But oh boy, I reckon Pinocchio is my favourite pantomime yet. While this show is by no means subtle (in fact it’s still as mad as a whale with a hernia), it does feel more restrained in its approach than past pantos. Rather than colourblind the audience with spectacle, it plays more of a long game, allowing Leary and Rutherford’s references and jokes – not to mention the presumably unscripted adlibs (shoutout to Hughes and Mua’au for the brilliant banter) – to really shine.

The cast is a tight unit, with a recurring gag of talking animals unwittingly enjoying pats (McAllister and Katene) a hilarious highlight. I particularly love the general disdain but secret sentimentality Hughes brings to the role of Willami, Dekkers-Reihana’s defined physicality as a puppet, and Morgan’s inspired interactions with the audience – especially the whispers of “don’t tell anyone”.

Tying it all together are the arrangements of inimitable musical director Michael Nicholas Williams, with bangers and bops bound to appeal to millennials like myself.

Get your lovely friends by your side for a happy conclusion and a measure of magic at Circa Theatre this summer.

Avenue Q | Regional News

Avenue Q

Created by: Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez, and Jeff Marx

Directed by: Ewen Coleman

Gryphon Theatre, 24th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

If potty-mouthed puppets are your peccadillo, then Avenue Q is for you. Billed as Sesame Street for adults, it’s a musical comedy that tackles racism, homosexuality, homelessness, suicide, and internet porn. It feels contemporary as the issues it traverses haven’t gone away and are arguably more prescient now than they were when the show won a Tony Award in 2004.

The shadow of COVID over Wellington theatre is still a long one and the announcement at the beginning of the performance that the character of real-life former child star Gary Coleman was going to be played by a white guy only added to the comedy.

Wellington Repertory Theatre’s production features an expanded cast of 15 actors and puppeteers, plus an ensemble of five. This allows for some fun choreographed sequences (Melanie Heaphy) that make good use of the extra bodies. The set design (Scott Maxim) of three row houses along the back of the stage offers a variety of spaces for actors and puppets to pop in and out and gives lighting designer Riley Gibson plenty to play with. His backlit drain that gently oozes smoke is a delightful touch.

The cast is a strong one and works seamlessly together, particularly those who operate puppets as a pair. The influence of puppet master Kenny King is in evidence. The puppeteers have clearly learnt his golden rules of keeping their eyes on their puppet and not letting go of them unless they’re dead, which does happen in one hilarious scene.

Vocal performances are mostly strong too. The singers don’t have microphones which occasionally makes it hard to hear them over the backing track, but the balance is generally good. All the singers deserve praise for their enunciation; I could hear every glorious word.

Avenue Q is not for the easily offended or the children in your life, but it’s uproariously funny and this production does an excellent job of bringing it to Wellington.

Homemade Takeaways | Regional News

Homemade Takeaways

Written by: Ben Wilson

Directed by: Cassandra Tse

BATS Theatre, 23rd Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Having seen Homemade Takeaways performed as a rehearsed reading at Circa Theatre last year, the chance to see a fully fledged production was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Much of the cast and crew remain with three of the four main actors reprising their roles. This is a good thing as the quality of performance is top-notch and the actors are demonstrably comfortable within their characters and each other.

Ben Wilson’s comedy-drama set in an unspecified South Island town deservedly won Best New Play at Playmarket’s Playwrights B425 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Adam NZ Playwriting Award. It’s an awkward family Christmas as a Dunedin-based drummer (Dryw McArthur) suddenly uproots his job and city to return to the family home where his recently dumped self-help expert of a sister (Kate Johnstone) is quietly self-destructing. Their young stepmother (Tabatha Pini-Hall), a primary school teacher who is trying to write dark children’s fiction, has recently inherited the house and her 31-year-old, skateboarding, Emma Thompson-obsessed man-child bestie (James Cain) is sleeping on the couch. Overlaying each of their individual traumas is a shared patina of grief for a lost father and husband.

On paper, it seems like a doom-laden mix, but this play is funny with Cain’s character often providing comic relief as the tension builds to a metaphorical and literal storm on Christmas Eve. It’s ultimately uplifting as they somehow manage to make each other feel less alone.

The set (Rosie Gilmore) is unusually fulsome for the BATS stage, with a raised central area that is the kitchen cum living room of a rural house surrounded by fluffy toetoe with a bench outside where the characters retreat to smoke, talk, and attempt skateboard tricks. It’s carefully lit (Bekky Boyce) and the sound design (Maxwell Apse) features appropriately cheesy Christmas music and well-placed sound effects.

All up, this is an excellent show with stellar acting of a great script supported by sharp production values.

Miracle | Regional News


Written by: Jennifer Lane

Cloud Ink Press Ltd

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Year 9 is a tough time for everyone. There’s nothing like feeling like the world is against you and then finding out your town really is. 

Miracle brings you smack bang into the reality of a 14-year-old girl, who thought her biggest worries were figuring out when she could wear a jumper to school, how she could get her crush to notice her, and if her friends really liked her or not. Trying to prove that her family isn’t crazy, that she can take a joke even when fighting back tears as she tries to clear her family name, was a lot more than she bargained for. Miracle desperately fights against the veil of childhood as she is forced to battle with things she’s not quite old enough to fully understand.

There’s nothing that Miracle wants more than to fit in. She would rather cross her heart and hope to die than her dad get a job that draws more attention to her less than picture-perfect family. She tries to craft a plan towards his future employment as far away from her as possible, but doesn’t realise how catastrophic things will become. Meanwhile, the town is plagued by sudden deaths and a thick smoke cloud that tricks the residents into thinking there’s no such thing as clean air…

Miracle is a beautiful, fraught coming-of-age novel based in Australia. Come for the teen angst and the trip down memory lane and stay for the family dynamics and societal displays. The world is instantly relatable and vibrant, yet still captures the mundanity of the everyday. This is a book to savour. It is full of beautiful poetic language that is begging to be read out loud. Take your time to chew over every rich, juicy word that Lane has carefully crafted and enjoy the charm and the messiness of the relatable characters. Take your heart on the journey to the end of Miracle’s childhood.

Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide | Regional News

Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide

Written by: Geoffrey Palmer and Gwen Palmer Steeds

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For a lot of people, democracy is the simple process of voting for politicians who you think will have your best interests at heart and will look after you in the short and long term. Unsurprisingly there’s more to it than that, and for those wishing to learn the nitty-gritty of how it works in New Zealand, we have the latest book from Geoffrey Palmer and Gwen Palmer Steeds titled Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide.

Going back to the beginnings of the first Māori wars and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, it explains how the English style of democracy first implanted itself in our country and how it grew and adapted to serve two very different cultures.

For me one of the best aspects of the book is the inclusion of interviews that the authors carried out. These include ones with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, former opposition leader Judith Collins, and ambassador to Ireland in waiting Trevor Mallard. They give us a rare peak into the mindset of the people that have helped to literally shape our lives in New Zealand. Ardern’s interview in particular stood out for me, as it gave me a better idea of how she thinks and her problem-solving process.

Another plus is the easy-to-read format of the book; I understood everything and never felt like anything went over my head.

One problem is the fact that politics is not for everyone and for some the subject will simply be a turnoff, which is shame because I think we should all have an understanding of the way our country is governed. I would still wholly recommend this book to those people, as it gave even a layperson like myself a better understanding of democracy, and how important it is to remain a part of the democratic process. As it says on the back cover, it’s a survival guide to democracy in Aotearoa.

Mind Free  | Regional News

Mind Free

Written by: Mark Stephens

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Much like the words challenging and unprecedented are burned into our collective consciousness when we think of the last couple of years, so too is the word mindfulness and the act and art of being mindful when we think of wellness and wellbeing.

But what does being mindful actually involve? In Mind Free, Mark Stephens looks at the limiting patterns, actions, and behaviours that are holding you back and how, through the techniques of mindful meditation and self-hypnosis that he’s developed over the years, you can overcome these.

Stephens talks of mindful meditation, where if you become one with the task you have at hand or your present moment, then even the simple act of preparing a cup of tea can become a mindful experience. I tried this with a similarly mundane activity: shopping at the supermarket, marvelling over avocados, noticing all my fellow shoppers and the sights and sounds around me.

But so many times my mind wandered from the present to the past; my mind a hybrid landscape where everything but the present was competing for thought time – it was hard to stay in the moment. Stephens says it’s about bringing your attention back to the present.

Having a mantra of positive affirmations like ‘I can handle anything’ or ‘I am strong’ or ‘I’ve got this’ is a strategy suggested for overcoming anxiety to consciously change your internal story. When you feel better you start to act differently and feel happier and more content, Stephens says. Meditation mandalas can be found dotted throughout Stephens’ 21 positive states of being, which he has identified as the positive states we all need in our lives – things like appreciation, calm, love, laughter, and optimism.

There are certainly some positive techniques in Mind Free and empowering actions to take using thought regulation and breathing techniques.

But sometimes the art of creating a mind that is free by breathing, meditating, living in the now, self-affirming, thinking positively, and stressing less is as complicated as its promised reward.

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV | Regional News

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV

Edited by Emily Brill-Holland

Paper Road Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Men flicker out like photos burned. Folklore fuses with our everydays. Birds no longer sing in cities. Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV is a beautifully curated collection of our country’s best science fiction and fantasy short stories. These are stories that you can enjoy on their own, picking up whenever you feel like a little literary snack, or it can be a whole meal that you devour in one sitting.

The volume begins strong with I Will Teach You Magic by Andi C. Buchanan. Buchanan’s story tucks you in with a spell of love woven into the ink. It stretches out of the pages, onto your fingers, and flows into your heart. It’s the perfect beginning to the collection like sitting around a campfire, hearing stories retold that have been passed down by generations.

Plague Year by Anuja Mitra skilfully spins an ever-so-relevant social commentary by playing within the familiarity of a classic folklore. Data Migration by Melanie Harding-Shaw is a beautifully crafted tragic glimpse into a reality that just may fall upon us. A stark reminder that regardless of whatever challenges we face, teachers are forever the glue of civilisation, building hope and light within new generations. Interview with Sole Refugee from the A303 Incident by James Rowland is an incredibly gripping short story that you don’t want to end. The only survivor walks on past all the pain, fuelled by the pressure to meet deadlines at work.

Because this is a collection of stories, there isn’t enough space in this review to address each of them. I absolutely recommend this gem of a book. Standouts in the volume were stories that lingered on the precipice of our realities but held enough distance to gain perspective. Voices are taken, time is stolen, and worlds crumble as we watch frozen as witnesses. The volume holds the magic of many voices that all should be heard.