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The Golden Ass | Regional News

The Golden Ass

Adapted by: Michael Hurst

Directed by: Michael Hurst and John Gibson

Circa Theatre, 21st April 2024

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

The Golden Ass is an adaptation of Lucius Apuleius’ ancient Roman novel by Michael Hurst with additional text and dramaturgy by Fiona Samuel. This solo show sees Hurst retell the classic tale of a man transformed into a donkey, a wild experience that leads him to glean insight into humanity.

Hurst begins the performance in flowing beach clothes, relating the story with pace and evocative imagery. He immediately begins connecting with the audience, pulling us into his tale. While punchlines are lost in the momentum at times, the way that he embodies different characters through rapidly changing accents, postures, and mannerisms, is enthralling.

Seeking information on witchcraft to help him write a book, Hurst’s character Lucius tries to copy a ritual to turn into a bird, but is instead changed into a donkey. After this metamorphosis, he experiences different forms of cruelty, nearly forgetting himself and losing his humanity. Throughout the play, historically anachronistic inventions like email and vehicles are referred to, setting the story in a liminal, timeless period much like a fable.

The set (John Verryt) comprises a circular, sandy rug furnished only with some bags and a chilly bin. It is simple yet effective as Hurst uses the space with great physicality, moving between the different characters and scenes.

The lighting and sound, with original music by John Gibson, also add depth to the storytelling. Ocean sounds and a summery amber wash support Hurst’s vivid narration. Scene changes are quick and clear, often punctuated by a crowing rooster in the morning, which, like much in the show, is acknowledged by Hurst for comedic effect.

Injected at every turn is humour that verges on goofy and crass. But in the end, after seeing a dark and beastly side of humanity, Lucius’ sincerity and earnestness pin a hopeful tail on this story.

HELIOS | Regional News

HELIOS

Created by: Wright&Grainger

BATS Theatre, 19th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

In the Ancient Greek myth, Phaeton is the son of the sun god, Helios. In a fit of hubris and wanting recognition from his absent father, Phaeton begs to drive Helios’ golden sun chariot across the sky for a single day. Against his father’s better judgement, Phaeton takes the reins and starts a disastrous voyage across the heavens, literally crashing and burning because he can’t control the feisty horses.

In this relatable modern reworking of the tale, Alexander Wright, accompanied by Phil Grainger’s hypnotic score, relates the story of Phaeton as a confused teenager. He’s nearing his 18th birthday, mourning the earlier loss of his little brother in an ice-skating accident, dealing with school bus politics and a complex relationship with a classmate called Michael Dale, and watching the shadows of his airline pilot dad and the golden Ford in the garage that he one day wants to drive.

Wright is there to greet the audience as they arrive and directs everyone to seats around the three-quarters stage, in the middle of which is a cluster of freestanding lights and a couple of neatly coiled microphone leads. Around the outside of these is a sunny circle of orange and white cue cards that help him remember the 70-minute story’s details and which he uses to invite members of the audience to read some of the conversational lines.

Audience interaction is the hallmark of this highly absorbing presentation. Wright is a master of incorporating audience responses into his narrative and making us feel an integral part of Phaeton’s fall from grace, which he narrates with quick-fire energy. However, rather than concluding that Phaeton’s fate is a warning not to indulge in too much teenage bravado, the conclusion of this contemporary fable is more uplifting.

In this magical piece of storytelling, the human truth of HELIOS is beautifully spun from the ancient to the modern with nothing more than a few simple set pieces, delicious music, and one committed and totally engaging performer.

Demetri Martin: Demetri Deconstructed | Regional News

Demetri Martin: Demetri Deconstructed

(R13)

(4 ½ out of 5)

Available on Netflix

Reviewed by: Matt Jaden Carroll

American comedian, actor, writer, cartoonist, and musician Demetri Martin (Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show) is well known for his quirky, novelty-laden approach to stand-up comedy. Going into the Netflix comedy special Demetri Deconstructed, I expected jokes that would mess with my head. I didn’t expect to watch something that would challenge what a stand-up special is meant to be.

Typically, a stand-up special is presented as a faithful, matter-of-fact recording of a live show. But from the outset, Demetri Deconstructed implies that the show isn’t even real at all. Jokes are frequently punctuated by text overlays, overdubbed inner-monologues, meta outtakes, and other trippy effects. For me, this has a tradeoff: I pay the price of feeling quite detached from the live audience, but am treated to an abundance of extra jokes and thrills that the live audience couldn’t possibly be experiencing.

Although Demetri Deconstructed almost reinvents the artform of a stand-up special, Martin’s actual jokes remain true to form. Avoiding any long stories or political diatribes, he offers short and unique philosophical takes on the mundane. A bit like Jerry Seinfeld if he was a massive nerd. Some of Martin’s jokes are (once again) told using graphs. While he at first presents as awkward and deadpan, on closer inspection, he possesses a subtle charm, like a magician coyly smiling at the unveiling of each trick. I’d go so far as to say that Martin comes close to adopting the tone of a tour guide, quietly taking us through fun revelations and epiphanies about frankly nothing at all.

I’ll probably forget the jokes in a couple of days, but it’s hard to forget his new approach. It’s like witnessing a new genre being created – one where footage of a stand-up show is like raw material to be remixed as desired.

Demetri Deconstructed feels like a bold first step into new creative territory. That’s incredibly exciting, and I think it’s worth watching for that alone.

Rent | Regional News

Rent

Presented by: Kauri Theatre Company

Directed by: Lox Dixon

Gryphon Theatre, 10th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent follows a group of young artists struggling to make ends meet in New York City under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Mark (Ed Blunden) and Roger (Chris McMillan) are suddenly threatened with eviction by their landlord and ex-roommate Benny (Kwok Yi Lee). Still grieving the death of his girlfriend April, Roger rejects the advances of Cat Scratch Club dancer Mimi (Rach Te Tau). Meanwhile, Mark’s ex Maureen (Stacey O’Brien) has found a new love in fiery lawyer Joanne (Caitlin McDougall), and Collins (Richie Rewa) is swept up in the heavenly glow of Angel (Dennis Eir Lim), who dresses like the sparkliest Santa you ever did see (Angel’s superb costumes and wigs by Richie Rewa). It is Christmas, after all!

Resembling an electricity-starved, ex-recording studio turned barely inhabitable flat, the striking set is made all the more detailed and realistic with carefully chosen props (Emma Maguire, Kauri Theatre Company, and friends) and stringed fairy lights along the back wall (a nice touch by lighting designer Adam Harrison). Wearing costumes strongly suggestive of their counterparts from the film (wardrobe manager Hayley Knight), our cast takes to this grungy stage, backlit with twinkling hope, to crush it.

The core cast is exceptional. Musical director Anna Mckean has drawn the rockiest Adam Pascal-like timbres from McMillan and the crackliest of chemistries from his harmonies with Te Tau, whose beautiful voice blows me away in Without You. Then there’s Rewa’s powerful, haunting I’ll Cover You – Reprise that nearly makes me cry. With Lox Dixon in the director’s seat, the performers capture their characters’ essences to a T. McDougall is a boss Joanne, imbuing her with vulnerability but enough sass and spark to hold her own against Maureen. O’Brien is unbelievably good. Her Over the Moon, backed by star ensemble members Gracie Voice and Kristina Lee, is a hilarious highlight of the whole show. Eir Lim slays as a drag queen, especially with those raunchy moves in Today for You (choreographer Aroha Davidson). Blunden’s energetic performance is at the heart of it all, driving the action ever forward.  

Kauri Theatre Company should be extremely proud of this production. I wish I had more words to mention everyone involved, including the killer live band and the committed ensemble, because I could write pages longer than Benny’s eviction notices. The long and short of it is, bravo!

Mahler 5  | Regional News

Mahler 5

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Conductor Gemma New was on fire throughout this performance and she drew an impassioned response from the orchestra, soloist, and audience. 

Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 was the major work of the concert. Two works preceded it which, in contrast to Mahler’s abstract music, had a concept to convey. Salina Fisher’s Kintsugi was beautifully evocative of the Japanese practice of using melted gold to reassemble broken pottery. Fisher has stated that for her, “Kintsugi is a metaphor for embracing brokenness and imperfection as a source of strength.” The gold shimmered while limpid and singular sounds shot through the denser orchestration.

Losing Earth, a percussion concerto by American composer Adam Schoenberg, sought to raise awareness of climate threats. Particularly dramatic were the drum rolls from all corners of the auditorium and the sudden silences intended to force focus on the threats. It was not all noisy: Schoenberg also magicked up a great translucent watery world to highlight sea-level rise. The soloist was the extraordinarily rhythmic Jacob Nissly from the San Francisco Symphony, who displayed such athleticism as he moved around his array of instruments and such co-ordination to simultaneously wield drum mallets on one instrument while his foot operated another. The audience loved it.

But it was, in the end, the Mahler symphony that really electrified the audience. Profound sadness and mourning, chaos and frenzy eventually gave way to serenity, love, and merriment. This symphony is always wonderful for its depth and range of feeling, but truly I think this was an exceptional performance. One has to acknowledge the horn and trumpet players for their delivery of some of the most dramatic moments, but the intensity of the whole orchestra’s playing throughout was even more striking. New’s interpretation of the work and her ability to draw the shape and passion she wanted from NZSO players were exceptional.

Wicked Little Letters | Regional News

Wicked Little Letters

(M)

100 minutes

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Dear Reader,
In the years following World War I, in a sleepy seaside town, British decorum was ripped to shreds in a poison-pen scandal. As the title screen of Wicked Little Letters warns, this story is more real than you may think.

Dubbed the Littlehampton Libels by author Christopher Hilliard, the case consisted of a series of anonymous letters written by a scathing, all-knowing, foul-mouthed tongue. “Piss-country wh*re”, one says with carefully dotted i’s and crossed t’s. In a delicately twirled font, another reads “Her Majesty Ms Swan sucks 10…” well, you catch my drift.

Distributed first to one Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) the letters are immediately attributed to the pious middle-aged spinster’s neighbour and ex-friend. Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley) is a single mother from Ireland known for her bare-footed romps, bar carousing, and direct effusive language – she is the obvious suspect. Arrested for libel, she is briefly imprisoned before her trial until her bail is posted. From the moment of her release the letters resurface, this time addressed to mailboxes throughout to the whole town. Woman police officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) is suspicious of the conviction and determined to find out the true identity of the anonymous epistolarian despite her captain’s warnings.

What ensues is a delicious, linguistically colourful rampage through the decline of British austerity, the rise of feminism, and a light-hearted exploration of repression. Gendered assumptions and classist stereotypes run deep amongst the men. Moss is routinely dismissed for her excellent work by her superior and comrades. Edith is routinely harassed by an austere, controlling, and belittling father. I delighted in hating the horrible and hypocritical Edward Swan, brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Spall.

I must disagree with many unfavourable reviews dismissing director Thea Sharrock and writer Jonny Sweet for a shallow depiction of the story, suggesting the film failed to seize the opportunity for meaty social commentary. It was all there, just perhaps not so explicitly (pun intended). The audience should be given more credit – we can read between the lines. We can also delight in the graphic blasphemies as much as our prophane poet does.

Your “foxy-a**” journalist,

Alessia

Beach Babylon | Regional News

Beach Babylon

232 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Beach Babylon is an iconic brunch spot right in the heart of Oriental Bay. Like many a Wellingtonian, I have fond memories of whiling away the hours outside with a cup of coffee, gazing out across the sparkling seaside as the sun caresses my cheek. Closing my eyes and going back to those lazy Sunday mornings, I hear the sound of children’s laughter, I see dogs wagging their tails and shaking off the sea salt spray, and I salivate thinking about the smashed avo. Food? Check. View? Check. Vibes? Check, check, check.

I’m not sure about you, but I had no idea Beach Babylon opened for dinner! As soon as I found out, I booked a table for a feast by the beach on a chill Wednesday night.

Fondue is a feature of the menu, with cheese to start and chocolate to finish, should you so desire. As an entrée, my friend and I ordered the four-cheese fondue – made from mozzarella, smoked cheese, aged cheddar, and parmesan – with market vegetables and chunky fries to dip. You can select your accompaniments, and the delicately seasoned, lightly oiled green beans and broccolini were the perfect choice. This was broccoli cheese that would give your favourite Sunday roast a run for its money.

For the main course, I ordered the star anise sticky pork belly with potato puree, choy sum, crispy shallots, and crackling so salty, fatty, and delicious, you wouldn’t even be mad if you chipped your tooth on it. I loved the Asian-fusion flavour profile of the dish, with jus to die for and the shallots adding a nice bite of crunch and texture to the tender, succulent pork.

For dessert, we demolished a sticky date pudding with salted whiskey caramel sauce, vanilla bean ice cream, and granola. I could taste the whiskey and I was not mad about it. An innovative addition to the sweet, moist pudding. We also added vegan coconut sorbet at the recommendation of our awesome waiter, who was friendly and attentive every step of the way. This paired perfectly with the granola, making for the ultimate dessert that I’m still dreaming about today.

Whether you choose Beach Babylon for brunch or tea, just go. Stat!

Milly Monka’s MILK Factory | Regional News

Milly Monka’s MILK Factory

Presented by: Ruff as Gutz

Created by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin

Directed by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin

BATS Theatre, 3rd Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

If you’ve never seen a MILK show before, firstly, why, and secondly, the premise is this. A cast of improvisors make up a story on the fly (standard) whilst being pelted by water balloons (not standard). Prior to the show, we the audience are armed with the squishy, sopping projectiles and instructed to throw them at performers whenever we want something they’re doing or saying to change. Got milk? Hidden amongst the regular water balloons are a few drama balloons filled with milk. When one is tossed onstage, a catastrophic event occurs that changes the trajectory of our story forever. I’m not spoiling the event because I don’t want the MILK crew to turn sour on me.

In Milly Monka’s MILK Factory, Milly Monka (MC Mia Oudes) has been bestowed a quest by Zeus disguised as a cow (Dylan Hutton as both Zeus and Cow). Ever the delegator, Milly distributes Molden Mickets inviting the ‘lucky’ finders to her Milk Mactory in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the bush. And so, small children (Hutton, Zoe Christall, Timothy Fraser, and Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin) arrive in the bush (except Hutton’s character Bush Boy, who was already there) and are welcomed inside to “find the target”, or else.

This is the fifth MILK show and the second that I’ve seen, the first being MILKOWEEN, where Halloween met milk met madness met mayhem. In Milly Monka’s MILK Factory, Ruff as Gutz doesn’t lean quite as hard into the theme. Brighter costumes, a more colourful lighting scheme and zanier set, a spoonful of Oompa-Loompa-esque music, and chocolate milk (or mocklate milk, if you will), would be delicious touches in the future.

But this is all small (chocolate) fish. With a hilarious and hysterical premise perfectly executed by exceedingly talented performers who change course at the drop of a milk, and a respectful ethos designed around audience comfort, Milly Monka’s MILK Factory is magnificent. I had an outrageously good time downing this pint of pure happiness.  

Two Guitars | Regional News

Two Guitars

Written by: Jamie McCaskill

Directed by: Carrie Green

Circa Theatre, 24th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Billy (Cameron Clayton) and Te Po (Jamie McCaskill) are musicians about to smash the biggest night of their lives on a Māori talent show. But backstage before their final performance, the uber-culturally authentic competition has them asking, “Are we Māori enough for this gig?”

Both whakama in their own very different ways, they approach their Māoriness, or lack of, very differently too. For Billy, it’s about trying to do the right thing, whether that’s practising his overly dramatic reo introduction for the show or donning a pounamu. For Te Po, it’s about cynicism and exposing the expected compliance with the vision of ‘being Māori’ that the show espouses. “You be a You Māori. And I’ll be a Me Māori. And Billy will be a Him Māori”, he says and proceeds to make himself deeply unpopular with the producers. That’s just one of the dramas unfolding here as they both have family crises happening in the background that add depth to the significance of the night.

Clayton and McCaskill are a well-matched pair, sparking off each other with an easy chemistry that keeps the energy bubbling. Clayton’s Billy is sweet and well intentioned, though misguided in his priorities. McCaskill’s Te Po is arrogant and reckless, bringing a wrecking ball to the whole enterprise with little thought for the consequences. All of this is delivered with delicious humour from both characters that elevates the deeper issues of colonisation and cultural disconnection from the frippery of the competition.

With six beautiful songs carefully woven into the narrative, Clayton and McCaskill get to show off their musical talents and superb singing voices. They’re well matched in this department too, creating stunning harmonies and playing off each other’s guitar rhythms with expert skill.

Supported by Green’s naturalistic direction, gorgeous lighting (Talya Pilcher), and an attractive woven-panel set (Ian Harman), Two Guitars is a funny, polished, and thoughtful vehicle for showing us that maybe, in Te Po’s words, “If you whakapapa, that’s enough.”