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The Big HOO-HAA! | Regional News

The Big HOO-HAA!

Produced by: Locomotive

BATS Theatre, 17th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A warm, weird, and wacky welcome to the pure chaos of the Fringe season, The Big HOO-HA! is a competitive improv show originally founded in Perth some 20 years ago. It’s had great success in Melbourne and now, hopefully, Pōneke. By hopefully, I mean that it must stay here forever. I simply insist.

Our host Jennifer O’Sullivan introduces us to two teams: Hearts (Megan Connolly, Jed Davies, and Guanny Liu-Prosee) and Bones (Elliott Lam, Tara McEntee, and Malcolm Morrison). With the adept assistance of Matt Hutton on live keyboards (plural!), Sam Irwin on real-time lighting design, and Matt Powell on scorekeeping, the teams face off in a battle for glory by competing in timed rounds that feature various popular improv games. Challenges span storytelling, direction, narration, songwriting, muffin incorporation, and much more. Everything you see onstage is made up on the spot.

Group improv is, first and foremost, a team sport. You can be the wittiest, speediest, sharpest tool in the shed – and each one of these cast members is just that – but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t collaborate, share the spotlight, and (to throw in an improv buzz phrase,) accept offers. Friday night’s Big HOO-HAA! players work beautifully together and there is a palpable camaraderie not just within the teams, but between them too. This results in a wild night of unbridled joy, silliness, and, of course, laughter.

Now for the highlights! Davies’ deliciously macabre delivery of 99 percent of his offers complements my favourite character of the night: McEntee’s Suspicious Moon, who turns out to be quite the perve in an encore appearance. Moon is made all the more ~suspicious~ by a great collaboration between Irwin and Hutton. Lam and Connolly write an absolute banger: Cry on my Face. O’Sullivan – who is generally a very charming riot – keeps mispronouncing Powell’s brilliant pun about bran muffins and Banksy (‘branksy’). Liu-Prosee takes a turn as a tiger hunter in possession of the famed, highly illegal ‘master bullet’, while Morrison’s wickedly disturbing tooth fairy sets… my teeth on edge. Sorry.

A big hoorah for The Big HOO-HAA!

The Banshees of Inisherin | Regional News

The Banshees of Inisherin


114 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Fog rolls over the island of Inisherin. The cold sets into your bones and the sea laps at your feet. Centuries of tradition and legend wrap themselves around your shoulders, shrouding the world in ancient mysticism and melancholia that seems only to exist in the realms of Celtic folklore and the fraught history of the Irish Isles. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) heads down to the local as he has everyday since forever, but his best friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) no longer wishes to speak to him. What ensues is a darkly humorous, bloody conflict with devastating consequences.

Set in 1923 The Banshees of Inisherin is an allegory of the Irish Civil War, a bloody battle pitting family and friends against each other. With the made-up island Inisherin translating roughly to “island of Ireland” and the plot revolving around a senseless conflict between Colm and Pádraic – best friends, brothers almost, who lose so much for so little, while the corrupt priest and brutal police officer stand by – the narrative is a powerful and beautifully crafted commentary on a dark moment in Irish history.

If I had the authority to give Barry Keoghan a supporting actor award for his portrayal of Dominic Kearney, I would fly to Ireland and personally deliver it to him. Rivalling Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Keoghan offers a compelling and tender portrayal of a boy on the spectrum, struggling to find his place in a world that doesn’t have much space for him. All the characters are so alive and well crafted. The relationships are a truthful representation of small, isolated communities. Cinematographer Ben Davis, designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, and editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen make a brilliant team.

I have so much praise for this work of art I could write pages. Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin has received nine nominations at the upcoming Academy Awards, and it deserves them. This film is cinematically masterful, so well acted, visually arresting, funny, touching, sad, and everything in between. It is also a love letter, a condolence, an Irish wake, a ballad to the people of Ireland.

Lola Rouge | Regional News

Lola Rouge

10 Dunlop Terrace, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Located on the heritage side of Wellington’s Naumi Hotel, Lola Rouge offers patrons a “journey to the Orient” right from their funky floral chairs, where they can enjoy views over Cobblestone Park while they dine on pan-Asian cuisine and sip signature cocktails. The restaurant is vibrant and colourful, utilising bold patterns and licks of flame red in its design, yet still decidedly chic.

Our night began as all the best ones do: with cocktails. I ordered the gin-based Lady Lavender, a sweet and balanced lime, lavender, orange, and butterfly pea tea concoction topped with a bubble of smoke that unfurls on impact.

After we were told the menu was designed for sharing, we ordered four dishes between us, expecting them to be tapas-size. Spoiler: they weren’t. The catch of the day would’ve filled me up on its own, but I listened to my stomach over our attentive server’s friendly warning that it was one of the biggest items on the Land and Sea menu. So really, I have only myself to blame! The fish was enjoyable but overshadowed by a chilli sambal sauce and didn’t stack up to our other three choices, all of which were exceptional.

I could eat either the Chongqing chicken – a traditional spicy Sichuan dish of chicken and dried red chilies – or the black tiger prawn and scallop dumplings in Galangal broth for every meal. The hero of the night was undeniably the Kurobuta pork belly, braised in fragrant master stock and served with ginger, scallion, peppers, sesame, and crispy leeks with a sticky black bean sauce. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the dish hit the flavour profiles of sweet, salty, and spicy to perfection.

We might’ve been too full to move, but still couldn’t resist ordering dessert. Beautifully presented, the signature tasting plate featured a silky-smooth coconut, rosewater, and cardamom crème brûlée; a Whittaker’s 50% chocolate crèmeux, more sweet than rich; and a moist matcha cake, all tied together with a biscuit-nut crumb and edible decorations like tuille leaves, flowers, and chocolate buttons. What a finale!  

Booked | Regional News


Written by: Kwame Alexander

Andersen Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If there’s one thing that I think binds every human being together, it’s that we were all young at some point. We were all preteens taking our first steps into becoming independent adults and failing miserably at it.

The graphic novel Booked follows the story of 12-year-old Nick as he navigates the perils of preteen life, including bullies, a blossoming romance, and a personal life that’s seemingly falling apart. While the story might be aimed at younger audiences, older readers might still like to give it a chance, as it does touch on some adult themes.

The illustration at first glance could be interpreted as simple, but this simplicity is what makes Booked so appealing and such a great read. Its bold illustration, with its clean lines and sparing use of one colour (green), helps draw the eye and makes Nick and his friends really pop off the page and come to life. All of this is thanks to illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, whose style complements the book’s narrative and the characters within.

Speaking of the characters, I have to say I loved them and actually began caring for them like real people. It was the combination of Anyabwile’s illustrations and Alexander’s strong storytelling that evoked this emotional response in me.

As said in the introduction, Booked and Nick’s adventures will be something that everyone can relate to, and I found myself absentmindedly chuckling more than a few times at the situations he found himself in. I mean, who hasn’t had that one teacher they couldn’t stand, or found themselves nervously face to face with their first crush?

While I loved what was going on in Nick’s school, it’s his home life that will really hit home for many readers. This was the part of the story with the most emotional meat. It’s these layers that add to the story, making Booked, in my opinion, worth much more than just a casual glance.

The Stories We Tell | Regional News

The Stories We Tell

Written by: Joanna Gaines


Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

I needed to overcome a tad of scepticism when starting to read Joanna Gaines’ The Stories We Tell. ‘Story’ has become a bit of an overused word, due largely to social media. Even Facebook urges us to add to our story. What kind of stories was our writer referring to?

Gaines, a New York Times bestseller, is Korean American, raised near Wichita, Kansas. As a person of mixed race, she experienced teasing at school and even years later, continued to find it difficult to fit in.

A career in journalism, a successful construction and renovation business in partnership with her husband Chip, and a happy home life do not seem to have stilled persistent inner voices of self-doubt, fear, and unworthiness, feelings many readers can relate to. Nearing the age of 44, “things had gotten blurry” is how she describes it. She had one go at writing 20 years earlier, but here she is “a couple of decades later, longing once again to write everything down”.

And boy, does she! All 240 pages worth. They’re interspersed with pink backgrounded mantras such as “Looking up grounds me in gratitude” and “Growth is where my heart is”.

Self-help books offer special challenges to the author – chiefly how to keep reader interest while relating deeply personal feelings. Greater conciseness would better suit the author’s purpose here. We read at length about her guilt, regret and pain. Such confessions are no doubt useful to the writer, by helping to purge those feelings, but are they as useful to the reader?

Gaines has had a successful career and even a TV programme, both of which, she says, developed her understanding of story as a tool for growth, describing as it can the breadth and diversity of human experiences. Fair enough. That said, the declaration “Chip and I have become story-obsessed” is predictable so comes as no surprise!

Gaines’ experience of setting her personal journey down on paper has clearly been a salutary and positive one for her. She urges us all to tell our own.

The Wall | Regional News

The Wall

Written by: Ant Middleton


Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

I must be one of few people who’ve not heard of Ant Middleton because when I selected this book to review, I thought I’d picked a book by Ant McPartlin from light entertainment duo Ant and Dec. How wrong I was.

Instead, I received a book with an intimidating cover photo of a muscled man with piercing blue eyes staring out at me looking like an old-school personal trainer who yells and swears to motivate you.

For those of you who are new to this author, Ant Middleton is a former British SAS soldier who presents a TV series called SAS Australia and has published a series of books about mental toughness.

His latest book covers a series of themes that stand in the way of us reaching our potential with advice on how to smash through these limiting thoughts or behaviours. There’s nothing new here – it’s simply packaged up differently to align to the hard man, ex-soldier brand that Ant Middleton has become known for and references later in the book.

If you can get past the references to Australian celebrities (who I hadn’t heard of), the swearing, and the initially male-dominated narrative then the advice is pretty good. And if you stick with it, the author softens a little in the second half of the book.

There are stories of contestants from the TV series and readers to help illustrate his advice, and they can be easier to relate to than the author. One story that stayed with me was the contestant who had to overcome her fear of being in a car submerged in water. Amazingly she completed the challenge of escaping the submerged car without panicking by making one commitment at a time and breaking the challenge down into small, clear, but simple steps. This chapter alone was worth the price of the book.

I wouldn’t normally read a book like this and I’m probably not the author’s target audience. But despite that, I’ve taken away some of the advice and started to put it into practice.

Cracking the Happiness Code | Regional News

Cracking the Happiness Code

Written by: Dr Pamela Stoodley

Nationwide Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

What better way to start the new year than with a book that may just help you achieve the ultimate goal of happiness?

Cracking the Happiness Code was not, at first, a particularly alluring book. Something about the cover and the subject matter felt overworn, i.e. another book on happiness, that oft-elusive emotion. However, it turned out to be an impressive and meaningful delve into the mechanisms of achieving happiness.

In Cracking the Happiness Code, author Pamela Stoodley, a medically trained doctor, neuropsychologist, and counsellor, is well placed to offer insights into happiness and how and why it might elude you.

The first half of the book is the why, highlighting the thoughts, behaviours, and circumstances that may be contributing to unhappiness. The second half details the how; the strategies and practical changes that can ultimately lead to a happier life.

The chapter titles can sound a little harsh: Victimisation, Infestation, Retribution, and Elimination, to give you an idea. Elimination got me thinking. As a large consumer of news, both good and bad (possibly more bad), I wondered could I ‘unconsume’, go on a ‘news diet’? Stoodley suggests liaising with an equally minded friend who also partakes heavily in a media-saturated environment, to update you with news truly relevant to you each week, and to do this with no emails, no forwards, and no screenshots. You will find that the news that’s actually important to you will significantly diminish. Stoodley says to connect with real humans and learn about their real stories first-hand.

Cracking the Happiness Code contains real-world strategies. There’s even a chapter called Consumption, which takes a look at how nutrition can affect our moods. With vast skill and experience, the author outlines what keeps us from happiness and ways to help us achieve the deep-set emotion most of us strive for, but do not always obtain.

The first step, says Stoodley, is action – it’s not about what has caused you to be unhappy all this time, it’s about taking charge and doing something about it.

The Tempest | Regional News

The Tempest

Presented by: Wellington Summer Shakespeare

Directed by: Megan Evans

Wellington Botanic Garden, 11th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Summer Shakespeare is an institution in the city and an annual highlight of our arts calendar. The Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Season of The Tempest sees many a happy camper sprawled on The Dell lawn to enjoy an eco-ethical production of William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy that asks what maketh man a monster, and what maketh monster man.

The Tempest is set on an unnamed island, where the usurped Duke of Milan Prospero (James Bayliss) and his daughter Miranda (Tori Kelland) have taken refuge. Prospero has enslaved the island’s only other inhabitants: the half-fish, half-man Caliban (Rachel McLean) and a host of otherworldly beings commanded by the spirit Ariel (Maea Shepherd). When a storm sees Prospero’s brother Antonio (Tom Vassar) and other members of the Naples royal family shipwrecked on the island, Prospero seeks his revenge. 

Shakespearean language can be hard to wrap your head around – even for someone who studied it! For me, the key to understanding the dialogue is in the vocal delivery of it, and it’s clear here that each cast member has a good grasp of their character’s intent. I want to give a particular shoutout to the imperial Bayliss; Shepherd, who has the most stunning singing voice; and the impassioned McLean for helping me to follow the action with the exceptional delivery of their lines. Another special mention to the hilarious Philip Nordt as the drunken butler Stephano and Anna Kate Sutherland as the jester Trinculo for the comedy gold they sprinkle into an already-sparkling sea of talent.

Megan Gladding’s production design makes for a magical viewing experience and works in harmony with Neal Barber’s lighting design, a treat to watch come to life and light as the sun goes down. Sarah Bell’s costume and wardrobe design is outstanding, particularly when it comes to Caliban’s floating fish head, which has a huge bearing on the way the audience relates to the character.

I did find the background spirit dancers a little distracting, but overall this was a totally absorbing production that gave me a much-needed break from reality – to an island far far away, where magic and mayhem reign supreme! 

Guy Williams Presents: Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy | Regional News

Guy Williams Presents: Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy

Te Auaha, 8th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

After introducing himself in the mic from the wings, Guy Williams comes charging out on stage to Dark Horse by Katy Perry, energy and enthusiasm up the wazoo. When our lacklustre response is not to his satisfaction (in our defence, it’s Wednesday and we’re not tiddly), we’re barraged by a relentless stream of insults and expletives. Wellington sucks, we’re told, as we’re called f-wits and the like.

I bloody love it.

I’m a big fan of Guy from 7 Days, Jono and Ben, and New Zealand Today, but had only seen his stand-up in small bursts as part of gala nights. I was interested in seeing how he might structure an hour-long set and fare in a long-form comedy setting. He nailed it.

Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy has Guy take “a break from arguing with people on the internet to try and make the world a better place”. Conversations billed are racism, colonisation, and misogyny, but we’re treated to much more taboo topics too. While some comedians broach these subjects just to shock and provoke their audience, and I’m personally someone who’s very easily offended (nothing wrong with that), Guy’s comedy is somehow… charming? It’s random and clever, padded with layers, context, and bizarre segues that make very little sense but wind up being my favourite parts of the show. His loud, somewhat erratic delivery keeps the momentum going and the laughter flowing well after the curtain call. In this case, the curtain call is WAP by Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion.  

My only feedback is that I’d love to see Guy get a little more personal. I’m thoroughly entertained but want to feel something a bit deeper too – as if comedy isn’t hard enough, right? Although it’s oddly timed (about a quarter of the way in), Guy’s support act and sister Maria Williams’ set resonates with many of us. The heartfelt interlude means that by the end of the show, all my boxes have been ticked.

I snorted, bark-laughed, and had a brilliant evening with a comedian at the top of his game. Cheers, Guy.