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Joy | Regional News


Directed by: Sally Richards and Kerryn Palmer

BATS Theatre, 8th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

What constitutes joy? That’s the question this production seeks to answer.

Conceived in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and commissioned expressly for the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, Joy is a set of five monologues and a sweet vignette written by female and non-binary artists Mel Dodge, Etta Bollinger, Indigo Paul, Elspeth Tilley, Nī Dekkers-Reihana, and Stevie Greeks.

As anyone with a shred of life experience knows, things that bring you joy come with an often-equal measure of pain and that is the great success of this new collection of work. Childbirth, a sibling’s wedding, or the rediscovery of single life after a relationship break-up can bring great joy, but they come hand in glove with fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. As the programme deftly puts it, “joy is a shifting creature” and these writers have captured it with compassion and care.

The three performers, Nī Dekkers-Reihana, Mel Dodge, and Stevie Hancox-Monk, are confident and courageous in owning these stories. They make us laugh, bring a tear to our eyes, and create relatable characters from the excellent writing. Hancox-Monk’s perfectly delivered line, “You’re so nice it bothers me” is my favourite of the night.

The actors are supported by a beautifully simple set and lighting design (Bekky Boyce) that employs soft yellows, oranges, and beiges, with pops of pink to unite the monologues under a strong visual theme. Masterful directing by Sally Richards and Kerryn Palmer, well-balanced sound and music (Matt Parkinson) plus two square frames, an old chair, some textiles, and a handful of props give the actors a comfortable but flexible place to work in and some business to keep them moving. A computer screen with the title and author of each piece subtly lets us know where we are in the narrative.

Not only have this group of artists created a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on the theme of joy, but they have also created a joyful production that engages and enlightens while it entertains.

Back to Square One? | Regional News

Back to Square One?

Written by: Anders Falstie-Jensen

Directed by: Anders Falstie-Jensen

Circa Theatre, 3rd Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, Back to Square One? is a reflective, personally engaging, and intimate view of the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020 inspired by regular Skype conversations between the show’s creator and his 95-year-old grandmother Inga in Denmark. The drawings his daughter and her friend made on their shared driveway during this time were the source of the highly flexible format of the show that consists only of some sort of floor and a big box of coloured chalk, meaning it can be performed pretty much anywhere.

As the audience enters, we’re invited to pick a stick of chalk in our colour of choice and write our names along the edge of the ‘stage’, a simple dotted line. Falstie-Jensen then introduces himself and proceeds to sketch out Inga’s living room where she spent much of her lockdown watching Game of Thrones and Skyping her distant relatives.

By switching characters between himself and Inga with a subtle change of bodily posture, drawing on Inga’s bedtime stories of Danish mythology, and charmingly employing his box of chalk on the floor and walls of Circa Two, Falstie-Jensen weaves a beautiful tale of connectedness and renewal that overcomes the despair of isolation.

Falstie-Jensen also talks directly to the audience throughout and engages us in an exercise of shared connection and experience, so that when he finally poses the question of whether we have gone through all this pandemic-driven anxiety for nothing, we clearly understand the answer. The post-show offer of a delicious, buttery Danish cake and coffee is a lovely final touch.

So much discussion of the COVID-infested world focuses on the negative and it’s refreshing and uplifting to be offered a different way of thinking about what we’ve all seen and felt for the past two-and-a-bit years. Congratulations to The Rebel Alliance for taking the road less travelled.

No Exit | Regional News

No Exit

Written by: Jean-Paul Sartre

Directed by: Joshua Hopton-Stewart

Gryphon Theatre, 2nd Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The source of the contention that “Hell is other people”, No Exit is Jean-Paul Sartre at his bitingly existentialist best.

In Stagecraft Theatre’s impressive production, the three protagonists are as far from fire and brimstone as it’s possible to get in their poppy 1970s TV-show set (Amy Whiterod) with its amoeboid shapes, bright colours, and harsh lights (Devon Heaphy). With only three couches, an abstract bronze sculpture, a doorbell that doesn’t work, and an ominous knife on a shelf, this is a stunningly unbiblical place to spend eternity.

Pacifist journalist Joseph Garcin (Slaine McKenzie) is the first to be introduced to this garishly claustrophobic damnation by a jaded valet (a brief but excellent George Kenward Parker) who has seen it all many times before. Not far behind Garcin is Inez Serrano (Kate Morris), the only one of the three who knows she’s damned, and finally rich socialite Estelle Rigault (Karen Anslow). Their layers of apparent respectability are quickly peeled away as the truth is revealed about why each of them has been sent to The Bad Place. They come to the steady realisation that they are, in fact, each other’s torturers, destined to taunt and tease each other forevermore while those they left behind on Earth forget them.

McKenzie, Morris, and Anslow are equally strong and each inhabits their deeply flawed character with conviction and energy, never letting the pace drop or the latent brutality of these immortals lapse into sympathy. Joshua Hopton-Stewart’s slick direction keeps the movement flowing in the intimate acting area created by a well-chosen three-quarters seating layout that cleverly emphasises the discomfort of watching three people tear each other apart psychologically. The wardrobe (Helen Mackenzie) has a 1940s vibe, while also seeming appropriately modern.

This surprising production succeeds in making it easy to laugh at three vile bodies while having the uncomfortable feeling in the back of your mind that a special kind of Hell could be waiting for all of us.

The Book Addict | Regional News

The Book Addict

Written by: Annie Ruth

Directed by: Robin Payne

BATS Theatre, 30th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Annie Ruth bears all, much to her mother’s dismay, in her autobiographical monologue The Book Addict. The performance makes some bold choices but ultimately falls short of its potential.

I am initially impressed by the set design, which is tasteful and elegant, with piles of books and a martini glass arranged around a barstool. Ruth enters, speaking directly to the audience as if we are old friends. Before long, we are deep in a collection of stories from across the whole of our protagonist’s life. The content is engaging; fascinating tales of love and loss, family and friends. I am utterly envious of Ruth’s adventures across Greece, Aotearoa, and beyond.

The strength of the show is in the universal appeal of powerfully human stories. I am clearly not quite the intended audience, and as such a few of the references and name drops go over my head, but the heart of the piece is relatable. A number of audience members are mentioned by name, which grounds the show in reality but also excludes those of us who don’t know Ruth personally. A little more movement would prevent the piece from becoming static, and I would have appreciated a suicide content warning, but I am engrossed regardless.

Throughout her monologue, Ruth draws from books to help frame and explain her tales. While this is an interesting technique, and I am delighted to recognise a number of her favourite titles, I’m unconvinced of the overall significance of the books. Ruth’s musings on the uncontrollable nature of our lives and the importance of fighting for happiness are interesting but never quite come to fruition, leaving me wondering about the overall message of the play.

Ruth’s natural abundance of charisma carries her through, but I do wish there had been less setup and more punchline. The Book Addict has some golden moments but is more akin to a lecture from a relative than a theatre piece.

Olive Kitteridge | Regional News

Olive Kitteridge

Written by: Elizabeth Strout

Simon & Schuster UK

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Olive Kitteridge is a heavy yet deeply touching portrait of a life and the lives surrounding it in the small town of Crosby, Maine.

Olive, or Mrs Kitteridge, is a matter-of-fact woman. She taught maths in the local school, took her husband for granted in life yet was deeply devoted in illness, and her son seems to grow more emotionally distant by the day. Though perhaps not the most personable character, Olive is deeply human. Always sure of herself throughout life, she has never been one for sentimentality, yet in her old age she finds herself lonely and afraid, reflecting on life, love, and loss.

The residents of Crosby, all inextricably connected in their triumphs and tragedies, trudge through life and more often than not, move forward together. Despite the ups and downs, the whispers and the grudges, the deaths and the disappointments, the people of Crosby carry on, for better or for worse, cherishing the good and the moments in which the community bands together.

A highly sensitive and perceptive author, Elizabeth Strout writes people from their essence, from the most distilled part of themselves. Deeply psychological, each character is fully complex, often expressing troubling moral dilemmas and thoughts we may not even admit to having ourselves. The balance between what one thinks and what one does is executed seamlessly. Olive Kitteridge seems almost more a study than a story, each character’s portrait painted in all its colours, each mind whittled down to its deepest darkest thoughts and fears, each soul so innately human.

Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is not for the faint of heart. Fatalistic and at times unnecessarily depressing, very little good seems to happen, only stories of woe and misfortune. Yet life is both ups and downs. A series of events that go from bad to worse, none of the characters actually seem happy; rather slogging through a life with no light at the end of any tunnel. Olive Kitteridge is pragmatic, candid, and unapologetically human.

The Stupefying | Regional News

The Stupefying

Written by: Nick Ascroft

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This poet enjoys luxuriating in a linguistic lake, and with his collection The Stupefying he invites us to take a dip.

I dog paddled a bit, but truly caught up with him when I reached Why I Changed My Surname. Although a check with the end notes was necessary to learn the answer to the question posed in the title, this ballad was delightful for two reasons: it deals with teenage agonies most of us can relate to, and Ascroft uses rhyme to enhance his wry observations. “For co-ed summer camps I’m good to go. / I have no friends in French class though.” And “The taunts of others’ loathing / are internalised and worn as clothing”.

I thought I was coasting along, but not a hope. Next came Great-Grandad Rants over Current Affairs in which our poet’s luxuriating turns to lunging. What a marvellous poetic excoriation of our digitally dominated world! “If some goon lobs a Frisbee, or a cherub swats a golf tee, SLAP? / Where do you find that crap? / That app.”

Therefore We Commit This Body to the Ground takes on board another contemporary theme – our plastic waste. No amount of rhyming can, or should, save this subject from such bald statements as “Production will assault a giddy new high / of 100 million tonnes in 2022.” Or indeed “Paper to paper. Recycled paper to ash. / Ashes to en dashes.” (Our poet couldn’t resist such an esoteric punctuational allusion.)

The Third and most Stupefying Bike Spill references the title, but more effective stupefying is to be found in Knock Knock. Who’s there? Nietzsche. This is Ascroft at his best – most personal and most devastating. The poem ostensibly deals with comedians and their ploys for laughs. But nevertheless “Comedy is the last line of defence against dogma and puritanism. / The other lines of defence had best be / better suited to the job or we’re all f**ked.” I’d say Ascroft the serious comedian is doing his bit to keep us all afloat.

Tough Outback | Regional News

Tough Outback

Written by: Mike Bellamy


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If writing has taught me one thing, it is that everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do, has a story to tell. This is the story of Mike Bellamy, a New Zealander who spent 30 years mining in the Australian Outback.

Some of his stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and clearly happened before any real trade regulations or political correctness came into force. I say this because I am fairly certain none of these adventures would have been allowed to happen in today’s workforce.

And while I loved all his stories, it was the characters he met along the way that kept me the most engaged. As Bellamy himself put it, those that came to the mining industry were a mixed bag – or as the saying goes, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some even ended up calling him their friend and helping him out with his career. For me, the characters were the real stars of the show. This isn’t meant as a negative, but the work he did took a back seat and didn’t quite capture my interest as much as the people and the small Outback towns he encountered.

Bellamy’s writing style is very personable; it felt as if he was standing in the room next to me as I read. One real nit-pick is that the book never really gives you much of a time reference. When the author decides to move on, a date isn’t specified so I was forced to ‘guesstimate’ every time he left and started a new job. Again a small issue, but one that was noticeable, especially when other memoirs give you a timestamp of when events occur.

Mining made Australia a powerhouse almost 20 years ago, and if you want to see that from the perspective of one of the people who helped make that happen, Tough Outback may be just up your alley. It’s a genuinely funny, honest story told from a unique perspective.

Big Feelings  | Regional News

Big Feelings

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Big Feelings by Rebekah Ballagh explores the world of feelings and the raft of emotions children can feel. Big Feelings is immediately appealing with warm and charming illustrations; bright, encouraging, and inviting. Placing importance on expressing and normalising feelings rather than minimising them, Balllagh gives children insight into having their own agency to display their emotions, whatever they may be.

To me Big Feelings is a great introduction to emotional resilience. Who knows what future resilience will follow if children can let out all their big feelings from when they are little, knowing that everything will still be okay? One of my favourite quotes by Catherine M. Wallace is “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” As a mother of primary and teenaged children, I can certainly attest to the merits of having kids who have learned to express their feelings as they grow and develop. Big Feelings includes a section for parents and teachers to support children to do this.

I asked my son a question from this section: “How do you act when you feel…” He chose happy and responded, “I feel joyous, like a happy virus is running through my body.” I certainly liked the sound of a happy virus instead of the one of late. On the subject of mad and angry feelings, he was quick to mention his ‘frenemy’ who is sometimes nice and sometimes mad.

Big Feelings helps to teach kids that it’s ok to be mad, sad, excited, afraid, or ashamed – the world will carry on, just like they will, and if they can do so with the support of those who love them, they’ll be all the better for it.

“Feeling silly now and then releases stress and strife. It helps to have a little fun to weather storms in life,” Ballagh says.

Gloriavale | Regional News



89 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Gloriavale is a new observational documentary examining the widespread abuse inside the infamous West Coast Christian cult. It focuses on the experiences of two ex-members (John Ready and Virginia Courage) and their mother who still lives in Gloriavalle (Sharon Ready) as they all make serious allegations against the community. The film also examines the institutional failures that have allowed the physical, mental, and psychological abuse at the isolated society to continue.

As a fan of documentaries and someone who has been very intrigued by Gloriavale from a young age, I jumped at the chance to watch a documentary that exposed the religious cult’s darker side. The compelling opening scene set the tone for a film that achieved justice for its main subjects. John, Virginia, and Sharon were all given enough screen time to share their stories and these interviews painted a clear picture of what each of them went, and are still going, through. Directors Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth made great use of the West Coast’s beautiful landscape, with moody drone shots often setting the scene for what came next.

I found the pace of Gloriavale a little slow. Grady and Smyth ensured any interviews cut between relevant archival footage to add context, but I still felt some interviews could have been trimmed in half or left out completely as they repeated information. Something that I always find important when watching a documentary is that it includes two or three moments that (depending on the genre) give you goosebumps, make you say “wow”, or send chills down your spine. A heart-breaking scene towards the middle involving Sharon is the only time I experienced these heightened emotions.

Gloriavale succeeds in raising awareness that more needs to be done about the problematic community by the government and police. At times it was powerful and emotional as it revealed some of the true horrors that go on inside. But unlike many documentaries, I didn’t walk away feeling I needed to rush home to Google all those involved and what has happened since, and it lacked those significant moments that would have made it an incredible watch.