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The Discomfort of Evening | Regional News

The Discomfort of Evening

Written by: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Faber & Faber

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

The Discomfort of Evening is a disconcerting read.

Marieke Rijneveld sets the tone in her opening chapter with a blunt discussion of death, which continues to be a running theme throughout the book, captured through the chaotic train-of-thought style of a child. Jas, our young narrator, offers us the briefest of glimpses of Matthies, her eldest brother, before Jas casually offers a bargain to God: take Matthies instead of her pet rabbit, who she suspects her father is planning to kill for their Christmas dinner. Later that same day, Jas overhears her mother receiving the terrible news of Matthies’ accidental death. The idea of guilt and accountability, or payment for sin, in the eyes of a child is a complex one, which Rijneveld explores in the context of a deeply religious family and community, where open grief and conversations about mental health are not encouraged.

Through the lens of Jas’ perspective, we see a family unravelling after tragedy. While the grieving parents struggle to maintain structure for their remaining children, the siblings left behind begin their own explorations into the subject of death and how to avoid it or meet it on their own terms. The sudden and accidental nature of Matthies’ death leads Jas, Hanna, and Obbe to attempt to exert control over their surroundings and the course of their own lives.

Trauma manifests in strange ways, such as Jas constantly wearing her red coat and obsessively holding in her poo, as she struggles to gain power over her own body and life. Some of the rules that Jas implements seem to be a sort of bargaining with God; Jas becomes fixed on the idea that a sacrifice of some kind must be made to save her parents, who she feels slipping away from her. Meanwhile, natural childish curiosity about sexuality becomes tangled with disturbing acts of violence and abuse.

The Discomfort of Evening is a dark exploration of the creative superstitions of children as they fight to make sense of the world around them, with a slow aura of dread building to an unforgettable finality.

Selected Poems by Margaret Jeune | Regional News

Selected Poems by Margaret Jeune

Written by: Margaret Jeune

HeadworX Publishers

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Margaret Jeune’s Selected Poems is written memory of a life; this compilation is particularly poignant and intriguing as it follows Jeune from her earliest poems as a naive starry-eyed youth to a girl in love with life and lovers, heartbroken and bitter at times, angry at the world’s injustice, but also her hopefulness and admiration of simple beauty and pleasures as she transitions into the later stages of life. Her life is laid out bare, vulnerable and exposed.

Jeune is fiercely political and socially conscious. Lawn Cemetery criticises bureaucracy: “such a tidy, circumspect piece of dirt … souls confined rows of unwilling neighbors all duly labelled and processed.” Sexism, consumerism, and climate change are similarly critiqued in other poems. Jeune recognises and embodies a sense of responsibility and duty each of us should have for our own world, but also for the future generations. In her poem Legacy, she writes: “your legacy is meaningful and in the course of time will be seen to be hugely significant.”

In her own words, Jeune’s poetry is “about waking up to yet another day… about dashed hopes and unmet expectations… it’s a reality check and it’s about being human” (The Suburban Bubble 175).

Her poetry is humble, sometimes playful, often abrupt, incredibly self-aware, and most importantly, mundane. But mundane in the most positive sense of the word. Her poems are the poems of the everyday; they capture little moments in time. Selected Poems is a diary of a life, with chapters and footnotes, regrets and celebrations; and though the diary is specifically Jeune’s, with each poem you feel as though you are reading from a page of your own life.

Whether she writes of heartbreak or McDonald’s, death or waitressing, broad social commentary or the loneliness and surreality of our 2020 lockdown, Jeune simply and succinctly captures life. Her own of course, but also yours, or mine, or theirs, rendering all lives ours; uniting us all through the beautiful, mundane, extraordinary, human condition.

After the Tampa | Regional News

After the Tampa

Written by: Abbas Nazari

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“Everyone has heard about refugees, but hardly anyone has ever met or got to know one personally. It’s time they did.” Thus writes Abbas Nazari in the prologue of his story After the Tampa.

You won’t be able to claim ignorance after you’ve read this extraordinary account of a young boy’s escape from Afghanistan and the Taliban, and his journey to Aotearoa.

The tale unfolds like a drama. Settings range from Sungjoy, a tiny rural spot in Afghanistan, to the unseaworthy Palapa, then the giant rescue container ship the Tampa, to a new home in Aotearoa. Characters in the drama include Nazari’s family, chiefly his magnificent dad, defiant Tampa sea captain Rinnan, Australian pre-election PM John Howard (regrettably), and just halfway through the narrative our own Helen Clark, with her offer to take 150 of the refugees stranded offshore of a country that refuses responsibility for them.

But the script of this drama is the most astonishing thing. By script I mean the tone and voice of the narrative. Nazari’s writing is powerful, and its power derives from its simplicity. I do not mean that as criticism. It is the absence of any overlay of bitterness, negativity, or complaint that makes this narrative so compelling.

Facts speak for themselves, and if we are aghast at the acts of the Taliban, the unsanitary conditions endured by seven-year-old Nazari and his siblings, and the appalling attitude and behaviour of the Australian government of the time, our reactions are mitigated by Nazari’s practicality and sense of reality.

Once settled in Christchurch, Nazari’s aptitude for learning recalls an early incident in Afghanistan, when, following his elder brother to school, he corrects the teacher’s pronunciation. Should it come as a surprise then, that this boy should go on to university honours and a Fulbright scholarship, spend time in Washington DC, and write this book.

“Opportunity is a charging bull,” he wrote, while still at school, “and it was up to us to wrestle it by the horns”.

Well wrestled, Abbas Nazari!

An Evening with Silk Sonic | Regional News

An Evening with Silk Sonic

Silk Sonic

Atlantic/Aftermath Entertainment

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

An Evening with Silk Sonic represents two artists who have made their mark letting go of any pressure and simply having fun. The album’s short tracklist unashamedly salutes soul maestros of the 70s, an era that both Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak clearly revere and deeply resonate with.

Silk Sonic is a supergroup pairing pop heavyweight Bruno Mars with soul and hip-hop savant Anderson .Paak. The newly formed combo surged onto the scene in March with the release of the album’s lead single, Leave the Door Open, which quickly reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Official New Zealand Music Chart.

From the band’s logo and cover art to their diamond-encrusted lenses and velvet-suit-dressed live performances, Silk Sonic is a wholehearted tribute to the Curtis Mayfields, Al Greens, Princes, and Parliament/Funkadelics of the world – how fitting it is that Bootsy Collins serves as narrator. Front to back, every song is glitzy and glamorous. Lush, layered arrangements, impeccable mixing, and tight instrumental performances saturate the background, all the while leaving enough room for Mars and .Paak to play in the foreground.

And play they do. While An Evening with Silk Sonic certainly has a lean tracklist, with eight songs and an intro adding up to barely 30 minutes, the chemistry between Mars and .Paak never fades. Listeners will be left wanting more, which I strongly suspect was a strategic move in the age of streaming, when sequencing and variety often come second to supplying as much content as possible. Together, these dudes are smooth… impossibly smooth, and they damn well know it. Songs like the slick Smokin’ Out the Window and the funky Fly as Me will make anyone with headphones on feel like a boss. Leave the Door Open is as buttery as it gets, and, to put it bluntly, After Last Night – which features Collins’ biggest contribution and an appearance from bassist extraordinaire Thundercat – is made for the bedroom.

Silk Sonic wears their influences on their sleeves, but thankfully, An Evening with Silk Sonic never grows stale. There is nothing groundbreaking or particularly meaningful here, but Mars and .Paak’s good humour, shining personalities, and authentic musical abilities ensure it sounds fresh throughout. Songs like Skate and Smokin’ Out the Window are almost guaranteed to become mainstays on your summer playlist, Put On a Smile will literally put a smile on your face with each listen, and of course, there is a treasure trove of songs for the lovers out there. An evening with Silk Sonic is one you won’t forget.

Dinner Party | Regional News

Dinner Party

Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, and 9th Wonder

Sounds of Crenshaw/EMPIRE

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

I have no doubt that this collective of contemporary jazz and hip-hop pioneers could easily have gone all-out avant-garde, but instead, we have the short but exceptionally sweet Dinner Party. Smooth and seductive, its lean seven tracks play it lowkey, trading instrumental complexity for impact in brevity.

Dinner Party is an EP by collaborators and friends Robert Glasper (piano), Terrace Martin (saxophone), Kamasi Washington (saxophone), and producer 9th Wonder. It features vocal contributions from Chicago musician Phoelix, along with guitar backings courtesy of our own Marlon Williams.

Listeners with their ears to the ground of contemporary American jazz will know these names well, but those expecting a record with the grandeur of Washington’s The Epic or the explorative nature of Glasper’s Robert Glasper Experiment should prepare themselves. By comparison, Dinner Party is straightforward, but that only adds to its charm and uniqueness.

Melding elements of jazz and R&B, its core sound is reminiscent of the great neo-soul era of the late 90s – a shoutout to artists like D’Angelo, Bilal, Maxwell, and Erykah Badu. Each contributor finds their lane, and not one steps on another’s toes.

Glasper’s sparse but gorgeous piano fills drive songs like Sleepless Nights, complemented by Washington and Martin’s lightly soaring saxes. Phoelix, a relative newcomer, makes his presence known on cuts like From My Heart and My Soul and lead-single Freeze Tag. Tender and sweet, his performances show he understands the sonic minimalism the rest of the group is striving for, and his silky falsetto fits like a glove. That said, the EP’s instrumental tracks, such as First Responders, stand out as favourites, as they allow the laid-back vibe to flourish. It’s also on these songs that 9th Wonder’s ear for samples and distinctively off-kilter drum patterns shines through.

The album is just as subdued lyrically as it is instrumentally. The latter lends the record a certain sense of ease that pleases the ear, but despite Phoelix’s impressive vocal chops, what he’s saying doesn’t make much of an impact. While this may have been part of the plan, it won’t leave listeners with much to chew on after the fact.

Throw it on in the car on a stormy night, in the background at your next BBQ, or through some headphones in a quiet moment of solitude – Dinner Party is equally appropriate for each circumstance, which is what makes
it so special.

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret | Regional News

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret

Created by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Ben Emerson and Greta Casey-Solly

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

ROXY: A New Hollywood Cabaret is an all-singing, all-sparkling stage spectacular. This WITCH Music Theatre production pays homage to the magical musical moments of the silver screen, with songs like Singin’ in the Rain, Lady Marmalade, and Sparkling Diamonds (Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend) performed by a stellar cast of 23 fabulously dressed (costume design by Emma Stevens) singers, dancers, drag artists, and even an aerialist.

ROXY doesn’t let up once. While I crave more moments of softness, I’m swept up in the spectacle and blown away by the talent on display. Bailea Twomey’s outstanding Cut, Print… Moving On, Pippa Drakeford’s hilarious Science Fiction/Double Feature (and her entire character for that matter), Aine Gallagher’s moving Over the Rainbow, and Swings Both Ways, performed by Fynn Bodley-Davies and Zane Berghuis (both of whom shine in a band of stars conducted by music director and arranger Hayden Taylor) are all show highlights.

Then there are numbers that leave my jaw on the floor, like Jade Merematira’s Black & Gold with aerial choreography and silks by Jackson Cordery. My heart soars out of my chest and into the palm of Jason Chasland’s hand thanks to what I’m calling the performance of the year, Losing My Mind. Chasland’s The Hot Dog Song is one of the best and raunchiest things I’ve ever seen, with Patrick Jennings upping the entertainment factor as the hotdog vendor.

The ensemble work in ROXY is tight, especially when it comes to Karli Holdren, Björn Aslund, Thomas Laybourn, and Emily McDermott, who are equal to the relentless, dazzling choreography by Greta Casey-Solly, Leigh Evans, and Briar Franks.

Every single performer remains the picture of professionalism in the face of opening night technical problems with mics, feedback, levels… and one drunken audience member who exits mid-song to buy a bag of chips and re-enters mid-song to eat them deafeningly. A huge shoutout to Lane Corby, who doesn’t let the obnoxious behaviour affect her powerhouse rendition of Stars and the Moon. Multiple audience members cause more distractions on their phones, texting and scrolling through Instagram because they were told at the start they could take pictures. I’d really recommend rescinding that permission for future performances.

These teething issues don’t keep ROXY down. I’d love to see it a few nights on as it’s clearly a world-class production that belongs in the hallowed halls of Broadway.

The Power of the Dog | Regional News

The Power of the Dog


126 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Jane Campion returns to feature filmmaking after a 12-year wait and proves she can still paint a portrait like no one else. With a pitch-perfect performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as its foundation, The Power of the Dog drips menace from every frame, challenging audiences to read between the lines to find the nuance within.

Based on the novel by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog stars Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons as brothers Phil and George Burbank, well-to-do ranchers in 1925 Montana. George quickly falls for widow and inn owner Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), forcing the brothers to take her effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on board, all of which causes the vindictive Phil to spiral.

Campion has a truly superior understanding of filmic language. Where a lesser director might throw in an unremarkable establishing shot, she will instead let the textures of an environment guide the mood, whether she’s creating unease with the rustle of tussock grasses or letting the sudden striking of a match briefly reveal a sinister smirk. Campion’s script is as elegant as her direction. There is so much to discover in every line, and just as much in every pause between.

Phil rules through a thick veil, and only we, the audience, are privy to what’s beneath. Subtly manifesting shifting power dynamics, a crisis of masculinity, and psychosexual tension, Cumberbatch spits more venom than a poison-tip dart. Rose and Peter represent existential threats, forcing him to acknowledge buried confessions that keep him awake at night – and so, they must be destroyed. Smit-McPhee is another standout as Phil’s one true intellectual rival.

While a brasher climax could easily have taken from the film’s masterfully constructed slow burn, I wanted to feel more bruised as it faded to black. Still, The Power of the Dog soars as an examination of unfulfilled desire and tactful manipulation. A flawlessly crafted work with a unique story to tell.

Song of Destiny  | Regional News

Song of Destiny

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: James Judd

Michael Fowler Centre, 25th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

This was a weird but wonderful concert. There was a sparse audience, with even married couples sitting two seats apart! Though applause was therefore thin, conductor James Judd encouraged the audience to clap whenever they felt like it, so they did – between movements – in plenty. Why not, after all? No programmes either; instead Judd introduced each work. No interval. The whole thing felt oddly intimate and spontaneous. Congratulations to the NZSO for repeating the concert four times over three days to enable patrons to hear live music again.

Brahms’ Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), a choral setting of a poem by Hölderlin, is not often performed though it is a beautiful, intense, and dramatic piece. The poem’s verses contrast the blissful lives of celestial beings with the turmoil of human life. On this occasion, Voices New Zealand created both the ethereal sounds Brahms evoked for the first verse and the dramatic ferocity of the second with subtle, beautiful, and strong but unstrained singing. Brahms’ decision to have the third movement recreate the first movement for orchestra only restored a sense of tranquillity. This was a fitting choice by the NZSO and a hopeful one for troubled times.

The orchestra’s performance of Schicksalslied was full-hearted and secure. No doubt the dramatic, dynamic, and sparkling overture to Verdi’s opera Nabucco which preceded it warmed them up nicely. Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 completed the concert. The symphony includes music that is all of sweet, subdued, lilting, joyful, merry, lush, agitated, and strong. It was never tragic. If I could have chosen to be any instrumentalist for this work, I’d have been the flautist whose part, time after time, injected light, drama, and sparkle. But the trombones, trumpets and horns, the oboe, and lower strings all had their special moments. A very uplifting performance all round.

Winner Winner | Regional News

Winner Winner

46 Courtenay Place, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Winner Winner is a stylish, casual eatery on Courtenay Place that serves its customers ridiculously fast, but make no mistake: this is not a fast food joint. While our plates landed on our table less than 10 minutes after we ordered, the high-quality meals and wonderful service set Winner Winner apart as one of the best spots to eat in Wellington.

Knowing our eyes were too big for our stomachs, my friend and I ordered The Basic (free-range boneless chicken bites, brined for 12 hours and fried in buttermilk, served with ranch and McClure’s pickles), cheese and gravy fries, and a chicken sandwich apiece.

The Basic was crunchy on the outside and oh-so succulent on the inside. Salty, juicy, and bursting with flavour, this was easily the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Cheese and gravy fries are my undying love and this generous portion was no exception. The dark gravy was well balanced and not gluggy or fatty, while the shredded cheese melted off the steaming straight-cut fries in strings of creamy goodness. The chicken sandwich was in fact a burger that heroed a big ol’ hunk of hot-dipped fried chicken. The brioche bun was perfection but I would have loved a smoked rather than a mild cheese, as I think that would’ve hit the spicy flavour profile home. The iceberg was a welcome addition as I desperately needed to eat some greens by this point!

Also on the menu at Winner Winner is comfort food like potato and gravy, tater tots with Louisiana remoulade, and cheesy garlic bread, not to mention one of their specialties: fire-roasted chicken served with gravy. There are also vegan options and healthy choices like hearty seasonal salads, plus sweet treats like homemade pies. Surely even fussy eaters would find something to their taste.

Overall our experience at Winner Winner was exceptional, from the food to the sparkling clean space to the innovative ordering system (via QR code from your table). We found the service exemplary and enjoyed some great banter with a staff member whose smile was visible even behind his mask.

As a food reviewer it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve always considered KFC to be the holy grail of fried chicken. Dare I say it, but this restaurant is the Winner.