Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Music of John Williams | Regional News

Music of John Williams

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 17th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Although I am in the tiny minority of my generation who have somehow never seen the film, it says much about John Williams’ music that the opening piece, Adventures on Earth from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, was immediately recognisable to me. It was played with gusto and the smiles on the faces of the orchestra immediately engaged the attentive full house.

At first glance the programme was predominantly film soundtracks, and it would have been easy to overlook the Violin Concerto No. 2 (New Zealand premiere) tucked between E.T. and the interval. However, it was utterly impossible to ignore a single note of the spectacular performance we were lucky enough to hear next.

Anne-Sophie Mutter is a renowned violinist with a long career and, aged only 60, many years ahead of her. Mutter commissioned the Violin Concerto No. 2 from Williams and, in what must be a reflection of his respect and admiration for her talent and skill, it is technically hugely demanding, with achingly beautiful passages, fearsome cadenzas, and plenty of drama and atmosphere.

Mutter showed complete ease, total confidence, and absolute commitment to the music. Famed for her technique, she augmented and varied her tone brilliantly. The balance with the orchestra was perfect. New brought in the orchestra imperceptibly and with such cohesion it was impossible to tell sometimes where violin stopped and orchestra started.

The second half was all cinema with tracks from Hook, The Adventures of Tintin, Cinderella, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. Williams can extract such extraordinary sounds from the orchestra, there were reminders music accompanied movies long before electronic sounds and effects. We were also treated to three additional film tracks Williams had arranged for violin. Mutter dedicated the theme from Schindler’s List to all those suffering in the world through war, reminding us how fortunate we are to be able to find escapism in music and film.

Strange Way of Life | Regional News

Strange Way of Life


31 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I am fully convinced that Strange Way of Life was made as an excuse for a bunch of creatives to play cowboys in the desert. With a stacked cast and production team, the short film is the newest addition to director and screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar’s extensive oeuvre broaching themes of desire, family, passion, identity, and LGBTQIA+ issues.

After 25 years, Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke) and rancher Silva (Pedro Pascal) meet again. Following a night of passion, Jake must decipher whether his lover’s arrival was indeed to rekindle a love lost or to save his son Joe from the heavy hand of the law. A gruff and hopeless man, Hawke’s Jake exudes a dejected fatalism lifting only for brief moments in Silva’s company. Silva is a hopeless romantic who believes the dream he and Jake once shared can still come to fruition. In Strange Way of Life, Almodóvar subverts the classic trope of the cowboy, painting instead a portrait of compassion that offers new possibilities.

The debut offering from Saint Laurent Productions, a subsidiary of the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, Strange Way of Life boasts a bright and stylishly curated wardrobe. Antxón Gómez’ production design and José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography possess all the boldness and vibrancy of a signature Almodóvar film. I was struck most of all by the beauty of the editing (Teresa Font), which not only complemented but drove the story.

The brevity of the film means that it goes unfinished, leaving it up to the viewer to fill in the rest of the story. Leaving a movie open-ended enables it to live past its runtime. With this piece, Almodóvar showcases what a short film – but not a short story – can accomplish, catapulting the format back into the cinema as a valid form of expression full of untapped potential. Coming at a time when films seem to be getting increasingly longer (I’m looking at you Killers of the Flower Moon) and the multi-volume series is king, this beautiful slice of cinema is a refreshing reminder that sometimes less is more.

Only Bones – Daniel Nodder  | Regional News

Only Bones – Daniel Nodder

Presented by: Thom Monckton and Daniel Nodder

BATS Theatre, 14th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Only Bones, a remarkable physical theatre production created and performed by Daniel Nodder, is an exploration of the human body's expressive potential. This one-man show transcends traditional boundaries of performance, captivating audiences with ingenious use of movement and gesture, and all within a one-square-metre performance space.

Clocking in at just under an hour, tour-de-force Nodder unfolds without a single spoken word, relying entirely on the language of the body to convey everything from The Big Bang to the invention of fire to a truly striking performance of Shallow from A Star Is Born (2018) using his kneecaps. Yep, you read that right. In my 34 years of living, I never expected to see a ballad between patellas. But that is exactly what keeps me excited about theatre and performers like Nodder – seeing boundaries being pushed to create something truly unique. And believe me, you haven’t seen anything like this before, or the 10 versions that came before it.

Created by Thom Monckton, The Only Bones Project is a minimalist physical theatre and sparse-video performance project with the guidelines of ‘only one light, no narrative, no set, no props, no text, and all within a limited amount of space’. Performers create their own world within this concept. Nodder epitomises that sage advice, ‘less is more’. The command of his body is remarkable, sometimes cringe-inducing, with audience members gasping at joints going this way and that. From teeth to toes, Nodder can isolate his body parts and give each a personality of their own.

This fascinating and playful performance is set within the wonderful composition and sound design of Ben Kelly and lighting design of Rebekah de Roo. All components are weaved together so harmoniously.

After watching in awe and pondering how one might even discover they can contort their body this way, my afterthought was how much this performance is a testament to the creative’s commitment to expression and their craft.

Wozzeck | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 11th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Discordant, atonal, brutal, distressing? Yes! Wonderful? Yes!

Wozzeck is about an ordinary but vulnerable man, a soldier, whose self unravels as he sees horrible visions and faces poverty, exploitation, and humiliation. He struggles to provide for his child and wife, Marie, and he encounters every day the disdain of his so-called superiors, his fellow soldiers, and his wife and her lover. It is Marie’s tragedy too: she loves and fears for her child and is eventually killed by Wozzeck before he drowns himself. We know the child will suffer.

Wozzeck, written during and after World War I in which its composer Alban Berg was himself a soldier, is in three acts with five scenes in each, each separated by a short orchestral interlude. The orchestra was only 39 strong and while cacophonous at times, it did not overwhelm the singers. The instruments were often used in small combinations. Their parts brilliantly underlined the emotional state of the singers.

The opera was presented semi-staged and, thankfully, with English surtitles. Perhaps inevitably, the performance seemed to me rather better musically than it was dramatically. All six main soloists, each an artist of international standing, were excellent. Madeleine Pierard has the most wonderful spun tone. Julien Van Mellaerts’ voice was smooth, secure, and expressive. American Corey Bix as the condescending Captain and Paul Whelan as the pretentious Doctor not only contributed strong vocal performances, but injected some rare humour into this tragic tale. Jason Collins as the ‘other man’ was equally strong. The Tudor Consort provided excellent chorus voices.

The work may have frightened some of the usual Orchestra Wellington patrons off. It was a bold decision to perform it. It cannot be an easy work for soloists, chorus, or orchestra. Orchestra Wellington is to be congratulated for programming Wozzeck and all performers for pulling it off so successfully.

Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour | Regional News

Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour

Presented by: Newman Entertainment

Directed by: Adelaide Clark

St James Theatre, 3rd Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Well, this will be a fun review to write, but little ones: please avert your eyes.

Dracula’s Cabaret is an Australian institution: a vaudevillian variety show inspired by the iconic The Rocky Horror Show. The comedy cabaret restaurant thrilled, teased, and titillated audiences for an unprecedented 37 years in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast, where it first creaked open its doors in 1985 and remains today. Produced by Luke Newman, Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour combines those decades of perfected performances into one tasty morsel that Wellington fans got to sink their fangs into for the first time ever this November.

Dracula’s: The Resurrection Tour stars Vladimir (host and comedian William Rogers), Onyx (vocalist James Smart), Viper (burlesque performer and vocalist Clara Fable), Duo Synergy (aerial and variety artists Scott Lazarevich and Emma Goh), The Heart Attack Twins (dancers Molly Kealey and Amber Flaherty), Vendetta (guitarist Viola Skyes), and Whiskey (drummer Lachlan Neate). These nine performers pack a (blood)sucker of a punch as they present a scintillating, sexually charged smorgasbord of acts straddling both the expected and the wickedly unorthodox.

But even the ‘traditional’ song, dance, burlesque, and acrobatic numbers are anything but. Haloed in epic stage lighting (Reuben Willmot), Smart, Skyes, and Neate’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s anthemic Stairway to Heaven is nothing short of world class. Stripteases include a flawless burlesque number from Fable (I’ve never seen such smooth disgloving!) and a tongue-in-cheek towel moult from Smart and the electrifying Rogers, who is all-round hilarious. Duo Synergy performs three gravity-defying feats that send my jaw plummeting to the floor. 

And then we’ve got the unconventional. John Taylor’s technical design sees superb puppetry utilised hilariously in a scene featuring a giant worm-like penis (sorry kids, I did warn you) and a terrifying giant baby I’m still having nightmares about. Let’s not forget the floating-heads concert of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that gets some of the loudest laughs of the night.

Packed with feathers and leather, debauchery and stage sorcery, every second of this 80-minute show slays. I’m desperate to ride the roller coaster again.

Picnic at Hanging Rock | Regional News

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Written by: Tom Wright

Directed by: Tanya Piejus

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 11th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Four teenage girls from the private boarding school Appleyard College set off on a picnic to Hanging Rock, a geographical marvel and former volcano in central Victoria, Australia. On Valentine’s Day 1900, Edith, Irma, Marion, and Miranda ascend the monolith. Only Edith comes back. Later, Irma is found bruised, bloody, but alive.

Back at the college, headmistress Mrs Appleyard has turned to the bottle to cope with the growing unrest as more perturbed parents withdraw their daughters from the school. Much to her annoyance, she’s left with orphaned student Sara, a close friend of Miranda’s. Meanwhile, Englishman Mike Fitzherbert nurtures a growing obsession with the mystery.

Tom Wright’s stage adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s acclaimed 1967 historical fiction (or is it?) novel of the same name sees five actors play multiple characters. Between Emily Bell, Lydia Verschaffelt, Gracie Voice, Ava Wiszniewska, and French-accent icon Anna Curzon-Hobson, there’s a handful of distinct roles. For instance, Bell plays Sara beautifully, Voice is the dangerously infatuated Mike, and Wiszniewska tweaks the heartstrings as a traumatised Irma. But they take turns to embody the missing girls, and not in the way you might think. In the opening picnic scenes, the cast speaks in third person, narrating the girls’ actions even when carrying them out. This striking playwrighting choice depersonalises the characters for me, but equally and aptly, intensifies the disorientating sense of unease that builds throughout the play.

The superb cast accentuates the impending sense of doom with performances perfectly sculpted (director Tanya Piejus) to climax at just the right moments. Verschaffelt in particular is a knockout in the final scene (and a wickedly funny drunk as Mrs Appleyard), but the entire cast works as one cohesive, committed unit to hit the horror home. This coupled with Hanging Rock looming large above the action (AV design by Tanisha Wardle), a sparse and haunting sound design by Brian Byas, and well-timed, moody lighting changes (Jamie Byas), and Picnic at Hanging Rock is a thrilling watch.

Bravo to Wellington Repertory Theatre for this stellar production of a story I’m still thinking about. Will somebody please tell me what happened to the missing girls!

Fatal Fame | Regional News

Fatal Fame

Presented by: Dripping Bottle Theatre

Directed by: Lincoln Swinerd

BATS Theatre, 1st Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Murder becomes a regular in this 50-minute solo thriller-comedy. Fatal Fame is Dripping Bottle Theatre’s debut show, and let’s just say that it opens the company’s canon with a bang… literally. The production follows Annie (Zoe Snowdon) as she rises to infamy in the most interesting way possible. Serial killing.

Snowdon’s depiction of Annie is nuanced and realistic. Oftentimes uncomfortably so, as she embodies so excellently what a serial killer can be. We see the not-so-gentle decline of Annie from socially awkward to sociopath. Snowdon’s mannerisms and stage presence culminate in the perfect depiction of a killer who executes each of her victims convincingly, albeit very humorously.

Comedy and thriller make for a combination I didn’t think possible. Fatal Fame proves me wrong. The thriller provides a thought-provoking commentary on how real and present killers can be, and the comedy provides a much-needed escape at times from the dark themes within.

Fatal Fame foreshadows fantastically. Every word and every action has its purpose in the grand scheme of the piece.

The scenography by Scott Maxim is cleverly done. The harsh lighting makes it feel as if Annie is retelling her story through a police interview. I particularly like the motif provided by sound and lighting whenever a murder occurs.

Popping balloons at the end of the show make me incredibly uncomfortable due to my phobia of this. However, I do commend the symbolism provided. Killers such as the fictional Annie take to murder like a pin takes to inflated rubber.

This show is not for the faint of heart, yet it is well crafted. I would urge you to read the content warnings before taking your seat.

Come to Fatal Fame if you don’t mind joining Annie’s rise to popularity. However, your name will be below hers, and you will become a victim of this scarily comedic show.

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io) | Regional News

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io)


133 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

At Wellington’s opening night of the Cinema Italiano Festival, I remember my boyfriend will have to read subtitles during tonight’s screening of The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io). He then reminds me the movie is in Neapolitan, not Italian, so I too will have to read subtitles. You most likely will as well, but don’t let that stop you from catching the film on the 9th or 12th of November at the Embassy Theatre.

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io) is a biopic from director Mario Martone about Neapolitan comic theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, played by the acclaimed Toni Servillo. Written by Martone and Ippolita Di Majo, the story is a beautiful symphony, a celebration of the language and the city, its theatrical heritage and its people.

Renato Berta’s cinematography paired with Giancarlo Muselli and Carlo Rescigno’s production design is testament to Italy’s long legacy of crafting cinematic masterpieces I would gladly hang on the wall of a museum. Actor Eduardo Scarpetta, who plays Vincenzo in the film, is the great-great-grandson of the film’s protagonist, proof of the Scarpetta family’s lasting impression and endurance.  

Set in late 19th and early 20th century Naples, the story follows the rise and fall of this pivotal figure of Italian theatre. And yet I had never heard of him until now. Neither had many of the guests I spoke to after the credits. Gabriele D’Annunzio (Paolo Pierobon), Scarpetta’s contemporary and inadvertent rival, is celebrated the world over. But Scarpetta, who single-handedly took on and, at the time, surpassed the iconic commedia dell’arte character Pulcinella? He is hardly mentioned in our history books. Is it because his artform, parody, is not truly considered art that is worthy of enduring the test of time?

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io) tackles this notion. What makes something art? Is it how serious the content is? Or is it its cultural influence or critique? Is it the genre? Or is comedy’s accessibility what makes it important? Either way, the film makes one thing clear: we mustn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Poem of Ecstasy | Regional News

Poem of Ecstasy

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 28th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Kenneth Young describes his Dance as “a celebration of love and life”. It was glorious and exuberant, and it reminded me of the character dances seen in classical ballet, which took me to a memory of Sir Jon Trimmer on stage in one of the character parts he danced later in his career. Trimmer, who had died only two days earlier, was a neighbour and much-loved member of our community and it was lovely to have a memory of him sparked in that way.

From the joy of dance to Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, the mood remained high. If ecstasy comes from bringing together a huge number of musicians, a thoroughly mixed assortment of harmony, rhythm, tempo, volume, and orchestration in a way that pushed boundaries in 1908 and sounded as if it is still on the edge more than 100 years later, then this was it. Learning Scriabin was synaesthetic made sense of the music. If sound was colour for me, I imagine I would also want to celebrate that with noise and complexity.

Principal flautist Bridget Douglas, elevated behind the orchestra, under a single spotlight, played Debussy’s modern interpretation of an ancient Greek story, Syrinx. Douglas is an amazing musician and audience favourite. We were captivated. Conductor Gemma New had earlier asked us not to applaud but to allow the mood to carry into Sibelius’ Luonnotar. The strings set off at urgent pace before soprano Madeleine Pierard started to sing her narrative of the Finnish creation story. A demanding piece by all accounts but absolutely no trouble for Pierard. Her voice is stunning, and she made apparently light work of the difficult leaps and incredible range.

The evening finished as it had started, with a stage full of musicians expertly led by an expressive and expansive conductor. Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2 gave New the opportunity to have the last dance.