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Reviews

I Want To Be Happy | Regional News

I Want To Be Happy

Written by: Carl Bland

Directed by: Carl Bland and Ben Crowder

Running at Circa Theatre until 30th Sep

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Binka (Jennifer Ludlam) is a guinea pig. Paul (Joel Tobeck) is a human conducting experiments on her. Lonely and alone, they only have each other, but they cannot communicate. Both just want to be happy.

Andrew Foster might have made the set of the year. I Want To Be Happy begins in a lab with two cages onstage: a miniature one that Paul scrutinises, poking and prodding Binka as he laments his state of affairs, and a giant one where Ludlam performs. I don’t want to give too much away, but what follows is inimitable stage magic, with set and prop tricks that elicit audience-wide giggles, scene changes featuring an ingenious use of LEDs (lighting designer Sean Lynch) and astounding costumes I wish I could’ve photographed (designed by Elizabeth Whiting, realised by The Costume Studio).

Carl Bland’s script resembles two separate poems magnetised like atoms, at its most compelling when Binka and Paul’s dialogue collides. Paul is the kind of rare character you love to hate and hate to love. Tobeck’s intricate performance imbues an emotionally stunted man with vulnerability, while Ludlam breaks our collective heart with her captivating, powerful portrayal of a guinea pig. It’s one I buy without question.

This Nightsong production gave me a thrill I never thought I’d get to relive: the first time I watched a Disney movie. I recall inching ever closer to the screen, my nose practically booping Timon as I cheered Simba on, booed Scar, sobbed when Mufasa died, swooned at the love songs, and rejoiced when the lions took pride of place at Pride Rock. A Disney adventure for grownups, I Want To Be Happy takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of adrenaline highs and devastating lows as it plumbs the depths of poignant themes like loneliness and loss, friendship and family, and above all, communication. I leaned so far forward in my chair I nearly fell out of it. I’ve never been so emotionally invested in a guinea pig.

Zenith | Regional News

Zenith

Choreographed by Amelia Butcher

Directed by: Amelia Butcher

BATS Theatre, 5th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Six incredible dancers. Six touching sections. 45 minutes of captivating movement. One phenomenal piece. Zenith.

Zenith is a unique contemporary dance piece exploring ideas and perceptions of one’s ‘zenith’, the highest point. The sections are carefully crafted by director Amelia Butcher’s choreography brand, Jenire, with each part flowing seamlessly into the next. Despite this, each one possesses its own dynamic energy.

Words are not needed to convey this beautiful and poignant story that is relevant to us all. Dance is fully capable of telling it.

Kaleidoscopic is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of this piece. Each movement is utterly mesmerising, taking us full force into the heat of the emotions that are centred around finding one’s zenith. The lighting design by Alexander R Dickson perfectly complements the work, with each lighting state strongly conveying the emotions and desires embodied by the dancers in each section.

These dancers have a flair like no other – they are an ensemble, but their individual personalities and talents are clearly showcased. They have complete control over their bodies, each movement signifying something part of a deeper story.

It is difficult to determine my high point of Zenith, as each unique and powerful section resonates with me equally. From the sharp to the smooth, the visceral to the vibrant, this piece has it all.

For a story without words, Zenith makes even more of an impact when the final song includes lyrics. With lyrics so compelling that seem to echo my thoughts throughout, it feels like the show has been speaking to us all along. Words can’t do it justice; you must experience it for yourself if you want to achieve your zenith. Make sure you reach your highest point and book tickets to see this show now.

Bernstein & Copland: Til time shall end | Regional News

Bernstein & Copland: Til time shall end

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Giancarlo Guerrero

Michael Fowler Centre, 1st Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Although I couldn’t properly define it, my head and heart knew we had been listening to American classical music. While their names are very familiar, my knowledge of Leonard Bernstein’s compositions extends to West Side Story and Aaron Copland’s to Fanfare for the Common Man.

Both were leading composers of mid-20th century America. Copland was particularly influenced by folk traditions and Bernstein by jazz, and they came after a more experimental style. This made the introductory piece by New Zealander Eve de Castro-Robinson, Len Dances, quite the right fit. A sonic interpretation of Len Lye’s famous kinetic sculptures, the bells and whistles and inventive instrumentation readily evoked both visual and performing artforms for the listener.

Another clever use of one artform to tell us about another, Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety was filled with the sense of the W. H. Auden poem, The Age of Anxiety, which inspired it. Pianist Joyce Yang’s phenomenal technique, Bernstein’s skill in composition, and Guerrero’s orchestral direction came together perfectly. Written neither as a concerto for piano and orchestra nor a symphony in the more orthodox European style, The Age of Anxiety was so beautifully played by Yang, the anxiety and tension were palpable and breathtaking.

Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3 is his best known and a big piece of work in every sense. Written at the end of World War II, Copland traverses the mood of the time, gentle contemplation matched with joy and bright celebration. Magnificent contrasts of tone and volume were played with gusto by brass and percussion in particular, while piercingly high notes from violins and piccolo sliced through the gentler sections. Fragments of the theme from his Fanfare for the Common Man are glimpsed throughout until it appears as the main theme in the fourth movement and a glorious finale greatly enjoyed by orchestra and audience alike.

Abandonment  | Regional News

Abandonment

Written by: Kate Atkinson

Directed by: Catherine McMechan

Gryphon Theatre, 30th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Stagecraft continues their dynamite season with Abandonment, the debut play from celebrated novelist Kate Atkinson.

Divorcee Elizabeth (Lisa Aaltonen) moves into a converted flat that was once a Victorian mansion, where she is continually invaded by her adoptive mother (Debbie Ryder), dysfunctional sister (Sarah Andrews Reynolds), and friends. Elizabeth begins looking into her past to seize her sense of identity. But in her search, she unearths more than she bargained for – the ghosts of the house’s past occupants, particularly the wronged governess Agnes Soutar (Ivana Palezevic), whose unfortunate circumstances unexpectedly echo through the ages and into Elizabeth’s life.

This witty, character-driven story is packed with everything you would expect from a great novel – thought-provoking themes, dynamic character relationships, and funny dialogue – all delivered across two time periods.

Amy Whiterod’s inventive set design recognises and reflects this collision of eras. Ghostly 2D Victorian furniture and portraits are painted on the auditorium walls, juxtaposing the 2000s setting and cleverly giving the set a vestige of eeriness.

The entire cast makes easy work of this multifaceted story, playing a multitude of characters between the split timelines. However, what stands out for me is the quality of the female roles, which has been a theme for Stagecraft this season.

Andrews Reynolds proves her versatility in her two contrasting roles with compelling and emotional resonance. Louisa McKerrow stands out as Elizabeth’s patient best friend (and house servant Gertie). Mckerrow's delightful charm and impeccable comic timing adds layers of humour – an all-round joy to watch.

At its heart, the play explores themes of female abandonment and how the past can live on, a sentiment especially emulated by Aaltonen and Palezevic’s deft portrayals. At 40, Elizabeth is still haunted by her birth mother abandoning her as a baby, while Agnes is impregnated and discarded by the house master before meeting a sticky end.

This layered and complex story is a reminder that perhaps the past isn’t as far away as we think.

Coene’s Bar and Eatery | Regional News

Coene’s Bar and Eatery

103 Oriental Parade, Wellington

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

For Burger Wellington, one of my favourite restaurants not only devised a mouthwatering lobster and groper burger, but put on a special sea-to-plate menu. In the era of the great seafood takeover, I was lucky enough to be invited to Coene’s Bar and Eatery by Sealord for a bespoke menu designed especially for a special event: a chat about their new campaign, Seas Matter.

We sat down with Sealord’s general manager of operations Rui Ventura and public affairs and communications manager Annabel Scaife, plus BlacklandPR consultant Fiann Blackham, to a pesce crudo entrée and market-fish main. The pesce crudo – thin slices of raw tarakihi, served with beetroot aguachile (ceviche’s favourite cousin), pickled tamarillo, and wild rice cracker – was light and fresh, adorned with ruby-red bursts of colour from the beetroot and tamarillo, which added a zesty kick that elevated the dish. The market tarakihi was pan fried to perfection and bathed in creamy buttered leek, green peas, and basil velouté. The grilled fennel was a particularly lovely touch, but the crispy chorizo was the unexpected hero of the dish. Think of it like smoky, salty bacon bits and you’ll forgive me for salivating while I write this.

It was fascinating learning about Seas Matter, a campaign launched by Sealord to educate Kiwis about not just the health, but the sustainability of seafood. I learned that to get to our plates, fish produces the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any meat protein because selectively fishing from the ocean requires no land clearance, pesticides, fertilisers, antibiotics, and virtually no freshwater. I didn’t know that, but it now makes sense! Additionally, a study conducted by Dr Ray Hilborn and the Sustainable Fisheries team at the University of Washington found that one serving of wild-caught New Zealand fish provides 20 times more key nutrients per unit of CO2 than a serving of beef or lamb. Staggering!

Thank you, Sealord, for enlightening me over a feast of impossibly fresh fish. Sipping prosecco in the sun by the sea? Sometimes my job is really hard.

Oppenheimer | Regional News

Oppenheimer

(M)

180 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Thanks to TikTok, baby girl is now used to refer to grown men (fictional or real) who have their fandom in a loving chokehold. Cillian Murphy’s J Robert Oppenheimer (and Murphy as well, who doesn’t love a lanky, dark-haired man with piercing blue eyes and a sweet-talking Irish purr?) definitely qualifies as baby girl.

Rather than gush about Murphy (don’t worry, I will continue to gush) I’ll pivot to reviewing director, writer, and producer Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer, which tells the story of the father of the atomic bomb. I saw Nolan’s Tenet and the only remember the terrible sound mixing. Don’t come for me, I know it was ‘intentional’, but I think that’s a pretentious excuse. I saw Inception at the peak of my DiCaprio obsession though and loved it.

Oppenheimer? Three hours is an intimidating runtime, and I didn’t particularly want my teeth rattling out of my skull for that long while bombs were let off left, right, and centre. But I do love me a good biopic… and Cillian Murphy!

It is phenomenal. Oppenheimer is destined to win a couple of Oscars. I have a favourite editor now, Jennifer Lame, who just chef’s kissed her job. I loved the use of black and white to denote different timeframes and storylines. I was engrossed for the entire three hours, on the edge of my seat watching the physicist’s life unfold, evolve, and unravel. I understood all the complicated science things. My only note to viewers is to brush up on US history pre and post-WWII. Without a base knowledge of depression-era ideologies, McCarthyism, and the Red Scare, I may have been a tad confused.

Oppenheimer was written so beautifully, the story a Russian doll, each level revealing another surprise, another mystery, another heartbreak. And I was saddled with what felt like the same moral dilemma Oppenheimer was faced with. Through the scientist’s perspective, the film humanises a moment that most of us see now as morally questionable. Like Prometheus giving humanity fire, Oppenheimer gave us nuclear weapons. How was he to know he’d be tortured for eternity? Not only by history, but by his own morals.

Go see Oppenheimer. If not for me, for our baby girl Cillian Murphy.

Wicked  | Regional News

Wicked

Presented by: Capital Theatre Trust and G&T Productions

Directed by: Grant Meese

St James Theatre, 22nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked is the untold story of the witches of Oz: Glinda the Good (Maya Handa Naff) and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West (Heather Wilcock). This Wizard of Oz prequel starts and ends at the same moment in time in the great Emerald City, flashing back to Glinda and Elphaba’s first encounter at Shiz University and picking up the story from there. With black-catty dynamics between the broommates exacerbated by a boy, Fiyero (Nick Lerew), the multi-award-winning musical follows the prickly relationship of Glinda and Elphaba as it shifts and changes… For Good.

Our two leads crackle with chemistry. Even when Defying Gravity on a broomstick, Wilcock’s grounding and intuitive stage presence stabilises the mile-a-minute action, especially when paired with Naff’s deliciously extravagant performance, which is show-stealing, star-striking gold at every turn. Even their voices work in perfect harmony, with the magic happening when Wilcock’s rich tonal depth meets the purity and clarity of Naff’s soprano trills.

I swoon over Lerew’s velvet voice and charm, cackle at Kevin Orlando’s quirks as the hapless Boq, commiserate with Ben Emerson’s gentle, genial, G.O.A.T Dr Dillamond, and find my new favourite number in the cabaret-esque A Sentimental Man, where David Hoskins gives us the ol’ razzle dazzle as the wizard. Anna Smith lands emotional king-hits as Nessarose, while headmistress Madame Morrible (Frankie Leota) is every bit as horrible (and entertaining) as she should be. The core cast is supported by an ensemble effervescent with energy and teeming with talent.

All of the design elements – from Martin Searancke’s theatrical lighting sorcery to the spectacular set, costumes, and props (that Oz head!) provided by NZ Musical Theatre Consortium – would befit Broadway or The West End. Couple that with consummate direction from Grant Meese, Leigh Evans’ tight and terrifying choreography (the monkeys’ malformed movements make me physically recoil), and Kate Marshall’s masterful music direction, accentuated by faultless live orchestration, and Wicked is world class in Wellington.

Bluebeard’s Castle  | Regional News

Bluebeard’s Castle

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and NZ Opera

Conducted by: Lawrence Renes

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

In my concert experience this year, I can’t imagine that anything will eclipse this performance of Bartók’s opera, Bluebeard’s Castle.

The work calls for a large orchestra stacked with percussion, brass, woodwind, and fewer strings than one might have expected, and two singers, a dramatic soprano and a dramatic baritone. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was on fire throughout the performance with immaculate, precise but emotional and intense playing. Lester Lynch from the United States was Bluebeard and Susan Bullock from England was his wife, Judith. Both had glorious, unforced, effortless voices. Unlike much romantic and dramatic opera, their parts were not florid or ornamented. The rhythms were speech-like and their diction was excellent. Bartók’s orchestration is extremely well matched to what is happening on the stage and to the ebb and flow of the feelings of the characters. The conductor did a superb job of uniting the performance.

While the music performed was as composed, the tale was not. The original interpretation of a fable is a ghastly tale of a woman in love with a man about whom horrible rumours abound. Nevertheless, she demands that he releases to her the secrets of his life. Her entry into his castle ends with her discovering his three dead wives, whom she joins.

This production, however, is an astonishing and powerful reinterpretation of the story, recast by the UK-based Theatre of Sound to centre on a loving couple whose lives disintegrate when Judith is affected by dementia. Surprisingly, the original libretto fits the new scenario convincingly. The audience sees and feels the memories, the love and tenderness, the frustration, loneliness, fear, and anguish the couple experiences. The acting was strong, sensitive, and subtle and the effect compelling and harrowing.

Altogether this was an outstandingly rewarding performance, musically, dramatically, and emotionally.

Barbie | Regional News

Barbie

(PG-13)

114 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

We have been bombarded with media surrounding the release of the much-awaited Barbie movie. From billboards to press tours, bus-stop posters to teaser trailers, from Dua Lipa’s hit song Dance The Night playing on our airwaves to the infamous “She’s everything. He’s just Ken” tagline posts.

Love it or hate it, I’d like to officially extend a very warm, aggressively pink welcome to Barbie Land… no, not to you Ken.

Barbie Land is a dream. The streets are lined with Barbie Dream Houses – did I mention the streets are pink? The clothes are impeccable and beautiful, the weather is always sunny, the Barbies and Kens are perfect and perpetually happy, and every day is the best day ever. Until Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) starts having thoughts about death and her feet go flat. What ensues is a riotous, eye-opening, world-changing, mind-blowing adventure into the real world for both Barbie and her Ken (Ryan Gosling, who steals the show).

It was hard avoiding spoilers, so if you have succeeded thus far, I will let you discover this plastic fantastic world for yourself. But that’s easy, because the true heroes of Barbie are not the dolls but the production team. Sarah Greenwood’s production design is so meticulous, so perfect, so utterly researched it should be deemed the eighth wonder… okay maybe not, but the entire team ensured every detail in Barbie Land is essentially a replica of the actual toys. I offer the same praise to Jacqueline Durran’s costume design. The amount of work that these two departments must have done to achieve the end result is simply mind-boggling.

Director, producer, and writer Greta Gerwig, a feminist icon of our generation, has outdone herself yet again. Barbie is a satire, a tribute, a critique, an adventure, and everything in between. It is so self-aware in its simultaneous championing and condemnation of consumerism, beauty standards, gender roles, existentialism, and more. A new addition to the feminist canon, the mere existence of a movie like Barbie means we have made leaps and bounds as a society. It has its flaws, of course, but it’s fun, it’s beautiful, and it has something to say.

This Barbie highly recommends the movie.