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The Mountain | Regional News

The Mountain


89 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I walk out of the cinema at 10:30am on a Friday morning to a bright and shining blue day. As I wince in the light and warmth of the sun I feel as though I have just come from an arduous albeit cathartic journey. I entered the theatre alone, I left with three beautiful new friends.

The latest heart-warming, tender, and witty Kiwi film is The Mountain, directed and co-written by Rachel House, who adds yet another title to her formidable resume. No stranger to our screens or award ceremonies, House has once again proven herself as a Kiwi filmmaking giant, balancing story, fresh young talent, and weighty themes with mastery in her directorial debut.

The Mountain takes audiences on an adventure alongside Sam (Elizabeth Atkinson), Bronco (Terrence Daniel), and Mallory (Reuben Francis). Strangers at first, the three youngsters embark on a journey to climb Mount Taranaki in search of solace. Under the mountain’s watchful gaze, the trio find healing, the magic of the natural world, and camaraderie.

A love letter to Te Taiao, there are many themes that course through the veins of The Mountain, but my favourite is the celebration of the everyday magic we experience but often take for granted. Through the eyes of children, the magic of our world comes to life fresh, new, and wonderful, blossoming on the screen through native birdsong and twinkling stars, through sticks and stones and stories.

Talking to House (go check out our close-up interview in this edition), I learn that so much attention to detail has been sewn into The Mountain. For example, the sound department recorded birds from around Mount Taranaki, which were then embedded into the narrative.

The incorporation of te reo Māori also brings a smile to my face. As a bilingual speaker, though not of te reo, this small gesture means so much to me. Ingrained fluidly into the film, language becomes another part of the beautiful natural and cultural landscape of The Mountain.

Lost Lear | Regional News

Lost Lear

Written by: Dan Colley, with the company, after Shakespeare

Directed by: Dan Colley

Tāwhiri Warehouse, 14th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Award-winning Irish theatre maker Dan Colley tells an innovative and powerful story of dealing with advanced dementia. Joy (Venetia Bowe) is stuck in the past of her career as an actor, constantly rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in which she played the lead. This ‘memory theme’ has been painstakingly worked out and supported by Liam (Manus Halligan) and his care home team (Clodagh O’Farrell and Em Ormonde). Into this carefully constructed world comes Joy’s son Conor (Peter Daly) who she sent away as a young boy and consequently harbours a lifetime of resentment towards his neglectful mother. Seeking some kind of apology or contrition he will never get, he must find his own path to forgiveness through joining the rehearsal as Cordelia and becoming part of Joy’s fractured reality.

Using projection onto two screens in front of and behind the main stage interwoven with live video feeds from a lightbox and another on the stage, plus a stunning use of paper craft and puppetry, we witness both Joy’s chaotic, distorted perspective and the grounded, day-to-day work of caring for a person with dementia. The skill of the actors and technicians is such that these two worlds blend and interchange seamlessly, so we always know where we are and sometimes see both at the same time.

Bowe gives a towering performance as Joy. She’s energetic and dictatorial as Lear, humorous as she jumps into other roles and plays dialogue by herself, heartbreaking as she struggles to communicate with Conor through the fog of her illness. Daly is strong too as the baffled son who can’t cope with the feelings welling up as he confronts his estranged mother and her altered mental state. Halligan is a wonderful foil for Joy, gleefully indulging her fantasy by playing Lear’s Fool, and gently encouraging Conor to take part.

Lost Lear is a brilliantly creative and thought-provoking inspection of dementia and the unconventional possibilities of human communication.

BELLE – A Performance of Air | Regional News

BELLE – A Performance of Air

Presented by: Movement Of The Human

Directed by: Malia Johnston

St James Theatre, 14th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Helmed by creative director Malia Johnston – known for her work on World of WearableArt™ and countless other innovative projects – BELLE was always going to be a standout production this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Billed as a celebration of female strength and agility, it sees a cast of nine women (aerialists Imogen Stone, Katelyn Reed, Ellyce Bisson, and Rosita Hendry, and dancers Brydie Colquhoun, Jemima Smith, Anu Khapung, Nadiyah Akbar, and Aleeya Mcfadyen-Rew) float and fly, contort and convulse, levitate and palpitate to each precise, driving, swirling beat of Eden Mullholland’s stratospheric soundscape, composed in collaboration with Jol Mulholland and live musician Anita Clark, who weaves a throughline that magnetises us with her ethereal voice and virtuosic violin.  

Rowan Pierce’s production design is an electric storm that wholly transforms the landscape, utilising smoke, strobe, and stunning special effects to create cinematic tableaus the likes of which I’ve not seen on stage before. The result is a breathtaking 55-minute optical illusion where dancers appear and reappear like magic, swallowed whole by haze only to reilluminate, suspended from the ceiling; engulfed by the pitch-black void to reanimate, stacked on shoulders, poised upside down in the box seats, coiled in apparatus designed especially for the show by inspired aerial choreographer Jenny Ritchie.  

While there is no narrative, themes emerge for the viewer to interpret. I find myself thinking of control and oppression; ritual and camaraderie; birth, rebirth, and death; matriarchs and lunar cycles; and above all, the fearsome power of women. One scene that sees the cast walk to the front of the stage to circle a glowing, clear disc one by one, each interacting with it differently, doesn’t feel as striking or as intentional as the rest. But perhaps “what does it mean” isn’t the right question. Maybe the right question is, “was that real?” The staggering cast and creatives of BELLE breathe, heave, and electrify as one to convey Johnston’s extraordinary vision: one that I still can’t quite believe I’ve seen with my own two eyes.

Songbirds | Regional News


Presented by: The King’s Singers

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

UK-based male sextet The King's Singers have represented the gold standard in a cappella singing on the world's greatest stages for over 50 years. They are renowned for their unrivalled technique, versatility, and skill in performance, and for their consummate musicianship, drawing on the group's rich heritage and its pioneering spirit to create a wealth of original works and unique collaborations.

Following an impeccably pronounced reo Māori greeting, the concert programme celebrates compositions ancient and modern by, or inspired by, songbirds avian and human. It kicks off appropriately with a delicious rendition of Songbird by Fleetwood Mac.

Cleanly swooping from The Beatles’ Blackbird to a Canadian folk song called She’s Like the Swallow, they flutter onto a quirky Australian piece called Cuckoo in the Pear Tree, Schubert, Ravel, French and Italian madrigals, and an entertaining French song called Le Chant des Oiseaux in which the composer “crammed in as many silly bird noises as he could”. This last number elicits a sly miaow from an audience member during the applause. They finish the first half with a charming song written for the group in 1972 based on a German folk story about a donkey, dog, cat, and chicken going to a singing competition in Bremen.

The second half kicks off with three stunning numbers from Disney films. The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond is followed by This Little Light of Mine, which I heard just two weeks ago on the same stage sung completely differently. Two Paul Simon songs, a gorgeous piece called Father, Father by Laura Mvula, and a George Gershwin classic round out the second half. They made me even happier by coming back for an encore of And So It Goes by Billy Joel. All of this was delivered under beautifully lit and sparkling chandeliers.

By the end of the concert, I felt like I’d had a quart of Bailey’s poured into my ears and it doesn’t get much better than that on a Wednesday night.

Crossing Thresholds: The Air Between Us | Regional News

Crossing Thresholds: The Air Between Us

Created by: Chloe Loftus and Rodney Bell

Tāwhiri Warehouse, 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The Air Between Us is a captivating aerial dance show performed in mid-air in the new creative space at the back of Te Whaea. Choreographer and dancer Chloe Loftus and multi-award-winning artist and performer Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniopoto), who performs in his stylish wheelchair, weave an intricate, sensuous, and beautiful story of the literal push and pull of a complex emotional relationship. They seek to “explore our innate capacity to exist in symbiotic harmony, with each other and with our environment”.

They arrive separately, Bell travelling slowly along the aisle between the cushion-dwelling youngsters with their adults and the mostly wheelchair-occupying front row, gently touching them as he passes. Loftus walks in from the audience rostra, and they slowly circle the floor-lit stage before meeting in the middle beneath a double aerial harness. At first, Loftus connects to the harness, flying horizontally around Bell as he gently catches her feet. Then she’s climbing upwards on the harness ropes while he circles below her.

Switching the harness to support them both, they whirl and twist together through the air, embracing, balancing each other, always at one whether together or apart. Finally, Loftus walks calmly away and Bell spins upside down, suspended peacefully and alone until lowering back to terra firma.

It’s mesmerising to watch each exactly paced and balletic movement. Accompanied by appropriately involving music, and their clearly visible rigger Tym Miller-White and his counterweight, their performance is a deeply satisfying work of harmony, synchronicity, and inclusion. The performers are equal in ability and connection in this ungrounded space.

The pleasing sense of inclusivity extends beyond the performers to the attentive staff, seating area that caters to those who can’t or don’t want to sit on the unforgiving plastic seats, and the cost-free entry. It’s wonderful to see the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts embracing this ethos so wholeheartedly.

At just 20 minutes long, The Air Between Us is a bijou but utterly fulfilling piece that says so much more than words can convey.

Gravity & Grace | Regional News

Gravity & Grace

Written by: Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken

Directed by: Eleanor Bishop

Circa Theatre, 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Everybody fails, sometimes spectacularly. Few write a fearless book about it, but this is exactly what feminist writer Chris Kraus did after her experimental feature film epically flopped at a Berlin film market in 1998. Based on her book Aliens & Anorexia, this bold and innovative stage show seeks to answer the question: how did it all go so wrong?

Co-playwright Karin McCracken takes the lead role of Kraus and is supported by an ensemble cast of four (Nī Dekkers-Reihana, Simon Leary, Rongopai Tickell, and Sam Snedden) who expertly fill all the other roles in her strange life. McCracken is natural and engaging as someone who eventually realises that having no visual imagination is a bad foundation for becoming a filmmaker.

As much cinema as theatre, this stage show uses four cameras positioned beside, above, and on the stage to live-project the actors onto a large screen behind the acting area. Objects (including a gross-looking bowl of cold Campbell’s minestrone soup) also appear, set up on a lightbox at the edge of the stage. The technical work to mix this varying vision with recorded footage, sometimes matching it frame for frame, is astounding. Video designer Owen Iosefa McCarthy, video programmer Rachel Neser (Artificial Imagination), and show operator Natasha Thyne deserve special recognition. Also working seamlessly with the technology is a subtly effective lighting design (Rob Larsen) that lets the actors be seen but never gets in the way of the projections and atmospheric soundscape (Emi 恵美 Pogoni).

Another clever touch in the staging (performance designer Meg Rollandi) is a cut-out section of the screen that has a gauzy covering behind which the actors appear as characters, such as the British film producer Kraus has a long-distance sadomasochistic phone-sex relationship with, who Kraus never meets.

The many awesome technical ideas make the show run a little long at two-and-a-half hours, but this is my only critique of an otherwise fascinating and creatively delivered production.

Beyond Words | Regional News

Beyond Words

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Fawzi Haimor

Michael Fowler Centre, 9th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

The attacks on worshippers at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre on the 15th of March 2019 left a permanent mark on New Zealand. Over the last two years, Muslim communities around Aotearoa have provided guidance and support for this anniversary concert.

Umoja Anthem of Unity, by Valerie Coleman, set the theme – promoting peace and unity through music, deliberately intertwining Western and Eastern musical traditions. Singer Abdelilah Rharrabti, vocalist and daf (drum) musician Esmail Fathi, and saz (Turkish long-necked lute) player Liam Oliver from Ōtautahi Christchurch’s Simurgh Music School were accompanied by the orchestra, somewhat in the form of a concerto. The Eastern tonal structure was strong and the men’s voices were powerfully reminiscent of the grief and trauma suffered in 2019 and since.

Moroccan artist Oum, known for her modern take on traditional sounds, gave a strong vocal performance in Daba, that strength made greater in the way her solo voice faded at the finish.

Reza Vali’s Funèbre for solo violin and strings was a standout, emotional, gut-wrenching experience. NZSO concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen’s versatility and musicality brought a voice from his violin that echoed the voices heard earlier.

In Mantilatos, Kyriakos Tapakis showed us how a virtuoso plays his oud, how impressive it sounds, and how hard his fingers worked as the last bars raced along at breakneck pace.

Arvo Pärt’s Silouan’s Song was beautifully and confidently played and lifted to another level by conductor Fawzi Haimor’s skilful use of silence in the pauses.

The final piece, Ahlan wa Sahlan, commissioned from John Psathas and composed in collaboration with Oum and Tapakis, was about belonging and being safe with the people you know. The five movements traversed cultures and emotions, Oum’s vocals and Tapakis’ oud above the orchestra, reminding us of language and music still not always familiar to Western ears, and that we must continue to learn from the 15th of March.

The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical | Regional News

The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical

Written by: Nino Raphael

Directed by: Nino Raphael

The Welsh Dragon Bar, Weds 6th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate: The Musical sets sail off the pages of Margaret Mahy’s treasured children’s picture book of the same name. The story follows Sam (Taipuhi King) as he finally breaks free from his job as an accountant to join his pirate mother (Hilary Norris) on the high seas.

Drawing from the Mahy classic, master composer and lyricist Nino Raphael has created catchy tunes with words that roll off the tongues of the performers. The sea shanties and patter songs are superb, with a highlight being Sam’s ditty about auditing his mother’s books. I would love there to be a wider variety of songs, as I feel this would enhance the musical even more.

Raphael is fantastic on concertina, guitar, and piano. Who needs a philharmonic orchestra when you have a one-man band providing sensational accompaniment and support? He is fantastic at leading both the cast and the audience. We essentially become the ensemble, filling the quaint venue of The Welsh Dragon Bar with lively, rowdy joy. I hope that in future renditions of this show, audience interaction remains a focal point.

All the performers have stunning vocals and a strong grasp of the music despite having a short rehearsal period. They embody their roles – inspired by the original story – with distinct, hilarious characterisations. I understand the musical is intended to be longer and am very curious to see how the characters would grow and develop when given more time on stage, especially Mr Fat (Adam Herbert).

Whilst this is their (sold out!) development season, I am extremely impressed. I can see this upbeat, energetic show becoming incredibly popular. I am very privileged to have caught the first-ever performance, as well as The Welsh Dragon Bar’s Fringe Festival debut. I hope that The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical continues to catch the wind in its sails and travels far.

JIMMY | Regional News


Written by: Micky Delahunty with Parekawa Finlay

Directed by: Micky Delahunty

Hannah Playhouse, 5th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The writer’s note in the programme sets up the premise for JIMMY, a New Zealand Fringe Festival show, as “our friend Cole Hampton. It’s the story of Jimmy, a character Cole was playing in a script I wrote for him and Ari Leason. We were rehearsing it at the time of his death. We could never do that play. So we wrote JIMMY.” It’s a poignant and tender beginning for a heartfelt love-letter-cum-eulogy to a lost companion.

Five souls are alone in their own worlds: Jack (Jared Lee) is burrowing down an internet rabbit hole on the nature of the universe; Lou (Ari Leason) is creatively stuck by mourning; Orla (Olivia Marshall) is rehearsing for opening night of a Greek tragedy; Puāwai (Parekawa Finlay) is recalling Māori legends in the constellations; and James (Jono Weston) is remembering summer with his childhood friend. These disparate threads weave together over the course of an hour as these friends and relations of Jimmy’s come together to farewell him. It’s a simply effective and highly relatable narrative structure that is reflected daily in funeral rites the world over as people from each branch of an individual’s life join in remembrance. We learn about Jimmy – his daring, humorous, creative nature – through the recollections of these five.

The vignettes of memory, loss, and grief are interspersed with songs, the real strength of this production. Each cast member has written and performs at least one song and they come together to perform two by Cole Hampton himself, the entertaining Weirdo and the uplifting Good, which they deliver as an impromptu wake for Jimmy. The cast are endearing and clearly demonstrate the varying trauma of grief without going overboard. Leason is particularly strong with her beautiful voice and guitar-playing.

The underscoring theme of space and time reflects the ultimate message of JIMMY: even if you die, you still exist through other people. And that’s something we all should wish for upon a star.