Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter | Regional News

The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter

Written by: Helen Moulder and Sue Rider

Directed by: Sue Rider

Circa Theatre, 25th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Helen Moulder has been thrilling audiences at Circa Theatre since the late 1970s and The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter is another solid entry in her canon. It’s a lovely story of familial relationships in a changing world seen through the eyes of five members of a famous clan of butchers who sell their products under the cheesy tagline, “On your feet with Patterson’s Meat!”

In this one-woman show, Moulder plays everyone – businesswoman Olivia, patriarch Sir Harold, arty Jennifer, vegan comedian Lexi, and 11-year-old Grace – alongside a mysteriously mangled bicycle. This simple device cleverly mirrors the unfolding tale of the Pattersons and the fake news scandal that threatens to derail their burgeoning product deal with investors in China.

Each character is exactly drawn and, even without the basic costume changes that slow the pace somewhat, they are clearly rendered through Moulder’s acting skill. Olivia is slick, bossy, and constantly on the phone, wheeling and dealing. 94-year-old Sir Harold potters in his garden while ranting about change and drifts randomly back to “pūkeko pies” in comic outbursts. Lexi’s stand-up comedy routine, starting with a half-consumed banana folded carefully in a beeswax wrap, is sweary, angry, and genuinely funny. Estranged sister Jennifer is artily flaky as she struggles with unfunctional plumbing while trying to open her new gallery on Featherston Street. Finally, 11-year-old Gracie completes the narrative circle and we discover why bicycles are so important in the Pattersons’ family history.

Delivered on a typically sparse Circa Two set, this is an intimate production that mostly uses direct address to engage the audience. Sue Rider’s choice to use scene and costume changes is enhanced through the addition of lively Beethoven sonatas recorded by Juliet Ayre and Richard Mapp and straightforward lighting (design by Giles Burton) that keep the changes interesting.

For 75 minutes of delightful entertainment, you can’t go far wrong with The Bicycle and the Butcher’s Daughter.

MILKOWEEN! | Regional News


Created by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin

Directed by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin and Dylan Hutton

BATS Theatre, 25th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Milk, meet Halloween. Halloween, meet milk. MILKOWEEN! is the fourth entry in the canon of Wellington’s wettest show. In this blood-curdling, milk-churning improvised comedy, Ruff as Gutz performers make up a spooky story on the fly while we, the audience, throw water balloons at them whenever we want something to change. Three of these balloons are filled with milk. When one of them explodes, the consequences are so dire, it is worth crying over spilt milk.

In the curious, chaotic case of MILKOWEEN!, audience suggestions result in a terrifying tale set in an abandoned aquarium, where the ghost of Justin Bieber roams the halls, intoning “baby, baby, baby” and terrorising the local residents. Namely, dead fish, two sharks named Bob and Nige, and some dude (Dylan Hutton) who’s been trapped in the closet for at least 30 minutes, if not 45. The sexiest teenagers in all the land – Chad the Jock (Emma Rattenbury), Casey the Cheerleader (Tadhg Mackay), Felicia the Goth (Salomé Grace), and Nigel the Nerd (Zoë Christall) – must unravel the great mystery of the Biebs, all while dodging deadly toenails and attempting to learn the Shark Alphabet (Sharkabet for short).

The MILK concept is fun and funny, wet and wild. As you can imagine, forcing performers to change tack faster than a speeding balloon could be a recipe for disaster. Improv is challenging enough under normal conditions! Dugdale-Martin and Hutton in particular are glorious at responding to our cues, and one magical moment between a brilliant Grace and design leader and technician Jacob Banks serves as the perfect example of concept execution. The quick changes score a high laughter rate overall, a testament to the talent of this troupe. The improvisors all commit to their stereotype designations and conceive impressive character arcs in a short space of time, all the while managing to tie together such extraneous elements as unexpected cousins, interspecies relationships, and aubergines into one cohesive story.

Milky, mercurial madness at its silliest, soggiest, and most delightful.

Stoic At Work | Regional News

Stoic At Work

Written by: Annie Lawson

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Being social is one of the reasons the human being has risen through the ranks to become (for better or worse) the number one animal on planet Earth. But it is also why there are so many jokes about why we hate Mondays. Because while we are very social and love each other’s company, we sometimes get on each other’s nerves as well.

Over 2000 years ago, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius knew this and wrote Meditations, a book centred around the philosophy of Stoicism: the idea that we cannot control someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, so why bother.

What a wonderful idea, and what a wonderful book Stoic at Work: Ancient Wisdom to Make Your Job a Bit Less Annoying is. The clever writing, super short chapters, and little illustrations by Oslo Davis come together to really make this a wonderful read. Each chapter is just a few pages long, but still manages to impart little nuggets of wisdom from back then that are still relevant today.

One of its biggest strengths is that it’s so relatable. We have all had a hard day at work, suffered through that annoying colleague’s watercooler rant, worked under that overbearing boss. The book succeeds because it’s essentially everyone’s life – at least everyone who has ever worked.

One of my favourite chapters is Don’t Shag The Boss (definitely words to live by), followed by Win Lotto and Resign Well. While funny, there is a ring of truth to each of these rules.

The only downside is that the length of Stoic at Work might make some people think it’s a book for children. I assure you it is absolutely not. It’s well written, humorous, and the accompanying pictures make it a joy to read.

If you see this, pick it up and keep it in your back pocket in case you find yourself in a sticky situation with a pesky colleague or, God forbid, your supervisor. It might just save your job or make your life that little bit easier.

Hoof | Regional News


Written by: Kerrin P. Sharpe

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Hoof is my favourite book I have reviewed for Regional News so far, yet also the book I understood the least. Kerrin P. Sharpe’s latest poetry collection features an eclectic mix of horses, celebrities, and small villages, tied together by beautiful writing throughout. The poetry is evocative in its descriptions and careful in its word choice, full of sentence fragments blending into each other and attention paid to small details. The metaphors and references left me lost several times and I relied upon the Notes section at the end for further explanations, but I liked the writing style so much I didn’t mind. It is how I would like to write if I were a poet!

The book is divided into three sections, each one introduced by a poem about a train that sets the tone as we travel through the chapter that follows. The first features nature and family, the second weddings and famous people, and the third colder climes like Russia, Greenland, and Antarctica.

Several of the poems in the collection have won or been commended for awards, with the ways of rain and te hau o te atua | the breath of heaven being personal favourites. It is easy to see why Sharpe is as widely published as she is.

Voice is given to those usually voiceless: workhorses, trees, and even wind turbines watching over a cemetery. There is a tone of environmentalism in several poems, with still describing deforestation and from letters to Johanna referencing oil spills and global warming. Reverence and respect are demanded for the world and all its inhabitants. The reader also learns about New Zealand’s history of Antarctic exploration. The final poems drop names of explorers, their dogs, and the places they visited like Osman the Great drops off the Terra Nova – a reference you will get if you read the book.

My main takeaway, however, was Sharpe’s way of using brief and specific detail to paint a picture of her world.

End Times | Regional News

End Times

Written by: Rebecca Priestley

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

End Times explores the recurring dread of the end of the world. It flips between New Zealand in the 80s and the early 2020s (set post-COVID, but pre-Cyclone Gabrielle).

End Times follows teenage girls Rebecca and Maz as they try to cope with knowing that the future is uncertain. With an uproar of political unrest, the friends find themselves in the punk scene during the Springbok Tour, the nuclear age, and the Homosexual Law Reform Act. However, they leave their punk youth behind as they step through the church door, rebelling the only way they could against their feminist mothers. This time is reflective as they test out “lukewarm Christianity” and explore the need to anchor themselves in something.

Nowadays, Maz is an engineer and Rebecca a science historian. Rebecca is worried about global warming and it’s all she can think about. The book is interspersed with facts about climate change, which are interesting at first. They provide insight into what damage can be done even with renewable energy and the risks we currently face, especially in New Zealand. There’s huge value in knowing the history of the land, what can happen to Earth, and the current state of things. However, the facts quickly become heavy-handed. Imbuing a personal storyline with journalistic intent and switching between the two can be jarring and narratively confusing.

Rebecca tries to find ties to the land, to the country, to the future. She tracks down her maternal family history while she also interviews locals about COVID and climate change. She wonders, when was the best time for humans? Back then, we knew our children would have brighter futures even if our own lives were difficult. Now that we have access to more information, we have better lives but must face the uncomfortable fact that the next generation will not.

End Times is a great resource and Rebecca Priestley has incredible insight into climate change and how it can impact us, but it does build anxiety without providing much hope or many solutions.

Living Big in a Tiny House | Regional News

Living Big in a Tiny House

Written by: Bryce Langston

Potton & Burton

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Bryce Langston has travelled Aotearoa and the world to see just how big you can live when living tiny. He documents the many tiny houses he has explored, including those he has lived in with his partner. In Living Big in a Tiny House, each home is a unique expression of choosing to live differently, and it’s interesting to learn about them and their owners with Langston’s insights peppered in along the way.

Whether it is off grid, perched at the back of someone’s yard, nestled in a forest, or hidden from curious eyes, the tiny homes featured all look glorious.

Living Big in a Tiny House is eye-opening. Some of the houses are so intricate, featuring outstanding design elements and extraordinary ways of using space.

Langston describes a World War II-era carriage converted into a tiny house cabin in Colorado, USA as quirky and filled with recycled goodies. By recycled goodies, he means the gorgeous bottle wall, backlit by LED lighting and made up of antique airline mini-bar bottles from the 1950s and 60s. It’s stunning for its rustic charm alone, and more so considering its history and beginnings. With a high roof, glass ceilings, and scalloped mermaid tiles in the bathroom, it’s a beautiful montage of history blending with contemporary art. It’s a stark contrast to the tiny home Serenity, which is equally fabulous but on the larger side of tiny: light, airy, and spacious. Langston describes it as having a Hampton-style aesthetic.

One tiny house occupant has made a home away from home in shipping container bliss, nestled away in a forest high in the Coromandel Ranges. It’s a modern, industrial-looking, off-grid sanctuary.

There are certainly considerations to make when living tiny: the functionality of space, being intentional about the material possessions you need, and ultimately, whether tiny house living is actually for you.

I really enjoyed this book – and dreaming about my own tiny house should I ever become a minimalist, where I could live a little less ordinary with a lot less stuff.

Double Dipping: Queen & Friend and The Mechanical | Regional News

Double Dipping: Queen & Friend and The Mechanical

Produced by: New Zealand Improv Festival

BATS Theatre, 11th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Two shows for the price of one. What could be better this New Zealand Improv Festival? With just 30 minutes each, Queen & Friend and The Mechanical both manage to pull off a fully formed narrative with multiple characters based on suggestions from an excitable audience.

Using the Slido app, Queen & Friend (Imogen Behan-Willett and Mark Grimes), assisted by tech master Tristram Domican, use the audience’s selection of an inspiring location as their starting point. It’s Gore, South Island. Using clear mime skills, they quickly establish that we’re in Gore’s lone, nameless pub with its only two regular customers. Soon a third character, that of the publican, is introduced. Then the audience gets to pick whose story we follow next, choose-your-own-adventure style. The publican is the popular favourite and we’re off home to his wife, endless schnitzel-making, career angst, and emotionally stunted son.

Creating three characters per scene gives Queen & Friend its distinctiveness. Behan-Willett and Grimes deftly flit between their roles using simple physical moves that are easy to follow and fun to watch, alongside a speedily developed and entertaining storyline.

Next up is The Mechanical (Rik Brown), otherwise known as Tom Snout, the one performer left after his A Midsummer Night’s Dream play-within-a-play castmates have deserted. It soon becomes clear that Brown’s improv skills are a cut above the usual when he invites the audience to give him eight mostly random words that he will weave into a story. What follows – The Tale of the Gross Plumber – is a masterpiece of on-the-spot Shakespearean cleverness of which the Bard himself would have been proud. Weaving in multiple characters and three storylines (the fixing of a leak in the castle kitchen, a homosexual near-encounter on a snow slope, and an onion addiction), Brown uses existentialist mock-Elizabethan language and brilliant physical theatre throughout to take us on a complex and well-rounded story arc. As always with improv, I’m in awe of his instant creativity.

Ruthless! The Musical | Regional News

Ruthless! The Musical

Presented by: Kauri Theatre Company

Directed by: Bonita Edwards

Gryphon Theatre, 11th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Oh, how I would kill to watch this show again. With music by Marvin Laird and book and lyrics by Joel Paley, Ruthless! is a hilarious musical about a daughter who would do literally anything to get the lead role. Maybe even murder...

With such a talented, professional cast that commits wholeheartedly to the performance, this show is bound to make you laugh. Every quip corrals the audience into collective laughter.

One of the most hilarious moments in the show is Lita Encore’s (Jane Keller) humorous number I Hate Musicals. It’s nice to watch a fellow theatre critic singing on stage. However, I shudder to think how ruthless Lita Encore would be if she ever got the chance to review this show, because Ruthless! deserves all the praise it can get.

I thoroughly love musical director Sarah Lineham’s portrayal of Judy Denmark. Her performance puts me in mind of Rachel Bloom and Jane Krakowski. It is extremely satisfying to see her subtly portray Judy’s character development through the show. Lineham has excellent control of her voice. In saying that, all the performers do, with each musical number a thrill to listen to. It is furthermore impressive that there are no mics used in the show and each performer is able to project their voice so skilfully.  

Addy Stone as Tina is bursting with talent and certainly has a future on the stage (just don’t cast her as an understudy… seriously). I would love to see the other Tinas; I have no doubt they are equally as talented and wish them the best for the season. It’s great to see young actors supporting the cast.

The set (Rob Romijn) is a perfect backdrop for the show. The two different sets between acts cleverly represent the characters’ development. Costumes managed by Cathy Lee epitomise each of the characters and give them even more depth.

This side-splitting show about mother-daughter relationships and the ambitions that can get in the way is not to be missed. You would be ruthless to skip out on this wickedly funny musical.

Here’s a Thing! | Regional News

Here’s a Thing!

Presented by: New Zealand Improv Festival

BATS Theatre, 10th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Here’s a Thing! presents a hand-picked cast of directors from across the New Zealand Improv Festival to make improvised mayhem, magic, and madness together onstage.

The great thing about reviewing improv is that it’s not possible for me to drop any spoilers. It’s made up on the spot and no two shows can ever be the same. If it’s done by sharp, funny, agile performers who work as a team, it can be one of the best and most bizarre things you’ll ever see. A real communal experience, where everything is an inside joke between the cast and the audience.

That’s just what we have here. Together with Matt Powell and Jim Fishwick as hosts, performers Christine Brooks, Katherine Weaver, Bec Stubbing, Matt Armstrong, and Noelle Greenwood bring us the love story of a frog and a caterpillar, the fatal rivalry of a barbershop and a barbershop quartet, the jams of a heavy metal band called Clockwork Banana, Goldilocks and the great Porridgegate scandal, the journey of a blunt arrow across the French-English Channel into a king’s right eye in 1063, and other Things. Each director possesses an innate sense of comedic timing, cutting almost every scene at the perfect moment. Not too short, not too long, just right.

With Matt Hutton creating a live soundtrack on keys and D’ Woods as lighting operator, the most jaw-dropping scene sees Powell and Fishwick invent and perform a Shakespearean ballad about space exploration in real-time. Another highlight for me is when Brooks prompts the audience for a process that happens in nature and I call out “Photosynthesis!” without realising I don’t actually know what it means. When asked to elaborate, I stutter “Sun!” and “Plants!” before a kindly audience member comes to my rescue. What follows is exactly what you’d expect from a photosynthesis prompt: a scene set in a world where everything is good and right, where lattes no longer cost $15 and the patriarchy is dead. Ahh, the joys of improv.  

Here’s a thing: if you want to laugh till your belly hurts, watch wizards weave worlds out of thin air, and be a part of something special, inimitable, then catch as many NZIF shows as you can.