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Signs of Life | Regional News

Signs of Life

Written by: Amy Head

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Signs of Life is a short but impactful modern novel that dips into the lives of inhabitants of Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Our protagonist Flick leaves university for a job that seems to be going nowhere while her ‘mostly ex’ is thriving. Her mother Louise has been successful financially but struggles to connect with the rest of her family. Tony is declared dead and has to go through a complex administration process to prove he is standing right there in Work and Income. It is essentially a series of observant character portraits that are frank and realistic but steer clear of unnecessary trauma baiting in the face of disaster.

The book is summed up best by its final line from Amy Head’s acknowledgements. She recognises the people in Ōtautahi Christchurch “who overcame so much simply to continue with their lives”. For all the setbacks the characters experience, they come out exactly where they were before. Flick quits her studies at the beginning and in the final chapter is only starting to consider returning. This means there isn’t much of a traditional narrative arc or character development, so for fans of tightly plotted, exciting mystery novels, this may not be the story for you. But for the refreshing experience of seeing fictional people living not as parts of a plot but like you and those around you, through events that New Zealanders have been affected by, I highly recommend giving this a read.

Flick describes a poster that hangs on her wall at work of artist Yves Klein leaping from a building: “She liked the image because it arrested her. To avoid seeing a sprawl of fractured limbs on the concrete below, she had to remain suspended in that moment, in the air with him.” To read this book is to remain suspended in so many little moments, those that are life-changing and those that represent an average Tuesday, and understand that they are all part of what makes us human.

A Haunting in Venice | Regional News

A Haunting in Venice


103 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

If you’re looking for the perfect spooky-season flick, you’ve found it. A Haunting in Venice ventures into all kinds of dark, dank corners, scary séances, and haunted happenings.

Detective Poirot has retired. He lives in Venice, unbothered – his bodyguard, ex-police officer Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio), sees to that. When his friend, mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) turns up on his doorstep, he reluctantly attends a séance with her in the dilapidated – and supposedly cursed – palazzo of Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). Rowena has employed a medium (Michelle Yeoh) to commune with her dead daughter. What ensues is a twisted, tragic, and titillating tale of terror and tears.

Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as director, producer, and the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot for a third time in A Haunting in Venice. Based on British author Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, the film follows Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, though personally, I think this one is the best so far.

Engaging Hollywood whodunnit horrors are few and far between these days. When done right, they are the perfect balance of fun and profundity. A Haunting in Venice is particularly introspective, with writer Michael Green’s screenplay both clever and affecting. Though there are a few jump scares, what is truly haunting is the trauma the characters grapple with, each one wrestling different demons.

Though I enjoyed A Haunting in Venice immensely, I do have a bit of a bone to pick – and not with the book, which was set in England. Why is it that when movies are set in a ‘foreign’ country, very little energy is dedicated to accuracy? For example, Italy doesn’t celebrate Halloween and Venice is famous for Carnevale, which is a similar vibe. Also, only one character is Italian, a supporting role, despite the story taking place in Italy. Italian names, words, and pronunciations are, more often than not, incorrect. This is a movie with a budget of $60 million, made by some of the brightest minds in the industry. In future, I hope to see major productions doing better research, but for that to happen we’ll all have to hold them more accountable.

The Importance of Being Earnest | Regional News

The Importance of Being Earnest

Written by: Oscar Wilde

Directed by: Jonathan Price

Circa Theatre, 7th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The challenge in producing any classic play that potential audience members may have seen before, perhaps more than once, is to do something fresh and different. Circa Theatre’s latest take on this well-known Victorian script is wild (pardon the pun) but it works wonderfully.

Fully embracing the duplicity of its denizens, Jonathan Price’s production twists tradition by cross-casting two of its main characters, Algernon Moncrieff and Gwendolen Fairfax. Isobel MacKinnon makes a lively and likeable Algie and her physical, sisterly joshing with Jack Worthing (Andrew Paterson) nails the core of their relationship long before they know they are family. Ryan Carter makes the character of Gwendolen sharply snobbish and gives her instant friendship with Cecily Cardew (a charming Dawn Cheong) a whole new and contemporary dynamic.

Irene Wood as Lady Bracknell is trousered and terrifying with her crystal-topped cane, and her impeccable comic timing gets some of the biggest laughs of the night. Peter Hambleton’s unctuous and overly sexed Reverend Chasuble is another delight as he excessively enunciates and makes the word ‘pagan’ sound deliciously dirty. Anne Chamberlain provides entertaining support as the uptight Miss Prism and as the man himself, Paterson gives joyous energy to the Bunburying Jack/Ernest.

Mention must also go to a scene-stealing Rebecca Parker, who double-dips as underlings Lane and Merriman and drives the best scene change I’ve ever watched as she sweeps aside the cascade of pink roses that litter the set and launches into the most unexpected song.

The startlingly effective production design (Meg Rollandi) is as effervescent as the acting with bright colours, lush fabrics, and a three-quarters, intimate space peppered with frequently relocated chairs. It allows the actors to move with ease and constantly break the fourth wall to suck the audience into their world.

This Earnest is surprisingly sassy, sexy, sunny, spirited, and just a bit silly as it grabs Wilde’s warm wit and waves it like a rainbow flag at a Pride parade.

Pharaoh | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 7th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Marc Taddei, in his pre-concert talk, called this concert a variety show. Despite his programming being less coherent than usual and almost too full, the concert contained wonderful works and great performances.

The night belonged to John Psathas, now at the end of four years as Orchestra Wellington’s Composer-in-Residence. The performance of his Pharaoh Concerto for Solo Timpani and Orchestra was a fitting celebration. The work is fierce, pregnant with impending menace, a comment on our troubled world and “human gods who live above the law”, to quote Psathas. Soloist Tomomi Nozaki from Japan was stunningly virtuosic, wielding her mallets across five timpani constantly, a whirl of movement and rhythm that was amazing both to hear and see.

Briar Prastiti, a singer-songwriter whom Psathas mentors, arranged her song White, Red, Black for voice and orchestra. The orchestration was lush and arresting and Prastiti’s voice strong and attractive. Full appreciation of the work was hampered, alas, by the words not being able to be heard distinctly; a question of singer/orchestra balance, I think.

The orchestra opened the concert with a satisfying performance of Anton Webern’s Passacaglia. They made the most of the lush and sensual full-orchestra sections and the beautifully transparent sections where small numbers of players played quasi-chamber music. 

The Orpheus Choir and Orchestra Wellington, in another great partnership, presented Mozart’s early work Thamos, King of Egypt. Written as incidental music to a play, it is little known because of the play’s convoluted and incoherent plot. The orchestral interludes were wonderfully Mozartian in operatic mode. The choruses were delivered with a fine range of dynamics and precise singing.

And opening the concert, the annual appearance of the Arohanui Strings, young (some very young) Wellington musicians, charmed the audience. They played Manta by Gemma Peacocke, which wonderfully evoked the movement of manta rays. The cellists caught my eye: the young ones confidently matching the professionals, bow stroke by bow stroke.  

Uproar | Regional News



110 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Stomp your feet, clap your hands, make some noise – it’s time to cause an Uproar. The newest Kiwi film joining an already extensive and impressive legacy of heartwarming and inspiring stories, Uproar, directed by Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch, zooms in on one of Aotearoa's most tumultuous moments in recent history: the 1981 South African rugby tour to New Zealand, but through the eyes of a highschooler.

17-year-old Josh Waaka (Julian Dennison) has actively sat on the fence his whole life, but for one reason or another, he’s being forced to take a stand for himself, for his whānau, and for the future. Dennison himself describes Uproar as a story about a boy who is “too white for the marae, but too brown for where he is”, which happens to be an all-boys school in Dunedin. With the country set ablaze and divided by protests against South African apartheid and for Māori rights, Josh finds himself torn between keeping his head down to help his family or stand up for what’s right. Meanwhile he jostles his dream of becoming an actor – fuelled by his teacher (Rhys Darby) – and pressure from his mother (Minnie Driver) and brother (James Rolleston) to play on the school rugby team.

A story about finding yourself, your voice, and your place in the world, Uproar draws a beautiful parallel between the tumultuous state of New Zealand and the storm raging within Josh. He may not show it, but inside, Josh is just as angry and confused as Kiwis across the nation. There are some truly beautiful moments of introspection and character development and some heavy-hitting lines. Had Uproar pared down its montages and perhaps taken advantage of the turning point when the tension was at its most compelling, I think it could have hit home just that much harder. Nevertheless, the story has a rewarding and heartwarming arc that is both eye-opening and inspiring.

Having attended an early screening alongside cast, crew, and whānau, my favourite moment of the evening was seeing the audience take a stand after the fade-to-black and perform a haka with unbridled pride and joy.

Rangikura | Regional News


Written by: Tayi Tibble

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Tayi Tibble’s strong narrative voice explodes from the page right from the beginning of Rangikura. This is Tibble’s second book of poetry, her first being the award-winning Poūkahangatus, and having read reviews of both I have yet to see anyone unimpressed by her poetic prowess. On the surface level, Rangikura covers topics like womanhood, mythology, relationships, and pop culture. Looking deeper, it is a window into a worldview.

Reading the poems, you see the world through the eyes of a girl pursuing “an endless summer” (according to the blurb), growing up deeply connected to her ancestors but navigating the social politics and temptations of the modern world. In Hine-nui-te-pō and Te Araroa, Tibble explores the unique relationships a girl has with her mother, with lines like “reconciling what it means to be her daughter” and “I’m air just like my mother”. Lil Mermaidz and Takakino cover close female friendships, girls who swim together as “Tangaroa’s daughters” and girls who make a blood pact together in a gutter. The 17-part Little explores the emotional complexity of a relationship with an older man.

Kehua / I used to want to be the bait that caught Te Ika was a standout poem for me, blending Māori mythology and the Chinese zodiac as the young narrator tries to have fun and find some agency for herself by pulling over men in the suburbs. “Full of confidence and concoctions”, she walks around the streets with friends, enjoying the chase yet ultimately learning “I don’t have to kill a rabbit to know it has a heart”.

The collection is not perfect – some of the early poems feel overly similar to each other, and I would have liked to have been more surprised by unusual turns of phrase or wordplay. For readers unfamiliar with Māori culture, it might require a bit of Googling. But ultimately, it is well worth the read. For a masterclass in strength, tone, and blending the ancient with the modern, you can look no further than Rangikura.

Wavewalker: Breaking Free   | Regional News

Wavewalker: Breaking Free  

Written by: Suzanne Heywood


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

While most people daydream about sailing off into the great unknown, few of us go out and actually do it. In 1976 at just seven years old, Suzanne Heywood along with her parents and younger brother did just that, living an existence few of us could imagine. Wavewalker: Breaking Free is the story of how a journey following one of Captain Cook’s routes to the other side of the world turned into a decade-long struggle – sometimes a life-threatening one.

As a child, Suzanne was wedged between her father’s “benevolent dictatorship”, as he called it, and what she wanted. More times than not, she found herself at the mercy of his whims and was forced to put aside her own growing ambitions. As time went on, Suzanne became lonelier and more isolated, yearning to be just like any other person her age. Finally, at 17, she broke free and began studying at Oxford University in England.

While life at sea had its hazards and pitfalls, there were lighthearted moments as well – like a supposed-marriage gift of a chicken from a would-be suiter, or her mother’s brief but rather cringey sex talk. Heywood’s writing captures her adventures perfectly and made me feel as if I was there, sailing along with her. 

After finishing the book, I was left with so many questions. Why did her father decide to undertake such a perilous journey with two small children in tow? Why did a trip that was meant to last three years go on for 10? For me that is the mark of a good book, because it left me wanting more and stayed with me long after I finished reading. Wavewalker: Breaking Free shows that even in the strangest conditions you might find yourself in, there is still a way to move forward and achieve your goals.  

I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who has ever daydreamed about having adventures on the high seas.

Liveability | Regional News


Written by: Claire Orchard

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The word ‘sustainability’, with its myriad connotations, was the mantra for the Helen Clark years. ‘Relatability’ has come into fashion recently. And now we have ‘liveability’ – as interpreted by poet Claire Orchard. I’m not a fan of one-word titles, but this one – Liveability – offers the writer an opportunity to exploit the term to the full in the interests of poetic recollection.

For a bunch of recollections it largely is. There are worse things recalls “Christmas day in a four berth caravan”, Uncle Jim and his record player, Grease and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Then we have Summers were longer then with “the warm, rough concrete / of the netball court / rising up to kiss me hard”. Nostalgia pervades other poems in the form of car aerials, skivvies, long drops, tree houses, and derelict one-room schoolhouses. I was particularly touched by Where duty lies with its celebration of a Sunday school award for “punctual attendance and good behaviour”. Ah, those were the days.

The physical aspects of liveability emerge in later poems. December describes a longing for Vancouver, despite or perhaps because of the cold. Railway hotel comfort and nostalgia is wistfully recollected in Heartland – there’s an original kauri staircase and double-hung windows. And the book’s cover is surely referenced in Room, where we are given cause to envy fine furnishings and careful lighting.

Results sorted by relevance is an exercise in the academic and the esoteric. It’s composed from selected titles held by Massey University’s library, confesses the poet. Is this what a writer resorts to when desperate for a subject to inspire? Orchard is certainly stretching her theme here.

All is forgiven by the two poems I liked best. After the wistfulness that characterises much of this collection, we get a welcome modern woman’s complaint about the man in her life. You could sell your lyrics will make some of us sigh with recognition at the final line: “You might get out of here alive. You can drive the getaway car.” And Chipping away since 1893 says it all.

The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle | Regional News

The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle

Written by: Jessica Jayne Webb

Pegasus Publishers

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle by Jessica Jayne Webb is a fantastical tale where nothing is quite what it seems.

Agatha Wilderfort’s world implodes with the sudden death of her aunt and subsequent inheritance of the looming, mysterious, and dilapidated Wilderfort Castle, where she instantly becomes lady of the house, master of the castle, and at first, most unwittingly, the knower of nothing.

Quite unprepared for the change – from being the hired help to the one responsible for hiring – Agatha hires several workmen and an assistant, all previous employees of her aunt. They soon become her allies in a world that gets more bizarre by the minute; one driven by immortals, daemons, and beings possessing special powers. She is immediately drawn to Charles, sensing a deep connection, and an all-encompassing desire to be together ensues.

Riled by the haughty arrival of Lord Caspian at her door, Agatha is at first repelled by his aura – he has seemingly (but quite impossibly) been a thorn in the side of many generations of Wilderforts before her. His mere presence alone threatens her inheritance, and soon her life, as Wilderfort Castle slowly but surely gives up its secrets of another world.

As I read The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle, I found myself wanting to re-write quite a few sentences in my head. Mostly because of the author’s tendency to describe what might have easily been understood by inference. For me this was a little distracting, as was the occasional jump in tense. Despite this, Jessica Jayne Webb developed her characters well, giving each one unique characteristics and special powers. They lend the entertainment and suspense crucial to bringing this hidden world and fight for survival to life.

Filled with gripping characters that are a little more interesting than your standard fare, often common in fantasy novels, The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle has enough mystery and suspense to be a wondrous read. Not to be a killjoy here, but the ending is not tied up in a neat bow, shall we say. I’m hoping there is a book two lined up.