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Dr Drama Makes a Musical | Regional News

Dr Drama Makes a Musical

Written by: James Wenley

BATS Theatre, The Dome, 19th September 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

The third in the Dr Drama trilogy, Dr Drama Makes a Musical explores what makes musicals so popular and what they have to say about society. The show is thought-provoking, educational, and immensely entertaining.

The back wall of the stage is a “shrine to musical theatre”, decorated with programmes and merchandise from musicals that Dr Drama (James Wenley) has seen or been in, which he interacts with throughout. Before the performance begins, well-known songs from musicals are played, and audience members excitedly point out productions they recognise. This environment of discussion is enhanced as a projected screen is used to display surtitles, photos, and take comments and polls from the audience.

Wenley walks us through many typical conventions of a musical, from an opening number and an ‘I want’ song, to the prevalence of heteronormative narratives. These conventions are deconstructed as Wenley discusses – and sings about – their purpose, meaning, and flaws. Despite this critical and academic lens on musicals, the entertainment and humour of the show never falter. The ‘Villain song’ is a particular hit, with Wenley’s confident singing of the catchy tune propelling the point forward, investigating where musicals have historically supported negative or discriminatory ideas in society. While one dance sequence (choreography by Brigitte Knight and assistant choreography by Elora Battah) leans into this pessimism in a way that becomes a little self-congratulatory, overall, the show conveys a galvanising and optimistic message. Phoebe Caldeiro’s original score, which she performs live, captures the key elements of musicals with humour and heart, but is let down at times by fuzzy microphones and inaccurate vocal placement.

Fans of musicals will spot obvious callouts to large-scale productions (think shiny sequined jackets and hats), with the slick lighting design (Scott Maxim and designer/operator Michael Goodwin) supporting these moments. Colours of the French flag flash when Les Misérables is referenced, and the stage is bathed in yellow as Wenley strikes the iconic pose from Hamilton.

Dr Drama Makes a Musical gives us a newfound appreciation for musicals as an artform that makes people feel connected. Wenley’s vulnerable recounting of personal experiences, coupled with audience engagement in a singalong closing number, imparts an inspirational message about the power of art.

Loops | Regional News


Presented by: Company Hiraeth

Directed by: Brynne Tasker-Poland

Hannah Playhouse, 15th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The concept of Loops is deceptively simple – two aerial artists go through a repeated series of movements accompanied by live synthesised music as a commentary on the frustrations and repercussions of burnout. However, to describe it this way is to completely fail to do justice to the mesmerising and immersive quality of this standout production.

Having won or been nominated for several professional theatre awards when it premiered in 2022, Loops has deservedly been singled out for high praise. The two aerial performers, Leanne Jenkins and Fran Muir, are beasts (director Tasker-Poland’s words to me after the show) on the loop and rope. Their mostly asynchronous movements are slick and skilful, even when showing the mental and physical breakdown that comes with burnout. When they do come together, they display touching moments of silently supportive interaction with subtle acting.

Benny Jennings’ live sound design and operation is a work of art. Starting with a soothing meditation tape of relaxation exercises and gentle music, the calming voice progressively becomes less distinct as the music gets louder and more frantic, culminating in screeching discordant notes and, finally, the quiet hiss of static as the performers drop spent to the floor.

Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting does unobtrusive but excellently supportive work to aid the narrative. White lights grow progressively stronger and harsher as the piece progresses, with a soft blue wash from backstage.

I love Tasker-Poland’s meta idea of loops being repeated throughout the production. The performers coil ropes as they perform their routine over and over, a mess of cassette tape circles around the stage and even creeps out onto the stairs, the main musical theme loops around as it increases in intensity.

This repetition is hypnotic and what drew me so readily into the world of the production. By the end I felt as strung out as the performers. As my friend said when the lights came up, “I’m exhausted!” How many other productions can claim to do that? Wow, just wow.

Ātete | Resistance | ചെറുത്തുനില്പ് | Regional News

Ātete | Resistance | ചെറുത്തുനില്പ്

Created by: Swaroopa Prameela Unni

BATS Theatre, 13th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

One in four women in Aotearoa New Zealand experience family violence. Women of Indian ethnicity are part of this statistic but, the production notes state, little is known about the challenges they face, not only from the patriarchal culture but also the shame and stigma. These women’s bodies become a site for violence in many forms – emotional, physical, financial, and sexual. On as part of the TAHI Festival, this solo dance-theatre piece explores a woman’s right to bodily autonomy within the Indian community of New Zealand through a few spoken words, many and complex dance movements, and digital media.

Ātete is choreographed in Mohiniyattam, a South Indian dance form known for its portrayal of ideal womanhood. Swaroopa Prameela Unni is elegantly expressive in her body and especially her face as she turns this dance form on its head to present stories of women growing up within Indian culture and the violence enforced on them behind the façade of respectability.

“Get married, everything will be OK”, says Unni at the start, but what unfurls through her carefully choreographed movements is anything but. Assisted by three bowls of body paint  ̶  first red, then green, and finally and violently white  ̶  she dances stories of abuse and women’s responses to it. I wish I knew more about Indian dance and the meanings of its hand gestures to appreciate the full subtleties of these stories. However, it’s clear what’s intended. If any doubt remains, the final set of projected slides makes clear that a global movement is pushing back against gender-based violence, even in India itself.

The music (Jyolsna Panicker and Sandeep Pillai) is melodic and captivating as Unni shows us what men expect from their perfect wives, then sinister and dark as we see what happens behind closed doors. The lighting (Stephen Kilroy) is similarly contrasted as the stage floods with the colours of the paint Unni is applying to herself during the scenes of harm.

Ātete is a powerful, yet hopeful, physical work of beauty and savagery.

Asteroid City | Regional News

Asteroid City


105 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A technicolour 1950s dreamland set in the United States desert, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City gives us everything we crave from his signature style including witty, stunted dialogue, endearing awkwardness, zesty production design, a star-studded cast, eccentric characters, and offbeat humour.

A frame within a frame, Asteroid City opens to an Academy-ratio black-and-white TV show with an unnamed host (Bryan Cranston) that centres on the playwright Conrad Earp’s (Edward Norton) play Asteroid City. The story expertly bounces between The Twilight Zone-esque show, the behind-the-scenes rehearsal of the play, and the pastel-paradise that is the dramatisation of said play. Asteroid City the play takes place in a tiny desert town famous for the asteroid that landed there 3000 years earlier. Tiny mushroom clouds, result of nearby atomic testing, punctuate the horizon as a troupe of self-proclaimed “brainiacs” arrive for the annual Junior Stargazer Convention with their parents. Among them are protagonist and war photojournalist Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), his father-in-law (Tom Hanks), actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), musical cowboy Montana (Rupert Friend), and school children chaperoned by June Douglas (Maya Hawke). What ensues is classic Anderson mayhem and tomfoolery.

Asteroid City is a visual feast. A testament to the brilliant trifecta that comprises director Anderson, production designer Adam Stockhausen, and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, it continues to deliver the harlequin, retro aesthetic we’ve come to know and love. In this case it is perfectly, beautifully, artificially twee and camp.

Written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, the script appears in equal measure clever and quirky. It continues Anderson’s exploration of grief, loss of innocence, and dysfunctional families, seeming to work towards a grand statement but never quite getting there. I have loved Anderson since my first encounter with his eccentric follies, finding them consummate expressions of the magical realism genre I’ve always gravitated towards. But Asteroid City is, in my opinion, devoid of the humanness that makes Anderson’s films so beautiful. It is messy, but rehearsed and clinical, leaving no room for the genuine connection between characters and viewers that typically makes his magical worlds so human.

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


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


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.