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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.

The China Tightrope | Regional News

The China Tightrope

Written by: Sam Sachdeva

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

“Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” A quote originally attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte has now taken on greater meaning in 2023.

Starting in 1972 when the New Zealand Government and the China Communist Party (CCP) formally opened diplomatic ties, our country has had to increasingly step carefully between extracting the best possible outcomes from this relationship without incurring the wrath of an increasingly powerful entity.

A curious glance at some news stories might give you a rather jaded view of China and how it interacts with the world at large. However, nothing is ever that simple, and in fact, there are some historical reasons that help to explain what’s happening here.

For me, the most interesting part of Sam Sachdeva’s The China Tightrope was finding out about China’s ‘century of shame’, a period in their history where they felt they were at the mercy of much larger countries. That so-called shame may play a pivotal role in the country’s modern-day mindset – the idea that they will no longer take a back seat to anyone.

Sachdeva’s background in journalism shines through. He does not take sides, nor is he pointing fingers, and there are no villains. Instead, The China Tightrope gives readers the facts, letting them know there’s more to this relationship than what we are told.

As China gains more power and comes into more conflict with others as a result of that power, a better understanding of the country and its government is essential. Think of this book as a brief field guide on the relationship that China and New Zealand enjoy in the 21st century.

If you see it, I implore you to pick it up. While our relationship politics are anything but simple, The China Tightrope is a surprisingly quick and easy read that will give you a much better understanding of this new world we find ourselves in. Essential reading.

Middle Youth | Regional News

Middle Youth

Written by: Morgan Bach

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Reading Middle Youth by Morgan Bach has me wondering at the life experiences of a poet concerned with, yet bleakly cynical about, the fate of Earth and all upon it. My wondering is probably naïve: Bach’s views as expressed here are backed by sad facts we are being forced to face.

My reading, therefore, is accompanied by head shakes of reluctant agreement. As always, recognition of a personal kind strikes a chord. Moderate Fantasy Threat is an example. “Sifting my skin through the millions of men / afloat in the city” she writes in a poem referencing London. She is “prostrated at the altar of boredom” as “sex has become / an administrative task”. A movie of her life, she says, would receive the same rating as the title of this poem.

Date line also recalls London, and it’s a bleak recall. The city features Dreadnought Walk, sexual assaults in a Wapping alleyway and at Canary Wharf. World weariness has become a theme. “Another date, another line / You found yourself crossing / You walk through churches you don’t believe in / with your body / you don’t believe in.” I’m feeling for the writer, whether she intends it or not.

It’s no surprise then to read cosmos, a lengthy five-part poem, and find the writer has been reading theories about the universe’s end. “In Iceland, people have gathered / to watch fire pouring from a fissure”. Such stark imagery is all the more striking because it’s rooted in reality. And I cheer when the sometimes-obscure nature of the imagery that characterises this collection is relieved by this quote: “We know our luck / is borrowed / from our future selves”.

Yet more stark is the eponymous Middle Youth, in which our writer, almost 40, feels “I can never say to my friends with newborns / I am afraid”.

Morgan Bach does us a huge service with this frank expression of her vision. We need more of such unvarnished truth-telling.

Game On: Glitched  | Regional News

Game On: Glitched

Written by: Emily Snape

EK Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

On the back cover of Game On: Glitched, author Emily Snape says she finds lots of inspiration for her books from her three children. It certainly shows. Their influence is apparent in the absurdity of some of the storylines, like solving riddles while painstakingly dodging woolly mammoths and other fabulously out-there scenarios that will pique a child’s interest and appeal to their youthful humour. In Glitched, Snape continues her winning formula from the first book in the Game On series, Shrinkle.

Finding a discarded phone in the recycling bin might be a bonus to most kids, but for brothers Liam and Max, when it comes from the recycling bin of their blue-haired eccentric neighbour and suspected ex-CIA employee, Ms McBoob, then it has the potential to lead them into all sorts of trouble... as they soon find out.

The fun begins when they discover a mysterious app, appropriately named Glitched. Like a red rag to a bull, the time-travelling app – which will see the boys unceremoniously thrown into a world of different time periods where dangers are rife – is too hard to resist.

The app levels (chapters) get more and more adsurd as they are thrust into competing time periods of the Middle Ages, walking amongst the Romans, deciphering Latin, and hoping not to have to use latrinas or have their heads bitten off by a ravenous Neovenator (a genus of carcharodontosaurian theropod dinosaur, according to Wikipedia). Solving riddles will be the brothers’ only redemption and finding a way out will be fraught with all manner of icky things.

It’s the history lesson the boys never knew they needed, and a nail-biting race against the clock to get back home before their phone battery dies. Game On: Glitched is action-packed and not for the faint-hearted.

The 10-year-old critic of the house was most impressed, especially with two brothers going rogue, where landing in a Roman arena at the mercy of wild boars is just one of the many terrifying feats to escape.