Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


End of Summer Time | Regional News

End of Summer Time

Written by: Roger Hall

Directed by: Ross Jolly

Circa Theatre, 4th May 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The third play featuring dairy farmer Dickie Hart, this is Roger Hall’s ode to a generation of staunch Kiwi blokes who will be gone in the next couple of decades. It’s 2023 and Dickie (Gavin Rutherford) is looking back on his and his wife’s relocation to an apartment on Auckland’s North Shore four years earlier to be near their sons. It’s all body corporate politics, flirtations and friendships with new neighbours, and secret trips to McDonald’s with his vegan grandchildren until COVID strikes and Dickie’s life takes a different tack.

The first half is entertaining but light as Dickie adjusts to his new world away from 5am calls for milking. At interval, I’m left wondering if this is just a pleasant comedy about an irascible but loveable character or whether something more meaningful will eventuate. The payoff comes early in the second half as, with what has become a typically unsentimental delivery, Dickie reveals a shocking detail. The humour then takes a much darker and more powerful turn and by the end, it feels like we’ve been allowed a privileged window into Dickie’s life and shared in both his grief and joy.

Right from his opening dad dance to the introductory music, Rutherford is on fire as Dickie. His performance is utterly engaging from go to whoa. He’s worked with director Ross Jolly more than a few times and it shows in what is a beautifully sculpted piece of character work. Building even more layers into Dickie’s persona than there are in Hall’s well-wrought script, Rutherford’s movements, voices, and expressions add colour and detail to Dickie’s inner world so that we know what he’s thinking and feeling even when he doesn’t say it.

The lovely set (Andrew Foster), creative lighting (Marcus McShane), and occasional sound and AV design (Piper Kilmister) enhance Rutherford’s performance with a touch of technical magic.

This may be the end of Dickie’s summer, but something tells me Roger Hall has more seasons left to his work.

The Fall Guy | Regional News

The Fall Guy


126 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I chose to see The Fall Guy at a time when cinemas were only screening overdone sequels and the odd feature about the depressing state of our world politics. It turned out to be a very fun, feel-good, action-packed rom com that pleasantly surprised me.

In this David Leitch flick loosely based on the 1980s series of the same name, stuntman Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) has recently lost his career and girlfriend Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) following a life-threatening accident on set. He jumps at the opportunity to reclaim his position as stuntman for star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and win back his lost love, who happens to be directing the movie. When he touches down in Sydney for the shoot, what ensues is a wild goose chase to track down the missing lead actor while continuing to show up at his day job.

The Fall Guy is a nod to the unsung heroes of Hollywood. Named stunt designer rather than stunt coordinator, Chris O’Hara is recognised for his craft’s artistry in the credits, not to mention the premise underscoring the irony of acknowledging only the big wigs on a production. As the credits roll, actual stunt footage is screened that includes a record-breaking vehicular cannon roll.

The Fall Guy won’t win any prizes, namely because stunt people are not recognised at award ceremonies and the plot leaves a lot to be desired, but the actors have great chemistry, the script (Drew Pearce) has its fair share of laughs, the soundtrack (Dominic Lewis) is banging, and by golly, practical moviemaking finally makes a comeback.

CGI changed the way movies are made. I know the work involved, but digital effects take away some of the industry’s heart. What always makes me stare wide-eyed up at the screen is the sorcery of practical effects. There’s a reason cult classics have withstood the test of time – not because they are feats of technical engineering but because they were made with pure, unadulterated movie magic. The Fall Guy brought this back for me.

PopRox Improv Comedy Nights | Regional News

PopRox Improv Comedy Nights

Presented by: PopRox

Circa Theatre, 28th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

On the last Sunday of every month, local improv troupe PopRox puts on an immersive, cabaret-style improv show in the restaurant, bar, and foyer of Circa Theatre. Tonight’s story, creatively directed by MC Jed Davies and produced by Dylan Hutton, starts at Mainland Automotive. Here, Jonny Paul’s Tony (not to be confused with Tony from Tony’s Tyre Service) toils away fruitlessly until he joins forces with a very smart professor (Lia Kelly) who helps him build flying cars. Soon, the shop will become more successful than even Mainland Cheese.

Prior to the breakthrough, it’s chaos. Mainland Automotive’s employee Sally (Nina Hogg) never shows up because she’s too busy working her other job as a news reporter. Sarah (Tara McEntee) is in a rut and cannot escape the butt-dent on her couch. A really large building is on fire, and no one inside is stoked about it. Especially not the fire warden (Davies).

Isaac Thomas adds exceptional guitar to the action that matches the vibes at all times, while lighting designer and operator Sam Irwin utilises a neat red wash on the fly as the fire blazes, burning brighter by the minute.

Given the space, I was expecting a bit more interaction and wandering, if you will, from both the cast and audience. We’re told we can get up at any time but no one really does, which I suspect comes down to our ingrained theatre etiquette. More crowd work to help us loosen up and move around would go down a treat.

The cast utilises the space to create a show highlight when they spread out to play Sarah’s conscience, booming platitudes and cryptic clues in surround sound. More fantastic moments stem from the seamless integration of theatre sports and improv games – like when Hogg, Paul, and Kelly combine into an all-knowing entity to demand we “Ask another question!”

Improv done right is one of the best things you’ll see, so go see PopRox. I’m in awe of these expert players, who make up a riotous story, then tie all its loose ends in a bow like wings on a car in five minutes flat. What an uplifting end to my week.

The Golden Ass | Regional News

The Golden Ass

Adapted by: Michael Hurst

Directed by: Michael Hurst and John Gibson

Circa Theatre, 21st April 2024

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

The Golden Ass is an adaptation of Lucius Apuleius’ ancient Roman novel by Michael Hurst with additional text and dramaturgy by Fiona Samuel. This solo show sees Hurst retell the classic tale of a man transformed into a donkey, a wild experience that leads him to glean insight into humanity.

Hurst begins the performance in flowing beach clothes, relating the story with pace and evocative imagery. He immediately begins connecting with the audience, pulling us into his tale. While punchlines are lost in the momentum at times, the way that he embodies different characters through rapidly changing accents, postures, and mannerisms, is enthralling.

Seeking information on witchcraft to help him write a book, Hurst’s character Lucius tries to copy a ritual to turn into a bird, but is instead changed into a donkey. After this metamorphosis, he experiences different forms of cruelty, nearly forgetting himself and losing his humanity. Throughout the play, historically anachronistic inventions like email and vehicles are referred to, setting the story in a liminal, timeless period much like a fable.

The set (John Verryt) comprises a circular, sandy rug furnished only with some bags and a chilly bin. It is simple yet effective as Hurst uses the space with great physicality, moving between the different characters and scenes.

The lighting and sound, with original music by John Gibson, also add depth to the storytelling. Ocean sounds and a summery amber wash support Hurst’s vivid narration. Scene changes are quick and clear, often punctuated by a crowing rooster in the morning, which, like much in the show, is acknowledged by Hurst for comedic effect.

Injected at every turn is humour that verges on goofy and crass. But in the end, after seeing a dark and beastly side of humanity, Lucius’ sincerity and earnestness pin a hopeful tail on this story.

When the Cat’s Away | Regional News

When the Cat’s Away

Michael Fowler Centre, 21st Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Graeme King

When the Cat’s Away, featuring Annie Crummer, Debbie Harwood, Dianne Swann, Margaret Urlich, and Kim Willoughby, were a New Zealand vocal supergroup formed in 1986 for fun – only to become one of our most successful bands ever! This concert, mainly including songs by iconic NZ songwriters, was also a celebration of Urlich’s rich musical catalogue.

From the moment When the Cat’s Away walked onto the stage for the first song Outlook for Thursday it was party time, and the almost 2000-strong crowd was in dance mode… who cared if it was Sunday night! What’s the Time Mr Wolf? had us singing loudly and heading into the aisles to boogie.

Original band members Gary Verberne and Brett Adams (guitars), Barbara Griffin (keys), and Mike Russell (trumpet) were ably joined by The Band of Gold – forming a rock-solid platform for the singers.

Sharon O’Neill’s Maxine, featuring a searing sax solo by Nick Atkinson, and Asian Paradise including Harwood’s beautiful clear voice, were early highlights. Boy in the Moon, from the poignant set dedicated to Urlich, was a standout and cleverly segued into The Horses.

The Herbs duo Tama Lundon and Morrie Watene joined the stage to a standing ovation. A set of their greatest hits followed, including Crummer’s gorgeous soaring vocals on her song See What Love Can Do, finishing with E Papa sung a cappella – a highlight showcasing the duo’s rich voices.

Gutter Black took us back into full party mode and Sweet Lovers, featuring lead vocals by ex-Holidaymaker Griffin, was a treat. The pumping Room that Echoes was faultless and another standout.

Let’s Go Crazy featuring blistering guitar by Adams was followed by the Netherworld Dancing Toys’ For Today – again featuring Crummer’s sublime vocals. Melting Pot had most of the crowd singing in unison to finish the set. But the party wasn’t over yet.

The first encore Free Ride had everyone either standing up at their seats, in the aisles, or in front of the stage! I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll finished the night on a high. After 30 songs and almost two and a half hours of non-stop partying, Crummer bade the crowd goodnight with “Thank you everybody and God bless. I’ll see you at PAK’nSAVE!”

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 | Regional News

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Written by: Dave Malloy

Directed by: Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is a sung-through musical by Dave Malloy based on a scandalous segment of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It follows Natasha (Lane Corby), a naïve young woman who begins a torrid love affair with Anatole (Henry Ashby) despite her betrothal to Andrey (Glenn Horsfall). In the eye of the storm of repercussions are Natasha’s cousin Sonya (Áine Gallagher) and godmother Marya (Frankie Leota); her future in-laws Mary (Rachel McSweeney) and Prince Bolkonsky (Glenn Horsfall); and Anatole’s friend Dolokhov (Kevin Orlando) and brother-in-law Pierre (William Duignan), a depressed alcoholic who’s friends with Andrey and (unhappily) married to Hélène (Jade Merematira). Even the troika driver Balaga (Patrick Jennings) gets involved. Struggling to keep up? A hilarious Prologue opens the show with a pop, bang, and blinding sparkle to explain the whole thing.

Allow me to attempt to scratch the surface of all the jaw-dropping moments in this kaleidoscopic fever dream of a production. WITCH Music Theatre and technical producer and set designer Joshua Tucker-Emerson have completely transformed an unrecognisable Hannah Playhouse into a theatre-in-the-round, illuminated by Alex ‘Fish’ Fisher’s brilliant lighting design. Disco balls dazzle and performers literally fly (aerialist Jackson Cordery) across the stage as the exquisite ensemble entices and the core cast – draped in diamonds and swathed in silk by costume designer and creative producer Ben Tucker-Emerson – astounds the audience with whirlwind choreography (Emily McDermott and Greta Casey-Solly) and vocal chops fit for the world stage. The picture is heady, opulent, intoxicating.  

With technically flawless sound design by Oliver Devlin, a supreme live orchestra, and many of the cast playing roving instruments, the sound is full and raucous, yet sumptuous and smooth when called for. Sitting centre stage at an in-ground piano is conductor, music director, and ringmaster Hayden Taylor. Anyone listening to a single bar of any song from this production, whether belted or softly whispered, thrummed on bass or tinkled on keys, would kill to have Taylor in the music director’s seat.

Guided by directors Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew’s blazing vision, WITCH deserved every second of their standing ovation and then some. Bring your sunnies and something warm for the goosebumps.

HELIOS | Regional News


Created by: Wright&Grainger

BATS Theatre, 19th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

In the Ancient Greek myth, Phaeton is the son of the sun god, Helios. In a fit of hubris and wanting recognition from his absent father, Phaeton begs to drive Helios’ golden sun chariot across the sky for a single day. Against his father’s better judgement, Phaeton takes the reins and starts a disastrous voyage across the heavens, literally crashing and burning because he can’t control the feisty horses.

In this relatable modern reworking of the tale, Alexander Wright, accompanied by Phil Grainger’s hypnotic score, relates the story of Phaeton as a confused teenager. He’s nearing his 18th birthday, mourning the earlier loss of his little brother in an ice-skating accident, dealing with school bus politics and a complex relationship with a classmate called Michael Dale, and watching the shadows of his airline pilot dad and the golden Ford in the garage that he one day wants to drive.

Wright is there to greet the audience as they arrive and directs everyone to seats around the three-quarters stage, in the middle of which is a cluster of freestanding lights and a couple of neatly coiled microphone leads. Around the outside of these is a sunny circle of orange and white cue cards that help him remember the 70-minute story’s details and which he uses to invite members of the audience to read some of the conversational lines.

Audience interaction is the hallmark of this highly absorbing presentation. Wright is a master of incorporating audience responses into his narrative and making us feel an integral part of Phaeton’s fall from grace, which he narrates with quick-fire energy. However, rather than concluding that Phaeton’s fate is a warning not to indulge in too much teenage bravado, the conclusion of this contemporary fable is more uplifting.

In this magical piece of storytelling, the human truth of HELIOS is beautifully spun from the ancient to the modern with nothing more than a few simple set pieces, delicious music, and one committed and totally engaging performer.

Demetri Martin: Demetri Deconstructed | Regional News

Demetri Martin: Demetri Deconstructed


(4 ½ out of 5)

Available on Netflix

Reviewed by: Matt Jaden Carroll

American comedian, actor, writer, cartoonist, and musician Demetri Martin (Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show) is well known for his quirky, novelty-laden approach to stand-up comedy. Going into the Netflix comedy special Demetri Deconstructed, I expected jokes that would mess with my head. I didn’t expect to watch something that would challenge what a stand-up special is meant to be.

Typically, a stand-up special is presented as a faithful, matter-of-fact recording of a live show. But from the outset, Demetri Deconstructed implies that the show isn’t even real at all. Jokes are frequently punctuated by text overlays, overdubbed inner-monologues, meta outtakes, and other trippy effects. For me, this has a tradeoff: I pay the price of feeling quite detached from the live audience, but am treated to an abundance of extra jokes and thrills that the live audience couldn’t possibly be experiencing.

Although Demetri Deconstructed almost reinvents the artform of a stand-up special, Martin’s actual jokes remain true to form. Avoiding any long stories or political diatribes, he offers short and unique philosophical takes on the mundane. A bit like Jerry Seinfeld if he was a massive nerd. Some of Martin’s jokes are (once again) told using graphs. While he at first presents as awkward and deadpan, on closer inspection, he possesses a subtle charm, like a magician coyly smiling at the unveiling of each trick. I’d go so far as to say that Martin comes close to adopting the tone of a tour guide, quietly taking us through fun revelations and epiphanies about frankly nothing at all.

I’ll probably forget the jokes in a couple of days, but it’s hard to forget his new approach. It’s like witnessing a new genre being created – one where footage of a stand-up show is like raw material to be remixed as desired.

Demetri Deconstructed feels like a bold first step into new creative territory. That’s incredibly exciting, and I think it’s worth watching for that alone.

Rent | Regional News


Presented by: Kauri Theatre Company

Directed by: Lox Dixon

Gryphon Theatre, 10th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent follows a group of young artists struggling to make ends meet in New York City under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Mark (Ed Blunden) and Roger (Chris McMillan) are suddenly threatened with eviction by their landlord and ex-roommate Benny (Kwok Yi Lee). Still grieving the death of his girlfriend April, Roger rejects the advances of Cat Scratch Club dancer Mimi (Rach Te Tau). Meanwhile, Mark’s ex Maureen (Stacey O’Brien) has found a new love in fiery lawyer Joanne (Caitlin McDougall), and Collins (Richie Rewa) is swept up in the heavenly glow of Angel (Dennis Eir Lim), who dresses like the sparkliest Santa you ever did see (Angel’s superb costumes and wigs by Richie Rewa). It is Christmas, after all!

Resembling an electricity-starved, ex-recording studio turned barely inhabitable flat, the striking set is made all the more detailed and realistic with carefully chosen props (Emma Maguire, Kauri Theatre Company, and friends) and stringed fairy lights along the back wall (a nice touch by lighting designer Adam Harrison). Wearing costumes strongly suggestive of their counterparts from the film (wardrobe manager Hayley Knight), our cast takes to this grungy stage, backlit with twinkling hope, to crush it.

The core cast is exceptional. Musical director Anna Mckean has drawn the rockiest Adam Pascal-like timbres from McMillan and the crackliest of chemistries from his harmonies with Te Tau, whose beautiful voice blows me away in Without You. Then there’s Rewa’s powerful, haunting I’ll Cover You – Reprise that nearly makes me cry. With Lox Dixon in the director’s seat, the performers capture their characters’ essences to a T. McDougall is a boss Joanne, imbuing her with vulnerability but enough sass and spark to hold her own against Maureen. O’Brien is unbelievably good. Her Over the Moon, backed by star ensemble members Gracie Voice and Kristina Lee, is a hilarious highlight of the whole show. Eir Lim slays as a drag queen, especially with those raunchy moves in Today for You (choreographer Aroha Davidson). Blunden’s energetic performance is at the heart of it all, driving the action ever forward.  

Kauri Theatre Company should be extremely proud of this production. I wish I had more words to mention everyone involved, including the killer live band and the committed ensemble, because I could write pages longer than Benny’s eviction notices. The long and short of it is, bravo!