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Avenue Q | Regional News

Avenue Q

Created by: Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez, and Jeff Marx

Directed by: Ewen Coleman

Gryphon Theatre, 24th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

If potty-mouthed puppets are your peccadillo, then Avenue Q is for you. Billed as Sesame Street for adults, it’s a musical comedy that tackles racism, homosexuality, homelessness, suicide, and internet porn. It feels contemporary as the issues it traverses haven’t gone away and are arguably more prescient now than they were when the show won a Tony Award in 2004.

The shadow of COVID over Wellington theatre is still a long one and the announcement at the beginning of the performance that the character of real-life former child star Gary Coleman was going to be played by a white guy only added to the comedy.

Wellington Repertory Theatre’s production features an expanded cast of 15 actors and puppeteers, plus an ensemble of five. This allows for some fun choreographed sequences (Melanie Heaphy) that make good use of the extra bodies. The set design (Scott Maxim) of three row houses along the back of the stage offers a variety of spaces for actors and puppets to pop in and out and gives lighting designer Riley Gibson plenty to play with. His backlit drain that gently oozes smoke is a delightful touch.

The cast is a strong one and works seamlessly together, particularly those who operate puppets as a pair. The influence of puppet master Kenny King is in evidence. The puppeteers have clearly learnt his golden rules of keeping their eyes on their puppet and not letting go of them unless they’re dead, which does happen in one hilarious scene.

Vocal performances are mostly strong too. The singers don’t have microphones which occasionally makes it hard to hear them over the backing track, but the balance is generally good. All the singers deserve praise for their enunciation; I could hear every glorious word.

Avenue Q is not for the easily offended or the children in your life, but it’s uproariously funny and this production does an excellent job of bringing it to Wellington.

Homemade Takeaways | Regional News

Homemade Takeaways

Written by: Ben Wilson

Directed by: Cassandra Tse

BATS Theatre, 23rd Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Having seen Homemade Takeaways performed as a rehearsed reading at Circa Theatre last year, the chance to see a fully fledged production was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Much of the cast and crew remain with three of the four main actors reprising their roles. This is a good thing as the quality of performance is top-notch and the actors are demonstrably comfortable within their characters and each other.

Ben Wilson’s comedy-drama set in an unspecified South Island town deservedly won Best New Play at Playmarket’s Playwrights B425 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Adam NZ Playwriting Award. It’s an awkward family Christmas as a Dunedin-based drummer (Dryw McArthur) suddenly uproots his job and city to return to the family home where his recently dumped self-help expert of a sister (Kate Johnstone) is quietly self-destructing. Their young stepmother (Tabatha Pini-Hall), a primary school teacher who is trying to write dark children’s fiction, has recently inherited the house and her 31-year-old, skateboarding, Emma Thompson-obsessed man-child bestie (James Cain) is sleeping on the couch. Overlaying each of their individual traumas is a shared patina of grief for a lost father and husband.

On paper, it seems like a doom-laden mix, but this play is funny with Cain’s character often providing comic relief as the tension builds to a metaphorical and literal storm on Christmas Eve. It’s ultimately uplifting as they somehow manage to make each other feel less alone.

The set (Rosie Gilmore) is unusually fulsome for the BATS stage, with a raised central area that is the kitchen cum living room of a rural house surrounded by fluffy toetoe with a bench outside where the characters retreat to smoke, talk, and attempt skateboard tricks. It’s carefully lit (Bekky Boyce) and the sound design (Maxwell Apse) features appropriately cheesy Christmas music and well-placed sound effects.

All up, this is an excellent show with stellar acting of a great script supported by sharp production values.

Miracle | Regional News


Written by: Jennifer Lane

Cloud Ink Press Ltd

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Year 9 is a tough time for everyone. There’s nothing like feeling like the world is against you and then finding out your town really is. 

Miracle brings you smack bang into the reality of a 14-year-old girl, who thought her biggest worries were figuring out when she could wear a jumper to school, how she could get her crush to notice her, and if her friends really liked her or not. Trying to prove that her family isn’t crazy, that she can take a joke even when fighting back tears as she tries to clear her family name, was a lot more than she bargained for. Miracle desperately fights against the veil of childhood as she is forced to battle with things she’s not quite old enough to fully understand.

There’s nothing that Miracle wants more than to fit in. She would rather cross her heart and hope to die than her dad get a job that draws more attention to her less than picture-perfect family. She tries to craft a plan towards his future employment as far away from her as possible, but doesn’t realise how catastrophic things will become. Meanwhile, the town is plagued by sudden deaths and a thick smoke cloud that tricks the residents into thinking there’s no such thing as clean air…

Miracle is a beautiful, fraught coming-of-age novel based in Australia. Come for the teen angst and the trip down memory lane and stay for the family dynamics and societal displays. The world is instantly relatable and vibrant, yet still captures the mundanity of the everyday. This is a book to savour. It is full of beautiful poetic language that is begging to be read out loud. Take your time to chew over every rich, juicy word that Lane has carefully crafted and enjoy the charm and the messiness of the relatable characters. Take your heart on the journey to the end of Miracle’s childhood.

Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide | Regional News

Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide

Written by: Geoffrey Palmer and Gwen Palmer Steeds

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For a lot of people, democracy is the simple process of voting for politicians who you think will have your best interests at heart and will look after you in the short and long term. Unsurprisingly there’s more to it than that, and for those wishing to learn the nitty-gritty of how it works in New Zealand, we have the latest book from Geoffrey Palmer and Gwen Palmer Steeds titled Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide.

Going back to the beginnings of the first Māori wars and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, it explains how the English style of democracy first implanted itself in our country and how it grew and adapted to serve two very different cultures.

For me one of the best aspects of the book is the inclusion of interviews that the authors carried out. These include ones with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, former opposition leader Judith Collins, and ambassador to Ireland in waiting Trevor Mallard. They give us a rare peak into the mindset of the people that have helped to literally shape our lives in New Zealand. Ardern’s interview in particular stood out for me, as it gave me a better idea of how she thinks and her problem-solving process.

Another plus is the easy-to-read format of the book; I understood everything and never felt like anything went over my head.

One problem is the fact that politics is not for everyone and for some the subject will simply be a turnoff, which is shame because I think we should all have an understanding of the way our country is governed. I would still wholly recommend this book to those people, as it gave even a layperson like myself a better understanding of democracy, and how important it is to remain a part of the democratic process. As it says on the back cover, it’s a survival guide to democracy in Aotearoa.

Mind Free  | Regional News

Mind Free

Written by: Mark Stephens

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Much like the words challenging and unprecedented are burned into our collective consciousness when we think of the last couple of years, so too is the word mindfulness and the act and art of being mindful when we think of wellness and wellbeing.

But what does being mindful actually involve? In Mind Free, Mark Stephens looks at the limiting patterns, actions, and behaviours that are holding you back and how, through the techniques of mindful meditation and self-hypnosis that he’s developed over the years, you can overcome these.

Stephens talks of mindful meditation, where if you become one with the task you have at hand or your present moment, then even the simple act of preparing a cup of tea can become a mindful experience. I tried this with a similarly mundane activity: shopping at the supermarket, marvelling over avocados, noticing all my fellow shoppers and the sights and sounds around me.

But so many times my mind wandered from the present to the past; my mind a hybrid landscape where everything but the present was competing for thought time – it was hard to stay in the moment. Stephens says it’s about bringing your attention back to the present.

Having a mantra of positive affirmations like ‘I can handle anything’ or ‘I am strong’ or ‘I’ve got this’ is a strategy suggested for overcoming anxiety to consciously change your internal story. When you feel better you start to act differently and feel happier and more content, Stephens says. Meditation mandalas can be found dotted throughout Stephens’ 21 positive states of being, which he has identified as the positive states we all need in our lives – things like appreciation, calm, love, laughter, and optimism.

There are certainly some positive techniques in Mind Free and empowering actions to take using thought regulation and breathing techniques.

But sometimes the art of creating a mind that is free by breathing, meditating, living in the now, self-affirming, thinking positively, and stressing less is as complicated as its promised reward.

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV | Regional News

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV

Edited by Emily Brill-Holland

Paper Road Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Men flicker out like photos burned. Folklore fuses with our everydays. Birds no longer sing in cities. Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV is a beautifully curated collection of our country’s best science fiction and fantasy short stories. These are stories that you can enjoy on their own, picking up whenever you feel like a little literary snack, or it can be a whole meal that you devour in one sitting.

The volume begins strong with I Will Teach You Magic by Andi C. Buchanan. Buchanan’s story tucks you in with a spell of love woven into the ink. It stretches out of the pages, onto your fingers, and flows into your heart. It’s the perfect beginning to the collection like sitting around a campfire, hearing stories retold that have been passed down by generations.

Plague Year by Anuja Mitra skilfully spins an ever-so-relevant social commentary by playing within the familiarity of a classic folklore. Data Migration by Melanie Harding-Shaw is a beautifully crafted tragic glimpse into a reality that just may fall upon us. A stark reminder that regardless of whatever challenges we face, teachers are forever the glue of civilisation, building hope and light within new generations. Interview with Sole Refugee from the A303 Incident by James Rowland is an incredibly gripping short story that you don’t want to end. The only survivor walks on past all the pain, fuelled by the pressure to meet deadlines at work.

Because this is a collection of stories, there isn’t enough space in this review to address each of them. I absolutely recommend this gem of a book. Standouts in the volume were stories that lingered on the precipice of our realities but held enough distance to gain perspective. Voices are taken, time is stolen, and worlds crumble as we watch frozen as witnesses. The volume holds the magic of many voices that all should be heard.

Requiem | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 18th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

This Requiem concert was designed to provoke thoughts about the purpose of life and the nature of death. Seikilos by John Psathas was very much the former. An energetic and energising piece of music this was definitely in the vein of the living. Percussion, brass, strings, woodwind were all led with great clarity through the chaos by Gemma New who made a welcome return the podium for this performance.

Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration took us to the opposite pole with a commentary on the experience of death and following death – the transfiguration. The strings stood out here although, as usual, it was impossible to call out any one section of the orchestra as doing a better job than another.

The performance of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, K.626 by the NZSO, a quartet of singers and arguably the best choir in the country, Voices New Zealand, brought together both themes of the programme and left us in no doubt we had been given an opportunity to contemplate life as well as death.

It is easy to forget singers, unlike instrumentalists, have limited opportunity to warm up their voices before they have to deliver a perfect combination of style, strength, tone, and of course, pitch. The four soloists: soprano Anna Leese, alto Rhonda Browne, tenor Amitai Pati and baritone Robert Tucker, were out of balance with each other to begin with but by the Lacrimosa, their voices were entwined and more evenly matched.

However, Mozart’s Requiem is really all about the chorus. They have the greatest opportunity to shine and this performance was dazzling. Brilliantly clear diction, remarkable changes in tone, delicate, close harmonies that sent shivers up and down the spine, and New’s tightly coiled and powerful energy combined for an outstanding performance. Is it wrong to be uplifted and made to feel alive by a requiem mass? This one carried me home.

The Griegol | Regional News

The Griegol

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith

Directed by: Hannah Smith

Te Auaha, 16th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

After Granny (Elle Wootton) dies, Child (part-puppet, part-Stevie Hancox-Monk) starts to see monsters in the throes of their grief. Specifically, the Griegol, a spooky smoke demon Granny used to tell stories about. Child has a key from Granny, but doesn’t know what it opens. Dad (Paul Waggott) is understandably distrait as he struggles to navigate his own sense of loss and plan a funeral at the same time, so Cat (puppet design by Jon Coddington) pounces in to help, providing clues by sleeping near the locks in the house. Good kitty!  

The Griegol is a play without words that intersperses puppetry and projections, silhouettes and shadows to explore the ever-shifting shape of grief. A black hole of loss and fear, incomprehensible in its magnitude, gives way to acceptance and understanding; dark becomes light as beauty starts to billow from the smoke.

Excuse the excessive alliteration, but innovative, inventive, and integrated really are the best words to describe this production design. Cast members magic up a lot of the action under a camera that transmits a live feed onto a large screen set centre stage (set design by Sylvie McCreanor and Rose Kirkup, technical design by Brad Gledhill). Illustrations (Hannah Smith) and stop-motion animation (Ralph McCubbin Howell) play out in sync with incredible music composed by Tane Upjohn-Beatson and performed live with virtuosity by Tristan Carter, who cuts a deliciously macabre figure thanks to Marcus McShane’s lighting design. Actors flicker in and out of scenes, behind and in front of the screen. They are seamless, speaking 1000 words without uttering one. 

The Griegol is meticulous and specific in its approach while still hitting a universal message home. It’s a big subject, grief, and it can be overwhelming. But while The Griegol is poignant, even powerful, it’s accessible for all ages and languages. I feel seen, and safe to feel my feelings – even if that means crying three times!

Thank you, Trick of the Light, for such a beautiful, evocative, and meaningful work.

Rites of Passage | Regional News

Rites of Passage

Written by: Long Cloud Youth Theatre

Directed by: Ben Ashby and Shania Bailey-Edmonds

Te Auaha, 15th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

A downstairs space at Te Auaha that I didn’t even know was there has become the intimate venue for Long Cloud Youth Theatre’s latest self-devised work. With its 16-year history of providing a development hothouse for the next generation of writing and performing talent, the company has created a raw and authentic piece based on each performer’s real-world experience of a rite of passage in their own lives, centred around the Head Boy’s end-of-school party.

The white-box space fronted by glass is cleverly employed as a traverse stage with some of the action happening behind the glass or in the next room above the opposite side of the stage. Excellent use is made of light and shadow by set and lighting designers Grace Newton and Hollie Cohen. Initially covered by a fabric screen, the action behind the glass is humorously revealed to not always be what it seems later in the performance. As the party ebbs and flows, we smoothly transition between what’s going on inside and outside the house.

Starting with an angst-ridden discussion about cannabis giving you orange wee, this is an often-funny rollercoaster ride of teenage dramas about breakups and makeups, breakdowns, grief, toxic masculinity, self-consciousness, first dates, inebriation, crushes, and relationships old and new. It’s the exquisite pain of growing up to which we can all relate in some way, presented mostly literally and sometimes more figuratively with movement and dance (choreographed by Nadiyah Akbar).

The stage floor is interestingly covered in patches of carpet and other soft textures with loose white sheets laid on top. I fear that these sheets will be tripping hazards but the cast all having bare feet seems to mitigate the risk and, by the end of the performance, the carnage of tangled cotton neatly reflects the emotional chaos we have witnessed on stage.

Long Cloud Youth Theatre always comes up with something uniquely their own and Rites of Passage is no exception.