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Bloch & Shostakovich: Enduring Spirit | Regional News

Bloch & Shostakovich: Enduring Spirit

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Sir Donald Runnicles

Michael Fowler Centre, 28th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

The NZSO has wanted to bring Sir Donald Runnicles to New Zealand for some time. The disrupted last couple of years were worth the wait. Runnicles is vastly experienced and highly regarded, and the same can be said of cello soloist Nicolas Altstaedt. The evening also marked a celebration for principal contrabassoonist David Angus, retiring after 41 years.

It’s rather lovely for an audience to be welcomed in person by the conductor and star soloist. Runnicles put the programme in context for us, explaining some of what lies behind each work. The orchestra was bursting with energy, firepower, and passion by the time we reached the final piece, Symphony No. 10 in E minor by Dmitri Shostakovich. We got there by way of Ernest Bloch’s personal and political expression of his Jewishness, and the gentle and beautiful Musica Celestis by Aaron Jay Kernis. Written for string orchestra and inspired by the idea of angels singing in heaven, the overwhelming feeling was of being surrounded by waves of perfectly executed, languid harmony and melody.

The anguish of Solomon, resisting the world’s earthly pleasures, is expressed through the solo cello in Bloch’s Schelomo. Altstaedt’s performance was a tortured tour de force. From the opening phrases, cello over brass, to the impressive final movement, this was a supremely confident and utterly compelling performance.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E Minor is a perfect match with Runnicles, celebrated for his interpretation of Romantic and post-Romantic repertoire. Shostakovich traversed several narratives with his Tenth Symphony and Runnicles drew each distinctive twist in the tale from the orchestra. This music tied my insides in knots with an intense, rich sound that was both lush and taut, sometimes filled with fury and rage, sometimes lyrical and dance-like. Even with close to 100 players on stage, Runnicles gave every instrument their place, bringing a welcome clarity to Shostakovich’s story.

Into the Woods | Regional News

Into the Woods

Presented by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Nick Lerew

Te Auaha, 27th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Into the Woods is a Brothers Grimm-inspired musical that follows our favourite fairytale characters post-happy ending. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, the 1987 Broadway sensation explores hope, community, and the pervasive power of desire. Oh, the things we’ll do to see our wishes come true.

A Baker (William Duignan) and his Wife (Áine Gallagher) have been cursed by the Witch (Greer Perenara) next door. In order to reverse the curse and fulfil their deepest desire of having a child, they must retrieve magic potion ingredients from Jack (Tara Canton) and Milky White (Felicity Cozens), Little Red Riding Hood (Aria Leader-Fiamatai), Rapunzel (Emily Yeap), and Cinderella (Gayle Hammersley) – each pursuing a wish of their own. Into the woods they go, where they encounter Princes (Jackson Burling, Glenn Horsfall), an overzealous Steward (Ed Blunden), a wicked Stepmother (Joanne Lisik) and her nasty daughters (Aimée Sullivan, Mia Alonso-Green), a ravenous Wolf (Burling), a badass Granny (Paula Gardyne), and a Mysterious Man (Kevin Orlando) who speaks only in riddles. Meanwhile, Orlando narrates the chaos as a Giant (Cozens) sets up shop in the sky above the kingdom. 

Into the Woods is a musical of two parts, where the first half is filled with upbeat music (performed exquisitely by a live orchestra), good humour, and, of course, happy ever afters. It’s clear from the buzz of elation in the atrium at interval that the first half is more enjoyable, but I’m putting that down to the script. The second half descends into grim madness, where multiple tragedies befall our heroes as the consequences of their choices come into sharp relief. The music is discordant, the silence loud. While the action may jolt and shudder, WITCH does a bang-up job of keeping the train from derailing.

There are too many magical moments to pack into this review, even if I wasn’t already over word count. Burling and Orlando’s comedic timing at every turn; Gallagher’s jaw-dropping Moments in the Woods, which I swear rouses one minute of relentless applause mid-scene; the Princes’ Agony and Horsfall’s dazzling twirlies; Canton’s charming portrayal of the earnest, dim-witted Jack; Perenara’s powerful Children Will Listen; Duignan’s understated but assured performance, which crucially grounds the action; Cozens’ star turn as Jack’s best friend, which nearly steals the show… No mean feat considering how exceptional the show is! The entire cast is talent personified and their vocal performances are fire (musical direction by Hayden Taylor and Maya Handa Naff).

Joshua Tucker’s enchanted production design envelops us in a magical world that is a pleasure to escape to. Bravo WITCH, Disney ain’t got nothing on you.    

Living | Regional News



102 minutes

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I have been the biggest Bill Nighy fan ever since I first saw him in Love Actually, where I became hopelessly devoted to him. I then proceeded to watch as many of his movies as I could legally get my hands on. For all you readers out there who appreciate him as much as I do, I have a friend who met him, and she said that he is as lovely in real life as you would expect. So I would like to start off by saying: Bill Nighy, thank you for your service; you are a treasure.

I would also not judge you if you went to watch Living, Nighy’s newest film, solely for him. His performance is truly remarkable and his role, which is layered and nuanced, brings out the best in him. He is enough to sell it, but I believe you should go see Living for other reasons as well.

Based on Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 movie Ikiru, Living traces a similar story. Set in 1950s London, Williams (Nighy) is a product of his times. He is a civil servant in the department of public works, he goes to work every day on the train, ensures as little as possible gets done in his sector, and then takes the train home to repeat the cycle in the morning. When his doctor informs him that he only has a few months to live, Williams decides to make the time he has left count.

The screenplay was adapted by Japanese British Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and was written specifically with Nighy in mind as a tribute of sorts to Ikiru. The cinematography by Jamie Ramsay is exceptional. And Aimee Lou Wood as young Margaret Harris is lovely. There are moments that drag on and are a bit anticlimactic, but maybe that’s the point.

Living is a simple movie. It is rich and deep in emotion despite the English reticence, but the plot is quite uncomplicated. We are used to action-packed movies with drama at every proverbial turn, so it was refreshing to take a step back and just enjoy the moment. Perhaps that is all Williams wished for as well.

RAW! ASMR | Regional News


Created by: Amy Atkins

Directed by: Sara Hirsch

BATS Theatre, 26th Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

A random assortment of fruits and vegetables greets us as we walk into RAW! ASMR, set on an otherwise minimally decorated stage. To begin the show, over the speakers, the soothing voice of ASMRtist persona Letitia Lickkit (Amy Atkins) describes in detail everything on the stage, and some of what we are about to observe. When she appears, she is dressed in a “cheeky and glam” gold-sequinned costume. Beginning the evening this way focuses us in on the finer details of what will be presented to us, and invites us to pay close attention to all of the noises that the performer plays with, the central experience of RAW! ASMR!

The show leans into the comedy of this situation – one performer trying everything she can to trigger our ASMR response, a pleasant tingling sensation that many people feel when hearing particular sounds. She whispers into a microphone, plays with fruit, and taps on objects, fluctuating between calming and manic, and the audience laughs at the absurdity of what she is doing as it contrasts with how earnestly she is trying to win us over.

ASMR videos have created their own community and culture on their corner of YouTube, and Amy breaks down the typical characteristics of them, such as previews of her ASMR techniques at the beginning of the show and roleplay portions of the experience. Credit must also be given to the crisp and clear sound quality.

Simple lighting changes support the experiment on our senses as we are treated to (or subjected to) tapping, crunching, whispering, and chewing noises, among many others.

As the performance goes on and Letitia Lickkit becomes more and more frantic, the meaning becomes clear. She’s desperate for this to work, for us to be happy, for us to like her – for us to like and subscribe! The one-woman show feels like a perfect criticism of social media culture and the yearning for attention hidden under what we choose to present, a message that Amy aptly – albeit unconventionally – communicates.

Calamities! | Regional News


Written by: Jane Arthur

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

What’s your idea of a calamity? “An event causing great damage or distress”, the dictionary says. For Jane Arthur, who has titled her poetry collection thus, a calamity might amount to anything from an anticipated apocalypse, to posing philosophical questions like “Do we live only to the limits of our comprehension?”, to a meditation on dead flies.

Such a range allows the sometimes startling, sometimes amusing observations, reflections, and imaginings that preoccupy the writer. How, All Right begins with “I want to get morbid I want to get morbid” and concludes with “Now, knowing the more one learns, the worse one feels!” That seems to me a self-fulfilling prophecy: how you begin is how you might end.

I’m much more at home with the concreteness and immediacy of Princes and Priests. “The celebrities are having mental / health breakdowns and people / are lining up for tickets.” Ring any bells?

The section titled The Bear – sandwiched between Risk Assessment and Highly Flammable – provides welcome relief from the writer’s existential anxieties. She has chosen the pronouns “they” and “them” to refer to the bear, and I find myself wondering if the animal kingdom is as much concerned about this matter as we humans. In the meantime, I’ll have to grin and bear it.

The lengthiest poem, and my favourite, is Choose Again, in which Arthur liberally employs the poet’s most useful literary device – metaphor – to make her point. The poem is a contemplation on shame – of its causes and effects. Likening shame to “an ulcer on the inside / of your cheek / that you nibble on sometimes” is uncomfortably effective, as is “I am a bird / sticking my beak between / the bars of my cage to see if the air / is purer on the outside.”

Her final poem Imaginary Den summarises the theme of this disturbingly prophetic collection with a plea: “Let me dig my little hole. Let me / settle down into it, feigning safety, let me.”

This is a story about your mother | Regional News

This is a story about your mother

Written by: Louise Wallace

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

I had a mother, but I’ve never been one. How does that place me to comment on a poetry collection of this nature? Writer Louise Wallace is asking a question too – about the real nature of pregnancy and motherhood. She’s knocking on a forbidden door perhaps, because we women are supposed to live our lives as if it’s our biological fate to reproduce ourselves.

Pregnancy is biological all right and this aspect of it gets full treatment. “You now contain ten / little-finger-like projections”, you’re “being beaten around the ears with the need for leafy greens”, and confronted by “what does the term ‘women’s clothing’ even mean?”

The psychological and social aspects of being pregnant also come under fire. What about baby names? Some couples do a video, and in sexy springtime feelings, “at twenty five you were special – born for a social calendar / but now you’ve got a face made for furniture.”

I’m not sure how delaying tactics fits into the pregnancy picture with its questions such as “how do you get a book deal?” and “what’s the ideal age to try stripping?” unless it’s a disguised longing for a life without a pregnancy in sight. Indeed, these poems are hardly a recommendation for it.

And we haven’t even got to childbirth! Wallace does not hesitate to expose us to the painful and at times grotesque experiences it may bring. Doctors, midwives, and other professionals become part of the scene with their discussions and instructions. But then there is a sign – finally – that all may be well, captured thus: “you’ll experience a new and phenomenal relationship / with your vagina”.

Does that make up for everything you had to undergo to achieve motherhood? I can only hope so. The search for baby names is referenced in one of the concluding poems, suggesting a resolution, as does the final metaphor.

This is a story about your mother makes for salutary reading. Those considering getting pregnant would be well advised to read it.

Secrets of the Sea | Regional News

Secrets of the Sea

Written by: Robert Vennell


Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Here’s a fish – this is what it looks like, this is what it eats, and this is who eats it. That’s how I thought Secrets of the Sea would go. Surprisingly I found something much more interesting: an almost mini encyclopaedia of the wondrous creatures of the sea, intricately entwined with the history of Aotearoa.

Author Robert Vennell unravels the hidden lives of a vast array of creatures that lie beneath our magnificent waters, from the depths of the ocean to our rivers and sandy shores, giving insight into their biology, etymology, unique characteristics, and cultural significance and importance to Māori. Steeped in history and tradition, Secrets of the Sea is a standout. It’s an evolutionary tale that speaks to the way these unique creatures have had a profound impact on our lives on land despite being largely hidden and sometimes forgotten.

Vennell’s fascinating glimpse into the history of the butterfish reveals they were often linked with nocturnal mischief, just as the whakataukī reads: Ka pō, ka pō, ka kai te rarī (When it is night, the butterfish feed). For Māori, there was a feeling that butterfish or rarī were troublemakers.

Eels or tuna on the other hand were considered by Māori to be one of the single most important food sources found in Aotearoa. On a recent camping trip, I found myself helping to navigate the feeding of eels. Swarming around all slippery, thick and serpent-like, the eels (what variety of, I do not know) took stock of the food, snaking around each other en masse. I was surprised to read that New Zealand longfin eels can grow to be the largest in the world, weighing more than a small child, and can live up to 100 years, effectively giving the humble turtle a run for its money in the longevity stakes.

Gorgeously illustrated, and with stunning photography, Secrets of the Sea is a resplendent unravelling of the mysteries surrounding some of the incredible inhabitants of Aotearoa waters.

Empire City | Regional News

Empire City

Written by: John E. Martin

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Empire City is the most impressive book I think I have ever experienced, and honestly I did not think that I’d be as blown away by it as I was. Everything about it screams pure class, from the handmade drawings to the fold-out maps that show you what Wellington looked like in the mid-19th century.

Every legend started somewhere, and in the case of Wellington, it was with Indigenous Māori and the New Zealand Company (an organisation to help settle the country) first meeting each other. It also tells us about Edward Gibbon Wakefield, whose vison helped settle what we now call Wellington – or Britannia as the then-new settlement was briefly called. Back then there were plenty of dangers to contend with: misunderstandings between Pākehā and local iwi could turn violent, earthquakes, and a lack of supplies made creating a permanent settlement difficult.

It was an amazing read that made me appreciate New Zealand all the more. In fact, I would dare anyone born here to not be impressed by the enormity of what our forefathers went through. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the people living today, including me, really are standing on the backs of giants. We talk about our Kiwi ingenuity all the time – well, now I know where it comes from.

Empire City is a very expansive book that goes into a huge amount of detail and unfortunately, I think that might be its downfall. It’s just so big. That may put some people off reading it, as it will be a bit of an investment of their time. It’s also a niche book, focusing on one specific area at one specific time, so unless you are mad crazy about New Zealand history, this may not appeal to you. 

I suspect that this book is geared toward a particular reader, one who will really get a kick out of reading about this country’s founding. If you are that person I can recommend this wholeheartedly.

Interactions | Regional News


Presented by: KAT Theatre

Cochran Hall, 21st Apr 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

KAT Theatre is the only central Wellington community group regularly mounting a season of short plays. This is commendable as a way for directors to gain experience and actors to flex their performing muscles without the time commitment and staging requirements of a full-length production.

Interactions as a collection is aptly named as it’s the interplay of characters in the three pieces that makes them engaging. This is particularly evident in the first one, Token of Friendship, written by Nataliya Oryshchuk and directed by Marty Pilott. It’s a neat story of cultural awkwardness as enthusiastic employee Carol (Ava Straw) is given a clipboard full of questions and a lei to befriend a colleague in a cheesy corporate getting-to-know-you exercise. Her target is Miroslava (Corrina Gordon), a Belarussian immigrant to Aotearoa. Their amusingly cringe-inducing exchange that converts to common ground over divorce is expertly played by the two actresses. A shoutout to Gordon for her masterful accent skills.

Next up is Anton Chekhov’s The Proposal directed by Hayden Rogers. This over-the-top satire about the greed and shallowness of Russia’s landed aristocracy is energetically played by a committed trio of female actors (Jamie Fenton, Manisha Singh, and Heather Lange), two of whom are playing men. The casting choice provides an interesting and fresh perspective on this classic short play and raises additional questions about male behaviour and motives.

After the interval, Domestic Bliss by Christina Stachurski takes to the stage. At 90 minutes long, this isn’t really a short play. It would have benefitted from cuts to the script to make it fit the one-act format, which would prevent the cast reaching for their lines. While an entertaining and at times poignant exposition of three women (Liz Ebrey, Cinnamon Machin, and Kelly Bennett) from different eras struggling with female life, the script lacks conflict. Conflict equals drama in theatre and this is largely missing. The cast make a good fist of it, however, and their occupation of the same kitchen is cleverly managed.