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Fab Beasts  | Regional News

Fab Beasts

Written by: Ryan Cundy and Catriona Tipene

Directed by: Catriona Tipene

BATS Theatre, 2nd Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Sitting in the stalls of The Stage, being serenaded by a pair of cheerful musicians (Joe Raea and Eddie Kerr), I can’t help but wonder what we’re in for. A unicorn had just welcomed us into BATS. A pink one, in a fluffy bikini.

The costumes, designed by Salome Grace, are nothing short of extraordinary. Five unicorns, played by Ryan Cundy, Kate Anderson, Brendan West, Katie Boyle, and Grace herself, take the stage, each a brighter colour than the last. The gang is threatened by God’s great flood, but only two can join Noah (Tom Kereama) on the Ark. Once I’ve wrapped my head around the premise, I can start to appreciate the sitcom style. The commentary on Wellington flatting is on the nose but still relevant and grounded by Victoria Martin.

Unfortunately, act one ends before the unicorn plot fully concludes. The musicians return and transition us to the second story, a Law and Order parody involving salami-related murders, but I’m left wondering whether the two narratives are independent or not. The songs are good fun with some excellent punchlines, but Raea seems to lack confidence. He has a fantastic voice that would benefit from higher energy.

My admiration of the show’s design is only magnified with the appearance of Boyle as the Loch Ness Monster in the second act. Somewhere between costume and set piece, the two-person ‘puppet’ towers above her friends and delights the whole house with her shenanigans.

Fab Beasts is almost brilliant. The actors themselves are excellent and I can’t compliment the costumes (and whatever Ness is) enough. However, the storyline feels like an afterthought, hastily pulled together to accommodate unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster. The scenography is a mixed bag. Some moments are clean and effective, especially the fire alarm gag, but the blackouts are painfully abrupt. With a little polish and a rejig of the script, this could be a truly fabulous beast of a show.

The Woman in Black | Regional News

The Woman in Black

Written by: Susan Hill and Stephen Mallatratt

Directed by: David Cox

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 12th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

An old Arthur Kipps (Martin Tidy) has hired The Actor (Tim Macdonald) to help tidy up his five-hour manuscript, a story about an experience he had while visiting the small market town of Crythin Gifford some years ago. Kipps intends to read the manuscript to a small audience of friends and family, but The Actor has other ideas, employing a sound engineer and a host of special effects to bring the story to life.

The play switches between the actors in rehearsal and a dramatisation of the story, where Tidy as the real Arthur Kipps plays a host of different characters and Macdonald as The Actor plays a young Arthur Kipps. It sounds more confusing than it is! We are transported to Eel Marsh House, the ill-forsaken residence of the recently departed Mrs Alice Drablow. Kipps is Alice’s solicitor and must get her affairs in order, but is haunted by a spectre of a woman in black with a wasted face, whom the townspeople refuse to speak of.

Tidy and Macdonald rise to the challenge of a two-hour two-hander where neither actor is ever offstage. They are both marvellous. I hang off every word Macdonald says while Tidy shines as the reclusive Keckwick, with stellar accent work throughout. Another highlight of this Stagecraft production is Riley Gibson’s lighting design, an evocative interplay of smoke and shadow, darkness and vividity.

With an intriguing lack of music, Tanya Piejus’ sound design utilises silence and recorded sound to good effect, although opening night hiccups mean one important cue is unfortunately late. This is during the door scene in the first half, which I find jarring due to Macdonald’s sudden dramatic turn. There’s an expert build up of fear and thrill in the rest of his performance, and indeed, the production itself. Oftentimes, The Woman in Black is exhilaratingly scary. What fun it is to watch half a show between your fingers!

Don McGlashan And The Others | Regional News

Don McGlashan And The Others

Old St Paul’s, 28th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Graeme King

McGlashan’s latest album Bright November Morning was recorded with The Others, so this concert was a full band experience – not just McGlashan with a backing band.

The tight rhythm section of Chris O’Connor on drums and James Duncan on bass laid a solid platform for McGlashan (guitar, piano, and euphonium), the legendary Shayne P Carter on lead guitar, and Anita Clark on violin and mandolin. McGlashan was ably supported by all The Others on backing vocals.

McGlashan said that support act Michael James Keane “had told him that he was going to whip the crowd into a frenzy, and he obviously had done just that!” Keane’s songs, dry wit, and humour did win the crowd over.

The concert was a blend of McGlashan’s new material and classics: new songs Sunscreen, Lights Come On, Go Back In, and All the Goodbyes in the World were followed by A Thing Well Made, featuring euphonium, violin, and Clark’s gorgeous harmonies – creating an ethereal effect off the surrounding timber walls.

The melancholic, haunting Song for Sue, surely an APRA Silver Scroll Award contender, was followed by Bathe in the River – the first verse in te reo, to the crowd’s delight. Nothing on the Windows was followed by the anthemic Anchor Me – the simplicity of piano, violin, and Clark’s backing vocals was uplifting. Shackleton, written from McGlashan’s week-long excursion to Antarctica in 2012, preceded the classic White Valiant.

John Bryce, an angry song about Parihaka, had the band at full volume and featured the full force of O’Connor’s drumming.

Following Start Again, the driving Don’t Fight it Marsha, it’s Bigger Than Both of Us featured Carter’s intense, thrashing guitar. Dominion Road had the crowd rocking in their pews, and by The Heater it was surprising no-one was dancing in the aisles.

The first encore When the Trumpets Sound was followed by Pulled Along by Love, featuring the crowd’s vocals on the chorus!

It was a privilege to see a New Zealand musical icon at such an iconic venue as Old St Paul’s.

Fono – The Contest for the Governance of Sāmoa | Regional News

Fono – The Contest for the Governance of Sāmoa

Written by: Peter Swain

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This book embarrassed me into awareness of how little I knew about the island nation of Sāmoa – a nation that has fought long and courageously for an ideal form of governance for its people to live their own way of life. If you think that would be a relatively straightforward process, Fono will disabuse you.

Author Peter Swain had earlier collaborated with then-Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi on his memoir Palemia. The two realised the importance of placing the latter’s story in the context of Sāmoa’s political development since independence – and the importance of relating the story, previously recorded in obscure academic texts, in factually plain language. Hence Fono.

‘Fono’, both noun and verb, refers to ‘village council’ or ‘committee’ and describes how Sāmoans governed themselves in small communities. The Polynesian universe, centred on Sāmoa and Tonga, stayed happily in its subsistent way of life until disruption came in the form of European explorers, adventurers, traders, missionaries, and settlers.

Chapter 4: New Zealand Administration held the greatest interest for me. Germany gave up control of Sāmoa to the New Zealand military at the start of World War I, and consequently Western Sāmoa had its desire for self-governance postponed. It wasn’t until 1935 that the NZ Labour Party, led by Michael Savage, took power – something that marked a dramatic change of attitude to Sāmoa and its aspirations.

The arrival of American forces in Apia in 1942 coincided with a spurt in Sāmoa’s economy. Then Peter Fraser, Savage’s successor, visited the country in 1944 and listened to its grievances. American President Harry Truman, often cited as favouring the close of an era of colonisation, added his voice.

Fono is enhanced by the inclusion of vivid and telling photographs. But its greatest enhancement is the language in which its remarkable content is expressed. As a plain English proponent, I fully appreciated the elements employed by the writer to make his narrative easy to read: short sentences, easily comprehensible vocabulary, and proper paragraphing.

Gone to Ground | Regional News

Gone to Ground

Written by: Bronwyn Hall


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Being dropped in the middle of a war zone would not be a picnic for most people, but for United Nations surgeon Rachel Forester it’s all part of the job. So when she’s asked to travel to a mobile hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she doesn’t hesitate.

While originally there to simply administer some vaccines, things take a turn for the worse when armed rebels risk finding them, and with no air support Rachel must ‘go to ground’ in the Congolese jungle to survive. Thankfully she’s not alone and is accompanied by a group of three soldiers, who we soon discover have another mission in mind besides escorting Rachel to safety.

What makes Gone to Ground such a compelling read is the story being told. Like all good authors, Bronwyn Hall transports her readers into her narrative and gives them a taste of what the characters are going through – in this case, armed conflict. I could actually feel the tension ramp up as things really hit the fan, and found myself eager to find out what would happen next.

Rachel herself is a great protagonist and while she seems like a fish out of water at first, it becomes clear that there is more to her than meets the eye. It would have been so easy to make her the classic clichéd damsel in distress like so many other novels, but instead she’s written as smart, resourceful, and stubborn, standing her ground when she sees something that she doesn’t like or agree with.

The book has a bit of everything: adventure, danger, intrigue, and even romance, which I thought was a bit odd given the circumstances. However, as a reader not into their romance novels, I get that this is a ‘me problem’ and I wouldn’t consider it a negative when it comes to this book.

Bottom line, if you want a bit of excitement with a fun and realistic heroine, then look no further than Gone to Ground.

One Weka Went Walking | Regional News

One Weka Went Walking

Written by: Kate Preece

Bateman Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

One Weka Went Walking is a good early introduction for kids to the birds of the Chatham Islands, where the inquisitive weka encounters all types of birds on his journey across the islands.

Pippa Ensor has created beautiful illustrations that appear to be exquisitely created with watercolours; these highlight the beauty of each bird, from the muted shades of the Chatham Island warbler to the mottled blues of the Chatham Island tūī.

Author Kate Preece offers a simple yet catchy flow of words in One Weka Went Walking, with some te reo Māori translations and very occasionally Moriori. There are neat facts about the different birds that inhabit the Chatham Islands, some of which are threatened – like the nationally endangered Chatham Island tomtit or the threatened, nationally vulnerable Chatham Island snipe, which Preece incidentally offers a delightful fact about: it is as long as a pencil and lighter than a bar of soap, making it the smallest snipe in the Southern Hemisphere.

With curious facts at the bottom of each page, there’s a little bit more on offer for kids to absorb, like the fact that 12 buff wekas were released on Chatham Island in 1905 and now there are tens of thousands living there. Or ones of a more sneaky variety, like the fact that shining cuckoos, although rare, are known for sneaking their eggs into the Chatham Island warbler nests, and once the cuckoo hatches, it kicks the other eggs or chicks out of the nest.

One Weka Went Walking is a quaint book that will appeal to young children, particularly those with an interest in birds and
the diversity of nature. The rhythmic flow and repetition of words in One Weka Went Walking creates a delightful story of a weka’s encounters with other birds that cleverly and simply tells: who is endangered, who is at risk, who eats what, who lives where, who’s plumper than fat, and who has a mohawk down the back of their back.

People Person | Regional News

People Person

Written by: Joanna Cho

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

People Person is Joanna Cho’s first collection. In poetry and prose, it is largely a tribute to her mother. A lengthy narrative piece relates the saga of emigration to New Zealand from South Korea, with wistful family memories alternating with unwelcome domestic dramas. Although every immigrant story must be unique, it is salutary to imagine Cho’s one may be typical.

“Each version of the family stories forms an overlapping polyphony. These are our heirlooms and we are the school choir” suggests an upbeat attitude though, come what may.

“Some people think I can’t do the dishes / Because I don’t do it their way” had me hooked from the start. I could almost guess where a poem titled The Right Way was headed, and I took special delight in the poet’s image of “a murder of bent backs circling and cawing ‘You’re doing it wrong!’” This poem – redolent of domesticity – captures well the theme of the collection: that of fitting in orcomplying with the habits, convictions, and culture of a country not your own.

Yet another poem I could relate to was Picking the Good One which facilitates the possibly wry observation “I’ve moved so often I don’t know where half my things are / All in op shops really” and concludes with a philosophical comment about choice.

80% of How Attractive You are is Determined by Your Haircut is a provocative title that didn’t quite fulfil its promise. I searched for a theme that held throughout five pages. Was it “At the salon they cut layers to mirror stages of trust”? I’m not sure, but there were curious references to beds of mussels, monogamous and polyamorous relationships – oh, and basketball players, another of Cho’s favoured subjects.

The sustained theme of They was more satisfying, with its metaphor of orange fish in an aquarium representing the “they” who are working on the building opposite. “The pulled lipless mouth” and “the familial gills” were riveting images, leading to a confronting conclusion.

Cho’s work promises further thoughtful delights of subject, theme, and expression.

Black Adam | Regional News

Black Adam

(PG-13 )

125 mins

(1 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

With superhero giants Marvel finally slowing down in terms of acclaim and box office success – only one Marvel film from the last four years is among the franchise’s top five highest grossing – and it seems rivals DC have finally been given a chance to take back the coveted onscreen superhero throne. In my humble opinion, they have once again blown this chance with their latest effort Black Adam.

In ancient Kahndaq, a young boy (Jalon Christian) is bestowed the almighty powers of the gods. Nearly 5000 years later and Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) has gone from man to myth to legend. After he is freed from his tomb by a local woman (Sarah Shahi) seeking the lost champion, his unique form of justice, born out of rage, is challenged by modern-day heroes who form the Justice Society.

Blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises and the more recent Avengers: Endgame showed that superhero movies can combine thrilling action with compelling storytelling. Black Adam fails miserably in trying to do either. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of fights during the two-hour runtime, they just, well… suck. Known for his suspenseful thrillers such as The Shallows, director Jaume Collet-Serra throws his style out the window and instead settles for a barrage of slow-motion action sequences and CGI lightning bolts. There was no creativity behind many of the scenes, no thought. And while Johnson certainly looks the part as the film’s troubled champion, this is the least entertaining, least appealing role of his career.

The horrendous writing and poor performances by the cast only made things worse. Just because superheroes themselves are made up doesn’t mean superhero films need to avoid realism like the plague. No, instead let’s just teleport civilians to wherever it’s convenient for the plot, forget that humans take damage, and let a kid (Bodhi Sabongui) chat away cheerfully while mercenaries perish all around him.

In all honestly, I would have walked out the door halfway through Black Adam if it wasn’t my job to stay and watch. It’s an unpleasant barrage of symbols and sounds and adds up to little more than a two-hour montage of recycled action and comedy concepts. You’ve been warned.

Melissa Aldana Quartet | Regional News

Melissa Aldana Quartet

The Opera House, 23rd Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Melissa Aldana and her quartet close the Wellington Jazz Festival in style, playing their latest album 12 Stars. With GRAMMY-nominated Aldana at the helm, the remarkable group plays heartfelt, energetic music that demands attention to be appreciated. The album is inspired by the subtlety of tarot and deals with themes of self-love and acceptance in the wake of 2020.

The concert opens with the titular song. I am immediately struck by the sheer passion mustered from an instrument as Aldana breaks into a mournful saxophone intro. The piece is gentle and meandering, demonstrating incredible finesse from the musicians. By the time the first song (or maybe the second?) ends 20 minutes later, I’ve completely forgotten where I am, entranced by the music.

The Bluest Eye is a playful jam that gives everyone the chance to show off. I am particularly taken by Kush Abadey on drums, who is infectiously enthusiastic. He leaps from his seat in excitement while maintaining a perfect tempo and exchanging lines with the guitarist. Lage Lund on guitar also produced the album, and he is magnificent.

Emelia might be my favourite song. Aldana opens with a hauntingly beautiful sax solo, featuring a melody that she tells us came to her in a dream. Pablo Menares is excellent on bass and has fantastic energy throughout.

Aldana uses the song Los Ojos de Chile to draw attention to the current unrest and protests in Chile. The song is hopeful and upbeat, with an almost suspenseful guitar solo from Lund. I am in awe of Aldana's vibrato; even her highest notes are crystal clear with a consistent quaver.

The band receives a standing ovation and returns for a slightly experimental encore that feels more like a jam session. I am delighted to note that the moments of silence are crisp, especially as Abadey exploits anticipatory pauses to great effect. A splendid performance and a fitting end to this year's festival.