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Red, White & Brass | Regional News

Red, White & Brass


85 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Wellington was painted red on the 21st of March – red with the flag of Tonga.

On the 1st of October 2011, Tonga beat France at Wellington’s World Cup Rugby game in one of the biggest upsets in rugby history. First, they thanked God, and then they thanked their fans. Red, White & Brass is the story of this game, but it’s not about the players. It’s about Tongans and their māfana – their feeling of warmth, their pride.

“Straight up, this actually happened”, Red, White & Brass informs viewers on its title page. Inspired by the true story of co-writer and co-producer Halaifonua (Nua) Finau. The movie follows Maka (John-Paul Foliaki), a Tongan superfan who misses out on tickets to the big game. In typical Maka fashion, he comes up with a genius plan: signing his brass band up to play at the opening ceremony. The only problem is he doesn’t have a brass band.

Directed and co-written by Damon Fepulea’i, Red, White & Brass is truly a gem of a movie and another jewel in the crown from the production company that brought us The Breaker Upperers and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Filmed entirely in Wellington, Emily Mafile’o’s production design is *chef’s kiss*. Every scene includes some element of red, every moment is imbued with Tonga. Costume designer Daisy Chiara Marcuzzi employs a similar tactic in her clothing choices, adding red accents to every character’s style. The score by Three Houses Down, which is original and on Spotify by the way, is cheerful, vibrant, and fully embodies the film.

Similarly laudable is the cast of Red, White & Brass. Virtually every actor is a newcomer, yet so comfortable are they in their roles, they seem like veterans of the silver screen. Maka is Foliaki’s first official acting role, and he is superb. But the entire cast should be recognised, as each character is played so authentically you felt as though you left the theatre with a group of new friends.

“There is no I in band”, and it is the whole band that makes Red, White & Brass absolutely brilliant. A work of art and of Tongan ingenuity at its finest, māfana maketh the movie.

The King of Taking  | Regional News

The King of Taking

Presented by: Kallo Collective and A Mulled Whine

Created by: Thom Monckton

Circa Theatre, 21st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I was lucky enough to see Thom Monckton’s The Artist in 2020 in my first foray back to live theatre since the pandemic began. I remember summarising the show as “one man procrastinates making art for an hour”, which, sure, doesn’t sound all that interesting. But in the hands of this consummate physical theatre performer, I noted that The Artist was one of the most engaging solo performances I’d ever seen.

The King of Taking is no different, with a summary that could feasibly read: King spends 35 minutes walking to a table to spend another 35 minutes opening presents. I have very few plot points to report and very little dialogue to dissect, save, perhaps, for the syllabic stress on the name “Jonathan”. And yet I could write for days about how every minute, every moment of The King of Taking is a highlight.

Looming centre stage is a stately throne (production design by Gemma Tweedie, set realised by Lucas Neal) that allows for many gags I don’t want to spoil here. Props like candlesticks, rope pulleys, and rolls of red carpet are further instruments of amusement. Clever lighting (Neal) and sound (Amanda Maclean) cues accentuate Monckton’s physical comedy as he makes excellent use of everything around him. This extends to not just the set pieces but to the gifts bestowed on him by the audience prior to the show – a unique concept I’ve not seen on stage before.

Monckton speaks a thousand unscripted words with the mere twitch of a lip, the bat of an eyelash, with an energy that intensifies when it comes time to open the King’s presents. His portrayal of all-consuming, childlike joy that borders on madness emphasises themes of greed, corruption, and power. In short, of taking. This resonates the loudest when the King continues to tear open his gifts without a thought for the wellbeing of his surprise guest, Tess Sullivan. What a showstopping cameo.

A Fat Girl’s Cry | Regional News

A Fat Girl’s Cry

Written by: Celia Macdonald

Directed by: Celia Macdonald

BATS Theatre, 21st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Passionate, perky, and powerful are three of the many words that can be used to describe Celia Macdonald’s first original show, A Fat Girl’s Cry. Macdonald takes us on a musical journey about the importance of plus-size representation in the musical theatre industry. The show feels autobiographical and strikingly similar to Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, but of course with Macdonald’s unique, charismatic flair.

Songs are well placed throughout the show, providing an exciting new context to some beloved musical theatre numbers such as All That Jazz from Chicago and Children Will Listen from Into the Woods. Macdonald and fellow actor Scott Christie performing the treasured As Long as You’re Mine from Wicked feels right and questions why we don’t often see plus-size performers in leading roles such as Elphaba.

I have never seen BATS’ The Stage so stripped down. I feel this aids the performance as it allows Macdonald’s potent story to be the focal point, rather than the razzle dazzle that most musicals bring. I love how stage manager Jess Weston takes part in the show, adding another talented performer into the mix.

My heart shatters into pieces at the climax of the show. The performers execute this perfectly. I feel Macdonald’s pain. No performer should ever have to feel how she has felt. It breaks me to think how toxic the musical theatre industry can be to those who don’t ‘fit the bill’.

Whilst specifically addressing the struggles of being plus size in the musical theatre industry, the show feels universally relevant, touching on the idea that oftentimes the things we get ridiculed for the most are our greatest assets. The final number Absolutely Everybody is a fantastic way to end the show by celebrating people of all shapes and sizes.

Macdonald is a genuine, talented performer and I sincerely hope that she continues to take the spotlight that she deserves.

A Fat Girl’s Cry is truly a show for every body.

Brandenburg | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, 11th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

A music-rich weekend had started with a fine Friday night classical programme, Mozart and Salieri, and was followed with a feast of the best baroque in Brandenburg on Saturday night. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos were so named because they were found in the Brandenburg archives 99 years after Bach’s death. Like Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major in Friday’s concert, they were not performed during the composer’s lifetime but are widely considered to be some of the best orchestral works of the Baroque period.

The soloists Bridget Douglas (flute), Yuka Eguchi (director/violin), and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes (harpsichord) were accompanied by a small chamber orchestra for Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. The acoustics in the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul are quite different from the Michael Fowler Centre. The high ceiling and stone structure added a short echo, well suited to the balance and tone and the Baroque sound. The first movement includes a long and spectacular harpsichord cadenza, exceptionally well played by Griffiths-Hughes.

Brandenburg No. 5 is the first concerto written with a solo keyboard part and the next piece, Telemann’s Concerto for Viola in G Major, is the first viola concerto to be written. I have a soft spot for the little-known and often-overlooked viola. Soloist Alexander McFarlane played with skill and feeling and a really lovely tone from the first slow movement to the fourth and final fast movement.

Handel’s Concerto Grosso in G Major No. 1 was introduced by principal second violin Andrew Thomson, who also explained the difference between a Baroque and modern bow – it’s all to do with the hair! Handel explored a variety of styles and techniques in the five movements making up the concerto and the strings sounded magnificent in the church acoustics.

To conclude, Telemann’s Overture Suite in G Minor, La Changeante, was a series of eight playful postcards depicting a wide variety of styles and form from a musical holiday in France.

Mozart & Salieri | Regional News

Mozart & Salieri

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is bringing itself up to date as carefully and subtly as a national institution can. In the last month we have enjoyed the glorious and joyful return of Te Matatini and Polyfest, both taking the stage after suffering the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic on our performing arts. In this post-pandemic renaissance, the NZSO is working to extend its reach to new audiences. Director Vesa-Matti Leppänen gave us an informative, humorous introduction to each half in which he outlined the programme and introduced us to the music we would hear. Full programme notes are now only in digital form, the audience referring to a simple run sheet for guidance on the night.

A scaled-back chamber orchestra, not sitting but standing, opened with a bright, lively start from the strings and Haydn’s short Overture to L’Infedelta delusa. This was followed by Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for orchestra and a woodwind quartet. Lost for almost a century, the sinfonia was not played in Mozart’s lifetime but the NZSO soloists did a tremendous job on the night, well balanced and articulate.

The outstanding part of the programme was Antonio Salieri’s 26 Variations on La Folia di Spagna. 26 variations present opportunity for an impressive range of musical styles, forms, instrumental combinations, and solo performances. Leppänen had set the scene for us to be able to listen for the differences, enriching the experience for a very receptive audience. The musicians rose to the challenge as well as ever and some outstanding playing matched the complexity of the composition.

Hummel’s Eight Variations and Coda on O du Lieber Augustin is based on a familiar children’s song and the audience was encouraged to join in and hum the theme. The concert ended on a lighter, simpler note but it was Salieri’s sophisticated and extraordinary variations I will seek out for future listening.

Get Stuffed | Regional News

Get Stuffed

Created by: Semi Cho

Bedlam & Squalor, 9th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Get Stuffed promises so much: “a creepy uncle’s man cave showcasing a curated taxidermy collection” and a line-up of comedians who “ask the hard-hitting questions around the double standards of stuffing a bird”. And, indeed, there are some choice examples of weird stuffing on display – an inflated blowfish with stuck-on googly eyes, a sexily reclining fox, and a toucan being embraced by a Barbie doll. These are the “4am delusions and drunken purchases” of comedian Semi Cho whose debut Fringe Festival Show this is.

The delivery of this promise, however, comes up a little short. Cho’s introduction is amusingly quirky, starting with a confession about how much she loves funerals because most people are just there for the catering, and her obsession with “glamorous roadkill”.

She then introduces the first of her guests, Australian Darryl Wilson. His short set is fine in and of itself with a bit of politics and a diatribe about bringing one’s whole self to work. It’s hard to see how it fits with the theme of stuffed animals, though, as it seems like a routine he would perform anywhere rather than one tailored to this show.

Michael Macaulay, Cho’s second guest, does try to get with the programme and relates three surprisingly funny jokes he asked ChatGPT to create on the theme of animals. He also recreates what Sir David Attenborough sounded like before he lost his Middlesborough accent (the TV legend actually grew up in Leicester but hey, don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story!) and tells a titter-inducing tale of accidentally peeing on a hedgehog.

Both guests are also invited by Cho to perform a touch test on a stuffed animal hidden under a blanket. Wilson’s turns out to be a rooster, spawning the inevitable cock joke, and Macaulay’s is a surprised-looking cat, clearly once someone’s much-loved pet.

Get Stuffed is a brave effort at an original comedy show but needs stronger attention to unity of theme.

The Big Drum Off – Rodger Fox Big Band 50th Anniversary  | Regional News

The Big Drum Off – Rodger Fox Big Band 50th Anniversary

The Opera House, 8th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Graeme King

There was a buzz of expectation in the Opera House foyer on Wednesday night. Many local musicians also made the pilgrimage to witness three top American drumming legends performing with the Rodger Fox Big Band as part of The Big Drum Off Concert Tour, celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary.

Rodger Fox CMNZ has led his band to become an institution in New Zealand and overseas over the last 50 years, and he has played with some of the world’s biggest names in jazz and blues. He is held in such high esteem that legendary musicians of the calibre of Gregg Bissonette, Peter Erskine, and Dennis Chambers are here to play with him and his band. 

The drummers each had a 30-minute set in which to showcase their own style and taste, and this allowed the Big Band soloists to feature. 

Bissonette, a jazz and rock drummer, was up first. Starting with a breathtaking version of Fireshaker, he moved on to the old jazz standard Just in Time. Stratus was followed by Time Check. During one of Bissonette’s spectacularly complex solos I actually lost the beat – but it only took a glance at Fox’s left trouser leg, which was steadfastly keeping time, to find it!

The second set featured Erskine, who has appeared on over 700 albums and film scores. At times his more delicate, nuanced classic jazz style was simply stunning. His open-mouthed smile was infectious. He started with Miles Davis’ Full Nelson followed by Still of the Night, Groove, and Sunday Morning and finished with his composition Hawaii Bathing Suit. 

Last up was Chambers, who is known for his impeccable and funky timing and fast chops – not to mention his jazz fusion, funk, and Latin music playing. He didn’t disappoint. Cissy Strut, Soul Sacrifice, and Sister Sadie led to his final tune Some Skunk Funk, where the funk power didn’t let up. 

The encore Ruth, with all three drummers on stage together, was a jazz masterclass by world-class musicians – including the homegrown ones. It was indeed a night to remember.

Moonroe’s Happy Hour | Regional News

Moonroe’s Happy Hour

Created by: Laura Oakley and Jackson Cordery

Te Auaha, 7th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Marilyn Moonroe (Laura Oakley), a diva with a lunar crescent for a head, and her sidekick Sonny (Jackson Cordery) warmly welcome you to Te Auaha for 60 minutes of variety performance.

Using a miniature leaf blower to recreate the classic moment from The Seven Year Itch where Marilyn Monroe’s white dress is blown up by a subway vent, this is a cute and quirky hour of songs, silliness, and sensational circus.

‘Stage manager’ Britney Spears pops on to set out six hula hoops on the floor and we’re treated to a flawless hoop-twirling display by Lightning Lola (Oakley). An attempt at a sexy striptease by Mark Malady (Cordery) to the song Fever is comically ruined by COVID symptoms, and so the fun continues.

Sitting in the front row is not for the faint-hearted as several audience members are brought into the action. One gamely pops a balloon from between the legs of Oakley while she’s in an open-legged handstand. Another has an improvised song written about her by a nervous pomegranate with a tiny ukulele.

Always polite and inclusive, Oakley and Cordery are charming performers with some mean circus skills. Cordery’s silks and aerial routines are spectacular and Oakley’s floor routines slick and strong. They also have a gift for light-heartedness and audience interaction that makes everyone feel a part of their world. It’s refreshing to experience a comedic performance that is uplifting rather than relying on putting others down.

A bare, black-box stage is used well to deliver the big circus numbers and the smaller, more intimate pieces. Dean Holdaway’s lighting creates a dazzling whirl of spotlights and two blinders at the back of the stage facilitate a dramatic entrance for Moonroe at the start of the show.

If you’re looking for something a bit different this Fringe Festival where you’re made to feel you belong, you can’t go wrong with Moonroe’s Happy Hour. After all, as Moonroe says, we’re just seeds in one big pomegranate.

Women Drinking Hemlock | Regional News

Women Drinking Hemlock

Written by: Sacha Acland

Directed by: B Wilson Kilby

Gryphon Theatre, 7th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

I never thought I would see a sitcom presented not on television, but on stage. In Women Drinking Hemlock, writer Sacha Acland executes a theatrical sitcom with ease. Inspired by the title of a lost Greek play, the show follows two rival breweries seeking out their slice of Wellington's nightlife. One is owned by Archie (Nathan Arnott), entrenched in misogyny and toxicity. The other is owned by Maven (Alanah Munn), new to the brewery business, overflowing with optimism and hope.

The show strikes a perfect balance between realism and comedy. Through the expertise of the actors, the action doesn’t feel too slapstick, but nor does it feel too dreary in tone. The hijinks aren’t too ridiculous, and likewise, the heavier moments aren’t too turgid. Even though we only get to meet the characters briefly, it feels we have known them for quite some time.

I find it clever how the set design (Helen Oliver) and lighting design (Teddy O’Neill) clearly differentiate the two breweries. We can see a striking contrast between Archie’s dark and barren brewery and Maven’s, which is more enticing and homely. Not only that, but the show is extremely accessible, providing audio descriptions as well as captions by Alexander Garside throughout the performance. Additionally, touch tours of the set are available.

I feel that an incorporation of music would alleviate the few awkward silences and assist in portraying the emotions of the scenes better. I would also be interested to see the character of Sam (Holly Kennedy) fleshed out a little more, as they feel like the only character to not have a complete story arc. I can certainly see this play being translated into an actual televised sitcom easily.

Women Drinking Hemlock is thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it if you want a night of both laughter and drama that doesn’t sacrifice one for the other.