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End of the Rainbow | Regional News

End of the Rainbow

Written by: Peter Quilter

Directed by: Jeff Kingsford-Brown

Opera House, 18th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The decline of Judy Garland (Ali Harper) in the months leading up to her death from an overdose in 1969 forms the basis of this tragic, yet darkly funny, play with music. Judy is staying at The Ritz along with her new, much younger fiancé Mickey Deans (Glen Horsfall) and besotted friend and pianist Anthony (Tom McLeod, who doubles as musical director), preparing for a five-week run of shows. She hopes her act will maintain her high profile, but she struggles with addictions to booze and pills and her complex and strained relationships with the two men.

Having witnessed Harper’s gift for vocal mimicry before, I had no doubt that she could carry off a convincing portrayal of Judy Garland in song, which she does magnificently. However, it is her acting chops that come to the fore in End of the Rainbow. She’s constantly on the move, a twitchy bag of drug-deprived nerves, with a sharp wit and a yen for manipulation. The men don’t stand a chance as she bullies and cajoles them into indulging her needs, by turns the acid-tongued adult and the petulant teenager she was when the Hollywood studio machine started plying her with drugs. This is clearly a passion project for Harper, one which she fully embraces with the skill and energy of a seasoned performer.

As her foils, Horsfall and McLeod support Harper superbly and Kevin Orlando steals the show with his brief appearances as a porter and stage manager. McLeod’s musical direction and piano playing are also excellent, as is the six-piece band that is perfectly balanced against Harper’s powerful vocals.

The production design (Ian Harman) is smart and unfussy with glittery costumes that belie Judy’s less-than-sparkly mental state and a simple but slick set. Jeff Hewitt’s lighting design is also highly effective, especially during the final number.

Don’t miss Ali Harper’s stellar performance of a falling star. This is one rainbow you’ll never want to end.

Nailed It – A Builder Play  | Regional News

Nailed It – A Builder Play

Presented by: The Awkward Company

Written by: Aimee Dredge, Sam Lewis, and Tom Hayward

Directed by: Aimee Dredge, Sam Lewis, and Tom Hayward

Te Auaha, 17th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Opening night of the 2023 New Zealand Fringe Festival and the anticipation is building (pun intended). We’ve been invited to grab a hammer, take a smoko, and scoff a pie as we join the ragtag cast of builders in The Awkward Company’s brand-new play Nailed It – A Builder Play.

We open with the untimely demise of Pete-o, a 106-year-old tradie gone too soon. Knocking down the number of days without an incident from 3 to 0, Pete-o’s death summons the much-maligned safety inspector, Donald – or Quackers (Sam Lewis). I can still hear the audible sigh from tradies in the audience upon his arrival.

At the play’s heart, as is with most real-world tradie jobs, is the camaraderie. The audience becomes one of the work crew, as the loveable site manager Crusty (Tom Hayward) welcomes us, “Smithy, Robbo, Benny, Lenny…” to a new day on site. This is where we meet Pete-o’s replacement, the new apprentice Dylan (Aimee Dredge), but Dylan is not what the team expects. How will our boys handle their first woman comrade?  

Dylan hopes to quickly gain their respect and no longer be seen as the ‘Sheila’ on site. But she must first fall victim to some classic tradie pranks of fetching ‘the long weight’ and the 1D10T planks.

The script is sharp as a tack, witty, and light-hearted, and performed stunningly by the entire cast. Still, rivers run deep with the writing; there is an underlying sensitivity which is highlighted in snippets of the characters’ bigger dreams and morals. Crusty loves to write musicals, Dylan doesn’t want to be a newbie forever, and Bubbles (Shauwn Peter Ethan Keil) is fiercely loyal to his trade and his team. There is also a highlight (literally, thanks to the hilarious utilisation of spot lighting by Ryan Holtham) of women in trade and apprenticeship opportunities from the play’s sponsors, BCITO.

A feel-good show with knock-out performances, pranks, pies, and Kiwi humour, The Awkward Company nailed it. Frank the Sentient Nail, the site mascot, was a bit wooden though.

Wonderful | Regional News


Written by: Richard Huber

Directed by: Richard Huber

Te Auaha, 17th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

We stare back at them as impressions from beyond the drawing room window. Never truly within but never without either, the audience and the actors both “hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature”, as Shakespeare said. Or is it all just make-believe?

The eccentric yet quintessentially upper-class Lady Hermione (Sarah Barham) drapes herself artfully and aloofly over a chair, her loyal butler Roberts (Blaise Barham) in suspended animation until she pulls his strings to distract her from the tedium of a socialite’s existence. Set in the drawing room of a British estate in the 1920s, Wonderful is a witty and absurdist investigation into love, shifting values, and the lost generation. Discussing monocles, sex, bohemian Berlin, “what the actress said to the bishop”, and Lady Hermione’s play, the pair grapple with the inherited values that are no longer relevant and the utter disillusionment of a post-war world.

Writer and director Richard Huber describes Wonderful as “one part drawing-room farce, two measures of love, and a splash of the comedy of manners”. With only a chair and drinks cart for props, there is nothing for the characters to dance around except each other and their banter. Having known each other since childhood, Hermione and Roberts are in love with each other. She sees the entire relationship as a game, suggesting they run away to become “lesbians in Berlin”; Roberts, who fought in the Great War, is more cynical and realistic, knowing that a servant and a socialite don’t stand a chance against Britain’s entrenched classism. Therefore, Roberts and Hermione create a play within the play, where they can be together.

Using lighting (by Meko Ng and Jordan Wichman) to transition in and out of reality and imagination, the present and memory, Hermione and Roberts blur the lines between what is real and what is not for both themselves and the audience, making a space of their own somewhere in between where everything is Wonderful.

The Big HOO-HAA! | Regional News

The Big HOO-HAA!

Produced by: Locomotive

BATS Theatre, 17th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A warm, weird, and wacky welcome to the pure chaos of the Fringe season, The Big HOO-HA! is a competitive improv show originally founded in Perth some 20 years ago. It’s had great success in Melbourne and now, hopefully, Pōneke. By hopefully, I mean that it must stay here forever. I simply insist.

Our host Jennifer O’Sullivan introduces us to two teams: Hearts (Megan Connolly, Jed Davies, and Guanny Liu-Prosee) and Bones (Elliott Lam, Tara McEntee, and Malcolm Morrison). With the adept assistance of Matt Hutton on live keyboards (plural!), Sam Irwin on real-time lighting design, and Matt Powell on scorekeeping, the teams face off in a battle for glory by competing in timed rounds that feature various popular improv games. Challenges span storytelling, direction, narration, songwriting, muffin incorporation, and much more. Everything you see onstage is made up on the spot.

Group improv is, first and foremost, a team sport. You can be the wittiest, speediest, sharpest tool in the shed – and each one of these cast members is just that – but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t collaborate, share the spotlight, and (to throw in an improv buzz phrase,) accept offers. Friday night’s Big HOO-HAA! players work beautifully together and there is a palpable camaraderie not just within the teams, but between them too. This results in a wild night of unbridled joy, silliness, and, of course, laughter.

Now for the highlights! Davies’ deliciously macabre delivery of 99 percent of his offers complements my favourite character of the night: McEntee’s Suspicious Moon, who turns out to be quite the perve in an encore appearance. Moon is made all the more ~suspicious~ by a great collaboration between Irwin and Hutton. Lam and Connolly write an absolute banger: Cry on my Face. O’Sullivan – who is generally a very charming riot – keeps mispronouncing Powell’s brilliant pun about bran muffins and Banksy (‘branksy’). Liu-Prosee takes a turn as a tiger hunter in possession of the famed, highly illegal ‘master bullet’, while Morrison’s wickedly disturbing tooth fairy sets… my teeth on edge. Sorry.

A big hoorah for The Big HOO-HAA!

The Banshees of Inisherin | Regional News

The Banshees of Inisherin


114 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Fog rolls over the island of Inisherin. The cold sets into your bones and the sea laps at your feet. Centuries of tradition and legend wrap themselves around your shoulders, shrouding the world in ancient mysticism and melancholia that seems only to exist in the realms of Celtic folklore and the fraught history of the Irish Isles. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) heads down to the local as he has everyday since forever, but his best friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) no longer wishes to speak to him. What ensues is a darkly humorous, bloody conflict with devastating consequences.

Set in 1923 The Banshees of Inisherin is an allegory of the Irish Civil War, a bloody battle pitting family and friends against each other. With the made-up island Inisherin translating roughly to “island of Ireland” and the plot revolving around a senseless conflict between Colm and Pádraic – best friends, brothers almost, who lose so much for so little, while the corrupt priest and brutal police officer stand by – the narrative is a powerful and beautifully crafted commentary on a dark moment in Irish history.

If I had the authority to give Barry Keoghan a supporting actor award for his portrayal of Dominic Kearney, I would fly to Ireland and personally deliver it to him. Rivalling Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Keoghan offers a compelling and tender portrayal of a boy on the spectrum, struggling to find his place in a world that doesn’t have much space for him. All the characters are so alive and well crafted. The relationships are a truthful representation of small, isolated communities. Cinematographer Ben Davis, designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, and editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen make a brilliant team.

I have so much praise for this work of art I could write pages. Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin has received nine nominations at the upcoming Academy Awards, and it deserves them. This film is cinematically masterful, so well acted, visually arresting, funny, touching, sad, and everything in between. It is also a love letter, a condolence, an Irish wake, a ballad to the people of Ireland.

Lola Rouge | Regional News

Lola Rouge

10 Dunlop Terrace, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Located on the heritage side of Wellington’s Naumi Hotel, Lola Rouge offers patrons a “journey to the Orient” right from their funky floral chairs, where they can enjoy views over Cobblestone Park while they dine on pan-Asian cuisine and sip signature cocktails. The restaurant is vibrant and colourful, utilising bold patterns and licks of flame red in its design, yet still decidedly chic.

Our night began as all the best ones do: with cocktails. I ordered the gin-based Lady Lavender, a sweet and balanced lime, lavender, orange, and butterfly pea tea concoction topped with a bubble of smoke that unfurls on impact.

After we were told the menu was designed for sharing, we ordered four dishes between us, expecting them to be tapas-size. Spoiler: they weren’t. The catch of the day would’ve filled me up on its own, but I listened to my stomach over our attentive server’s friendly warning that it was one of the biggest items on the Land and Sea menu. So really, I have only myself to blame! The fish was enjoyable but overshadowed by a chilli sambal sauce and didn’t stack up to our other three choices, all of which were exceptional.

I could eat either the Chongqing chicken – a traditional spicy Sichuan dish of chicken and dried red chilies – or the black tiger prawn and scallop dumplings in Galangal broth for every meal. The hero of the night was undeniably the Kurobuta pork belly, braised in fragrant master stock and served with ginger, scallion, peppers, sesame, and crispy leeks with a sticky black bean sauce. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the dish hit the flavour profiles of sweet, salty, and spicy to perfection.

We might’ve been too full to move, but still couldn’t resist ordering dessert. Beautifully presented, the signature tasting plate featured a silky-smooth coconut, rosewater, and cardamom crème brûlée; a Whittaker’s 50% chocolate crèmeux, more sweet than rich; and a moist matcha cake, all tied together with a biscuit-nut crumb and edible decorations like tuille leaves, flowers, and chocolate buttons. What a finale!  

Booked | Regional News


Written by: Kwame Alexander

Andersen Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If there’s one thing that I think binds every human being together, it’s that we were all young at some point. We were all preteens taking our first steps into becoming independent adults and failing miserably at it.

The graphic novel Booked follows the story of 12-year-old Nick as he navigates the perils of preteen life, including bullies, a blossoming romance, and a personal life that’s seemingly falling apart. While the story might be aimed at younger audiences, older readers might still like to give it a chance, as it does touch on some adult themes.

The illustration at first glance could be interpreted as simple, but this simplicity is what makes Booked so appealing and such a great read. Its bold illustration, with its clean lines and sparing use of one colour (green), helps draw the eye and makes Nick and his friends really pop off the page and come to life. All of this is thanks to illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, whose style complements the book’s narrative and the characters within.

Speaking of the characters, I have to say I loved them and actually began caring for them like real people. It was the combination of Anyabwile’s illustrations and Alexander’s strong storytelling that evoked this emotional response in me.

As said in the introduction, Booked and Nick’s adventures will be something that everyone can relate to, and I found myself absentmindedly chuckling more than a few times at the situations he found himself in. I mean, who hasn’t had that one teacher they couldn’t stand, or found themselves nervously face to face with their first crush?

While I loved what was going on in Nick’s school, it’s his home life that will really hit home for many readers. This was the part of the story with the most emotional meat. It’s these layers that add to the story, making Booked, in my opinion, worth much more than just a casual glance.

The Stories We Tell | Regional News

The Stories We Tell

Written by: Joanna Gaines


Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

I needed to overcome a tad of scepticism when starting to read Joanna Gaines’ The Stories We Tell. ‘Story’ has become a bit of an overused word, due largely to social media. Even Facebook urges us to add to our story. What kind of stories was our writer referring to?

Gaines, a New York Times bestseller, is Korean American, raised near Wichita, Kansas. As a person of mixed race, she experienced teasing at school and even years later, continued to find it difficult to fit in.

A career in journalism, a successful construction and renovation business in partnership with her husband Chip, and a happy home life do not seem to have stilled persistent inner voices of self-doubt, fear, and unworthiness, feelings many readers can relate to. Nearing the age of 44, “things had gotten blurry” is how she describes it. She had one go at writing 20 years earlier, but here she is “a couple of decades later, longing once again to write everything down”.

And boy, does she! All 240 pages worth. They’re interspersed with pink backgrounded mantras such as “Looking up grounds me in gratitude” and “Growth is where my heart is”.

Self-help books offer special challenges to the author – chiefly how to keep reader interest while relating deeply personal feelings. Greater conciseness would better suit the author’s purpose here. We read at length about her guilt, regret and pain. Such confessions are no doubt useful to the writer, by helping to purge those feelings, but are they as useful to the reader?

Gaines has had a successful career and even a TV programme, both of which, she says, developed her understanding of story as a tool for growth, describing as it can the breadth and diversity of human experiences. Fair enough. That said, the declaration “Chip and I have become story-obsessed” is predictable so comes as no surprise!

Gaines’ experience of setting her personal journey down on paper has clearly been a salutary and positive one for her. She urges us all to tell our own.

The Wall | Regional News

The Wall

Written by: Ant Middleton


Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

I must be one of few people who’ve not heard of Ant Middleton because when I selected this book to review, I thought I’d picked a book by Ant McPartlin from light entertainment duo Ant and Dec. How wrong I was.

Instead, I received a book with an intimidating cover photo of a muscled man with piercing blue eyes staring out at me looking like an old-school personal trainer who yells and swears to motivate you.

For those of you who are new to this author, Ant Middleton is a former British SAS soldier who presents a TV series called SAS Australia and has published a series of books about mental toughness.

His latest book covers a series of themes that stand in the way of us reaching our potential with advice on how to smash through these limiting thoughts or behaviours. There’s nothing new here – it’s simply packaged up differently to align to the hard man, ex-soldier brand that Ant Middleton has become known for and references later in the book.

If you can get past the references to Australian celebrities (who I hadn’t heard of), the swearing, and the initially male-dominated narrative then the advice is pretty good. And if you stick with it, the author softens a little in the second half of the book.

There are stories of contestants from the TV series and readers to help illustrate his advice, and they can be easier to relate to than the author. One story that stayed with me was the contestant who had to overcome her fear of being in a car submerged in water. Amazingly she completed the challenge of escaping the submerged car without panicking by making one commitment at a time and breaking the challenge down into small, clear, but simple steps. This chapter alone was worth the price of the book.

I wouldn’t normally read a book like this and I’m probably not the author’s target audience. But despite that, I’ve taken away some of the advice and started to put it into practice.