Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Desperation in Death | Regional News

Desperation in Death

Written by: J. D. Robb aka Nora Roberts

St. Martin’s Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

What amazes me the most is that even over several entries, the In Death murder mystery series still has so much to give. Neither Nora Roberts nor her star character Detective Eve Dallas seem to have run out of steam yet, and in her latest title, Desperation in Death, they both seem to have more energy than ever before. I think that’s partly because of Roberts’ emotionally charged writing style, which sucks me into her world and makes me feel for the characters involved – even the villains made me feel something (albeit in a very negative way).

At the centre of the story is Dallas and her team of police officers, who Roberts manages to inject with some real heart; almost to the point where they seem genuinely alive. While that might come off as hyperbole, the truth is Roberts is just that darn good. Special mention has to go to Dallas and her millionaire boyfriend Roarke, who cement their status as the unofficial power couple of their futuristic New York city.

One negative for me is that this might be one of the more disturbing adventures that Roberts has tackled. While I won’t spoil anything for you here, I will say that some of the subject matter gets quite dark, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There were times when I had to take a break from the story before coming back to it, simply because I found it so unsettling. However, I have to point out that this was more of a ‘me’ problem and you might not have any issue with the story at all.

Even if you are a bit on the sensitive side like me, if you stick with it, I think you will be rewarded with an amazing story that tugs on every emotion until the very end. Here’s hoping that Nora Roberts (aka J. D. Robb) and Eve Dallas return sometime soon in 2023.

Lost Possessions | Regional News

Lost Possessions

Written by: Keri Hulme

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Lost Possessions, a novella, is written in the style of a journal – a collection of pages of a notebook in which we learn about the writer, the character, via their self-expression. Author Keri Hulme captures the reader’s curiosity cleverly and instantly with an immediate mystery:
“They have left me.
The door is locked.
The room is entirely bare.”

Where the writer is, or why they have taken him, or indeed who they are, remains entirely a mystery for the rest of the journal. However, we are given hints. As the writer begins using the notepad to track the passage of time and the details of his experience as best he can, we learn that he is Harrod Wittie, a university lecturer. He only recalls a sack over his head and something like a belt around his neck before waking in a featureless room, alone, naked, with a bucket for company.

As days – or perhaps hours – pass and Harrod realises his state of mind depends entirely on whether he is given any food, he becomes a fabulous example of an unreliable narrator. We only see his surroundings through his description of them, and memories of his childhood, his family, his past relationships, swim to the surface while Harrod slowly starves.

A curious repeating theme of ‘rites of passage’ comes to the forefront of his musings. A bizarre obsession with race and skin colour is also impossible to ignore. As Harrod begins to focus on the fact that the people holding him hostage are Black, as far as he can tell, he reminisces about the last relationship he had, with a Black woman named Jaban, drawing tenuous connections between her and his current plight. They discussed differing cultures and their traditions around how and when one becomes a man. Is pain involved? Is there a real test? Just as he seems to be finally closing in on the possibility that he brought this situation upon himself, it ends in utter uncertainty.

A quick read, and a slow digest; Lost Possessions made me think for a long time.

In Memory of Travel | Regional News

In Memory of Travel

Written by: Grant Sheehan

Phantom House Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Photographer, publisher, and writer Grant Sheehan has lent his lens and penned a narrative to record his travels and adventures across the world in India, Moscow, and Antarctica to name just a few.

Perhaps my favourite chapter of In Memory of Travel is Café to Café. Here you will find images from his two previous books – Character Cafés of New Zealand and Cafés of the World. Collectively, they are a visual ode to café life in the 80s and 90s, a love of coffee, and some of the wondrous cafés he’s visited and photographed around the globe. Some looked sublime, others kitsch, most colourful, and one extraordinary: Caffé Florian in Venice looks like an exquisite art museum rather than, reportedly, the world’s oldest café. A black and white image of Espressoholic, once a favourite haunt of my youth, reminded me of the power an image has to take you back to a time gone by. In my case, it was a time filled with cappuccinos in an eclectic café in the wee hours of the morning in the heart of Courtenay Place in the 90s. Sheehan explores the power of our memories and in particular the nature of travel memory – how our brains process and recollect events and how this changes over time. For many of us, he says, it is our travels that form our most precious memories.

Whenever I look at an image, I can’t help but wonder of the photographer: were you a spectator or did you involve yourself in the happenstance or the moments you captured; either invited or uninvited? And what of the images you share with the world, are they raw in reality or manufactured through the manipulation of photographic artistry?

In a way, Sheehan answers these questions for me, explaining how he came to be somewhere, where he travelled to, and the stories behind the photographs.

In Memory of Travel invites you in, not only with its beautiful mix of imagery but with its narrative. Sheehan’s pragmatic and introspective take on photography and the circumstances surrounding his work gently projects you into his travels, the faraway places that exist beyond the landscape, and the life and people you are familiar with.

Messiah | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Umberto Clerici

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Dec 2022

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Musicians choose when to retire, as do most of the rest of us. NZSO musicians get to choose their own party music from the season’s programme. Michael Cuncannon (viola) and Yury Gezentsvey (principal first violin) chose the Messiah. In a relaxed but expectant and almost full house, Yury’s family had brought a banner reading “We love Yury”, which brought a smile to his face that remained for the whole show.

Umberto Clerici was conducting George Frideric Handel’s Messiah for the first time but you wouldn’t have known that from his confidence on the podium. The orchestra was reduced in number to a chamber orchestra. Clerici used this to great effect; he exposed the music and brought details to our attention. His use of tempo, volume, accent and attack, rise and fall, and a lyrical tone made the phrases shine. This is a very melodic work and, although it is a perennial Christmas feature, even new listeners would be surprised by how much sounds familiar.

The soloists and the wonderful Tudor Consort choir, supported by the orchestra, gave us many exceptional musical moments throughout the 48 verses. The soloists all started well and got better. Tenor Lila Crichton had a lovely, strong but also tender legato voice which perfectly suited the opening lyrics about seeking comfort and exalting the valleys. Last minute replacement bass-baritone Samson Setu stepped up with his own magnificent opening verse. His voice seemed much more mature than would be expected in someone so young. In his opening aria he sang of shaking the heavens and his technique made his voice shake distinctly and properly, not something you always hear in other performances.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble also impressed with her lovely expressive voice and soprano Emma Pearson likewise excelled in her part. In her final aria, rejoicing as Christ is risen, I was certain she sang with the voice of a true believer.

Faust | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre 3rd Dec 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Robert Schumann was inspired by Goethe’s tragic play Faust, and spent nine years writing Scenes from Goethe’s Faust. The work requires impressive forces: full orchestra, nine vocal soloists, and an adult and a children’s choir. It is an ambitious undertaking and has not been performed in New Zealand until now. Orchestra Wellington is to be commended for presenting it.

Schumann chose seven excerpts from Goethe’s play, leaving the audience to fill in the storyline from their familiarity with the play. Taddei provided surtitles, but they did not help much in elucidating the implied narrative. It paid just to immerse oneself in the music. 

The music was wonderful: dramatic, romantic, lyrical. Part 1 was romantic and tragic operatic fare of the highest order, concerning the consequences of an ill-starred relationship between Faust and a woman, Gretchen. Part 2 was darker and more dramatic, leading to the death of Faust. Part 3 concerns Faust’s transfiguration in heaven.

Playing Gretchen, Emma Pearson has a beautiful voice, being both pure and strong with a lovely upper register. Christian Thurston as Faust was not as convincing a character and had less cut-through against the orchestra. Wade Kernot as Mephistopheles, to whom Faust sells his soul, was impressive both in vocal quality and in characterisation. Of the several minor characters, tenor Jared Holt and soprano Barbara Paterson had strong voices and presence.  I wondered if the singers might have had more impact in conveying their characters if they were placed in front of the orchestra rather than behind it.

Schumann was more inclined to call this work an oratorio than anything else. The gorgeous choral writing, particularly in Part 3, explains why. Both Orpheus Choir and St Mark’s Schola Cantorum performed well, with Orpheus producing both power and a beautiful pianissimo as required. The piping children’s choir was perfect.

Pinocchio the Pantomime | Regional News

Pinocchio the Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 23rd Dec 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Ahh, the Circa pantomime. Giving our favourite fairy tales topsy-turvy topical treatment, these riotous rollercoaster rides have been an annual Christmas tradition for families from Wellington and beyond for nearly two decades.

This year’s pantomime sees writer and director Gavin Rutherford retire as the show’s sassy, saucy Dame after 12 years. Stepping into the kitten heels with grace and gusto is Jthan Morgan as Kahurangi Fairy, a fairy godmother embroiled in an eternal spat with the dastardly Fox (Emma Katene) and her sidekick, Thorndon Key (Tabatha Bertei-Killick). Meanwhile, lonely widower Gepetto (Sepelini Mua’au) finds a hunk of wood, boots out its former resident Willami Wētā (Finley Hughes), and carves a puppet son, Pinocchio (Nī Dekkers-Reihana) – much to the dismay of his cat and wannabe influencer Ms. Claws (Natasha McAllister). And all the while, ‘hee-haws’ echo down the streets of Wellywoodington as donkeys multiply without explanation.

It sounds nuts because it is. But oh boy, I reckon Pinocchio is my favourite pantomime yet. While this show is by no means subtle (in fact it’s still as mad as a whale with a hernia), it does feel more restrained in its approach than past pantos. Rather than colourblind the audience with spectacle, it plays more of a long game, allowing Leary and Rutherford’s references and jokes – not to mention the presumably unscripted adlibs (shoutout to Hughes and Mua’au for the brilliant banter) – to really shine.

The cast is a tight unit, with a recurring gag of talking animals unwittingly enjoying pats (McAllister and Katene) a hilarious highlight. I particularly love the general disdain but secret sentimentality Hughes brings to the role of Willami, Dekkers-Reihana’s defined physicality as a puppet, and Morgan’s inspired interactions with the audience – especially the whispers of “don’t tell anyone”.

Tying it all together are the arrangements of inimitable musical director Michael Nicholas Williams, with bangers and bops bound to appeal to millennials like myself.

Get your lovely friends by your side for a happy conclusion and a measure of magic at Circa Theatre this summer.

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.