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Mister Organ | Regional News

Mister Organ


96 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I have mixed feelings about David Farrier’s new documentary Mister Organ. On the one hand, it followed a reasonably interesting and twisted true story about a shady individual who I wanted to know more about, while on the other, my interest in the film peaked at about the halfway point as it lacked those defining moments all incredible documentaries are known for.

New Zealand journalist and filmmaker David Farrier (Tickled, Dark Tourist) is drawn into a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious individual who is clamping cars outside an antique store in Ponsonby, Auckland. Delving deeper, Farrier unearths a trail of court cases, inflated claims of royal bloodlines, ruined lives, and at least one stolen boat in this true story of psychological warfare.

One thing that’s for certain is that Farrier has found the ultimate sinister weirdo to ‘star’ in Mister Organ. That man’s name is Michael Organ. During the film, Farrier says, “You pay a soul tax for every minute you spend with him”, and believe me when I say this description is precisely on point. Farrier spent years listening to Organ’s puzzling ramblings while making his documentary and by the end, I felt as if I had done the same. As a director, he utilises long sequences from their one-sided interviews to help the audience fully understand just how whacko this guy is. He also did a great job finding victims and persuading them to share their experiences with Organ, providing a well-rounded view of Organ’s twisted past.

But the big question I asked myself while watching was: is this a story worth telling? There is no doubt that Michael Organ is probably one of the most dangerously annoying men in New Zealand, but if we made a documentary about every crazy person in the world, we would be here for a while! Farrier mentions in Mister Organ he is “trapped” with Organ because he must make a film about him. With no real climax or major developments after he starts filming, this isn’t really true. Rather, the documentary is more about Farrier and his own strange journey with Organ. Is that worth two hours of your time? Only you can decide…

Heavenly | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Miguel Harth-Bedoya

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

The combination of a Mahler symphony portraying a 19th century child’s view of heaven and a contemporary, symphonic tone poem depicting a Californian shoreline made an interesting juxtaposition in this Heavenly programme.

After Tumblebird Contrails I reflected on the way our subconscious shapes our later encounters. Gabriella Smith’s composition quite definitely evoked the natural world she wanted to express. Her orchestration cleverly conveyed birds in the air, creatures in the sea, environmental degradation and distress. My memory of a California coastline slipped comfortably into hers and my knowledge of the damage we are doing to our environment was reflected to me in her music. I once walked the long, relatively undeveloped San Francisco shoreline from the Golden Gate Bridge to the city. Smith took me back, with fresh eyes, to the late summer light, the sandy, gritty, stony beachfront, and a familiar and foreign environment.

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major was quite a contrast, from environmental beauty and doom to the heavenly life. In four movements, the symphony follows a classical form and makes the most out of the multi-tonal possibilities of the orchestration. The lower strings were incredibly solid and supportive. I’m always up for a good cor anglais moment and in the third movement Michael Austin delighted me as expected. The performance overall didn’t feel quite as polished as usual – professional musicians are as tired as the rest of us after another unusual year and they have numerous performances scheduled around the motu in the weeks before Christmas.

In the tradition of keeping the best till last, soprano Madeleine Pierard brought her tremendous voice to the stage. Mahler wrote the song Das himmlische Leben a decade earlier than his fourth symphony and it fitted wonderfully into his final movement. Pierard’s voice was absolutely right for the picture of heaven and heavenly life he wanted us to see.

Olive Copperbottom | Regional News

Olive Copperbottom

Written by: Penny Ashton and Charles Dickens

Circa Theatre, 9th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Penny Ashton is back in style at Circa Two with her trademark fridge magnets for a riotous, boisterous, and side-splittingly funny take on all things Dickens.

With a minimal set of a wooden trunk, barrel, and chair, the stage very much belongs to Ashton as she takes us through the life of poor waif Olive in Victorian England. Her mother’s dying advice is for Olive not to be at the mercy of men and their need for “fleshy carnival rides”, which Olive takes to heart as she makes her way in the world. In fact, misogyny – both Victorian and modern – is a strong theme throughout the performance and adds an extra layer of spice and freshness to Ashton’s witty narrative.

Ashton’s energy is unparalleled and for nigh on 90 minutes she flits between multiple larger-than-life characters with whom Olive’s colourful life is peppered. There’s Mrs Sourtart, keeper of the government-funded orphanage where Olive spends her youth; Edward “fill me with your love spores” Goodsort, Olive’s long-time besotted friend and eventual husband; Betsy Sozzle, the one-eyed tavernkeeper of the Cock and Swallow; Tiny Tommy Tidbit, the crippled orphan who turns out to be impossibly related to one of the other characters, and many more.

Littered with quotes, tropes, and the titles of just about every novel Dickens wrote, this is a satirical homage to the literary great that seeks out and exploits the best moments of his biting humour and sense of social justice. Ashton’s songs add an extra layer of fun and props to Michael Bell and his band who recorded the music specially – the quality is noticeable.

Technician Tom Smith’s straightforward lighting prettily colours the action and provides spotlighted pools for Ashton to work in. His precise timing of sound effects with Ashton’s stage movement is brilliant and makes for hilarious fight scenes. A nod of sage approval must also go to Elizabeth Whiting for Ashton’s effervescent and multipurpose dress.

Don’t miss this extraordinarily entertaining dose of Dickens.

Better the Blood | Regional News

Better the Blood

Written by: Michael Bennett

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

When I picked Better the Blood out of a list of books to review a couple of weeks ago I had no idea it would end up being one of the biggest surprises of my year. Suspenseful, gripping, and exhilarating are just some of the words that come to mind when describing its story. It centres around Senior Detective Sergeant Hana Westerman, a policewoman whose profession sometimes puts her at odds with her Māori ancestry.

Better the Blood’s biggest draw is its rich, deep writing. The characters and the world they live in is beautiful, almost four dimensional at times. Despite living in Auckland all my life, I found the version that Bennett described as something different.

Unsurprisingly, Hana has the deepest character development and it was not long before I began forging a bond with her, and was anxious to see where the story would take her next. What did surprise me though was how I began relating to the story’s main antagonist. While what he was doing was completely abhorrent, I understood why he was doing it, and even saw things from his perspective. Getting into your audience’s head and making them feel for the bad guy, making them understand their motives, to me is the mark of good narrative storytelling – bravo.

While the book starts slowly, it’s not long before the action picks up, and when the other shoe finally drops it’s a race against time to stop a killer who isn’t just as smart as the ones trying to stop him, but who at times is one or two steps ahead of them. Spending time not with just Hana but with the story’s big bad made me so happy and makes a refreshing change from the usual formula of just following the hero’s plotline.

More movie than book, Better the Blood will keep fans of detective dramas engaged until the end. One of the best surprises of the year, and a great one to cap off 2022 with.

Lost & Found: A Treasure Trove of Folk Tales | Regional News

Lost & Found: A Treasure Trove of Folk Tales

Written by: Elizabeth Garner


Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Upon settling into Elizabeth Garner’s Lost & Found: A Treasure Trove of Folk Tales, you are transported to an ancient world, but a world not so far away, a world still ours. A world of our forefathers that has been gifted to us, travelling through many generations to finally settle down in our laps. Lost & Found is a celebration of our human history as storytellers, an homage to the oral history that belongs to all of us now bound tightly within a book jacket, immortalised.

Garner’s storytelling ability truly elevates Lost & Found to the highest standard. You can hear the words echoing in your head as if they were spoken aloud, the whispers in your ear as if they were beside you. Garner’s voice is steady and matter of fact, recounting things as they are, have been, and always will be. The folk tales come to life again, speaking their truths and their histories as if they had never silenced in the first place.

Each story in Lost & Found is extremely accessible, as all folktales should be. The tales themselves are a perfect balance of tried-and-true narratives such as Little Stupid and The Whits of the Whetstone and lesser known stories. Each chronicle is imbued with the magic of folklore, each tale tinges our own world with enchantment, each story blurs the definition between reality and make-believe, but each one speaks a truth and passes on our collective generational knowledge.

Full of lessons of old, Lost & Found is the kind of book you read in front of a campfire out loud with family and friends; the kind of book that recalls your early memories from childhood when a parent or grandparent would tell you tales of how the world came to be or life lessons. These are the tales that we all share, the stories that bind humanity, the histories that make sense of the world, the narratives that make us innately and uniquely human.

Tauhou | Regional News


Written by: Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The title Tauhou is te reo Māori for “stranger”, and it sets us up for content that is surprising in its reach and contrasts. Nuttall is painstaking in her insistence on the essential fictional nature of this collection of stories – it doesn’t represent any real iwi or culture – but purposely pushes together two sides of her whakapapa.

She envisions a shared past between two Indigenous cultures and in doing so exposes the effects of colonisation. That this is done with examples, situations, and language that evoke and disturb while remaining eminently readable is a tribute to the writer.

Set on reimagined versions of Vancouver Island and Aotearoa, the action evolves through various characters and their situations. Hinau lives in a concrete block and has a job in a tribal propaganda office, which she shares with her cousin Salal. Their closeness is a recurring theme. But so is concrete, contrasting as it does sharply with images of nature, rendered longingly by a writer who laments its abuse.

“The beat of a tattoo needle is like the steady pounding of a drum.” Such a sentence, the first in the story Moko, promises to satisfy any reader’s curiosity about the art of tattoo, plus the feelings and motivation of someone who’s receiving one. It’s predictably graphic and absolutely fascinating. If you don’t intend ever getting a tattoo, reading this chapter is the next best thing!

Family members and experiences have particular significance. I related to the father Pa in Stones – recognising the taciturnity that disguises the caring of many fathers. “When he returns for the day, I know to be quiet and reserved”, remarks our sensitive writer daughter.

As well as the use of te reo, several of the stories include words in SENĆOŦEN, the language of the W̱SÁNEĆ people, one part of the author’s whakapapa. “I use these words to bring myself closer to my tipuna and to spread the fire of our language further.”

Tauhou represents a recognition, acknowledgement, and sometimes salutary reminder of pasts and how we might
reconcile them.

Peninsula  | Regional News


Written by: Sharron Came

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Wellington-based author Sharron Came serves up a slice of true rural New Zealand in her captivating debut novel Peninsula. Every sentence is layered with small details that reveal more about the families and characters at the heart of the book and make the characters almost appear in front of the reader.

At first glance it appears to be an homage to a way of life in Northland that’s stayed the same for many decades, affected only by the changing seasons. Stoic Jim and Di Carlton have been running their farm forever and will be there until they die. But then the stories of new characters are interwoven – there’s their former daughter-in-law Kiri who moved back to Northland for family and seems trapped there, and her tree-loving school friend Ritchie who’s moved to Brisbane to run an ecology consultancy and has returned to connect with friends. Jim and Di’s daughter Rachel Carlton has been working as a lawyer in Europe and returns to the small community of Hereford instinctively, even though she feels the ties binding her may “slowly choke the life out of her”.

Small changes start to creep in like the new subdivisions encroaching on the edges of the village and farm bringing urban life, complete with electric vehicles, closer to their rural idyll. Then as you get further into the book the sheen starts to come off the perfect rural lifestyle, as we’re introduced to characters struggling with marriage breakdowns, meth addiction, and children who have disappeared or died.

The plot and the pace meander, so roll with it and enjoy the slow unfurling of the characters one by one.

I haven’t read a book that captures the people, conversations, and lives of rural New Zealanders as well as this. It transported me right back to the interactions and experiences I had when I lived in rural Canterbury. Peninsula is a beautifully written book rich in detail and full of complex, multidimensional characters that will stay with you.

Bill! Bill! Bill! | Regional News

Bill! Bill! Bill!

Written by: Jeremy Hunt, Felix Crossley-Pritchard, and Georgia Kellett

Directed by: Jeremy Hunt, Felix Crossley-Pritchard, and Georgia Kellett

BATS Theatre, 8th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Produced by Dastardly Productions and Knot Theatre, Bill Bill Bill is a riotous, rollicking ride of absolute joyfulness. Three solo clowning performances are threaded together by moments of simple storytelling and physical comedy. Each new piece introduces a new character with a unique costume, and each delights in its own way. The show is almost entirely non-verbal, which only makes the emotional depth even more impressive.

Jeremy Hunt’s performance Papa is set in a train station as a young lad attempts to entertain himself. Hunt makes clever use of scale, reaching up to take his imaginary father’s hand, and embodies childishness perfectly. His audience interaction is excellent, prompting me to bowl him a cricket ball (which promptly breaks a window). I adore the simplicity of his set, a railway line produced from two stretches of hazard tape.

Treble in Paradise follows a self-obsessed conductor (Felix Crossley-Pritchard) who dies, goes to heaven, and learns to appreciate his orchestra. My personal favourite, Crossley-Pritchard manages to portray genuine remorse and remarkable character development in such a short piece. His sound design is impeccable, and the conductor’s miffed facial expressions at God’s mysterious ways are subtle enough to be hysterical.

The final solo is Georgia Kellett’s Piccup. It starts as a tale about Peek, a flightless bird reaching for the skies, but seems to abandon this narrative to instead focus on Peek trying to pick up a bar of soap to bathe. I’m a little disappointed not to see the costume pictured in the programme, which would have strengthened the piece enormously. Kellett shines during the interludes between solos, but Piccup feels held back by a weaker premise and distracting scenography.

Bill Bill Bill is a silly, endearing exploration into our world and beyond. All three performers demonstrate an absolute mastery of clowning and Kellett’s lighting design is crisp and evocative. The show’s Fringe awards are well earned, and it deserved a fuller house than it had.

Owls Do Cry | Regional News

Owls Do Cry

Presented by: Red Leap Theatre

Directed by: Malia Johnston

Circa Theatre

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Red Leap Theatre’s performative rendering of Janet Frame’s seminal novel Owls Do Cry is more of a commentary than a clear-cut adaptation. It tries to read between the lines of the evocative prose and lock onto its complexities and the things that are left unsaid. Did it work as a piece of multi-disciplinary theatre? It depends on who you ask, but I know that I left with complicated feelings.

Director Malia Johnston is a powerhouse in the arts world. Many will be familiar with her through her work on the World of WearableArt® Awards and her multimedia approach to performance. Going into a show with Johnston’s name attached guarantees a spectacle and a remarkable line-up of collaborators – from the performers through to the lighting (Rachel Marlow), sound (Eden Mulholland), and AV (Owen McCarthy). Owls Do Cry did not spare on any of those components but it may have muddied the premise. There was always something happening, whether it was broad physical theatre from the inimitable Ross McCormack, a magical display of light, or a gut-busting vocal solo by Hannah Lynch. It felt like your brain didn’t always get a chance to process the meaning.

Despite the sensory overload, the work exhibited a clever arrangement of dance, theatre, song, and design. Every element felt heartfelt, and each performer brought their own powerful presence. Margaret-Mary Hollins gave a delightfully understated performance as the troubled mother, and she was the one that I left thinking the most about. It was haunting, the way she seemed to float on the cusp of the action, there but not really there, acting as a silent witness. Then there were the handful of intimate duets performed by Hollins and McCormack, which transcended the physicality and inspired a deep, emotional response.

Owls Do Cry is a great example of what live theatre can be but for some it may sit in a mysterious realm of abstraction. While it might not be for everyone, Red Leap Theatre can be applauded for their bold interpretation of a New Zealand treasure.