Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


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.

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.