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Bunny | Regional News


Written by: Barnie Duncan

Directed by: Barnie Duncan

BATS Theatre, 17th May 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Having thoroughly enjoyed last year’s Taphead, another show by comedic polymath Barnie Duncan was too good an opportunity to pass up. Written in the wake of the death of his adored mum Robyn, Bunny is a much more personal performance exploring grief through his love of clubbing.

For a bit over an hour, Duncan takes us on an acid trip of verbal and physical comedy accompanied, and sometimes facilitated, by a scrolling LED sign. This effective piece of technology is by turns illustrative, mocking, and directorial, asking us to laugh and applaud at appropriate moments and becomes a sidekick character to Duncan.

Duncan aptly describes Bunny as “a porcelain vase wrapped in a protective layer of dumb jokes”. His trademark dad jokes are here (“That’s a good sign”, he says as he points to a kind word passing across the face of his digital companion), but comedy is best when it comes from a place of vulnerability and it’s the segments where he talks openly about his mum’s decline and eventual death that are the strength and heart of this show.

In between these short and more serious ruminations are entertaining mimed sequences of a hard night’s clubbing to a banging house music soundtrack by DJ and producer Dick ‘Magik’ Johnson and what a David Attenborough documentary might look like while high on LSD. Duncan’s slow-mo butterfly causing a confused turtle to cry so it can drink his tears is something I won’t quickly forget. His alternative meaning of clubbing (no seals were harmed during the making of this show) and his break from the nightclub for a sneaky cigarette morphing into a male emperor penguin carrying an egg on his feet during the polar winter were equally memorable.

Having steadfastly refused to offer up the emotional denouement of his show, Duncan leaps back into hardcore dancing and then delivers it anyway to stunning effect. For a hilariously unique take on grief, Bunny is hard to beat.

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit? | Regional News

Dillinger’s Who Dunnit?

Directed by: Luke Eisemann

Dillinger’s Brasserie & Bar, 14th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I dare you to say “1920s-themed murder mystery and cocktail night” and not get excited. Go on. That’s right, it’s impossible because it’s the coolest premise ever. Dillinger’s Who Dunnit? lives up to the hype.

From the minute I walk through Dillinger’s doors I’m immersed in the world of the speakeasy. A wonderful band plays while actor Calvin Standrill (playing Vincent Monoghue) greets me in a stellar American accent and gestures towards a free drink, my favourite kind. In this case, it’s a French 75 and it’s delicious. Costume designer Jessea St-Louis has done an exquisite job of decking the actors out in 20s garb, with audiences rising to the challenge too. Some are so well dressed I can’t tell them apart from the cast, which shows the level of enthusiasm at play here.

It's prohibition time, but thankfully, we’re treated to drinks that are totally not alcoholic or illegal. There’s rosemary not-gin, cinnamon barely-bourbon, and I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-absinthe, which we sample from Clara Cameron (played by Susannah Donovan), Jack Boggins (Tyler Clarke), and feminist icon Daphne Montgomery (Rebecca Wilson). Each character pours out their tipples and their hearts as sinister secrets start to emerge.

When mob boss Babyface Morraine (Blake Willis, who delivers minimum dialogue with maximum impact) dies under suspicious circumstances, it’s up to the audience to figure out whodunnit and why. We’re presented with clues while we snack on sliders and more nibbles in what turns out to be the tastiest treasure hunt ever. Audiences pry actors for more details and more tips, with some tables discovering titbits others don’t. Then, detective Lisa Mason (Ana Clarke) has us put it all together in an interrogation where we must uncover the murderer.

Every detail of this experience has been meticulously thought out, with total commitment from all parties on all sides. There’s even a special cocktail menu that utilises the ‘teas’ we’ve been sampling. Audiences are free to mingle or partake, but we all give it 100 percent in what turns out to be a dazzling evening filled with great food, drink, theatre, and laughter. Hear, hear!

Dry Spell | Regional News

Dry Spell

Presented by: Footnote New Zealand Dance

Opera House, 11th May 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Choreographed by the promising Rose Philpott and performed by five dexterous dancers, Dry Spell dives into budding external relationships and fraught intrapersonal relationships through hedonistic contemporary dance and introspective movement.

The dancers, Oliver Carruthers, Emma Cosgrave, Veronica ChengEn Lyu, Levi Siaosi, and Cecilia Wilcox, impress their youthful exuberance and release their inhibitions in this passionate work. They modulate between moments of unity and synchronicity and highlight their tight group dynamic in the way they share the stage and effortlessly weave their bodies together. There are impressive feats of contortion and evocative moments of choreographic repetition. However, the work lulls in parts and there is a lack of transitional cohesion, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch.

The beginning of the performance packs a punch with a fun retro sequence of movement and music, which seems to shift through different eras and into a futuristic existence. The dancers cackle and occasionally vocalise their thoughts and feelings, and we are briefly led to believe that the manic scape before us is in the head of one of the dancers. The overall vibe is a playful one but there is an underlying darkness and pressure to the work, which is particularly highlighted when each dancer mounts a set of stairs and then leaps off into an unknown abyss.

The diverse soundscape of Eden Mulholland is an excellent accompaniment to the undulating rhythm and mood of the piece. The dancers respond well to Mulholland’s loud and demanding composition and seem to thrive with its challenge. There is rarely a moment of reprieve, and each artist brings a unique energy to the stage. The standouts are Wilcox and Carruthers, the latter being a dancer that I have been impressed by before.

While aspects of Dry Spell could be teased out and explored a little more, Philpott has a distinctive style of artistic direction, and her dancers commit themselves wholeheartedly to the work, making for an engaging evening of contemporary dance.

Another Beautiful Day Indoors | Regional News

Another Beautiful Day Indoors

Written by: Erik Kennedy

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

What a breath of fresh air is this collection! With its theme of climate change, expressed in mostly accessible language, it was bound to win my approval. In Another Beautiful Day Indoors, writer Erik Kennedy thankfully doesn’t feel the need to indulge in any of the current fashionable poets’ practices – abuse of punctuation, inexplicable gaps in text, and lengthy obscure prose passages! I like to think his undecorated style is informed by his sense of urgency.

The contents page sets up a list of titles as intriguing as the cover photo of a formally dressed man seated at a desk with his jacket draped over his head. He’s enjoying another beautiful day indoors?

Microplastics in Antarctica is a striking example of the poet’s main preoccupation. “The snow contains a finer snow” is a telling description of microplastics, as is the uncomfortably graphic “Scratch the scalp of civilisation / And bits of it go all over the place”. Our writer even manages to lighten the seriousness of his message by concluding the poem with a whimsical rhyme.

And who wouldn’t be captivated by a poem titled To a Couple Who Had Their Rings Brought to the Altar by Drone at Their Garden Wedding? Is the couple concerned typical? They “are unafraid of the wind, which bucked the drone almost to ringlessness”. “It was just an everyday wind really”, observes the poet, thus pointing up the lack of awareness most of us are still suffering from.

In Shin-deep in Flood Waters, Already Afraid, our poet lets images replace the temptation to hit us over the head with blame or dire warning – which is why his work is eminently readable and palatable. “I’m just in my wellies / gawping at river spillover / out of curiosity”, suggests an onlooker – albeit a concerned one.

Kennedy has chosen a subject of world-changing import for his poetic attention. Not all the poems comment on climate change and the need for action, but I’m not apologising for including here only ones that do.

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel | Regional News

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel

Written by: Jo Morgan with John McCrystal

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

While you may have heard of Gareth Morgan, the famed New Zealand economist and erstwhile politician, and his son Sam the creator of TradeMe, you may not have heard of their family’s matriarch, Jo.

While she may not have the same celebrity as her husband and son, Jo Morgan’s life has been no less impressive. From traveling around the world (including into some pretty hairy hotspots) to climbing the highest mountains, it’s safe to say she’s had a pretty full life.

Dancing with the Machine is an honest, exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that seems more a work of fiction written by Tom Clancy than a down-to-earth New Zealander narrating their past. It is an exciting read, and her honesty and uniquely Kiwi sense of humour make her instantly relatable. Her get-up-and-go attitude made me think about what goals I would like to cross off my bucket list, and I’m sure others will feel the same way after reading this book.

Her stories are unique, and her experiences unforgettable. In North Korea, she wrote about her time with a humanity that news broadcasts and television documentaries have never been able to convey to viewers. A faceless regime suddenly becomes human and instantly relatable as people.

My favourite passages were the ones where she and her husband Gareth worked as a team, and were always there for each other.

I’m afraid that after reading the book, I cannot find a single thing wrong. Although, in my defence, it’s difficult to find fault with anyone who takes life by the horns and goes with it. My only gripe is that now that I’m finished with the book, I want more.

Dancing with the Machine might sound like a funny title, but it’s also a very apt one, not just to describe her love of motorcycles but life itself. We are all dancing with our own machines, and Jo Morgan shows us how to do it.

The Winter Dress | Regional News

The Winter Dress

Written by: Lauren Chater

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Lauren Chater travelled to the Netherlands to research this book, inspired by a real 17th century dress found underwater off the coast of the Netherlands, and it shows. She writes elegantly and concisely, with clear deference to the importance of the history of this dress and how the find impacted those involved. I enjoyed the glimpse into life upon the coastal Dutch island where The Winter Dress is partially set, through the lens of Jo Baaker, our indomitable heroine who is drawn to the discovery of a silk dress that has somehow survived centuries underwater, insulated by mud. Jo is determined to ensure conservation of the precious find while allowing the people of the island to view the gown and be part of its history.

Chater takes several notable women’s names from Dutch history and combines them to make the story a clear imagining, a mere suggestion of what could have been without committing to a historical statement. Chater introduces us to Anna, a young woman left alone in a vulnerable position in 17th century Holland due to the death of her family. Anna is swept up in an opportunity that takes her to live with Catharina van Shurman – based, I assume, on Anna Maria van Schurman, a real-life Dutch artist and intellectual, and Catharina van Hemessen, a Flemish renaissance artist.

Instrumental in advancing women’s education and social rights, Catharina brings a strong theme of feminism as a thread that runs through this book. I found the subtle noting of the power imbalance interesting – Catharina boldly studying, writing, and influencing men of her time while also using Anna as a handmaid, kept silent and in her place, merely hoping to survive.

This thread continues in Jo’s side of the story. As she researches the dress and the potential owners of it, she finds herself casually betrayed by a male colleague, viewing the opportunity to advance his own career as more important than anything else.

The Winter Dress was an enjoyable, if romanticised, read.

The Jane Austen Remedy | Regional News

The Jane Austen Remedy

Written by: Ruth Wilson

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book can change a life” runs the subtitle of The Jane Austen Remedy. Readers familiar with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will recognise this re-imagined quote from that book’s opening paragraph.

That a book can indeed change a life is the substance and theme of Ruth Wilson’s unique and highly personal homage to one of our best-loved writers. Into her seventh decade, Wilson became aware of overwhelming feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction, despite a life of academic success and personal happiness.

Her response? To abandon home and husband for a cottage in the Southern Highlands of her native Australia, and there to undertake a re-reading of all of Austen’s novels, viewing them as essentially an antidote for her unhappiness. What could she learn? An extraordinary amount it seems.

Wilson describes Pride and Prejudice as the sunniest of Austen’s novels, enlivened as it is by the personality of Elizabeth Bennett’s gaiety, coupled with her initial refusal to be impressed by Darcy. That this heroine’s journey to wisdom is accompanied – and rewarded? – by a happy romantic conclusion is something Wilson takes to heart.

Emma offers the author the opportunity to be grateful for living in more enlightened times where gender equality is concerned. She admires the way Austen manages, chiefly through irony and dialogue, to cleverly poke fun at ideas about women’s deferential role in relationship with men.

With Sense and Sensibility, Wilson is confronted with yet another chance to reflect and learn. Following her son’s decision to spend time in Israel, she and her family packed up and went to join him. Just as the Dashwood family, following the death of their father, are forced to contemplate resettlement. A forced move, as opposed to a free choice one – yet another cause for reflection and gratitude.

Wilson’s farewell to her cottage and solitary life meant a return to Sydney and a LAT (living apart together) relationship with her husband – an arrangement based on friendship that suited both. I think Jane Austen would have cheered.

Young Mungo  | Regional News

Young Mungo

Written by: Douglas Stuart

Pan Macmillan

Reviewed by: Ralph McAllister

Every so often a book comes along which you know will remain with you, embedded, for the rest of your life.

Such is Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, a follow-up to 2020 Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain by the same Scottish author. It will be no surprise if Stuart wins again this year.

Shuggie spent most of his oh-so young life looking after his alcoholic mother and surviving in the poverty-torn Glasgow of the 80s. Now adolescent Mungo faces similar problems with his Mo-Maw Maureen, who loves him dearly – but not as much as the fags, the booze, and the men.

Jodie, the elder sister hopefully university-bound, tries her best but she has her own school and relationship problems. While Hamish the eldest has a career of disasters with drugs, underage girls, and violence, which leaves little time for caring for Mungo.

Then amidst all this chaos Mungo falls in love with James, a 16-year-old Catholic from across the street.  

Now to be labelled queer is similar to receiving a death sentence so the relationship between the boys is hidden yet tender, tentative but delicate and shot through with the beauty of first love.

Their first kiss? It was “like hot buttered toast when you were starving. It was that good”. Think Romeo and Juliet.

Two stories merge and diverge in terrifying and shimmering climaxes where a camping weekend and a pitched playground battle made me scared to turn the pages.

“Be wary of sittin’ among the refuse of other people’s lives”, Mungo is advised.

Mungo and his refusal to succumb to mediocrity moved me to tears, time and time again. The final tears because I did not want this wonderful novel to finish.

Politics in a Pandemic | Regional News

Politics in a Pandemic

Victoria University Press

Edited by Stephen Levine

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

The 19th of March 2020 will go down in history as one of the most important dates of the early 21st century. Everyone old enough will be able to look back and remember where they were the day New Zealand closed its borders. I certainly do since I ended up celebrating my 44th birthday in Level 4 lockdown.

Politics in a Pandemic goes through what happened in New Zealand with a fine-tooth comb. Not only do we get a rare behind-the-scenes view of why our Prime Minister and other elected officials did what they did, we also get to see their thought processes throughout that period.

I found the writing very well done, mixed with humor and a great deal of insight. What I liked most was the input from the politicians involved and their brute honestly when it came to what they did, why they did it, and any regrets they had along the way. We get to see them not just as politicians but as people who, whether we agree with them or not, honestly did the best they could with the facts they had access to at the time.

Politics is sometimes viewed as a fairly dry subject, and having the politicians chime in and contribute to the book gave it a personal touch, which helped to lighten the tone.

Facts of the matter are written very clearly and I was able to understand everything without any of it going over my head. I know from personal experience that there was a lot of confusion about how it was all going to work, especially in the early days, so this should help answer any lingering questions you might still have. If you know someone who ever had a grumble about the lockdowns, I think you should pick this up to let them see the other side of the coin, as it were. Definitely worth it.