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Legacy: Lalah Hathaway sings Donny Hathaway | Regional News

Legacy: Lalah Hathaway sings Donny Hathaway

Performed by Lalah Hathaway and the NZSO

The Opera House, 19th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

The 2022 Wellington Jazz Festival starts in style with international R&B superstar Lalah Hathaway. Supported by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Benjamin Northey, with concertmaster Donald Armstrong at the helm, the entire evening is a delight for the discerning enthusiast. From ballads to bops, Hathaway makes her New Zealand debut with grace and panache.

From the first note of the first song, Hathaway has the audience entranced. An orchestral performance is always impressive, but combined with a grand piano and Hathaway's GRAMMY-winning vocal talents, we are elevated into a world of jazz fusion and soulful blues. Every person on stage is excellent, and each solo garners a well-deserved round of hearty applause, but I would be remiss not to mention Daniel Hayles on keys. A Song For You is the highlight of the show in no small part thanks to him.

While the performances are impeccable, I find myself distracted by static during what should have been moments of silence. The scenography is wonderful, with gentle lighting changes so in tune with the music you would think you can see the melody.

Even between numbers, I catch myself on the edge of my seat as Hathaway engages the audience with casual charm and brief anecdotes. This is the first performance of her career devoted entirely to performing her father's music, and the love in both the singer and the songs is palpable. Hathaway truly brings with her a legacy of musical talent and influence.

Hathaway has just released a version of Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas, singing a duet with her father from a rediscovered recording. She treats us to a performance of the song and closes the concert with Be There, leaving the delighted audience in a festive buzz. The show received a five-minute standing ovation and undoubtedly deserved it. If this is how the Wellington Jazz Festival starts, I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

Pudgy Mediocre White Men Solve Your Problems | Regional News

Pudgy Mediocre White Men Solve Your Problems

Created by: Dylan Hutton and Austin Harrison

BATS Theatre, 18th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Welcome to the Hataitai Bowling Club and Dave and Bryan’s Improvaganza! They’ve just spent six weeks attending community “impro” classes (drop the V to be really cool) and will now solve your problems using their newfound passion and skills. As they claim, “There’s no issue you can’t ‘word at a time’ your way out of!”

Dylan Hutton (playing Bryan) and Austin Harrison (Dave) are veterans of the Wellington improvisation circuit and have created a cute premise and charmingly deliver a simple concept for an hour-long show that delighted its opening night audience. Dave and Bryan are indeed a bit pudgy in their colour-coordinated polo shirts and jeans, but the performers certainly aren’t mediocre as they bounce around their homely set and interact warmly with the crowd.

They’re ably assisted on keyboard by the oddly hirsute, 14-year-old Gabe (Matt Hutton) who needs to go home at 9pm and Scotty (Scott Maxim) who, with his trusty fire extinguisher Old Veronica, provides inspired lighting choices to elevate the action. His spotlighted diversions from the main scenes created some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Improv shows need a hook to distinguish them and in this case Harrison and Hutton turn audience members’ domestic and workplace annoyances into (somewhat dubious) life lessons by reinterpreting them through classic improv games and offering post-scene analysis to the problem’s owner. They achieve their aim of reframing issues such as a snoring girlfriend with varying degrees of success but always with a lot of laughter. They even manage to incorporate a couple of topical references, including the current stoush over funding for Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand’s University of Otago Sheila Winn Shakespeare Festival, and end with a sweet song about their friendship.

While improv is a common feature of Wellington theatre, Harrison and Hutton have created a show that is fresh and engaging with their own energy and problem-solving spin. And I now know why my cat has furballs (something to do with licking the carpet, apparently).




The River | Regional News

The River

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 15th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

An annual delight of the Orchestra Wellington season is the collaboration of the orchestra with Arohanui Strings:  lots of kids, very well rehearsed, some of them extraordinarily young and very cute, drawing their bows confidently and straight over their strings. Their principal item was Well Within the Madding Crowd, an attractive commissioned work by Glen Downie featuring the children on strings, and brass and percussion highlights from the orchestra. Even younger children joined in another handful of items. Wonderful.

Reflection by Julian Kirgan-Báez was another premiere in this concert. Kirgan-Báez is normally a trombonist in the orchestra but is also part of the orchestra’s composer mentorship programme under John Psathas. This was very assured composing, extraordinary considering Kirgan-Báez is largely self-taught. The work was very descriptive and evocative of the natural environment in both calm and agitated condition. It used the full resources of the orchestra and not surprisingly, some wonderful brass.

The audience was wowed by Amalia Hall’s performance of Violin Concerto No. 2 by Joseph Joachim, a work that draws on Hungarian, Jewish, and Romany traditions.  Hall’s virtuosity is remarkable and this reportedly Everest of concertos seemed barely to test her, though perhaps it felt like a musical Everest to her. While there were some lovely expressive passages, it was the pyrotechnics that impressed: trills, runs, glissando, double-stopping, speed. You name the extreme technique, Joachim included it.

The concert concluded with the lovely Symphony No. 3 Rhenish by Schumann. I wondered if beauty and shape was sacrificed to pace and urgent momentum in the first two movements, with the Rhine River charging along rather than rolling and unfolding. The fourth movement which was inspired by Schumann’s awe at the Cologne Cathedral was wonderfully expansive, with brass and woodwind creating haunting and grand moments. The exhilarating finale brought the concert to a fitting close.

High Rise | Regional News

High Rise

Written by and performed by Cameron Jones

BATS Theatre, 14th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

It’s the early 1980s and Henry Lewis, in a world of nobodies, wants to be a somebody. After a shaky start door-knocking to pitch property deals, he becomes a top real estate salesman, then successfully invests in stocks and shares. He finally achieves his dream of building New Zealand’s first New York-style, deluxe high-rise apartment building in Auckland’s Herne Bay, the Shangri-La (which is still there).

Described as a “solo adventure”, High Rise is a captivating one-man work of extraordinary physical theatre that started life as a Toi Whakaari student project and has grown and expanded into a fully fledged, award-winning tale of hubris and excess. It draws on the Ancient Greek myth of Icarus as Henry’s dubious moral choices lead him to fly too close to the metaphorical sun of financial affluence, causing him to crash and burn.

Cameron Jones uses little more than his body, a briefcase, swivel chair, hard hat, and a stack of papers, plus some well-placed lights and music, to tell Henry’s story. With clown work, self-created sound effects, and outstanding physicality, he brings us along on the road of ‘greed is good’ in an entirely original way. Anyone who remembers the 80s will revel in this yuppie character you love to hate, but this is one who can stand on his head on top of a briefcase holding a yoga pose while cheesy affirmations play.

Jones’ physical theatre prowess makes High Rise highly entertaining and fun, while posing interesting moral questions about the human desire for wealth and status. If you’re sitting in the front row, expect to be drawn literally into Henry’s world as Jones breaks the fourth wall and ad libs with the audience. The poignant ending to the story is a stab in the heart.

High Rise combines great storytelling with strong characterisation and unique presentation from an entirely committed actor to create a production that will leave you pondering the meaning of success long after you leave the theatre.

Sense and Sensibility | Regional News

Sense and Sensibility

Written by: Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay

Directed by: Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay

Cochran Hall, 13th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Jane Austen’s classic tale of restraint versus passion is given a freshen-up for the stage by zooming in on the thoughts of Elinor Dashwood in this new adaptation. The novel is written strongly from Elinor’s point of view, so it’s a logical step for her to become the narrator as well as one of the main protagonists. Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay have resisted the temptation to add much content of their own, a wise choice that allows Austen’s words and stories to shine.

As Elinor, who is on stage for almost the entire play taking part in or quietly watching the action, Amy Vines carries a huge responsibility. She manages it with dignity, grace, and strength as her reserve is offset by the bigger, more histrionic characters around her.

Hellyer and Kay’s decision to use a smaller cast and double several roles is an excellent one. The actors are highly capable and make the most of their opportunities to multi-task. Paul Stone’s boisterous Sir John Middleton and bilious Doctor Harris are a delight, and a moment of comedy gold is provided when Lee Dowsett morphs from the shy and awkward Edward Ferrars into his uncredited second character.

As Elinor’s sister Marianne, around whose love life much of the action revolves, Talia Carlisle is beautifully dramatic, her animated eyebrows deserving a credit of their own. The rest of the cast provide expert support and work together well as an ensemble without the urge to scene-steal.

The large costume team led by Meredith Dooley has done an outstanding job with a lush wardrobe that aptly suits the wealth and class of the characters. Amy Whiterod’s pretty set design, supported by Dave Soper’s lighting, is appropriately Regency as well as allowing the flexibility to house several locations through rearrangement of furniture.

Altogether, this is a successful adaptation and KAT Theatre production that will please Jane Austen fans and entertain those less familiar with her work.


Soft Carnage | Regional News

Soft Carnage

Created by: Brynley Stent

BATS Theatre, 11th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Brynley Stent’s got Mummy issues. The character, that is! The real Stent, a well-known New Zealand comedian and actor, plays a version of herself in this solo sketch comedy show, set in a therapist’s office over one painful session that costs $200-and-something but thankfully has a good outcome... in the end.

The whole premise of Soft Carnage is highly entertaining. We watch on as Stent uses humour as a coping mechanism, trying to avoid the hard questions by presenting comedy sketches that exasperate her therapist to no end but delight each of us in turn. Especially when we get handed a Cookie Time or bag of Mexicano Corn Chips. Pro-tip: sit in the front row.

As my plus one points out, solo sketch comedy is hard. Stent nails some sketches with massive energy (particularly when she does parkour), slick transitions, and an excellent incorporation of technology, from projections to sound effects to voiceovers by both automated voices and people with voices that sound automated. The best sketches feature super relatable content, like the torturous process of calling the IRD or getting rid of empty tech boxes. My favourites – which I’ve taken the liberty of naming here – are Peeing at Night, Throw it Away (Kids’ Edition), Bake Sale for Carol, and Mambo Italiano. As you can probably tell, this show is absolute chaos and I’m here for it.

Where I think Soft Carnage would really benefit is in the unpacking of some of the poignant themes within. I’d love to see Stent lean into the vulnerable moments, dive deeper into the big stuff. I absolutely get that humour as avoidance is a running theme of the show, so it’s clever that this literally plays out onstage. At the same time, I think the best comedy is the kind that makes you think, makes you feel, maybe even makes you cry as well as laugh. Stent hits the ball out of the park for the laughs, so I can’t wait to see her bounce the baby to the next level. Inside joke.

Whiskey Lima Golf | Regional News

Whiskey Lima Golf

Written by: Darin Dance

The Bach Doctor Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Welcome to international spies in downtown Welly! Tom (Tamiti) Yelich is the lead character and has recently returned, badly injured, from his time fighting in Afghanistan. His ‘brother from another mother’, Devon, is by his side to help him rehabilitate and work out at the gym. Tom experiences reliving the horrors of war and was told he might not be able to walk unaided again, which makes him more determined. Tom returns to live with his moko (grandfather) in a small and run-down apartment situated in Wellington’s railway station. I’m thinking platform 9¾ as it seems ludicrous to me. Moko saved passengers’ lives once upon a time and the payback is he gets to live here, much to the annoyance of the Kiwirail employee, Mr Dunkell, who tries to evict them. To avoid being evicted they find a bylaw which means they have to set up a business in order to also live there. White Rabbit Investigations is born and has a staff of six no less.

This book includes te reo and Māori culture as the lead characters are Māori. There isn’t much descriptive language or lovely turns of phrase though, reflecting the lead characters’ ex-army background. However, I like stories set in Wellington as it brings them to life for me. But I would have thought Tom on crutches would be an in-plain-sight spy, but he and his crew follow international spies on a skateboard, crutches, and in cars. The spy team includes two youngsters who are good at tech, two older Māori men who know stuff, and Tom and Devon. Between them they form a tight team that also manages to reunite an old lady with her missing cat, in between all the spying high jinks going on around town. Epic!

At the end it says “To be continued…” so maybe White Rabbit Investigations is moving on to bigger and better operations?
Stay tuned…

The Women of Troy | Regional News

The Women of Troy

Written by: Pat Barker

Penguin Random House UK

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A city sacked and burned. Families displaced and killed. The world of Troy’s women forever changed. As the Greeks celebrate their victory over a senseless war, the captured women of Troy wrestle with their fate, some perhaps preferring to have died alongside the men while others make the most of their new life working their way up the social ladder from servitude to concubine. The best fate a woman of Troy can hope for is attachment to a Greek soldier, serving his every whim until her dying day for his ‘mercy’. Or is it?

Pat Barker’s The Women of Troy examines the unwritten stories of the women in a world of men; how they survive when they are not wanted or hardly even considered human. Briseis is torn between standing up and keeping her head down like she always has, which elevated her from slave to Achilles’ lover. But how can she love his child she carries when the father massacred her village? Helen suffers the consequences of actions that were not hers by choice. Blamed for the war, the Greeks and Trojans alike hate her; no sympathy from either the men or women, no one to save her. Andromache withers away, dreading the moment in which Pyrrhus, murderer of her husband and child, beckons her to his bed as a prize of honour. Hecuba curses the heavens and attempts to rally the women to avenge Priam and Troy; after all, the women are all Troy has left. Helle, a Trojan slave, is eager to climb the ranks of the camp. Never having family of her own, she is used to fending for herself. Amina, courageous and fierce, refuses to acknowledge her new life and risks destruction.

The Women of Troy is bold, brave, and bewitching. Barker gives a voice to the unheard, unacknowledged, unrecognised narratives of the women of Troy. Every girl, woman, and man should hear their stories.

Home Theatre | Regional News

Home Theatre

Written by: Anthony Lapwood

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

All life’s a drama, and an even more telling one it seems if you live in an apartment. Home Theatre recounts the experiences of some of those who dwell – unwillingly or unwittingly – in Repertory Apartments, formerly the location of the Wellington Repertory Society Theatre. An intriguing article, purportedly reprinted from the Evening Post of 1922, describes a fire that destroyed the theatre, thus providing a macabre but provocative context for our characters.

The Difficult Art of Bargaining has a husband and wife reluctantly rehousing due to bankruptcy, something the wife cannot help referring to, despite her husband’s efforts to look on the bright side of things. The bargaining of the title refers to a sofa offered to the incoming residents by a friendly chap a few doors along. The ensuing dialogue about the state of the sofa is wince-producing, revealing the characters of all participants. The hint of a hopeful outcome is as welcome as it is surprising.

“Traipsing along the footpath, Emma gave the baguette a squeeze” is an appetising start to It’s Been a Long Time. Emma’s preparing a lunch for long-lost friend Paige and has dared to ask her to bring a bottle of wine. “It’s been a long time since I last touched a drop”. Those of us who note the “dared” realise exactly where she’s coming from! But the lift misbehaves, the baguette is wrecked, and Emma is felled. And Paige, who has bounded up the far safer stairs, eventually succumbs to the gift bottle of vodka she’d brought for the occasion.

Perhaps the most salutary tale is that of Melati, who is seeking the prize of the eponymous title: A Spare Room. The account of her interview by a housing bureaucrat is all too familiar. Myriad questions, seemingly irrelevant, are asked; they receive nervously reluctant answers. “Volumetric reporting was part of her reality” is the nearest we get to a judgment of the clock-watching bureaucrat.

Home Theatre is aptly described as genre-bending, bookended as it is by two lengthy, fittingly fantastical tales.