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UNDOING | Regional News


Presented by: House of Sand

BATS Theatre, 7th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

When you are confronted by three naked forms and an existential Ed Harris-sounding voiceover, you could be in for either emotional catharsis or an eye-rolling debacle. House of Sand’s UNDOING treads a fine line between both. 

Billed more toward performance art, UNDOING fuses movement, spoken word, and physical theatre into an absurdist work that is meant to be interpreted subjectively by the audience. Sometimes contemporary work claims that it’s ‘totally subjective’ but often there’s an underlying message and as an audience member you’re ‘too uncultured’ to see it. But House of Sand feels genuine in the sentiment that you should read into and connect with what you want. Occasionally it’s nice not to think too hard when you go to the theatre.   

Led by director, choreographer, and producer Eliza Sanders, UNDOING is carried by a cohort of young dancers whose bodies contort and convulse in equally grotesque and gorgeous ways. Not every performer is technically perfect, but it suits the raw intention of the show. It feels like the epitome of a slow burn, with the dancers repeating synchronised sequences and writhing on the ground. It would be remiss not to mention one of the focal points being the isolation of a dancer who is tasked with taking the duration of the show to cross from one end of the stage to the other. Every now and then I would find myself focusing on this lone dancer, just to determine how much longer the show had to go on.

In between moments of cringingly ‘self-aware’ monologues and inexplicable grunting, there were instances of well-thought-out choreography and resonance. Towards the end, the performers engage in more energetic bouts of movement coming to a crescendo as the isolated dancer finally meets the other side of the stage.

UNDOING feels like a brain dump of ideas and feelings, possibly reflective of surviving the various lockdowns or pushing through a creative block. It certainly won’t tick the boxes for everyone but there is something to be said for House of Sand’s confident approach to creativity and performance.          

Sundays at Ira’s  | Regional News

Sundays at Ira’s

Created by: Jane Keller and Michael Nicholas Williams

Directed by: KC Kelly

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Apr

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Jane Keller’s great-aunt Alice doesn’t like to name drop but she was a close personal friend of Ira Gershwin’s. In fact, Alice lived in the apartment below Ira and was often privy to the ceiling-shaking soirées he would throw after the last Broadway performance of the week – the Sunday matinée. The likes of Noël Coward, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter would also attend these lavish parties, forming the soundtrack for Sundays at Ira’s.  

Keller intersperses spoken excerpts of Alice’s diary with performances of iconic ditties from the 1930s, which I’m ashamed to admit I don’t recognise half of. I’m not the target demographic for this show but I can appreciate the joyous vibrato ringing in my ears as many of my fellow audience members sing along.

I can also appreciate the exceptional piano playing of Michael Nicholas Williams, the lovely, sparkly outfits and set adorned with art deco statement pieces (Meredith Dooley and Keller), and Keller’s strong vocal performance.

Name dropping is a running theme and joke throughout Sundays at Ira’s but I’d love to hear more about the people with these big names. Thanks to Keller’s humorous rendition of Vodka it quickly becomes my standout number, but I don’t learn much about the people who wrote it, including George Gershwin who is mentioned countless times. I understand these people are famous but I struggle to connect with them or indeed with Alice herself, so little do I know of her or her story. More of a human element woven throughout the story would help make the music more accessible to younger generations like myself.

Keller is one of my favourite actors and has huge, effortless stage presence. I’d love to see a little more choreography or movement in the songs, plus more direct eye contact. Keller often adopts a distant, faraway look when she starts to sing, and while her eyes capture the light beautifully, I crave more intimacy and connection.

Boys, Wake Up! | Regional News

Boys, Wake Up!

Created by: Jackson Burling

Directed by: Jackson Burling and Bella Petrie

BATS Theatre, 5th Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

COVID thwarted the first attempt to stage the premiere season of Boys, Wake Up! as part of the Fringe Festival. Luckily, Brick Haus Productions has been able to find a new slot at BATS Theatre for its brave exploration of toxic masculinity.

Four hormone-ravaged teenage boys (Renata Mahuika, Caleb Pedro, Isaac Andrews, and Jackson Burling) leave a house party in the wops on the verge of starting a fight and make the terrible decision to drive home despite being well over the limit. Unsurprisingly, they spin off the road and roll down a steep bank. They then spend a cold, wet night in the bush with no cell phone coverage, waiting for uncertain rescue while they nurse increasingly serious injuries.

Initially full of adrenaline and bravado, they gradually reveal the vulnerabilities of young males on the verge of manhood with their frustrating mix of dumb childishness and genuine concern for the welfare of their friends, along with the ability to call each other out for their despicable attitudes towards the girls in their lives. Most of us have known boys like these at some point in our lives and while these characters and their behaviours are not particularly likeable, the skill of the four actors is such that the inevitable tragic ending is heart-breaking.

Burling should be congratulated for a script that feels fresh, real, and natural despite traversing familiar themes. His performance on stage is also nuanced and affecting, even though he speaks much less often than the others. Mahuika, Pedro, and Andrews are equally strong with a maturity and fearlessness to their performances that belies their age.

Charleigh Griffiths’ lighting and sound design provide superb support for the action on stage with an unintrusive soundtrack of native birds, passing cars, and a munching goat, and dips to chilly blue that effectively show the passing of hours in the dark.

This polished, timely, and moving production deserves full houses.

Death on the Nile | Regional News

Death on the Nile


127 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Whether or not you’ve seen its prequel Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh’s newest rendition of the famous Agatha Christie murder-mystery Death on the Nile is well worth a watch. With a star-studded cast the likes of Annette Bening, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Kenneth Branagh himself as the inimitable detective Hercule Poirot, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Poirot is happily enjoying his holiday in Egypt when he is interrupted by his friend Bouc’s (Tom Bateman) invitation to join the wedding party of Linnet and Simon Doyle (Gadot and Hammer) down the Nile River. However the honeymoon takes a turn for the worse when death makes a not-so-surprise appearance aboard the cruise.

Utterly glamorous, Branagh’s rendition fully embraces the vintage aesthetic this period piece permits. From costumes to props, and even setting, the film itself is so indisputably beautiful that it comes as a shock to find it was filmed entirely in a London Studio and not along the sultry shores of the Nile herself.

The score is beautifully crafted, featuring jazz music that would have been at the height of fashion in 1937. Unique however is that the score is seamlessly woven into the story itself through the character of Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), a famous jazz singer of the novel’s era who happens to be invited along on the cruise.

The editing style wholly embraces the murder-mystery genre of the film. With wide slow exposition shots interspersed with quick cuts in moments of tension, the editing leaves you on edge and desperate to uncover the killer. Similarly, the cinematography guides the viewer’s eye exactly where it needs to be, hiding clues in plain sight and revealing just enough to formulate conjectures and accusations. Interrogation scenes characterised by chiaroscuro lighting denote a sense of paranoia, whereas sweeping circular shots of Poirot pacing around his suspects create unease and restlessness, making even the viewer feel a little guilty.

Glamorous, classic, and undoubtedly fun, Death on the Nile delivers precisely as promised.

El Barrio  | Regional News

El Barrio

35 Dixon Street, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

From the moment you walk up the stairs into El Barrio, you feel as if you have suddenly walked into a restaurant somewhere in Latin America. The catchy Latin American tunes, funky interior, and Spanish and Portuguese-speaking staff all help transport you far from central Wellington before the food has even hit your table. 

Their menu is perfect for sharing and my partner and I made the most of their range of Latin American inspired tapas. We ordered caprese empanadas, crispy squid, guacamole, carne asada (grilled beef with tortillas), pão de queijo (cheesy bread), and chicken nibbles. Now before I jump into all the good stuff, I will say that the portions are very small. Six tapas were enough for two people but let’s just say they put the nibbles in chicken nibbles. 

Most of the food was delicious. The crispy squid was the staff pick and it was certainly my pick as well. As promised, it came out crispy and flavoursome, and the salsa criolla it was served with provided a nice boost of spice. Simple flavours came to life in the caprese empanadas, which were stuffed with stretchy mozzarella, tomato, basil, parmesan, and spices. The guacamole and chicken nibbles weren’t the best I’d ever had but they were still pleasant.   

My only let down was the pão de queijo. I am certainly no expert on this Brazilian specialty but to me it tasted quite bland, and a pairing of aioli didn’t really work. However, the juicy and tender beef served with carne asada made up for it and being able to make our own little tortillas was a nice touch. Considering where we were, it only felt right to order churros for dessert, and although one was slightly undercooked the rest were perfect.  

The service was good but not amazing as the staff members weren’t jumping for joy when we walked in, but they helped us with everything we needed. The food came out reasonably quickly and the Latin American cocktails were delightful. El Barrio’s awesome interior slightly outshined its food, but overall, this Latino restaurant is one that will have guests yelling ¡vamos!

Museum | Regional News


Written by: Frances Samuel

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This collection (if you’ll excuse the pun) relates to author Frances Samuel’s experience as a writer of texts for museum pieces. Perhaps it’s not surprising that an unusual occupation like that should give rise to such smart, witty, nuanced poems.

I smiled with delight at her signature Exhibition, which describes museum objects as “those red herrings of history” and refers to “my employee’s tag a cheap necklace with an outdated cameo”. It took me more than one reading to discover the poem’s meaning – artfully obscured behind a heap of such images – but I’m glad I persevered.

Climate Change posits an unlikely and novel pairing of the ornithological and the mammalian. “You be a bird and I’ll be a buffalo” is the premise, and the poet goes on to suggest why the combination of six legs and four eyes is a useful and workable one. Behind the words sits the concept of cooperation, surely so indispensable for combatting climate change, captured movingly in the last three lines: “Over and again, agreement can only come when the bird in me bleats to the buffalo in you.”

Samuel goes on to capture the world of the supernatural, most effectively with her narrative-style How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts. The writer is good at this job: “Bed sheets with elasticated corners are the best tools for the job”, she advises, and “most ghosts don’t struggle. I think they’re happy to be caught” turns out to be an ironic comment on the nature of marriage.

My favourite poem would have to be Pottery – yes, you read that right – and our writer here uses the likeness of pottery to poetry to comment on the nature of the latter. “Pots are approachable, democratic, familiar to everyone. They don’t require special knowledge to interpret and neither do poems”.

And surely that’s true, or should be, of poetry. Although Samuel’s work is erudite and clever, it isn’t self-indulgently so. She’s down to earth enough to include motherhood and exercise amongst her poetic targets. And, of course, museums.

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy | Regional News

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy

Written by: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Picking up directly from the first book One For SorrowTwo For Joy continues the adventures of the title’s main protagonists, Audrey and Ivy, as they try to solve the mysteries surrounding their school Illumen Hall and the titular Magpie Society. 

This time the actions ramped up to level 10, with the stakes getting higher and much deadlier for everyone involved. In my review for One For Sorrow a couple of years ago, I compared it with Harry Potter; now, it feels as if both Sugg and McCulloch have taken the series and moved it in an entirely new direction. A darker one filled with personalities and locations just as memorable as anything JK Rowling could ever come up with. If this were a movie, I would say that it was a cinematic experience, made with a bigger budget than the first.

The characters are the deepest and most complex I’ve seen. Each one is alive with their own motivations. We see behind-the-scenes glimpses into Ivy and Audrey, who are more developed this time around. By dividing the book into chapters that focus on each girl, we see what makes them tick as people and learn more about their motivations. 

Usually, I take the time to discuss the negatives found in the book, but there isn’t anything for me to complain about here. Everything from the first title has been beefed up and made better, and what didn’t work has been ditched. My only real grumble is that I suspect this might be the last book in the series, and I’ll have to say goodbye to The Magpie Society for good.

Bottom line, if you have read One For Sorrow, then you need to pick this up. To sum it up in just a few words: satisfying, clever, wonderful, fun.

Words of Comfort | Regional News

Words of Comfort

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Rebekah Ballagh’s Words of Comfort offers a grounding and simplistic response to grief. Navigating grief, whether it’s sideways, through it, or crawling under it, Words of Comfort offers a sense of stillness through grief’s noise.

Like a journey that has no set place or time, Words of Comfort has no prescriptive actions or ‘must dos’. Instead Ballagh encourages living in a moment, whatever that moment may be, whether it is navigating guilt and anxiety, loss and despair, or trying to tread water in the face of sadness and longing for what once was. The chapters hit you where grief hits you, right in the place where it lives on any given day: the past, the present, or the every day. Ballagh talks about being grounded, being safe, and being okay when nothing feels okay.

Ballagh suggests creating a memory box to remind you of all the moments you’ve shared with someone. She reminds us that in the process of loss we learn we were never promised a perfect life, and that it’s okay to go on living even when you are lost and have lost something or someone.

Words of Comfort is a heartwarming and gentle book that neither preaches about how someone should grieve nor assumes where grief ends or begins. Despite its gentle nature and soft calming illustrations, a small part of me wonders if these messages would seem trite to someone facing overwhelming grief, a grief that untethers you and is palpable in every breath you take. Or would it instead offer small comfort on the days when the mundane act of reading a book has only just become manageable?

I lean towards the latter. If only one quote resonates and makes someone feel a little bit better, for that moment in time, I think it’s a good thing.

“It’s okay to go on living, to have a life that carries on in a future you hadn’t imagined. It’s okay to laugh again. And it’s always okay to cry again,” Ballagh says.

The Fair Botanists  | Regional News

The Fair Botanists

Written by: Sara Sheridan

Hodder & Stoughton

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

The Fair Botanists by Scottish writer Sara Sheridan has been my surprise read of 2022 so far. It’s charming, beautifully written, and draws the reader in slowly through its rich character development supported by an excellent plot with just the right amount of tension.

The book is set in summer 1822 when all of Edinburgh is excited about King George IV’s impending visit. Elsewhere though, our characters are more fascinated by the growth of an exotic Agave Americana plant in the Botanic Gardens, which only flowers every 30 years. The plant brings together newly widowed Elizabeth and entrepreneurial Belle, as well as a cast of characters who grow on the reader as the plant grows. The female characters are by far the strongest and most captivating. But there’s a sprinkling of likeable male characters too, including William McNab, the hard-working head gardener at the Botanic Gardens who has some secrets of his own and is wrestling with his conscience.

The flowering of the plant brings tension to the plot as many characters have an interest in it and the promise and possibilities its seeds could bring. Elizabeth finds a sense of purpose through her botanical illustrations and wants to contribute by capturing the plant when it flowers, while courtesan Belle is exploring a new niche in the creation of a perfume that she hopes will make her fortune and provide her with a more secure future.

This is a historical novel and its descriptions of Georgian Edinburgh bring the setting to life. Gardeners will enjoy reading about the exotic plants and the history of the gardens. At the heart of the book though is female friendship and two women striving to find their place and their independence in a man’s world.

I loved this book from the first few chapters and couldn’t put it down. I know you’ll love it too as you follow the ups and downs of Belle and Elizabeth’s unlikely friendship.