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The Bricktionary | Regional News

The Bricktionary

Written by: Ryan McNaught

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Ryan McNaught has perhaps one of the coolest jobs in the world. He is, as he says, a LEGO-certified professional – one of only a select few in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. His job is literally to make LEGO models for stores and events around the world.

Until I had the pleasure of reading McNaught’s The Bricktionary, I never knew LEGO made lightning elements in Powered Up or Power Function sets. These are designed to add a bit of drama or pizazz to your LEGO creations. Nor did I know about LEGO maths and pro techniques for creating a stunning illusion of water.

Putting things together is not my forte – transformers with missing arms and legs come to mind – except LEGO has always been different. There’s something quietly reassuring about sitting ensconced, head down in LEGO instructions (mostly with my child) knowing each coloured brick will bring us closer to the end product, whether it’s a Ninjago scene, a Minecraft something, or a Batman-inspired car. LEGO is cool, though never ever underfoot.

LEGO is serious business for McNaught, although there is a strange juxtaposition throughout this book of so much potential fun and interesting facts to be found alongside the serious business of LEGO creation. In the first few pages there’s a photo of McNaught holding a pretty impressive LEGO-comprised hamburger, while the carefully stacked containers behind him are telltale signs of someone further down the LEGO rabbit hole than first anticipated. Neatly stacked LEGO beams from within, colour coded, brick sorted, and size categorised.

Under ‘F’ I was able to expand my increasing LEGO vocabulary. FLU stands for a fundamental LEGO unit, which equates to the width and length of a one-by-one Lego plate or brick. Under ‘T’ I found the most impressive treehouse I’ve seen, LEGO or otherwise.

The Bricktionary will appeal to the LEGO-lover in you. Oh, and of course, your children.

You Probably Think This Song is About You | Regional News

You Probably Think This Song is About You

Written by: Kate Camp

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

In case you didn’t know it, the difference between an autobiography and a memoir is that whereas an autobiography delivers the reader a chronological, strictly factual, and detailed account of your life (yawn?), a memoir is much more selective. It rearranges content, and it can become reflectively fanciful.

Poet Kate Camp’s You Probably Think This Song is About You decidedly falls into the second category. Camp, in writing as in life, has taken on her mother’s mantra: “Never apologise, never explain”. Does that attitude demonstrate courage or defiance? One or the other, or maybe a bit of both, accounts for this warts-and-all story of a life.

From years of wetting herself, to smoking cigarettes and dope, to binge drinking, to attaching herself to drug dealing, sometimes violent boyfriends – Camp paints an unedifying picture. And sure enough, there’s no accompanying explanation for why a girl from Khandallah would for so many years – and for half a book – indulge in such heedless hedonism.

If there’s a price though, she’s paid it. A couple of bizarre accidents, plus grisly sounding, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to get pregnant through IVF, lead her to reflect. Though I’m at a loss to understand her dismay at her inability to conceive – is this liberated thinking? At about this time, too, Camp meets future partner Paul, whose treatment of her is exemplary. “Paul comes out of this story very well” is an understatement – the man is a modern saint.

Camp’s analysis of Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life is thought provoking. It examines the conundrum of a book on self-healing that contains questionable suggestions about self-responsibility – an apt comment on Camp’s own life?

But some of Hay’s affirmations worked! Chiefly: “I always find time for my own creative work” has surely been useful, ultimately giving rise to her life as a poet. I’m glad there is an acknowledgements section – we get Camp’s gratitude to those who have contributed to make her life what it was – and is.

Night Meditations | Regional News

Night Meditations

Allen & Unwin

By editors of Rock Point

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Night Meditations is a calming and restorative journal that traverses the seasons: winter, fall, summer, and spring. Helping to encourage a quiet mindfulness, it encourages restful and meditative sleep by creating the opportunity to identify what is holding you back or impeding your access to good sleep and rest.

Night Meditations poses many questions to consider and there are journal pages for you to document your thoughts. This helps prompt you to stop, pause, and consider your life holistically to identify what your creative outlets are and what you view as restorative. It helps you consider your environment, your faith, and awareness of self-care while encouraging you to find peace in stressful times.

Muted colours and sweeping illustrations only serve to further entice you to reflect on your life and how time and happenstance can either create great wonder or stressful burdens that can compete with your ability to sleep well.

Journaling is peaceful and contemplative and is a great way to delve into a quiet introspection that comes from stopping, resting, and taking the time to consider your frame of mind; it’s almost like your own hypnotic guide. A slower pace and uncluttered mind is all conducive to a better sleep. Night Meditations encourages you to disconnect, put pen to paper, and take the time to slow down.

I’ve read that the importance of sleep is often underrated, and I think it’s true. What can be done to get more of it? How can it be more restful, restorative, and beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing? These are all questions I’ve considered.

If you are looking for a simple yet very intentional way to pause and break down everything that may be hindering restful sleep, then Night Meditations is a good place to start.

“Identify the ‘weeds’ in your garden. Write about ways that take up space in your life, and how you can make room for new growth.”

Give Unto Others | Regional News

Give Unto Others

Written by: Donna Leon

Penguin Books New Zealand

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

I had to put pen to paper as soon as I’d finished Donna Leon’s latest novel Give Unto Others so no other fans of detective novels made the same mistake as me. My error was not reading this author sooner. 

Donna Leon’s writing is beautiful. Her character descriptions, particularly of her older characters, are exquisite in the little details of behaviour and interplay that reveal so much about the person. Her treatment of a scene where a former vice admiral with Alzheimer’s disease – a proud man with status – pockets the silver cutlery at a dinner and a conversation between the detective and a former upper-class neighbour are so gentle in capturing the unsaid that it would be easy to underestimate the quality of the writing.

A bit about the plot before I go on. This is the latest in a series of crime novels set in Venice, featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti is twiddling his thumbs in between COVID lockdowns and so agrees to look into the seemingly innocent concerns of a former neighbour and family friend about her son-in-law’s business. This sends him on a twisting path to get to the truth. He and the reader begin to wonder who is pulling the strings and whether Brunetti’s sense of obligation to an old family friend will get him into trouble.

Usually when I read a crime novel, I race through it to find out the killer. Donna Leon’s descriptions are so gentle yet so captivating that it forced me to slow down and enjoy every sentence. The pace of the novel though is spot on.

Occasionally – not often – as a reader I get a glimpse of a writer at the top of their game. Donna Leon, at 80 years old, is definitely a writer at the top of her game. I hope she has many more novels yet to come to share with this newfound fan.

East/West: A Symphonic Celebration  | Regional News

East/West: A Symphonic Celebration

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Brent Stewart

The Opera House, 20th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Wellington’s usual concertgoers were not much in evidence at this concert: a pity since the occasion was part of an initiative to introduce Chinese performing arts to audiences around the world. Members of the Wellington Chinese community made up most of the audience.

The programme included Pōkarekare Ana and an early work, Drysdale Overture, by New Zealander Douglas Lilburn, alongside five Chinese compositions.

Orchestra Wellington, conducted by the admirable Brent Stewart, was its usual excellent self, but the warmth of the relationship with its usual audience was missing, reminding me of how important that ingredient is in live performance.

Jian Liu, of the New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī and with an international reputation for performance, was the soloist in the Yellow River Piano Concerto. Madame Mao herself directed the collaboration of several musicians to arrange an earlier work to create this concerto. The work’s chequered history probably contributes to it not being the most subtle piece of music ever written.  It was great to watch, however, as Liu made seemingly easy work of the runs, trills, glissandi, and thunderous chords that the work demands.

Soprano Joanna Foote sang an appealing version of Pōkarekare Ana and was joined by tenor Bo Jiang in The Song of Yangtze River by Shiguang Wang to great applause from the audience.

Wang Xilin’s The Torch Festival and Bao Yuankai’s Chinese Sights and Sounds showed how Chinese composers have absorbed western idioms and applied them to Chinese subjects, creating descriptive works that incorporate eastern elements. Gift, composed for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra by Tian Zhou, is a more sophisticated work.  Zhou has written that he “wanted to create a reminder of the joy of music making, and along the way explore [his] own musical identity after 18 years of living abroad.” Musical identity was the stuff of this concert.

Krishnan’s Dairy | Regional News

Krishnan’s Dairy

Written by: Jacob Rajan

Directed by: Justin Lewis

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 17th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I have been lucky enough to see four Indian Ink productions in my time. I loved each one, and each increased my desire to see Krishnan’s Dairy, Jacob Rajan’s breakout solo work that helped launched the prolific theatre company 25 years ago.

With this year’s TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, I finally got the chance to meet Gobi and Zina Krishnan, a married couple from India who run a corner dairy here in Aotearoa. Rajan plays both characters, as well as Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Krishnan’s Dairy entwines the two stories to show that epic love isn’t only found in epic places. Equally, it nestles in the small stuff: the silly squabbles, the safety of home, and the little shops that stock far too many Minties.

Rajan uses half-masks to glide effortlessly between characters. I say glide because even though he often changes masks in full view of the audience, with the exception of the stunning reveal of Mumtaz Mahal (costume design by John Verryt, mask creation by Justin Lewis), blink and you’ll miss it. In the scenes where the transitions are made a deliberate focal point (a hilarious rapid-fire dialogue between the Krishnans for instance), none of the illusion is suspended, none of the magic broken. In fact, it’s all the more marvellous to see the mechanics at play. Gifted doesn’t come close to describing Rajan or director Justin Lewis, who shapes the building blocks of Krishnan’s Dairy with the hands of a master craftsman.

Verryt’s set design shines in a special interaction with the lighting design (original by Helen Todd, development by Cathy Knowsley) that helps us see beyond the veil. Rajan and Conrad Wedde’s compositions (performed by Rajan and Adam Ogle) include a sweet song that ties it all together in a satisfying instance of ring composition. All of these elements take us even further into the magical realm. The result is an unforgettable, inimitable work of theatre that deserves all the acclaim it’s received – and then some.

See How They Run  | Regional News

See How They Run


98 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

The latest whodunit to hit theatres is Tom George’s See How They Run. Following in the footsteps of the popular 2019 Knives Out, the film adds comedy to the mystery, making for a playful well-devised puzzle.

In 1950s London, plans for a movie version of Agatha Christie’s smash-hit play The Mousetrap come to an abrupt halt after the director is murdered. When a tired inspector (Sam Rockwell) and an eager rookie constable (Saoirse Ronan) take on the case, they find themselves thrown into a puzzling whodunit within the glamorous world of theatre, investigating the mysterious homicide at their own peril.

See How They Run’s opening sequence sets the scene perfectly. Led by the voice of Academy Award winner Adrien Brody, we get a taste of the postcard mid-20th century London setting and meet a range of suspicious characters before a sudden murder gets us armchair detectives in the mood to try and solve the mystery.

Rockwell and Ronan’s chemistry is brilliant. Their banter is both awkward and funny with plenty of running gags and Ronan in particular steals the show with her warm, upbeat performance. Although the narrative and final twist may have fallen flat for more demanding whodunit viewers, I thoroughly enjoyed the final reveal. Yes, this is partly because all of my many guesses during the film were wrong! However, looking back, George and writer Mark Chappell dropped enough subtle clues to make picking the killer possible.

The fictional story is tied in with some true elements. For those who don’t know, The Mousetrap is a real play, and the film even bases some characters on members from the original cast such as Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim. This was a unique element and only added to a plot that pokes fun at the classic works of the genre. See How They Run also combines fun flashbacks, engaging editing, a suspenseful score (Daniel Pemberton), and colourful aesthetics to provide the audience with enough whodunit constants to keep them involved in the mystery.

Told with fun energy by a fantastic cast, See How They Run may be slightly forgettable once the credits roll, but it is still an hour and a half well spent.  

Leviathan | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 17th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

John Psathas’ Leviathan – Percussion Concerto is a work commissioned by the UN-backed Pastoral Project for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year. Psathas was required to reflect Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and promote action on climate change and the environment. The first movement portrays what Psathas called “the human race’s out of control race to disaster”, with the orchestra providing a broad ominous soundscape against which the percussion solo gives a sense of frenetic activity. In contrast, the second movement, which delicately integrates themes from Beethoven’s symphony, has a sense of eyes-wide-open wonder at peaceful nature. The mood was created through the orchestra’s strings and woodwind, the soloist’s use of glockenspiel and vibraphone, and the innovation of amplifying the sounds of water in a large bowl being slapped and poured by the percussionist. The third movement evoked pollution, recycling, and sustainability by the use of a plastic water bottle used as a rattle and a drum. The fourth movement focused on a more positive future: it had a feeling of purpose and resolve absent from the other movements.

We experienced a virtuosic and athletic tour de force from outstanding German soloist Alexej Gerassimez. This was an excellent performance from the conductor, orchestra, and soloist: a memory to be treasured.

The orchestra also played Wagner’s Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1 and Schumann’s Symphony No 2. The Prelude is an uplifting piece of romantic writing, aethereal but noble. Schumann’s symphony is considerably darker reflecting his difficulties with mental illness. Just as Psathas’ work referenced Beethoven, Schumann’s symphony referenced his hero composer Bach and the so-called father of the symphony, Haydn. It is clear that Taddei loves Schumann. He gave a music lesson to the audience by having the orchestra illustrate aspects of the composition as he talked. Taddei has a wonderful rapport with his audience. We Wellingtonians are very lucky.

Gag Reflex: A Scandalous Solo Show  | Regional News

Gag Reflex: A Scandalous Solo Show

Written by: Rachel Atlas

Directed by: Sabrina Martin

BATS Theatre, 16th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

The atmosphere in the theatre is intoxicating as I take my seat for Gag Reflex, on as part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance. Rachel Atlas takes centre stage, dressed to impress, and it’s absolute chaos from then on.

From New York to London, from pornography to family heartbreak, Atlas leads us on a wild ride through her life in any number of flabbergasting professions. She goes through more costume changes than I can count, all designed by Go Go Amy and all flawless. The scenography team of Bekky Boyce and Erika Takahashi have also done a fabulous job with a simple yet effective stage setting.

The piece was produced by George Fowler, and that unmistakable Hugo Grrrl vibe is everywhere. However, this is Atlas’ story, and she claims the space as her own. Every audience member is on the edge of their seat, uproarious in their applause and laughter. Atlas is a born performer and welcome addition to the Wellington theatre scene.

Intertwined into death-defying circus acts and astonishing tales of sex work is a heartfelt message. Powerfully feminist and unapologetically honest, Gag Reflex is a tale of empowerment and autonomy told by a woman who has lived an incredibly full life. Atlas takes her own scandalous exploits and turns them on their head, seizing worth and control from those who would withhold them.

The show is by no means perfect. A number of knives miss their mark (non-fatally) and an unfortunate audio cue mishap steals part of the monologue, but Atlas takes it all in her stride. I question the necessity of ‘The Hand’, but it seems to garner the audience's favour almost as much as The Gimp. I leave the performance energised, elated, and with a strange sense of conspiracy; as though I’ve learnt truths I wasn’t supposed to. Though certainly not for the faint of heart, Gag Reflex is an absolute triumph.