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Agents Provocateurs  | Regional News

Agents Provocateurs

Written by: Jo Marsh

Directed by: Sameena Zehra

BATS Theatre, 14th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Loud, proud, and disavowed; Agents Provocateurs tells the story of half a dozen female spies throughout history, spanning some 400 years. Each tale of bravery and brutality is accompanied by a pop song parody, with snippets of Jo Marsh’s life threading a narrative together. Though this entire TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance piece is delivered with fierce enthusiasm, I am left feeling like we’ve barely scratched the surface.

The set design I applaud. The stage is set as an archive room out of time, with file boxes scattered everywhere and a sprout of cardboard tubes. Dynamic lighting takes us from scene to scene, from a melodramatic performance realm and back to Marsh’s direct address. These transitions are slick and effective, demonstrating the show's high production value. I’m only slightly perturbed by the sudden appearance of a pair of puppets, which are equal parts amusing and confusing.

The format is established as Marsh takes us through Mata Hari’s journey during WWI. We get the key points of each spy's life, but never much more than that. I feel we miss out on juicy details and the nuance and intrigue that are so inherent to the appeal of spy stories. The songs are fun, the rewriting clever in some places and verging on cringeworthy in others. I’m swept along by Marsh’s passion for her craft and her insatiable fervour as she regales us with each woman's life story.

Throughout the performance, the audience is bombarded with feminist and antifascist sentiments. Marsh reminds us that trans folk have existed for centuries, that women have been fighting out of the spotlight forever, that Nazis are… y’know, bad. While these are all obviously excellent messages, they’re nothing I don’t already know, and Marsh seems hesitant to delve deeper into her subject matter. These are powerful characters and I’d love to learn more about them. Next time I hope to see a more aggressive message from such an powerhouse performer.

Arms & Legs | Regional News

Arms & Legs

Written by: Chloe Lane

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

‘Arms and legs’ are a recurring theme in this book about Georgie, her husband Dan, and their son Finn, New Zealanders who end up living in America. It’s set in humid Florida which adds to the friction. It’s about the unravelling of their relationship, her infidelity, and the hurt that it causes them both.

Georgie is the storyteller and realises that her marriage may be more fragile than she thought, and there is a lot on the line
once Dan learns about the infidelity. Arms & Legs is well written and captures the awkwardness of a marriage going bad. It made me feel anxious and sick in places, as it’s so close to the reality of how a solid relationship can unfold very quickly and then
there’s no pulling it back. The little details about irritating conversations and misunderstandings are so easy to relate to. I wished she’d be brave and leave him but she couldn’t even apologise for her lousy behaviour.

There is some lovely imagery, including: “Dan responded by quietly folding and sealing himself up like an envelope.” Haven’t we all been that envelope? “It was as if something was loosened, a ribbon pulled free of itself.” “Cleared a space for him in my heart” and “But it tapped on a nearby wall in my brain.”

Aside from the marriage and affair, there is the wildlife to contend with including snakes, raccoons, bats, and the planned burn-offs in the countryside. One burn-off leads Georgie to the unfortunate discovery of the body of a student from the university she works at, who had been missing for a month. She retells those images to friends, which I thought was brutal, graphic, and unnecessary. But we all say things we shouldn’t, right?

I don’t know how things are going to end up for them but it was a good read. Maybe relationships should be as basic as being about arms and legs and which ones you choose to entangle yourself with. Be careful what you wish for!

The Echo of a Thousand Voices | Regional News

The Echo of a Thousand Voices

Written by: Jillian Webster

Jillian Webster

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

In this thrilling new novel, Maia and her friends face off against new threats after reaching the fabled city of Leucothea. After surviving in the wilds of a broken Earth for so long, it finally looks like Maia has found a safe harbour. But it soon becomes clear that the city is not the saviour so many people think it is.

Jillian Webster’s third entry into The Forgotten Ones saga really does a great job of pulling together all the groundwork that the first two books laid down, giving readers an exhilarating final ride as Maia struggles against seemingly insurmountable odds to protect the ones she loves. The action is more intense, and the stakes higher.

I have always believed that it’s the characters that make stories compelling, and the character development here is grade-A perfect. While I love them all, and each one is memorable in their own right, Maia remains my all-time favourite. She journeys from a naive young woman living in the wilds of New Zealand to a heroine finally in control of her destiny, with strange powers that have only grown stronger throughout the series.

Of course, great characters and their stories come from equally great writing and Webster has done a stellar job of taking the world she first created in The Weight of a Thousand Oceans and expanding on it, adding to its richness. The city of Leucothea is particularly well written and while I won’t give too much away, I feel that it mirrors some of the problems faced by its real-world counterparts.

The Echo of a Thousand Voices reminds me a lot of Game of Thrones (the novels) in that it’s a huge open living world with a meaty story where everything and everyone is there for a reason, and nothing is filler. My advice? Buy all three books in Maia’s saga, lock the doors, take the phone off the hook, hunker down, and enjoy.

Joy | Regional News


Directed by: Sally Richards and Kerryn Palmer

BATS Theatre, 8th Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

What constitutes joy? That’s the question this production seeks to answer.

Conceived in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and commissioned expressly for the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, Joy is a set of five monologues and a sweet vignette written by female and non-binary artists Mel Dodge, Etta Bollinger, Indigo Paul, Elspeth Tilley, Nī Dekkers-Reihana, and Stevie Greeks.

As anyone with a shred of life experience knows, things that bring you joy come with an often-equal measure of pain and that is the great success of this new collection of work. Childbirth, a sibling’s wedding, or the rediscovery of single life after a relationship break-up can bring great joy, but they come hand in glove with fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. As the programme deftly puts it, “joy is a shifting creature” and these writers have captured it with compassion and care.

The three performers, Nī Dekkers-Reihana, Mel Dodge, and Stevie Hancox-Monk, are confident and courageous in owning these stories. They make us laugh, bring a tear to our eyes, and create relatable characters from the excellent writing. Hancox-Monk’s perfectly delivered line, “You’re so nice it bothers me” is my favourite of the night.

The actors are supported by a beautifully simple set and lighting design (Bekky Boyce) that employs soft yellows, oranges, and beiges, with pops of pink to unite the monologues under a strong visual theme. Masterful directing by Sally Richards and Kerryn Palmer, well-balanced sound and music (Matt Parkinson) plus two square frames, an old chair, some textiles, and a handful of props give the actors a comfortable but flexible place to work in and some business to keep them moving. A computer screen with the title and author of each piece subtly lets us know where we are in the narrative.

Not only have this group of artists created a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on the theme of joy, but they have also created a joyful production that engages and enlightens while it entertains.

Back to Square One? | Regional News

Back to Square One?

Written by: Anders Falstie-Jensen

Directed by: Anders Falstie-Jensen

Circa Theatre, 3rd Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Part of the TAHI New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance, Back to Square One? is a reflective, personally engaging, and intimate view of the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020 inspired by regular Skype conversations between the show’s creator and his 95-year-old grandmother Inga in Denmark. The drawings his daughter and her friend made on their shared driveway during this time were the source of the highly flexible format of the show that consists only of some sort of floor and a big box of coloured chalk, meaning it can be performed pretty much anywhere.

As the audience enters, we’re invited to pick a stick of chalk in our colour of choice and write our names along the edge of the ‘stage’, a simple dotted line. Falstie-Jensen then introduces himself and proceeds to sketch out Inga’s living room where she spent much of her lockdown watching Game of Thrones and Skyping her distant relatives.

By switching characters between himself and Inga with a subtle change of bodily posture, drawing on Inga’s bedtime stories of Danish mythology, and charmingly employing his box of chalk on the floor and walls of Circa Two, Falstie-Jensen weaves a beautiful tale of connectedness and renewal that overcomes the despair of isolation.

Falstie-Jensen also talks directly to the audience throughout and engages us in an exercise of shared connection and experience, so that when he finally poses the question of whether we have gone through all this pandemic-driven anxiety for nothing, we clearly understand the answer. The post-show offer of a delicious, buttery Danish cake and coffee is a lovely final touch.

So much discussion of the COVID-infested world focuses on the negative and it’s refreshing and uplifting to be offered a different way of thinking about what we’ve all seen and felt for the past two-and-a-bit years. Congratulations to The Rebel Alliance for taking the road less travelled.

No Exit | Regional News

No Exit

Written by: Jean-Paul Sartre

Directed by: Joshua Hopton-Stewart

Gryphon Theatre, 2nd Sep 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The source of the contention that “Hell is other people”, No Exit is Jean-Paul Sartre at his bitingly existentialist best.

In Stagecraft Theatre’s impressive production, the three protagonists are as far from fire and brimstone as it’s possible to get in their poppy 1970s TV-show set (Amy Whiterod) with its amoeboid shapes, bright colours, and harsh lights (Devon Heaphy). With only three couches, an abstract bronze sculpture, a doorbell that doesn’t work, and an ominous knife on a shelf, this is a stunningly unbiblical place to spend eternity.

Pacifist journalist Joseph Garcin (Slaine McKenzie) is the first to be introduced to this garishly claustrophobic damnation by a jaded valet (a brief but excellent George Kenward Parker) who has seen it all many times before. Not far behind Garcin is Inez Serrano (Kate Morris), the only one of the three who knows she’s damned, and finally rich socialite Estelle Rigault (Karen Anslow). Their layers of apparent respectability are quickly peeled away as the truth is revealed about why each of them has been sent to The Bad Place. They come to the steady realisation that they are, in fact, each other’s torturers, destined to taunt and tease each other forevermore while those they left behind on Earth forget them.

McKenzie, Morris, and Anslow are equally strong and each inhabits their deeply flawed character with conviction and energy, never letting the pace drop or the latent brutality of these immortals lapse into sympathy. Joshua Hopton-Stewart’s slick direction keeps the movement flowing in the intimate acting area created by a well-chosen three-quarters seating layout that cleverly emphasises the discomfort of watching three people tear each other apart psychologically. The wardrobe (Helen Mackenzie) has a 1940s vibe, while also seeming appropriately modern.

This surprising production succeeds in making it easy to laugh at three vile bodies while having the uncomfortable feeling in the back of your mind that a special kind of Hell could be waiting for all of us.

The Book Addict | Regional News

The Book Addict

Written by: Annie Ruth

Directed by: Robin Payne

BATS Theatre, 30th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Annie Ruth bears all, much to her mother’s dismay, in her autobiographical monologue The Book Addict. The performance makes some bold choices but ultimately falls short of its potential.

I am initially impressed by the set design, which is tasteful and elegant, with piles of books and a martini glass arranged around a barstool. Ruth enters, speaking directly to the audience as if we are old friends. Before long, we are deep in a collection of stories from across the whole of our protagonist’s life. The content is engaging; fascinating tales of love and loss, family and friends. I am utterly envious of Ruth’s adventures across Greece, Aotearoa, and beyond.

The strength of the show is in the universal appeal of powerfully human stories. I am clearly not quite the intended audience, and as such a few of the references and name drops go over my head, but the heart of the piece is relatable. A number of audience members are mentioned by name, which grounds the show in reality but also excludes those of us who don’t know Ruth personally. A little more movement would prevent the piece from becoming static, and I would have appreciated a suicide content warning, but I am engrossed regardless.

Throughout her monologue, Ruth draws from books to help frame and explain her tales. While this is an interesting technique, and I am delighted to recognise a number of her favourite titles, I’m unconvinced of the overall significance of the books. Ruth’s musings on the uncontrollable nature of our lives and the importance of fighting for happiness are interesting but never quite come to fruition, leaving me wondering about the overall message of the play.

Ruth’s natural abundance of charisma carries her through, but I do wish there had been less setup and more punchline. The Book Addict has some golden moments but is more akin to a lecture from a relative than a theatre piece.

Olive Kitteridge | Regional News

Olive Kitteridge

Written by: Elizabeth Strout

Simon & Schuster UK

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Olive Kitteridge is a heavy yet deeply touching portrait of a life and the lives surrounding it in the small town of Crosby, Maine.

Olive, or Mrs Kitteridge, is a matter-of-fact woman. She taught maths in the local school, took her husband for granted in life yet was deeply devoted in illness, and her son seems to grow more emotionally distant by the day. Though perhaps not the most personable character, Olive is deeply human. Always sure of herself throughout life, she has never been one for sentimentality, yet in her old age she finds herself lonely and afraid, reflecting on life, love, and loss.

The residents of Crosby, all inextricably connected in their triumphs and tragedies, trudge through life and more often than not, move forward together. Despite the ups and downs, the whispers and the grudges, the deaths and the disappointments, the people of Crosby carry on, for better or for worse, cherishing the good and the moments in which the community bands together.

A highly sensitive and perceptive author, Elizabeth Strout writes people from their essence, from the most distilled part of themselves. Deeply psychological, each character is fully complex, often expressing troubling moral dilemmas and thoughts we may not even admit to having ourselves. The balance between what one thinks and what one does is executed seamlessly. Olive Kitteridge seems almost more a study than a story, each character’s portrait painted in all its colours, each mind whittled down to its deepest darkest thoughts and fears, each soul so innately human.

Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is not for the faint of heart. Fatalistic and at times unnecessarily depressing, very little good seems to happen, only stories of woe and misfortune. Yet life is both ups and downs. A series of events that go from bad to worse, none of the characters actually seem happy; rather slogging through a life with no light at the end of any tunnel. Olive Kitteridge is pragmatic, candid, and unapologetically human.

The Stupefying | Regional News

The Stupefying

Written by: Nick Ascroft

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This poet enjoys luxuriating in a linguistic lake, and with his collection The Stupefying he invites us to take a dip.

I dog paddled a bit, but truly caught up with him when I reached Why I Changed My Surname. Although a check with the end notes was necessary to learn the answer to the question posed in the title, this ballad was delightful for two reasons: it deals with teenage agonies most of us can relate to, and Ascroft uses rhyme to enhance his wry observations. “For co-ed summer camps I’m good to go. / I have no friends in French class though.” And “The taunts of others’ loathing / are internalised and worn as clothing”.

I thought I was coasting along, but not a hope. Next came Great-Grandad Rants over Current Affairs in which our poet’s luxuriating turns to lunging. What a marvellous poetic excoriation of our digitally dominated world! “If some goon lobs a Frisbee, or a cherub swats a golf tee, SLAP? / Where do you find that crap? / That app.”

Therefore We Commit This Body to the Ground takes on board another contemporary theme – our plastic waste. No amount of rhyming can, or should, save this subject from such bald statements as “Production will assault a giddy new high / of 100 million tonnes in 2022.” Or indeed “Paper to paper. Recycled paper to ash. / Ashes to en dashes.” (Our poet couldn’t resist such an esoteric punctuational allusion.)

The Third and most Stupefying Bike Spill references the title, but more effective stupefying is to be found in Knock Knock. Who’s there? Nietzsche. This is Ascroft at his best – most personal and most devastating. The poem ostensibly deals with comedians and their ploys for laughs. But nevertheless “Comedy is the last line of defence against dogma and puritanism. / The other lines of defence had best be / better suited to the job or we’re all f**ked.” I’d say Ascroft the serious comedian is doing his bit to keep us all afloat.