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The Trojan War | Regional News

The Trojan War

Presented by: A Slightly Isolated Dog

Directed by: Leo Gene Peters

BATS Theatre, 16th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A Slightly Isolated Dog creates interactive theatre that mashes music, sketch comedy, improv, and physical theatre into something that can only really be described as stage magic. It’s difficult to put into words and even harder to capture the joy it brings, but here goes nothing mon chéri.

Faux-French fashion icons Cherie Moore, Jack Buchanan, Susie Berry, Andrew Paterson, and Jonathan Price lure the audience into BATS Theatre by dolling out compliments like candy. I have always suspected that A Slightly Isolated Dog makes interactive theatre enjoyable for even the shyest of audience members by lavishing praise on them – you know you’re not onstage to be the butt of someone’s joke, but to be positively fawned over. How delightful and affirming.

In The Trojan War, we’re treated to the story of the 10-year war that started over Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. Cast members intersperse Greek mythology with modern-day anecdotes about key figures that give us an indication of their character, for instance that Helen is the kind of person who’d make an effort to remember your name at a UN conference. I’d be really interested to see the company tackle Shakespeare as I think this novel approach could make the Bard far more accessible.

With sound cues for characters and killer music, Sam Clavis’ sound design helps audiences keep their place in the chaos which is vital, because let me tell you, The Trojan War is hectic. There’s fighting! Gods! Rap! Garbage can helmets! Miley Cyrus! Cast members talk over each other constantly but somehow their little asides still feel like they were made just for you. I want to be in 10 places at once so I don’t miss a moment of brilliance.

These gifted performers and improvisers together with the genius of Leo Gene Peters have created something explosive and remarkable here. There’s nothing else like it and nothing I’d want more out of a night at the theatre.

Tea with Terrorists | Regional News

Tea with Terrorists

Written by: Sameena Zehra

Directed by: Sabrina Martin

Running at Circa Theatre until 27th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In Tea with Terrorists, Sameena Zehra shares stories of a fascinating life lived and still being lived in. From wandering outside the green zone in war-torn Kabul to tales of Kashmir set against a backdrop of civil unrest, arguing with mullahs to having a cup of titular tea with titular terrorists, Zehra intricately weaves poetic sparkle through a dark comedy show that centres on family, belonging, and hope.

Tea with Terrorists started out as a stand-up performance and has morphed into a solo show, retaining the best bits of both. Zingy one-liners pepper stories textured with a depth you don’t often experience in comedy sets. My absolute favourite aspect of stand-up is hark-backs to earlier jokes that make the audience feel like they’re in on something, and at 70 minutes, Tea with Terrorists has several clever instances of this. I’m sure anyone watching will agree with me when I reference the stalking sheep here. And Grandma!

As funny as Tea with Terrorists is, you might have gauged from the title that it does deal with heavier subject matter. Zehra’s consummate control of humour balances the light and the dark, the silly and the sombre, sobering the audience even as we chuckle in our seats. It’s a fine line that only a master of storytelling and comedy could straddle.

Music (Mike Mckeon, composer and music director) is used to great effect and not once for the sake of it, never overshadowing a performer who could comfortably hold a room captive in complete silence. Marcus McShane’s lighting scheme gorgeously accentuates the bright reds and oranges of Isadora Lao’s warm and welcoming set, taking a less-is-more approach during the action. Showing restraint in the lighting and sound design is the perfect choice – both are subtle, sophisticated, and allow Zehra to shine. 

To watch Tea with Terrorists is to be a part of something special.

Style and Substance | Regional News

Style and Substance

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 6th Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Part two of the three-concert series featuring violinist Hilary Hahn lived up to its Style and Substance title. A combination of the substantial Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 by Johannes Brahms and the very well-balanced and expert performances of Hahn and the NZSO made for a stylish rendition of a favourite and familiar piece. Hahn’s clarity and expression were matched by the full and satisfying sound produced by the orchestra. Hahn’s playing was exquisite and so impressed the audience, many broke into applause after only the first movement. Although a concerto for violin, Brahms wrote equally demanding passages for the orchestra and the NZSO proved more than equal to the challenge.

Tabea Squire’s Variations were a great treat. Ordinarily the theme is stated up front and followed by the composer’s variations on said theme. Squire turned the form on its head and gave us the end at the beginning. The variations were a series of wonderfully modern and complex interpretations of the 14th century pavane theme. We were cleverly led back there by some fine and very enjoyable playing of interesting orchestration. This was a very smart piece of music.

I had high hopes for John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony. Drawn from his opera of the same name, the symphony aimed to tell the story of the development of the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos – the incredibly destructive power conceived by scientists under the leadership of Robert Oppenheimer, who was terribly conflicted by the apocalyptic potential he had created. I suspect Doctor Atomic makes a better opera than symphony. Although there were some prominent solo passages, all played excellently with the brass enjoying the best opportunities to shine, the narrative was missing something and that was most likely the opera. Without a human voice, the symphonic form seemed to lack something of the emotional impact of the real story.

Apartment | Regional News


Written by: Tama Smith

Directed by: Tama Smith and Belinda Campbell

Gryphon Theatre, 3rd Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Set in April 2020 during the first nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, Apartment centres on a disparate group of tenants in a Wellington apartment block as they negotiate life, relationships, and work during an unprecedented period of social isolation.

After a rather slow start with three lengthy monologues, the pace, energy, and humour kick in when young supermarket worker Hendric (a charming Austin Harrison) catches a ride home with Uber driver Ben (Tim Gruar). A shoutout here to whoever built Ben’s car, which was the highlight of a clever, multi-level set design (Tama Smith), excellently and effectively lit by Scott Maxim.

From there, the various characters talk to each other or directly to the audience about their experiences of the pandemic. Particularly touching is nurse Marissa (Helen Jones) who trudges exhaustedly between home and work and receives disturbing voice messages from the UK where her elderly mother is gravely ill with the virus.

Apartment bills itself as “A play about us, two years ago” and that is exactly what it delivers. However, I would have been more interested in a less literal take on this concept given we’re still well inside the pandemic and a good chunk of the audience was wearing masks, unlike the actors in the supermarket scenes who oddly weren’t.

The play shines brightest in the scenes of absurdist humour, such as Adele (Lucy Fulford) venturing to the supermarket in ridiculous homemade PPE to sort out the delivery failure of her online shopping order, and her and Hendric meeting unmasked in the apartment block elevator.

At almost 90 minutes, Apartment is long for a one-act play. More character development and funny moments would turn this into a successful full-length play that allows for a toilet break and more time to reflect on the themes being canvassed.

All power to Smith, co-director Belinda Campbell, and their cast and crew for taking on these themes and to Wellington Repertory Theatre for taking a punt on a new work.

Cinderella | Regional News


Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet

St James Theatre, 3rd Aug 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) makes a long-awaited return to the St James Theatre with the Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella. Choreographed by Loughlan Prior, with music by Claire Cowan and costuming by Emma Kingsbury, this ballet is ambitious with shades of a Baz Luhrmann epic.

Prior and his cohort of co-creators have taken the traditional Cinderella story and given it a modern twist. It explores the familiar plotline of navigating love and the social constructs that come with it, but in this iteration Prince Charming and Cinderella are not the power couple. Instead they are forging separate relationships, Cinderella with The Royal Messenger and Prince Charming with a prince from a neighbouring kingdom. Perhaps Prior and RNZB have taken a gamble with this interpretation for ‘traditional’ ballet audiences, but it absolutely works and is a welcome shift into the contemporary space.

Cinderella is danced deftly by the ever-graceful Mayu Tanigaito, while Prince Charming is performed by Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, who demonstrates tight technique and balletic discipline. Laurynas Vėjalis and Shae Berney are cast as the love interests, Vėjalis as The Royal Messenger and Berney as Prince Dashing. Both prove excellent partners to Tanigaito and Guillemot-Rodgerson. Entwining and connecting through ethereal choreography, the pas de deux between Guillemot-Rodgerson and Berney are particularly touching. Prior’s artistry and sensitivity shines brightest in these duet sequences.

There is a lot to absorb throughout the performance. Orchestra Wellington performs Claire Cowan’s dynamic composition with panache; however, there are times where the symphony overwhelms the dance, and I miss key moments of magic trying to study Emma Kingsbury’s elegant costuming. But I have never sat in a ballet audience that has whooped and hollered quite like Cinderella’s audience.

There is beautiful synergy between the dancers on the stage, who look like they are genuinely having fun – although some seem to struggle with the more choreographically loose scenes. It’s not easy to ask a ballet dancer to fall over on purpose. Prior’s retelling of the classic tale holds you captive and breathes fresh air with clever comedic marks and energetic, modernised choreography.

The Phantom of the Open  | Regional News

The Phantom of the Open


106 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

One of the best feel-good films in a long time, The Phantom of the Open is a cheerful crowd-pleaser for the whole family. A comedy/drama that strays a bit far from the true story it is based on, it remains a worthy watch thanks to some great performances and its emphasis on fortitude, family, love, and of course, golf.

The Phantom of the Open tells the true story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), a dreamer and unrelenting optimist. Despite never playing a round of golf in his life, the 47-year-old crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness managed to gain entry to The British Open Golf Championship qualifying in 1976. He quickly became a folk hero and, more importantly, showed his family the importance of pursuing your dreams.

Rylance delivers a fabulous performance as our unlikely hero, using his Oscar-winning talents to provide an authentic representation of Flitcroft. From his amusing mannerisms through to his familiar stutter and phrases, the role seems tailor made for Rylance. Playing Flitcroft’s ever-sweet and supportive wife Jean Flitcroft, Sally Hawkins does a great job balancing the hilarious and sentimental moments. This balance is also a strength of the film itself. Flitcroft’s antics on the course leave you chuckling while his oldest son’s (Jake Davies) inability to believe in his father is frustrating. This all comes to a climax in an emotional and uplifting finale where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Was there anything new in The Phantom of the Open? No, not really. It follows a very similar arc to other uplifting feel goods such as Eddie the Eagle and it also could have investigated why exactly the crane operator had a sudden ambition to take up the sport a bit more. As well as this, some significant alterations have also been made to the story, making for a slightly looser adaptation of the Maurice Flitcroft tale than some would have hoped.

At its core, The Phantom of the Open is a touching film filled with solid laughs that encourage viewers to never give up on their dreams. It isn’t quite worth my standing ovation, but I definitely walked away with a smile on my face.

The Black Phone | Regional News

The Black Phone


102 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

As someone who is definitely not the biggest fan of scary films, I thoroughly enjoyed The Black Phone. More thriller than sinister, it may not be as terrifying as a diehard horror fan would like (even though those people are crazy), but with a terrific villain, and a twisty story, it is a must-watch for those who enjoy suspenseful thrills.

Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) is a shy but clever 13-year-old boy who’s being held in a soundproof basement by a sadistic, masked killer nicknamed The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). When a disconnected black phone on the wall starts to ring, Finney soon discovers that he can hear the voices of the murderer’s previous victims who are set on making sure he survives.

It was really refreshing that director Scott Derrickson chose to refrain from the jump scare after jump scare model and instead used suspense and dialogue to juice up the spook. Don’t relax just yet, there are still a few jump scares thrown in there, all of which are freaky and disturbing. Hawke gives a great performance as the masked killer, using subtle changeups in his voice to great effect while Thames nails his role as a young kid often balancing fear and courage. Although somewhat predictable, the story is intriguing, as you are just as excited and anxious as Finney each time the phone on the wall rings.  

If you watch The Black Phone hoping to be unable to sleep for a week you will be disappointed. As mentioned, there are some disturbing moments, but overall, it lacks that killer punch that will leave you shaking in your boots. For example, The Grabber makes basement visits in his creepy mask, saying some spooky things, but often these encounters just end with two people talking in a basement. However, suspense is instead the hero thanks to scenes that use sound (or lack of), pace, and background activity to get your heart pumping.

There’s nothing unheard of in The Black Phone, but through great performances, some creepy moments, and a captivating plot, it is one of the few ‘scary’ films I would enjoy watching again.

Girl From the North Country | Regional News

Girl From the North Country

Written by: Conor McPherson

Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan

Directed by: Conor McPherson

The Opera House, 23rd Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Girl From the North Country weaves more than 20 Bob Dylan songs into the lives of 13 wayward souls living through the Great Depression in Minnesota, 1934. Nick Laine (Peter Kowitz) and his wife Elizabeth (Lisa McCune), who suffers from dementia, their alcoholic son Gene (James Smith), and their adopted, pregnant daughter Marianne (Chemon Theys) live in an old guesthouse. Characters from all walks of life wander through: the formerly wealthy Mr and Mrs Burke (Greg Stone and Helen Dallimore) and their son Elias (Blake Erickson), who has a cognitive disability; the widow Mrs Neilsen (Christina O’Neill); the corrupt Reverend Marlowe (Grant Piro); and a young boxer by the name of Joe Scott (Elijah Williams). Narrating the crossroads and intersections of their lives is the Laine family physician, Dr Walker (Terence Crawford).

With so many characters to factor in, some storylines aren’t revisited and don’t resolve – like an instance of blackmail against Mr Burke and the ill-fated love of childhood sweethearts Jean and Katherine Draper (Elizabeth Hay). Nevertheless, I’m invested in everyone onstage. Some characters I hate, like the predatory Mr Perry (the oft-hilarious Peter Carroll), while some I love – especially Elizabeth thanks to McCune’s brilliant comedic timing and vocally unbelievable performance of Like a Rolling Stone.

Vocally unbelievable suitably sums up the entire cast and ensemble. Theys’ Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?), Williams’ Slow Train, and O’Neill’s Pressing On leave me shaking my head in disbelief, while Erickson’s Duquesne Whistle is both shocking and phenomenal.

The production strikes an interesting balance between the over-the-top stage theatrics that come with a show of this scale, juxtaposed against a neutral, grubby palette and of course, the pensive poetry in motion of the great Bob Dylan. This results in moments of softness and stillness that I often crave but rarely get from a big Broadway musical.

Girl From the North Country paints a deeply affecting portrait of loss, hardship, and resolution – humanity’s innate capacity to persist, survive, against bleak odds. I’ll remember it for years and years to come.

The July Project | Regional News

The July Project

Presented by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Greta Casey-Solly with musical direction by Hayden Taylor

Te Auaha, 16th Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The July Project is a theatrical concert performed by a cast of 14, many of whom play instruments, and an excellent band of four – conductor Hayden Taylor (keys), Bec Watson (percussion), Steve ‘Shack’ Morrison (guitar), and Logan Hunt (violin). While some songs are softer and sweeter than other rowdier ones, they’re all big, with a large portion of the setlist comprising musicals like Waitress, Into the Woods, and Songs for a New World.

The two pieces from Groundhog Day: The Musical are among my favourites for their comedy. Aimée Sullivan gives a masterful performance of One Day, while Stuck, featuring a large ensemble centred on Jackson Burling, has the audience laughing out loud – and loudly at that. Third up on the bill, Stuck is where The July Project starts to really shine.  

The setlist order means sometimes the energy is brought up by a raucous number like Hundred Days performed by Aine Gallagher and William Duignan, the memory of which still brings a grin to my face as it circles around my head, only for a power ballad to swoop in (Jade Merematira’s unbelievable My Future) just when the audience is getting ready to boogie in their seats. That same juxtaposition plays out earlier in the electric Over and Done With, followed by Cailin Penrose and Ben Emerson’s Simple and True, which envelops me in whole-body chills. ‘Scuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. On that note, a special mention to the te reo rendition of Don’t Dream It’s Over by Merematira, Burling, and Mia Alonso-Green for the shivers it shoots up my spine.

There’s a 70s aesthetic I don’t quite understand (although it makes for a colourful picture), nor am I clear on the theme or what ties the songs together. But ultimately, this is all small fish for a show that makes us feel part of something special, where a radiant cast fizzes with genuine camaraderie and more talent than you could slap a banjo at. Thanks to WITCH Music Theatre for an utterly joyful experience.