Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


The Bookseller at the End of the World  | Regional News

The Bookseller at the End of the World

Written by: Ruth Shaw

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

The Bookseller at the End of the World is such an evocative title, I had to read it after I read articles about the author Ruth Shaw. What a wonderful book! It had everything – great characters both animal and human, interesting travel adventures, heartbreak (several times over), but mostly joy.

Ruth has lived more in one year than some people do in their whole lives. She leaves men behind and has a restless soul due to various things that happened in her past. Ruth learns how to sail and spends time living on boats. She adopts pets along the way too and even nurses a baby bird back to health who she aptly names Katherine Mansfield (Katie for short). Katie is quite a feature in the shop. Her work stories in King’s Cross in the 1980s are eye-opening. Never a dull day in Ruth’s life. Her open manner means she can talk to sex workers and gain their respect without telling them how to live their lives. She gets a hug from a staunch regular and even she was surprised.

Ruth’s life story is interspersed with excerpts from her bookshop encounters. I loved it. It made me cry and laugh. The opening chapter, Two Wee Bookshops, is fantastic. I was hooked. The interaction with the American woman who asks if the shop is open and sells books is priceless. But even better is the gentle way she encourages young children to read and the story about young Toby made me weep. I want to read it again but will have to wait a while to get over it. I would love to visit my namesake Ruth and see her wonderful empire and meet Lance, who quite rightly gets his own chapter The Adventures of Lance.

Ruth Shaw has certainly made her mark on this world and has helped countless people. This book is lovingly and thoughtfully crafted, and beautifully descriptive. A joy to read. Five stars.

The Good Partner | Regional News

The Good Partner

Written by: Karen Nimmo


Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Most of us bumble into relationships, without a manual, as the author states early on in this book, and then wonder why we have challenges. For example, the last time I read a relationship book it was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray several decades ago while I was single. Now I’m married and far from the perfect partner, as very few of us are, and that’s the point of this book.

Karen Nimmo is a Wellington-based registered clinical psychologist so, unlike many self-help books, this one is based on New Zealand culture and lived experiences and importantly has some efficacy behind it.

Best of all, it’s chock-full of practical, no-nonsense advice and strategies delivered in plain English.

This isn’t a book you work on with your partner, nor is it about changing your partner. It’s about becoming at ease with yourself and ultimately at ease in your relationship. The author does this by getting the reader to take a look at their ‘love bucket’ of all the things they bring to a relationship, which she then themes up into the seven pillars of relationships. I’ve read reviews that described this as a transformational book, which sounds a bit dramatic. In contrast I found it supported very gentle shifts that felt more realistic and sustainable to me.

In terms of structure and readability, The Good Partner is full of clear sub-headings so you can dip in and out of it. It also has well signposted chapters so you can flick straight to the topics you want to explore further, like conflict resolution.

I found it invaluable in supporting me and my attitude during a period of self-isolation when otherwise tempers might have frayed. Instead, I came out thanking my partner for the time we’d had together, and I meant it.

I was so impressed I signed up to the author’s regular emails and continue to learn and upskill myself on this important topic.

The Final Hours Hour | Regional News

The Final Hours Hour

Written by: Ben Volchok

Directed by: Sandy Whittem

BATS Theatre, 14th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Alone in a dripping, derelict, dinghy basement at the end of the world, Victor Bravo (Ben Volchok) hosts a radio programme called The Final Hours Hour. It’s quite possibly the only radio programme on quite possibly the only radio station, Apocalypse FM. In the midst of a perpetual nuclear winter where the only thing that grows is onions, Victor endures with just a few things to keep him company. He has an old iPod, some tapes, a cassette player, a telephone, and an action figure with an onion for a head. Onion Boy watches on, bemused, while Victor valiantly insists: “It’s a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful day”.

Written before COVID but taking on a new meaning post-pandemic, The Final Hours Hour is an exploration of loss and loneliness, isolation and desolation. And onions. The onions are important. In fact, the smell of onions permeates the BATS Theatre Studio, especially after Victor blends them to make a banana milkshake sans banana, sans milk, and sans shake. Just onions, then.

The Final Hours Hour has a strong concept. We watch a man try and fail to distract himself in the unrelenting face of the apocalypse, and for brief interludes we too forget his inevitable fate. We have hope when he does. We laugh when he makes jokes, although he rarely laughs himself. And we – or at least I – become inextricably invested in The Continuing Adventures of Onion Boy, especially when a space alien gets involved. Volchok’s performance and speech work here are excellent.

The scope of Victor’s loss plays out painstakingly in an inspired and cluttered set, with sound and lighting design (all three by Volchok) emphasising place and hopelessness. The slow build is cut short by one extended scene of sorrow that doesn’t impact me as much as watching Victor just try, desperately, devastatingly, to carry on.

Humour and pathos balance precariously on diced onions in The Final Hours Hour. While they sometimes topple a tad, largely, they stand their ground.

Jurassic World Dominion  | Regional News

Jurassic World Dominion


127 mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I really wanted to like Jurassic World Dominion. Growing up, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic Jurassic Park was one of my favourite films, and although the franchise has never really been able to capture the magic of the original, I had high hopes for an instalment set to close off this prehistoric universe. Instead, I was underwhelmed and to put it frankly, bored!

The future of mankind hangs in the balance as humans and dinosaurs coexist following the destruction of Isla Nublar. This fragile balance will be tested when the CEO of genetics company Biosyn, Dr Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) attempts to use the power of these primitive creatures for his own gain. Will human beings remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures?

Dominion is extremely lazy. It’s almost impossible to produce a film with no inconsistencies but when you create a chase scene where a velociraptor is unable to catch up to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) but then keeps up with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) on a motorbike only a few moments later, that is just lazy. The film is riddled with these sorts of inconsistencies, as director Colin Trevorrow decided it would be easier than coming up with intelligent explanations for why his characters travelled great distances in mere minutes and why security cameras never seemed to be working.

The original was so good because Spielberg built suspense so well. Did you know that in Jurassic Park dinos are only on the screen 11 percent of the time? Dominion is the complete opposite. Why would audiences fear these monsters when every two minutes they see Pratt and co escape from one? The dinosaurs may look amazing but the mystery and fear that used to surround them has been lost. There was no sense of wonder, nothing was new or suspenseful. The return of Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) added some well-timed nostalgia, but even they couldn’t save Dominion’s weak script and predictable plot.

As sad as it may be, as Grant suggested all those years ago, it really is time to close the park down and move on.

Rhapsody | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 11th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Orchestra Wellington’s 2022 theme Circle of Friends played out in this concert with the centrepiece being Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, alongside his wife Clara Wieck’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, and their friend and supporter Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, a work given to the Schumanns’ daughter as a wedding present.

Overall, the concert delighted the audience as usual. However, the intensity of the beautiful and anguished opener Alto Rhapsody to me was missing. Mezzo-soprano Kristin Darragh combined with the Orpheus Choir Male Chorus and the orchestra to perform this work. While Darragh has a strong and lovely voice, the performance as a whole seemed curiously tentative.

Clara Schumann’s piano concerto was written between the ages of 12 and 15, when she was already much celebrated for her piano performances. Jian Liu, the soloist for this performance, was more than up to the virtuosic demands that the composer imposed on herself as the first performer of the work, delivering clarity, brilliance, speed, and elegant shaping of lyrical lines.

Conductor Mark Taddei provided the audience with an illuminating talk about Schumann’s symphony before performing it in full. He said it should be called Clara’s symphony, partly because it reflects the happiness of their marriage at the time and partly because the recurring theme within it spells out the name Clara, forwards, backwards, inverted, smoothly, spikily, and every which way. It is a glorious symphony, full of joyous energy, tenderness, and passion, sometimes lyrical, sometimes brooding. Standout moments were the song-like line of the oboe above the cellos in the second movement, the lyrical solo violin in the same movement, the early energy of the scherzo movement and its winding down to something sweeter and more gentle, the huge dramatic chords that blasted out from time to time breaking up the music’s flow, and then the thrilling pace of the finale.

The Professio(nah)ls | Regional News

The Professio(nah)ls

Presented by: Sincere Muckabouts

Te Auaha, 4th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Three fresh-faced, besuited but barefoot office workers unpack their desks and take to their keyboards for the first time. Their introduction to the world of work starts nicely enough as the two main protagonists (Caspar Ilschner and Otto Kosok) settle into their bland pods, wrestle with a box of tangled cables, joke with each other, and persuade their computers to work. However, as they get sucked into the unrelenting grind of corporatism, they are compelled to battle with constant phone calls from unseen managers, tedious meetings, a presentation about the latest financial report, business jargon, the effects of excessive caffeine consumption, and an overbearing competitiveness that descends into a literal and figurative fight for superiority. Finally, a headless, paper-stuffed boss arrives in a red-drenched nightmare to end the destruction and chaos.

For anyone who has spent time in an office job, this is all painfully familiar, but it’s unlikely you’d have ever seen your big business experiences presented in this way before. Ilschner and Kosok are consummate physical theatre cum dance performers whose athletic and carefully choreographed movements frequently mirror each other, only to be thrown into conflict as their initially friendly banter turns to vicious rivalry. They rarely speak, so their physicality is the main channel for their sophisticated symbolism and satire, which they deliver with great skill.

Martin Greshoff, as the third corporate lackey, provides a stunning live electronic soundtrack from his desk. His stark melodies are mixed with dial-up modem sounds, computer bleeps and dings, and disembodied voices. A further shoutout to Greshoff for his trombone-playing, which is a tender final counterpoint to his jangling digital soundscape.

Hollie Cohen’s design makes clever use of white cardboard boxes, paper screens, and animated projections that beautifully support the idea of an office environment while allowing the performers to create carnage in safety.

At one point in this highly original performance, a distant voice asks, “Do you work well under pressure?” The answer for these three is clearly and unequivocally, “Nah”.

Rope | Regional News


Written by: Patrick Hamilton

Directed by: Paul Stone and Helen Cashin

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 11th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

At first glance, Rope looks like your classic British murder mystery. There’s a murder, a motive, and a swanky cocktail party where the whisky flows freer than the secrets. There are also murderers, Wyndham Brandon (an unwavering Slaine McKenzie) and the erratic Charles Granillo (Tom Foy). Before you cry out that I’ve spoiled the show, I haven’t, and that’s what makes Rope so interesting. From the very first scene we know whodunnit and why.

The play then becomes an exercise in suspense. Will the party guests find the bones in the chest that they dine on? Will the murdered boy’s dad (Sir Johnstone Kentley, played with presence and pluck by co-director Paul Stone) discover his son lies crumpled but two feet away?

Because suspense is so integral to Rope, there are a handful of things that would get this production cracking along with more electricity. The pacing could accelerate in some scenes, particularly the long opener in the dark and the finale, where a slower build to the climax means it doesn’t have as much impact. Snappier exchanges of dialogue and more staccato vocal deliveries from the cast, plus tense music used more frequently (sound design by Jake Davis), would help to up the stakes. Davis’ lighting is often used to great effect, especially with a few well-timed blackouts, and there is an excellent rainy soundscape that could be ramped up with thunder and lighting.

The opulent set (Oliver Mander) positions the chest as a character in itself, while Hayley Knight and Wendy Howard’s sleek wardrobe adds to the absorbing aesthetic of an evening in the 1920s. Stone and co-director Helen Cashin’s decision not to modernise the setting proves to be a good one.

Special mention to Tim Macdonald as the gormless and charming Kenneth Raglan and Mandy Eeva Watkins as Leila Arden, who takes delight in everything ghastly. Together with Susannah Donovan (always a highlight), the fabulously French Stephanie Gartrell, and the shrewd Nick Edwards, these two outstanding performers complete the committed cast of this dark and sinister Wellington Repertory Theatre production.

Snapchat Dude Live! | Regional News

Snapchat Dude Live!

Directed by: Holly Chappell-Eason

The Opera House, 31st May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

You may recognise writer, actor, director, and comedian Tom Sainsbury from Wellington Paranormal or Give Us A Clue, a televised charades gameshow hosted by Paula Bennett. The former deputy prime minister of New Zealand is one of the many politicians Sainsbury has parodied on social media app Snapchat, so working with her on the show was quite the hoot, he tells us between endearing drags of his imaginary cigarette. Endearing because as he says, he doesn’t smoke in real life, only in his reenactments of it.

Snapchat Dude Live! is a mix of banter, storytelling, and Sainsbury’s famous Snapchat satires of middle New Zilunders. Snap videos of these impressions are projected onto two screens shaped like smartphones that form the centerpiece of the show (set by Chris Reddington, technical by Peter van Gent and Paul Randall). With wigs, a few costume staples, clever scripting, and whip-smart timing, Sainsbury interacts with pre-recordings of his characters live to tell a story in real time. And what a story it is!

I never thought I’d be so invested in a quietly sensitive lumberjack and a not-alcoholic cat lady who played hockey in high school. But Gav and Liz, I love you and I love your love.

Sainsbury brings his characters to life with a glint in his eye and a spring in his step. He adds a layer of depth to the shallowest of them and makes me like even the most unlikeable ones (although still screw you Tracey and Stacey) with the strength of his storytelling and performance.

I’d love to see Sainsbury’s confidence come up a notch when he’s interacting with the audience as himself. He tells some killer jokes and personal anecdotes that he doesn’t quite let land, moving on too quickly when we’re still busy laughing. I hope this doesn’t come out of a fear that he’s not as funny as his characters, because he certainly is.

Wicked fun and unexpectedly touching, Snapchat Live! is a blast from beginning to end with all the snooty cats in between.

Top Gun Maverick  | Regional News

Top Gun Maverick


137 mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

We have done it everyone. After some harsh (but honest) reviews over the last few issues, I have given my first five-star rating. And I can comfortably say that Tom Cruise’s latest venture Top Gun Maverick deserves all the praise it is about to get. An eye-popping blockbuster from start to finish, I would even make the case it tops its 1986 predecessor.

After serving for three decades as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Cruise) is called up as a last resort by his superiors to train a detachment of top graduates for a special assignment. While leading the group, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.

This film is thrilling. From the very first scene, audiences are treated to sensational sounds and visuals that are some of the most realistic I’ve ever seen and heard on the big screen. It’s realistic because it is real. In a special touch, Cruise himself welcomes visitors to the film, explaining that almost everything you witness is the real deal. In a time where seemingly everything is made with CGI, this approach was so refreshing. And best of all, I actually felt like I was in the cockpit myself during the blood-pumping action sequences, low-altitude flights, and airborne dogfights.

Top Gun Maverick uses nostalgia when necessary, but it also doesn’t overdo it. We can clearly see that Maverick has lived a life during the 30-year gap, while the film connects with his past enough to take us back. Through great writing, we feel that the emotional and dramatic stakes continue to rise as the story moves, but this is balanced out thanks to perfectly timed moments of humour. Cruise delivers another fantastic and witty Cruise-like performance and other cast members such as Miles Teller and Glen Powell support the star well.

A modern-day blockbuster that actually lives up to the hype, Top Gun Maverick is an adrenaline-filled joy ride that expertly touches on ideas around family, bravado, heroism, and sacrifice. In simple terms, it will take your breath away.