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Lost Lear | Regional News

Lost Lear

Written by: Dan Colley, with the company, after Shakespeare

Directed by: Dan Colley

Tāwhiri Warehouse, 14th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Award-winning Irish theatre maker Dan Colley tells an innovative and powerful story of dealing with advanced dementia. Joy (Venetia Bowe) is stuck in the past of her career as an actor, constantly rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in which she played the lead. This ‘memory theme’ has been painstakingly worked out and supported by Liam (Manus Halligan) and his care home team (Clodagh O’Farrell and Em Ormonde). Into this carefully constructed world comes Joy’s son Conor (Peter Daly) who she sent away as a young boy and consequently harbours a lifetime of resentment towards his neglectful mother. Seeking some kind of apology or contrition he will never get, he must find his own path to forgiveness through joining the rehearsal as Cordelia and becoming part of Joy’s fractured reality.

Using projection onto two screens in front of and behind the main stage interwoven with live video feeds from a lightbox and another on the stage, plus a stunning use of paper craft and puppetry, we witness both Joy’s chaotic, distorted perspective and the grounded, day-to-day work of caring for a person with dementia. The skill of the actors and technicians is such that these two worlds blend and interchange seamlessly, so we always know where we are and sometimes see both at the same time.

Bowe gives a towering performance as Joy. She’s energetic and dictatorial as Lear, humorous as she jumps into other roles and plays dialogue by herself, heartbreaking as she struggles to communicate with Conor through the fog of her illness. Daly is strong too as the baffled son who can’t cope with the feelings welling up as he confronts his estranged mother and her altered mental state. Halligan is a wonderful foil for Joy, gleefully indulging her fantasy by playing Lear’s Fool, and gently encouraging Conor to take part.

Lost Lear is a brilliantly creative and thought-provoking inspection of dementia and the unconventional possibilities of human communication.

BELLE – A Performance of Air | Regional News

BELLE – A Performance of Air

Presented by: Movement Of The Human

Directed by: Malia Johnston

St James Theatre, 14th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Helmed by creative director Malia Johnston – known for her work on World of WearableArt™ and countless other innovative projects – BELLE was always going to be a standout production this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Billed as a celebration of female strength and agility, it sees a cast of nine women (aerialists Imogen Stone, Katelyn Reed, Ellyce Bisson, and Rosita Hendry, and dancers Brydie Colquhoun, Jemima Smith, Anu Khapung, Nadiyah Akbar, and Aleeya Mcfadyen-Rew) float and fly, contort and convulse, levitate and palpitate to each precise, driving, swirling beat of Eden Mullholland’s stratospheric soundscape, composed in collaboration with Jol Mulholland and live musician Anita Clark, who weaves a throughline that magnetises us with her ethereal voice and virtuosic violin.  

Rowan Pierce’s production design is an electric storm that wholly transforms the landscape, utilising smoke, strobe, and stunning special effects to create cinematic tableaus the likes of which I’ve not seen on stage before. The result is a breathtaking 55-minute optical illusion where dancers appear and reappear like magic, swallowed whole by haze only to reilluminate, suspended from the ceiling; engulfed by the pitch-black void to reanimate, stacked on shoulders, poised upside down in the box seats, coiled in apparatus designed especially for the show by inspired aerial choreographer Jenny Ritchie.  

While there is no narrative, themes emerge for the viewer to interpret. I find myself thinking of control and oppression; ritual and camaraderie; birth, rebirth, and death; matriarchs and lunar cycles; and above all, the fearsome power of women. One scene that sees the cast walk to the front of the stage to circle a glowing, clear disc one by one, each interacting with it differently, doesn’t feel as striking or as intentional as the rest. But perhaps “what does it mean” isn’t the right question. Maybe the right question is, “was that real?” The staggering cast and creatives of BELLE breathe, heave, and electrify as one to convey Johnston’s extraordinary vision: one that I still can’t quite believe I’ve seen with my own two eyes.

Songbirds | Regional News


Presented by: The King’s Singers

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

UK-based male sextet The King's Singers have represented the gold standard in a cappella singing on the world's greatest stages for over 50 years. They are renowned for their unrivalled technique, versatility, and skill in performance, and for their consummate musicianship, drawing on the group's rich heritage and its pioneering spirit to create a wealth of original works and unique collaborations.

Following an impeccably pronounced reo Māori greeting, the concert programme celebrates compositions ancient and modern by, or inspired by, songbirds avian and human. It kicks off appropriately with a delicious rendition of Songbird by Fleetwood Mac.

Cleanly swooping from The Beatles’ Blackbird to a Canadian folk song called She’s Like the Swallow, they flutter onto a quirky Australian piece called Cuckoo in the Pear Tree, Schubert, Ravel, French and Italian madrigals, and an entertaining French song called Le Chant des Oiseaux in which the composer “crammed in as many silly bird noises as he could”. This last number elicits a sly miaow from an audience member during the applause. They finish the first half with a charming song written for the group in 1972 based on a German folk story about a donkey, dog, cat, and chicken going to a singing competition in Bremen.

The second half kicks off with three stunning numbers from Disney films. The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond is followed by This Little Light of Mine, which I heard just two weeks ago on the same stage sung completely differently. Two Paul Simon songs, a gorgeous piece called Father, Father by Laura Mvula, and a George Gershwin classic round out the second half. They made me even happier by coming back for an encore of And So It Goes by Billy Joel. All of this was delivered under beautifully lit and sparkling chandeliers.

By the end of the concert, I felt like I’d had a quart of Bailey’s poured into my ears and it doesn’t get much better than that on a Wednesday night.

Big Fat Brown Bitch | Regional News

Big Fat Brown Bitch

Written by: Tusiata Avia

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Tusiata Avia is big, fat, brown, and angry about the treatment of Pacific peoples in New Zealand. Big Fat Brown Bitch is the latest poetry collection by Avia, written after ACT party leader David Seymour’s criticism of her award-winning previous poetry collection The Savage Coloniser Book created news. In bold, direct language, it addresses racism and how the colonisation of Aotearoa still affects people today – from the personal, such as name-calling at school, to the national, as when Avia calls out specific government leaders who’ve made decisions she disagrees with.

The first section of the book, Werewolf, is the most political. It’s arresting and doesn’t shy away from swearing or discussing hate speech. It’s not one for all audiences, but Avia has an undeniable way of making you stop and take note of her words. “I am the girl who bites like this,” reads one poem, and the lines do feel like furious dog bites at the world.

The final section, Malu | Protection, is the most abstract and covers traditional tattooing practices. The narrator and her niece search family records for the best symbols to use, and she imagines being deep underwater with taniwha while the painful tattooing process takes place. The poems explore being half-Samoan, growing up separate from your ancestry and not speaking the language, exemplified in The opening lāuga, the ceremony where the Samoan orators speak from one side of the page and Avia’s narrator is aligned to the opposite side.

If I had to critique, a couple of the poems didn’t feel very distinct from each other. However, overall, it’s a cohesive collection which doesn’t falter in sharing the strengths and trials of Avia’s life. FCC Theatre Company will be performing an adaptation of Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book, directed by Anapela Polata’ivao, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts if you’re interested in seeing more of her work. And if you’re not – “Come for me babe, what else have I got to lose?”

Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa | Regional News

Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa

Written by: Ray Salisbury

Exisle Publishing

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Starting with Graeme Dingle and Jill Tremain in 1971 as they attempted to traverse the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, aka the Southern Alps, Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa takes readers on an adventure of a lifetime.

Each chapter is its only little story, where the new protagonist(s) dare to push themselves to the limit on adventures that will in some cases take your breath away. Despite all the obstacles, they found a way to keep pushing and overcame hurdles that some (myself included) would find insurmountable. For someone like me who is more of an ‘armchair adventurer’, this book inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and start exploring – although not quite to the extent of what is covered here!

Salisbury’s writing is fantastic and a real standout component of the book. I felt that I was there living each adventure alongside the heroes the author encapsulates. Illustrations and maps make them seem even more alive than they are and bring their journeys to life. Non-fiction writing can be boring, but not Salisbury’s. I was engaged on every page.

My favourite part was chapter four, where mountaineer Richard Ackerley set himself the goal of climbing to the top of Aoraki/Mount Cook before turning 20 – something he achieved. I also especially liked the summary at the end of each chapter as I got a little taste of what became of each adventurer afterwards.

There are no downsides that I can see to this book; it’s well written with great additional visual content that leaps off the page and sucks you in.

As previously mentioned, Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa gave me a little inspiration to see more of my country, and I hope it does the same for you. If you see this on a bookshelf and haven’t explored New Zealand but want to, I seriously encourage you to pick it up.

The Mystery Guest | Regional News

The Mystery Guest

Written by: Nita Prose


Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

The Mystery Guest follows head maid Molly Gray as she tries to keep the edges of sheets crisp and the memory of her nan alive, all while being a murder suspect. 

With a tainted past, the five-star Regency Grand Hotel desperately wants to improve their reputation. The staff are just able to reopen the renovated tearoom in time to host a special event for a bestselling mystery author. On the precipice of his exclusive announcement, the author dies suddenly and all hands point to the maid. After a previous false accusation, the police reluctantly work with Molly to solve the case due to her attention to detail.  

The Mystery Guest follows Molly both as an adult and as her 10-year-old self. The flashbacks provide insight into who Molly is today, and why her job as head maid means so much to her. She is an endearing protagonist who views the world as black and white, struggling to read social cues and always working towards making things right.

As a child, she calls on her imagination and uses her fairytale-like wonder to create a protective shield around her to get through tough experiences. She doesn’t understand that correcting the grammar of other kids won’t gain her any friends, nor why the teachers want to hold her back a grade. But with a close connection to her nan, her imagination, and her passion for cleaning, it doesn’t get her down and she carries on. 

As an adult, she is by the book and for the book, living and quoting the Maid’s Manual she’s working on as she works to solve the crime – whilst also trying to solve the mysteries of those around her and maintain the proper etiquette of a head maid.

The Mystery Guest exists in the realm of cosy crime and is an easy read as the past unfolds the mysteries of the present. Solving the crime is all part of the fun. It’s a great summer read.

Dolly Parton: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life  | Regional News

Dolly Parton: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life 

Written by: Tracey E. W. Laird

Epic Ink

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

“Writing is my first love… it’s my doctor, it’s my therapist… but it also gives a voice to a lot of folks who don’t know how to express it.” – Dolly Parton. 

Dolly Parton has always been a prolific writer. In her five-decade career, she has penned over 3000 songs, with the first written at age five. She easily steps into the shoes of other people and writes with her heart from a place of truth. However, this skill has led to the banning of some of her songs due to conservative views at radio stations. 

Known for a high head of blonde hair, acrylics, and an hourglass figure, Dolly’s look has remained the same as her character. Author Tracey E. W. Laird ensures Dolly’s personality shines through Dolly Parton: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life, making it clear that she has been a hard-working, kind, charismatic, smart businesswoman every step of the way.

Coming from nothing, Dolly grew up as the fourth child of 12 in the Smoky Mountains, a place she is always giving back to. She focuses on her faith and love for all without alienating or passing judgement. Over the years, she has donated generously and founded charities, including Imagination Library, which gives a child one free book a month from birth to kindergarten. 

Dolly will always be full of surprises, whether it’s making a rock album in her seventies, writing a thriller with James Patterson, or sealing an unheard song in a time capsule that can’t be opened until 2045. It is hard to sum up Dolly in snapshots of her career, but Laird does well. The author excels when she writes about the stories behind Dolly’s songs and the feelings they evoke, mixed with what she was wearing when performing, transporting you into the moment with her. This novel is a great introduction to Dolly and serves as an impressive collection of her accomplishments throughout her legendary career. 

The World I Found | Regional News

The World I Found

Written by: Latika Vasil

Black Giraffe Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

A few pages into The World I Found, I was ambivalent about whether I was going to enjoy it, but as it happens, I did.

In what is author Latika Vasil’s first foray into the young adult genre, The World I Found is narrated by 15-year-old Quinn. A seemingly innocuous sea-bound trip in the Spirit of Discovery to Campbell Island for a year, with her scientist mother, screams boredom – one personified by the distinct lack of the sweet trappings of youth: shops, junk food, fellow teens, the internet, and most importantly, her best friend Frankie.

The relative safety of the island soon dissipates when Quinn and Jeroen, the son of her mother’s peer Dr Waslander, are swept overboard as the team, hitching a ride on Greenpeace’s Artic Star, makes its way back to the homeland after communications are lost. Afar, something disturbing is afoot. Both Quinn and Jereon wash up, bruised, sea-beaten, and separated from the others on a remote beach on the mainland they came from, but no longer recognise.

They awake to the haloed face of an equally alone 12-year-old boy, Cal, peering down at them. They are soon confronted with the new normal brought about by the ravages of a deadly virus, one quickly spread with little recovery (sounds all too familiar) that has swept the mainland. Quinn, possessed with a fighting spirit yet calm demeanour, quickly realises she has more grit and tenacity than belies her youth to respond. The trio soon meet Jack and Robyn, kindly old folk living off the land, hunkered down and hoping for normality to return. But there’s something nefarious, cult-like, waiting round the bend...

The World I Found has a simple but steady premise. Of course, now that we are no strangers to pandemics and what they can bring, the novel makes you think about what you might do or become in the same scenario – only this time with a more apocalyptic vibe.

Crossing Thresholds: The Air Between Us | Regional News

Crossing Thresholds: The Air Between Us

Created by: Chloe Loftus and Rodney Bell

Tāwhiri Warehouse, 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The Air Between Us is a captivating aerial dance show performed in mid-air in the new creative space at the back of Te Whaea. Choreographer and dancer Chloe Loftus and multi-award-winning artist and performer Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniopoto), who performs in his stylish wheelchair, weave an intricate, sensuous, and beautiful story of the literal push and pull of a complex emotional relationship. They seek to “explore our innate capacity to exist in symbiotic harmony, with each other and with our environment”.

They arrive separately, Bell travelling slowly along the aisle between the cushion-dwelling youngsters with their adults and the mostly wheelchair-occupying front row, gently touching them as he passes. Loftus walks in from the audience rostra, and they slowly circle the floor-lit stage before meeting in the middle beneath a double aerial harness. At first, Loftus connects to the harness, flying horizontally around Bell as he gently catches her feet. Then she’s climbing upwards on the harness ropes while he circles below her.

Switching the harness to support them both, they whirl and twist together through the air, embracing, balancing each other, always at one whether together or apart. Finally, Loftus walks calmly away and Bell spins upside down, suspended peacefully and alone until lowering back to terra firma.

It’s mesmerising to watch each exactly paced and balletic movement. Accompanied by appropriately involving music, and their clearly visible rigger Tym Miller-White and his counterweight, their performance is a deeply satisfying work of harmony, synchronicity, and inclusion. The performers are equal in ability and connection in this ungrounded space.

The pleasing sense of inclusivity extends beyond the performers to the attentive staff, seating area that caters to those who can’t or don’t want to sit on the unforgiving plastic seats, and the cost-free entry. It’s wonderful to see the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts embracing this ethos so wholeheartedly.

At just 20 minutes long, The Air Between Us is a bijou but utterly fulfilling piece that says so much more than words can convey.