Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine | Regional News

The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine

Written by: Tilly Bagshawe


Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

An epic novel perfect for your isolation blues, The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine will have you yearning for a time when France was just a plane flight away. But if you can’t travel physically you may as well travel to a different world through a book, and there’s no better book in which to lose yourself than The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine.

Spanning five decades from the early 20s through WWII and up to the 70s, The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine follows the trials and tribulations, the celebrations and the tragedies, the lives and the memories of the Salignac family. Owners of beautiful château Sainte Madeleine, the family have been wine growers of Burgundy and members of the French aristocracy for centuries, but nothing has prepared the Salignacs for the years that will come to pass. Their connection to the chateâu will be tested through the turbulence of both the world around them and of life itself.

Though each of the three children born to Louis and Therese Salignac have very different temperaments and lives, each one develops an essential bond to their home at Sainte Madeleine. Elise longs to inherit the chateâu and vineyard but loses herself in societal expectations; Alexandre, frustrated with his father’s difficult temperament, escapes to Napa to start his own vineyard; Didier, always sensitive, must find his own way to reconcile the love and pain caused by Sainte Madeleine. Meanwhile distant cousin Laurent Senard must find a way through war and politics back to Elise and Sainte Madeleine.

In this sweeping historical romance, Tilly Bagshawe crafts a world of perfectly balanced escapism and historical reality. Though she confronts serious topics of war, sexism, classism, racism, and generational strife, she also weaves in romance and beauty. Just as in life the bad moments always have their counterpart; each low will also have its highs and vice versa. The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine is a dream, a saga, an escape, and everything in between.

Smilestuff | Regional News


Devised by: Daniel Nodder

Directed by: Austin Harrison

Te Auaha, 8th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Some days are good, and some days are not so good, but each day is valid and each day is followed by a fresh new one. Smilestuff encompasses all the ups and downs and in-betweens of life, giving space and acceptance to the bad days while inspiring us to find joy in even the smallest moments.

Smilestuff is a movement-based solo performance. Daniel Nodder’s performance looks light as feathers, easy, and free, but every movement is incredibly intentional and impactful. Nodder seamlessly involves the audience throughout the work, making them integral parts of the story, engaging them directly as well as through balloons and other items.

Throughout Smilestuff, both Ben Kelly’s musical accompaniment and Campbell Wright’s lighting design are as integral as the performer himself. Spotlights are used as an interactive companion to Nodder’s character: the spotlight becomes a keyboard on the floor that Nodder (and Kelly) plays, or a mirror in which Nodder discovers various facial expressions and emotions, a friend that dances alongside Nodder, and even the spark of life inside himself.

Smilestuff is infused with childlike wonder and innocence. From the moment Nodder discovers the use of his limbs, each movement is tender and pure. Nodder learns the basics before going through the motions of everyday life, each moment saturated with the simple joy of being alive. However, with living comes other complexities; Nodder quickly learns that as time wears on, each moment will not necessarily be as joyful as it was in the beginning. Finding himself in a slump, unable to come to terms with the burdens of life, musician Ben Kelly re-awakens Nodder’s joy and through a moment of quasi-puppetry Nodder lip syncs to Kelly’s beautiful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Smile.

Smilestuff celebrates the joy in everyday life and in mundanity, imploring us to cherish every moment. In the same breath, it recognises that joy cannot be constant. In this challenging time, everyone should go see Smilestuff.

Uncharted | Regional News



116 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I am a fan of the Uncharted games. No better yet, I am a massive fan of the Uncharted games. So, although part of me may have already cast this film aside when I saw Tom Holland (who bears almost no resemblance to Nathan Drake) cast as the film’s hero, I feel it is only fair that I judge Uncharted in terms of how well it represented the games, because those fans are who the film should have been made for.

Uncharted follows Nathan Drake (Holland) in his mid-twenties after he is recruited by treasure hunter Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg). The two are searching for the 500-year-old lost fortune of Ferdinand Magellan. What begins as a quick heist soon becomes a furious globe-trotting race to reach the prize before the ruthless Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) can get his hands on it. 

This movie failed from the start. Columbia and Sony Pictures took a big risk when they decided not to adapt one of Naughty Dog’s successful game storylines and instead tell an original prequel. Original stories are fine but to change the fundamental elements of the Uncharted games such as how Sully and Drake meet? That doesn’t sit well with me.

Wahlberg’s take on Sully is perhaps where this film lost any chance of writing its wrongs. Instead of the faithful and trusty mentor from the games, viewers are thrust a Sully who doesn’t seem to care about Drake at all. The pair’s renowned connection is completely lost, and this leads to the story feeling hollow. Although some of Uncharted’s action scenes are downright epic, this is no longer enough due to the regularity of films with impressive computer-generated imagery. Holland does an okay job capturing the personality of Drake, but this fails to make up for his lack of resemblance to the Drake of the games.

Director Ruben Fleischer had a rare chance to inherit a story and characters that were already engaging and build on these elements. Instead, audiences have been provided with another film that hides behind an all-star cast, mediocre humour, and big explosions rather than one that focuses on a thoughtful story that people care about, like those in the Uncharted games.  

An Ice Thing to Say | Regional News

An Ice Thing to Say

Presented by: Vertebra Theatre

Online, 7th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

This year’s Fringe Festival boasts no less than 20 online events, thanks to the influence of COVID-19, which gives festivalgoers an exceptional opportunity to experience local and overseas work in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

I have to admit to being lured as much by the pun in the title of An Ice Thing to Say as I was to the promise of a blend of ice installation, original music, and physical theatre exploring the human being of the Anthropocene and our impact on nature. It draws inspiration from Erich Fromm’s seminal book on the need for socioeconomic revolution To Have or to Be? and invites the audience into a multi-sensory experience of our inner and outer icy landscapes. It attempts to challenge the idea that humans are at the centre of the universe and why that view of ourselves has caused the current climate crisis.

Having started life as a stage show, An Ice Thing to Say has been translated successfully into a short film. With effective videography, editing, and lighting from Theo Prodromidis, the visual interest has been expanded from the theatre, dance, and musical elements. The central installation of four large blocks of ice and the often-discordant music (Gregory Emfietzis) create fertile ground for visual, auditory, and textural experiences of an element of nature with which the performers interact in various ways from the sensual to the violent.

Without the explanation of the premise of the production, it risks being a little esoteric. However, sections in which the principal dancer, Stella Evangelia, wears a penguin-like mask and crams fruit into her mouth speak clearly of polar melting and rabid consumerism. Her sensuous caressing of the ice blocks equally speaks of the need for kindness towards the natural environment. Spoken interludes reflect the disorder of the modern mind and the human inability to be still, listen, and let instinct reign. As a meditation on Man’s inhumanity to nature, it is absorbing, challenging, and thought-provoking.

The Scottish Kiwi | Regional News

The Scottish Kiwi

Presented by: Wake Productions

Cavern Club, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Ryan McGhee and his warm-up guy Michael Macaulay were waiting outside the Cavern Club when I arrived. They warmly introduced themselves, didn’t freak out when I told them I was reviewing their show, and we had a lovely chat about COVID and how lucky they were to be able to perform. Both were friendly and down to earth, the best examples of what the Fringe Festival is about.

Their charming openness and willingness to connect continued in an hour of quality stand-up comedy that traversed continents, climates, and cultures. Macaulay, originally from Teeside and now Paraparaumu, opened the show with a dig at Jimmy Carr’s racism and a claim that he doesn’t feel English despite a Geordie accent untouched by decades overseas. Before introducing McGhee, he drew belly laughs from pubic hair, dating before the age of mobile apps, oral sex with a Bee Gee, and his dad’s cremation.

The most successful stand-up comedy often comes from people who are willing to display vulnerability about their own life experiences and laugh at themselves. This McGhee happily does as he talks about being a ‘born and fled’ Glaswegian who is fiercely patriotic about all things Scottish but would never want to live there again.

Starting with his staunch Catholic upbringing, through coming out as gay, to moving to Australia and being half of one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married – and divorced – there, he brings us on his colourful journey to New Zealand and genesis as the Scottish Kiwi.

In his All Blacks shirt and kilt, McGhee pokes gentle fun at, among other things, New Zealanders’ passion for winning at sport, anti-vaxxers and their inability to deal with ‘three wee pricks’, why bungee jumping is the Kiwi equivalent of haggis, and his drunken purchase of a scarily huge sex toy called Dennis the Destroyer. All of this is peppered with hilariously smutty gay jokes and a disarming ability to tell a great story, making a great hour’s entertainment.

Shift Your Paradigm  | Regional News

Shift Your Paradigm

Created by: David Bowers-Mason and Mitchell Botting

Directed by: Mitchell Botting

BATS Theatre, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

As I write this review it feels like the world is on fire. Certainly, Parliament grounds are literally on fire. But thinking back to the Fringe show I went to last night provides a wonderful escape, as did seeing Shift Your Paradigm. I truly forgot about all my troubles and cares – and our global ones too – for one hour thanks to this hilarious, twisty-turny, emotional rollercoaster of a production.

Eric (David Bowers-Mason) is the senior CEO of Do Be Us, a company that is not at all dubious and totally not a pyramid scheme. Under the all-seeing eye of the High Chair Man (Kevin Orlando), Eric has excelled in selling heaps of chairs (read: enlisting others to do it for him) and is now headed for a promotion. With the help of his junior-CEO-in-training Zoe (Isabella Murray), he just has to offload the last 25 of the latest collection before the ink on his new vague contract is dry.

Bowers-Mason is a gifted actor who rides the highs and lows of a desperate man with ease and panache. Murray acts as an anchor and counterpoint for Bowers-Mason’s performance so it doesn’t reach hysterical heights. And then we have Orlando, who reminds me instantly of The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry and might be just as funny. Appearing only onscreen but with excellent comic timing is Adam Herbert as the Fax Man, while Sara Douglas plays Eric’s sister Jessica with sensitivity that beautifully balances the action.

Shift Your Paradigm has high production values, with projection design (projector by Emii Wilson, graphics and filming by Mitchell Botting) greatly enhancing the experience – especially thanks to clever FaceTimes projected onto the screen. Coupled with cohesive, dramatic sound (Wilson) and lighting (Herbert), the show reaches multiple climactic points that put me in mind of watching a thriller on the big screen. Thrilling!

A huge bravo to all involved in the witty and raucous Shift Your Paradigm. Thanks for taking me out of my life for a hot minute!

Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes | Regional News

Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes

Written by: Lee Stanton-Barnett, Leonid Wilson, Brooke McCloy, and Lewis Thompson

Directed by: Lee Stanton-Barnett, Leonid Wilson, Brooke McCloy, and Lewis Thompson

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

The Garden of Eden: beautiful, serene, bountiful, and perfect. Until the humans arrived. How could God’s ‘most perfect’ creation be so imperfect? Well according to two tigers Big Stripes (Lewis Thompson) and Sharp Claws (Leonid Wilson), the ‘hewmans’ aren’t perfect at all. In their mind all beasts, no matter the legs or fur, are all created equal; but Adam (Lee Stanton-Barnett) and Eve (Brooke McCloy) seem to disagree.

Written, directed, and performed by ‘You be good. I love you’, Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes is a touching tale (or tail) about both the differences and similarities between human and beast, what defines a beast, and ultimately what defines a human. Providing a new take on the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes follows the rise, climax, and fall of Eden from paradise to what we inhabit now: Earth.

Specifically touching about the show is how similar the tigers and the humans behave. Though clearly different species, the tigers celebrate their differences to other animals but do not see themselves as superior. Adam and Eve however see themselves as special from their incipience. As Big Stripes wisely proposes: “Humans have a particular quality different from tigers; they want to be like God”. Eve and Adam both eat the apple in this rendition, but they do it to become special to God, to get closer to God.

Post-apple, the world changes: different species can no longer communicate, fear and hunger pervade the world, and life becomes all about survival. Humans and beasts seem to drift further apart, no longer living in harmony. Big Stripes ponders how despite our differences we share so many similarities and we all want the same things: a full belly and a place to live. Maybe our shared desires are what make us fight.

The tigers can’t understand why the humans feel such a strong need to be special. Perhaps only us humans can answer that.

Olga Dies Dreaming | Regional News

Olga Dies Dreaming

Written by: Xochitl Gonzalez

Fleet Publishing

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel Olga Dies Dreaming is not so much a look at the American Dream as it is an autopsy of it and the toll it can take on those chasing it.

The story focuses on Olga Acevedo and her brother Prieto, two siblings trying to navigate modern-day corporate America while finding their place in it. Years earlier, they were abandoned by their mother, Blanca, who ran off to become a revolutionary and save the world. Now she’s back, and her arrival shakes up what some might consider the siblings’ perfect lives.

I found the characters fascinating; they’re just wonderful to be around. Each one is so alive, and I was surprised by the depth of humanity that they all have. They have their triumphs and failures, and like all people, they make mistakes. This made them more relatable, and it was not long before I saw them as real human beings rather than characters on a page. 

I loved them all, but my favourite has to be Blanca. While she does not appear until much later on, she looms omnipresent over her children throughout the book. She is cold, cruel, and calculating to onlookers, but I loved her ambition and her tenacity to succeed whatever the cost (including being there for her kids). The prose is likewise a joy to read, and when I was finished I found myself wanting more, surely a great sign.

While it is true that nothing is perfect, I honestly could not find a single thing to critique about Olga Dies Dreaming. I suspect that many people will agree with me and love this book.

Put this on your list of must-haves. Gonzalez weaves a compelling story about the dangers of chasing that seemingly golden ideal: the American Dream. It is an exciting and thrilling read that I just could not put down. After this, Xochitl Gonzalez is an author I will be looking out for in the future.

The Heretic | Regional News

The Heretic

Written by: Liam McIlvanney


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

What a cracking book! I really enjoyed The Heretic by Liam McIlvanney, who has written seven books and lives in New Zealand. McIlvanney is originally from Scotland and sets his books there. This one is set in Glasgow so there is some Scottish lingo to get to grips with. I lived in Edinburgh for two years so learned what this all meant:

Ned = hooligan/petty crim/lout/young boy
Didnae = didn’t, wasnae = wasn’t etc.
Deid = dead
Schemes = council housing
Hoor = sex worker
Weans = children
Hen = term of affection for a young woman/girl
Breeks = breeches

Warning: the C word is used a lot, as it would be. Google other expressions you don’t understand.

Set over 16 days in 1975, this story is the follow-up to The Quaker, with Detective Inspector Duncan McCormack leading the investigation. McCormack is gay, which is something that the local Police aren’t ready for so his partner lives separately to him and is referred to as his cousin. It was 1975 and boy times have changed. McCormack is also not a team player but in charge of the investigation, natch (= naturally). There are egos, bent coppers, dead coppers, racist and sexist coppers – it’s all go.

The prologue is distressing and the narrative unfolds from there with lots of different storylines and characters to keep on top of. The Heretic is gritty, believable, well-written, and kept me wanting more.