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Being Prey | Regional News

Being Prey

Written by: Gabrielle Raz-Liebman

Directed by: Gabrielle Raz-Liebman

BATS Theatre, 22nd Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

This New Zealand Fringe Festival solo show follows Hero (Gabrielle Raz-Liebman), a budding academic who is conducting some really super important ecological research on termites in the Kakadu National Park of Australia’s Northern Territory. When Hero is paddling about one day, happy as can be, she unwittingly strays into the path of a crocodile, who promptly eats her.

Like the real-life person Being Prey is based on, philosopher Val Plumwood, Hero survives to tell the tale. But while her body recovers, her mental health remains in tatters from the traumatic experience.

Raz-Liebman is a consummate physical theatre and comedy performer. Her character work is exceptional, particularly when it comes to the seedy old academic and the seedy old doctor. It’s unclear whether these are two different characters or not, which certainly makes a statement about men in positions of power. The scene with the victim-blaming doctor makes me deeply uncomfortable and winds up being my show highlight.

Raz-Liebman transitions effortlessly between dream sequences, storytelling, and startling choreography, particularly in the final scene. The lighting and sound (Felix Olohan) help to distinguish state and place and are integrated well. Raz-Liebman handles opening night technical hiccups with good humour and grace.

There’s a wonderful blend of humour and pathos, silliness and meaning in the writing and dramaturgy (Jennifer O’Sullivan), although some scenes could be more concise while others could be fleshed out. Excuse that pun, but I reckon the poopy, liver-squelching mess of a crocodile dissection might have even more of a gross effect if trimmed. At the same time, I’m confused by the introduction of a virus so some explanation and expansion there would be helpful.  

The finale (it’s not a Fringe show until you see someone rolling around in carcass, right?) has a huge impact but what I desperately want to see is a little hope. A glimpse of recovery.

I’m excited for the future of Being Prey and to watch it go from very good to great.

The S**t Kid | Regional News

The S**t Kid

Written and performed by Sarah Harpur

Directed by: Carrie Green

The Fringe Bar, 22nd Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In The S**t Kid, Sarah Harpur exposes a knack for anchored storytelling and deceptive writing. With nothing but a minimal set, a few sound effects, and a colourful array of characters, she coaches the audience to visualise a complete world of snobby horse riders and nosy locals. Unfortunately, where it excels in story elements it falls short on genuine laughs.

Sharni (Harpur) loves her twin brother, she swears it, but can’t help but envy him. While she’s stuck back on the family farm raising a baby, teaching rich kids to ride, and selling horse s**t… I mean, ‘pony poo’… he’s off winning Olympic medals. But Sharni has a plan, if only she can raise enough cash to put it into action.

The S**t Kid deals with something we have all experienced, disappointment, and specifically the envy we can feel when others don’t seem to face as much of it as we do. Maybe it was the time your best friend got a promotion while you were left feeling stuck, or in school when your sibling seemed to rack up accolades while you dawdled. Sharni’s story is particular but the emotions she’s feeling are not, and this makes the story relatable to all in our audience, even if some of us have never set foot in a stable.

Sharni is a likable character, and we certainly root for her to conquer, but I was left a little disappointed in the show’s final minutes. Most of what she does manage to achieve is, seemingly, handed to her. While she does learn some valuable lessons, I feel there is a stronger wrap-up out there.

Another disappointment is the hit-and-miss rate of The S**t Kid’s jokes, which is surprising given this is Harpur’s first solo play but sixth comedic outing. The show is still in development, and I feel a more varied tone could up this aspect of the show – as it stands, there’s simply too much wink wink, nudge nudge, and not enough solid, unexpected punchlines to earn anything more than a chuckle.

What Harpur has discovered with The S**t Kid is a raw talent for playwrighting. With more development, I am sure it could morph into something special.

Breakfast Time | Regional News

Breakfast Time

Written by: Bon Buchanan and Bella Petrie

Directed by: Genoveva Reverte, Bon Buchanan and Bella Petrie

BATS Theatre, 22nd Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Breakfast Time is coming in hot, and it’s definitely a tasty meal of a show. A mixed media piece featuring a short film (Aiden Fernando) followed by a deconstructive ‘duologue’, this Fringe show serves up the story of two (not very well acquainted) young adults, Reuben (Bon Buchanan) and Ana (Bella Petrie) cooking breakfast together the morning after their parents’ wedding. The laconic, obligatory, and forced conversation that sautés in the film however quickly sizzles and boils over in the live show to follow as the pair analyse the scene from the film itself, their childhoods, their backgrounds, their opportunities, their challenges, their traumas, and their futures.

Though ‘deconstructed’ wouldn’t normally sound appetising, Brick Haus Productions serves up a show that feels much more like comfort food despite the guise of haute cuisine. The actors excellently portray both renditions of the characters. Buchanan and Petrie are both subtle and obvious in the film, politely masking their contempt yet clearly intending to cause discomfort to the other. The live show however could be likened to Hell’s Kitchen with both characters voicing exactly what the subtleties of the film scene were meant to mask.

It is both satisfying and refreshing to see in the live show what you assumed the characters were thinking in the film. Reuben’s condescension to Ana’s higher social class is palpable and then overt as he deems her a spoiled brat while he slaved away washing dishes since 14 to go to university so he wouldn’t die broke like his grandfather. Ana however shows haughty disdain for Reuben’s materialism and martyrdom for her lonely childhood in which she grew up too fast in order to care for her father and herself.

While both characters yearn for the other to understand them, they do something much more powerful: they lay bare the human condition; normalising trauma, accepting inadequacy, allowing for mistakes, and most importantly connecting us all through our imperfect yet inherent humanity.

Red Rocket | Regional News

Red Rocket


130 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Like his previous films, particularly the acclaimed The Florida Project, Sean Baker zeroes in on outcasts and misfits in Red Rocket. A slice-of-life picture that candidly centres on an amoral character, its liberating attitude towards sex and bad behaviour makes it exhilarating beyond belief.

Following a 17-year stint in Los Angeles, washed-up porn star Mikey (Simon Rex) returns to his hometown in Texas to shelter with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss). Unable to find work due to his previous career, he spends his time moving weed for an old acquaintance and frequenting the local donut shop, where he meets 17-year-old Strawberry (Suzanna Son).

For all intents and purposes, Mikey is a scumbag. He uses his deceptive charm and relentless fun-loving energy to manipulate those around him: convincing the ex he abandoned to let him crash, befriending his star-struck neighbour to score free rides, hitting on a highschooler with the objective of finding a way back into the porn industry. It’s been too long since a mainstream flick dared to set its sights on a dude this pathetic, and thankfully, Baker doesn’t waste time spelling it out. He simply lets Mikey’s decisions unfold while we play judge, jury, and executioner – a telltale sign of a filmmaker who trusts the intelligence of his audience.

Baker again showcases an uncanny ability to make a community feel existent – the people, locations, and experiences in Red Rocket appear lived-in, an achievement aided by the gorgeously grainy 16-millimetre photography. His films are the screen equivalents of lo-fi Soundcloud mixtapes, those ones that go on to be rereleased by major labels and heralded as classics. This tangibility also flows through the writing (Baker and Chris Bergoch) and performances. Rex delights in playing a man this downtrodden and gives his all to the role. It’s safe to say I won’t soon forget the image of him running down the street butt naked to NSYNC’s Bye Bye Bye.

While a touch bloated at 130 minutes, Red Rocket is a cinematic experience unlike any other you’re likely to have in 2022.

No! I’m Not Australian!  | Regional News

No! I’m Not Australian!

Written and performed by Ocean Denham

The Fringe Bar, 18th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Part stand-up, part musical odyssey, comedian Ocean Denham fought a tough opening-night crowd for her New Zealand Fringe Festival show No! I’m Not Australian! to score well-earned laughs. After settling in, our audience comes to appreciate her candid and open approach to storytelling, not to mention her stellar singing voice, the combination of which make her stand out as a unique talent.

Over the course of an hour, Denham reminisces on her weird, wild, and occasionally gross OE. Her trip to the UK was full of hilarious stitch-ups and stories too bizarre to make up. We all know what it’s like to be a fish out of water, and in No! I’m Not Australian!, Denham mines that feeling for comedy gold.

Billing this show as a cabaret is somewhat misleading, as Denham’s strongest asset is her natural talent for stand-up. She knows how to pull an audience into a bit and make it relatable, even if she’s sharing experiences that we can only pray we never have to endure first-hand. What would you do if you showed up to a fancy-pants dinner party only to discover it was a drug-fuelled madhouse? Or how about if your IBS flared up moments before you were to meet your new flatmates in a foreign country? She makes every story feel visceral and presents them in the most high-octane way possible, wringing out laughs all the way.

While her material may have been too honest for some in the crowd, a slow start turns into a big finish as the audience becomes accustomed to the fact that this is a performer expressing herself unapologetically. The same goes for her songs. Lyrically, they’re just as graphic as her bits, but when delivered via Denham’s powerhouse vocal chops, the contradiction makes many of them the highlights of the hour.

Some minor technical difficulties on the part of The Fringe Bar are the only thing that halt an otherwise flowing performance on Friday night. Delivered with confidence and gusto, Denham is clearly a comedic talent to keep your eye on.

The Worst Person in the World | Regional News

The Worst Person in the World


128 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Modern day romance is anatomised without faux sentimentality in The Worst Person in the World, a dark rom-com that shows how a person can discover themselves by falling into each and every pitfall the dating game opens up. Renate Reinsve delivers one of the most impactful performances in recent memory, and Joachim Trier adds just enough directorial flourishes to make it all feel both tangible and cinematic.

Julie (Reinsve) is a promising medical student in Oslo, Norway who decides to drop it all to pursue psychology, then photography. She’s endlessly indecisive, which feeds into her love life. We watch on as she, over the course of several years, explores serious (and not so serious) relationships, struggles to find a fitting career path, and tries to forge an identity.

I am thrilled that The Worst Person in the World broke out of the International Feature category at the 94th Academy Awards and received a nomination for Original Screenplay. Trier and Eskil Vogt’s script conflates an entire youth’s worth of romance into two hours, mapping a finely tuned character arc that never feels crammed. It covers the realities of dating someone older who may be ready to settle down sooner than you, the envy that comes with having a partner who grows more successful than you, the temptation to cheat, and on and on. While I prefaced this as a rom-com, it almost feels too authentic for that label.

As its title implies, Julie, on paper at least, should not be remotely likable. This is a red herring, as she must be for the viewer to care about her journey; even if they do not agree with her decisions, they must understand them and root for her to figure it all out. Much of this falls on Reinsve’s shoulders, and she tackles it with all her might. Through heartbreak and trepidation, hunger and happiness, she makes Julie feel real, like an old friend we just haven’t caught up with in a while.

The Worst Person in the World will break your heart and feed it in one foul swoop.

Memoria | Regional News



136 Mins

(1 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Semblances of intrigue occasionally rear their head in Memoria, but it refuses to grab the bull by the horns. I wanted to love it, I really did, but this was a slog. A void of emptiness that while sometimes pretty, is too static, flat, and fruitless to take anything from.

Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish expat living in Colombia, is awoken one night by a large, mysterious boom. It recurs, but she is seemingly the only person who hears it. Where on Earth is this noise coming from?

Many films place experience above plot or character, leaving the audience to piece together a story as they perceive and interpret what’s in front of them. David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick mastered this effect with films like Mulholland Drive and Eyes Wide Shut. Robert Eggers is a more recent example that comes to mind with The Witch and The Lighthouse. These films demand your attention. They grip your eyeballs and sear images into your mind causing deep-rooted emotional responses, even if it takes two or three viewings for you to understand exactly where it’s brewing from. Memoria sits at the opposite end of this spectrum.

Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it meanders along at a snail’s pace, with tension that never rises or falls. Silent, motionless shots remain fixed for minutes on end, characters take an eternity to respond to another’s line of dialogue. No one communicates this way, and Weerasethakul doesn’t do enough to establish a world where we believe they might. He is clearly trying to examine existential concepts – dreams, memories, and what have you – but he is doing it in a way so uninteresting, so uninspiring that I don’t even care to address them.

Swinton is by no means a boring performer, quite the opposite. But until Memoria’s final moments, she gives very little, or perhaps, little was brought out of her. An actor of her calibre was not necessary for this part, though I praise her for attempting to inject passion and solemnity where she could.

Destination Mars | Regional News

Destination Mars

Written by: Kip Chapman

Directed by: Kip Chapman

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 5th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Conceived and created by HACKMAN (Kip Chapman and Brad Knewstubb), Destination Mars is an interactive experience perfect for young people and their whānau. Suitable for those aged six up, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts show puts the audience in the driver’s seat of a space mission on Mars in the year 2034. As the engineers in the control room, we’re responsible for maintaining the base’s support system, powering up the next rocket launch… and saving the day when it all goes wrong.

The technology is a high point of Destination Mars. Each audience member is in charge of their own touch tablet, where space lingo and highly detailed systems information flash across the screen. Games of Space Tennis and Cosmo Run hide out in the entertainment tab – a great touch from the digital design team led by Pedro Klein.  

Deftly guiding our session, charismatic performers Isadora Lao and Arlo Gibson ad-lib with each other and interact beautifully with the audience, assigning tasks to many of us by name. Young faces light up when they are called upon, with a six-year-old Evan getting a round of applause as surely the youngest engineer to ever work on Mars. You go, Evan!

It’s clear the kids absolutely love this unique experience. For the grownups, there’s the slick tech and overall design (directed by Knewstubb) to appreciate, heightened by Sophie Sargent’s costume design that transforms the performers into true space explorers. I do want for more of a human element to latch onto, as I don’t know a whole lot about who or what I’m trying to save when the rocket hits the fan.

I have the young audience member sitting next to me to thank for my favourite moment of Destination Mars. Through blaring alarms, flashing alerts, and a bellowed countdown, us engineers manage to work together to avert total destruction. In the calm after the chaos, Master 10 looks across to his family and whispers, “Can we all agree that was actually quite stressful?”

The Wild Twins | Regional News

The Wild Twins

Written by: Amber and Serena Shine


Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The cover photo of this book depicts two stunning young blonde women. “Wild” is not the adjective you’d think of. But identical twins Amber and Serena Shine defy all conventional notions of stunning blondes. Their lives are dedicated to ‘unfeminine’, daring, and often dangerous exploits.

Growing up in rural Aotearoa meant hunting was par for the course. Townie that I am, I especially savoured an early chapter detailing a deer hunt – albeit with a man in tow – complete with hauling the unfortunate dead animal out of a tree halfway down a cliff and shouldering its carcass to the quad bike.

After a couple of years in the army, Amber astutely observed that they “weren’t cut out for being told what to do all the time.” No surprise then that the twins’ next move was to gate crash their way into the world’s highest marathon on Mount Everest.

As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve subsequently taken part in extreme dog sledding in Michigan (Amber), found a positive side to sustaining a serious back injury (Serena), been driven by squalls and high seas sailing from Hawai’i to San Francisco, and walked with jaguars in the Amazon.

Not to leave their native land out of their adventure calendar, in 2017 the pair attempted an ascent of Aoraki/Mount Cook, though were ultimately deterred by bad weather. As ever, theirs is a cheerful, even philosophical, response.

Although they shared some adventures, both women seemed equally willing to go it alone. They alternate in a chapter-by-chapter account of their exploits. Individual accounts are interspersed with motivational comment for us far more timid readers. We get headings such as Taking on Challenges, Don’t Hold Back, and Give Everything a Go.

“There’s no point tip toeing through life only to arrive safely at death,” observes Serena. Experiencing something vicariously by reading about it is all very well, but for the likes of Amber and Serena Shine, it would come a long way second.