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Maximum Benefit | Regional News

Maximum Benefit

Performed by Max Porozny and Ben Jardine

BATS Theatre, 1st Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The cleverly named Maximum Benefit is Max Porozny and Ben Jardine, who specialise in long-form improv. Taking a few suggestions from one audience member – in this case, accidentally, me – the duo perform an entirely made-up story from start to finish over one hour of laughter and joy.

Our Level 2 masked-up affair starts with the two asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. I shouted “astronaut”, but when asked to go into more detail about my failed career plight, panicked and changed my answer to popstar. I also managed to outline my first ‘gig’ standing on a chair at Valentines Buffet Restaurant at the age of 11.

And so began a show about a jazz musician named Sanders Valentine, an agent with a dubious accent (or four), a budding young busker-hating police officer on his first day on the force, a kindly burger-maker, and perhaps most importantly, taco night at Mum’s place.

The great thing about reviewing improv is that I can’t spoil the show – because no two shows are ever the same. Unless you were in the audience with me, you will never see what I saw, which was two alarmingly calm and collected actors ready for whatever the night threw at them. Their quick wit, intellect, craftsmanship, and chemistry served as catcher’s gloves when a ball was dropped. 

While there were a few hiccups, most were minor and quickly saved by these proficient players. The only real confusion for me was when they switched established characters – for instance when Porozny suddenly became Sanders after Jardine had played him for most of the show. Just a few solid anchors, like a couple of main characters that don’t change, would help the audience to keep their place amongst the sea of silliness, fun, and chaos.

Overall, this was a supremely entertaining show that I’d happily watch again and again. Just ignore me when I yell about astronauts next time.

Murder on the Menu  | Regional News

Murder on the Menu

Written by: Devon Williamson

Directed by: Braden Lister

Gryphon Theatre, 29th Sep 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

First-time director Braden Lister has made a good fist of his debut production, despite COVID disruptions and a last-minute pack-in at the Gryphon Theatre, which is not New Players Theatre Company’s usual venue.

In Murder on the Menu, friends Skye (Ruby Braam) and Sophia (Sarah Upston) buy a dilapidated theatre which soon reveals itself to be full of the ghosts of Shakespearean characters who roam the auditorium declaiming lines from their famous plays. ‘Tights Boy’ Romeo (Pippa Liley) is the first to appear, followed in quick succession by Hamlet (Lyndon Jones) forever searching for drama queen Ophelia (Danica Frentz), a vain Juliet (Liv Calder), and the haggis-obsessed Macbeths (Euan Lucie-Smith and Yvonne Fisher). Skye and Sophia need to rid themselves of these pesky ghouls to be able to open a café, but how do you kill a fictional character who is already dead?

While the script is not high on intellectual challenge, Shakespeare fans will enjoy the revisioning of the most famous of his characters and the meta theatre jokes that pepper it. Those not so familiar with the theatre lexicon will enjoy the lively comedy that arises out of the murderous intentions of two people trying to off a group of ghosts.

The cast playing the Shakespearean characters all inhabit them with energy and relish, clearly enjoying the expanded dialogue and larger-than-life histrionics as they interact with each other. Lucie-Smith gives the performance of the night as Macbeth, revelling in his brash bonhomie, healthy appetite, and predilection for fart jokes. Braam and Upston are the glue that holds the narrative together and deliver that function with verve and good chemistry.

The lighting design by Jonassen Productions deserves special mention for its appropriateness and attention to detail. In one lovely moment, three lights that are seemingly just props unexpectedly come to life to great effect.

Congratulations to the whole team at New Players for a fun night of theatre that brings a splash of joy in these COVID-limited times.

Slips: Cricket Poems | Regional News

Slips: Cricket Poems

Written by: Mark Pirie


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Hands up how many people think of cricket and instantly start thinking of poetry. I imagine not that many, since they’re not things that someone would normally associate with each other, but surprisingly the two subjects have had a loving relationship since the 18th century. 

While I have never been a fan of poetry or the sport, I have to admit to finding myself smiling more than once at some of Mark Pirie’s work. Light-hearted, funny, and sometimes thought-provoking, Slips gives people a glimpse into the funny side of cricket, which I always felt took itself a little too seriously.

This collection of poems has obviously been a labour of love for the writer, and his passion shines through with each verse. What could have been just poetry is instead turned into a sort of deep dive into the game’s rich history and shows us why it has the legion of fans that it does.

From toasts to players of yesteryear to the sometimes ridiculous ways that people have been dismissed from games, nothing is out of bounds (so to speak), and Pirie happily pokes fun while being respectful. As a result, Slips: Cricket Poems comes off as both charming and genuinely entertaining.

However, as wonderful as it is, a major downside is that unless you absolutely love cricket, a lot of that charm and humour will be lost on you. The book is clearly aimed at the cricket-mad fans and poets out there, and I’m afraid that anyone else will feel left out in the cold.

Apart from this one quibble, at the end of the day, if you love cricket and love poetry, this is definitely the book for you. While it won’t be for everyone, Slips: Cricket Poems is a wonderful read that I think would tickle many people’s funny bones if they gave it a chance.

Six by Six – Short Stories by New Zealand’s Best Writers | Regional News

Six by Six – Short Stories by New Zealand’s Best Writers

Edited by Bill Manhire

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The title of this hefty volume is a metaphor for construction – literary construction. These 36 stories – half a dozen each by our most celebrated writers – are chosen to illustrate individual range and depth.

Perhaps Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson could be considered parents of the New Zealand short story. Not that they’d have got on. There was Mansfield living on the other side of the world, mixing with the likes of Virginia Woolf (who admitted to envying her rival’s work) and initiating a love affair with her publisher – and Sargeson, hanging out in a disreputable none-too-clean bach on Auckland’s North Shore keeping company with down-and-outs and sheltering Janet Frame.

What they had in common is that both were sharp observers of the New Zealand society of their times, albeit from different sides of the world. We readers get to sample their rich and varied progeny.

I was brought up to admire Mansfield’s Her First Ball, but a rereading of Daughters of the Late Colonel had me delighting even more in the black comedy dripping from such a sophisticated pen. Spinsters Josephine and Constantia are mourning the recent death of their fierce father, and their post-funeral actions and reactions, a mixture of trepidation and inadvertent giggles, are hilarious. It’s Mansfield at her brilliant best.

At 50 pages, is her Prelude too long to be a short story? Sargeson composed his seminal 500-word Conversations with my Uncle in one sitting, and its subtle social commentary typifies future tales. My other favourite, The Hole that Jack Dug, is a likeable portrait of the – sometimes unfathomable – indefatigability of the New Zealand male when working on a practical task. Sargeson’s appeal is irresistible, originating from his preoccupation with, and protection of, the underdog.

I pay tribute also to the other four writers represented: Maurice Duggan, Janet Frame, Patricia Grace, and Owen Marshall, whose stories contribute equally to the range and quality of the New Zealand short story.

Heart of the Sea  | Regional News

Heart of the Sea

Written by: Nora Roberts


Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

“It was always best, in Darcy’s opinion, to leave a man not only wanting more, but wondering.” Heart of the Sea is the third and final book in The Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy by Nora Roberts. I absolutely adore Roberts’ writing style and her consistency with the characters’ personalities. Throughout the trilogy, each character plays a vital role and without each personality, the novel would have probably been very boring.

This novel differs from the other two books in the trilogy though, and it took me a little while longer to read. That does not mean that the book was less interesting, it just wasn’t what I expected. Roberts’ other two books in the series, Jewels of the Sun and Tears of the Moon, were quite romantic and magical, whereas Heart of the Sea is a little more focused on the family business, success, and the potential of blossoming love.

Heart of the Sea continues with the curse of Carrick, Prince of Faeries and his beloved Lady Gwen, and the third part of the spell that must be broken for them to be reunited in love once again. Their fate is in Darcy Gallagher’s hands, but she is not looking for love and certainly not looking to get married anytime soon. Travis McGee, Gallagher’s Pub’s new business partner, is not only handsome, but rich and successful too. He offers the Gallaghers a great business venture and offers Darcy the lifestyle and money that she so desires – but is he willing to offer her his heart?

Heart of the Sea was rather interesting and gave me a more in-depth feel of the community of Ardmore, the bonds between the locals, the excitement of all the business possibilities, and the dramatic changes in two people’s lives. I struggled a bit to relate to Darcy as a character, as she aspires to live a lavish life of luxury. However, her confident and arrogant personality woke up the ‘vixen’ in my own and that was just what I needed.

2020 | Regional News


Written by: Ben Spies

Spies Publishing

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Ben Spies, a seasoned author at 13, delivers an entertaining and action-packed read with his science fiction novel 2020.

2020 is full of surprises and I can’t help but think it’s all the more on-point and enjoyable for pre-teen readers, having been written by one of their peers. Spies wrote his first book at nine-years-old, and on hearing this particular piece of trivia, I could
see the possibilities unfold before my eight-year-old’s eyes. Impressed he was.

In 2020 the Earth’s orbit is moving precariously close to the sun, with the planet heating up to unsurvivable levels. A spacecraft aptly named Salvos, a nod to salvation, is NASA’s hope for saving the human race. It’s a vessel for transporting them to another more habitable planet, but sadly, Salvos is not meant to be.

All is not what it seems in 2020. There’s espionage, shapeshifting extraterrestrials, and top-secret bunkers, and the plot thickens trying to decipher everyone’s intentions... are they malicious or misunderstood?

Spies sets an exciting pace with alternating chapters between the perspectives of Susan Dawes and her son Jacob as they fight to survive amidst the chaos.

I was remiss not reading the age recommendation of 11+ before reading 2020 to my son, but nevertheless it was very much enjoyed and it was too late to turn back when I realised he was already hooked. “It was awesome cause it was gruesome,” was the general consensus from him, and it is fair to say this sentiment, though a little exaggerated, is spot-on. Some bits are best suited for a slightly older audience. Who would have thought the whole fight for survival in an apocalyptic world would be so entertaining? And it was the bits perhaps not suited to an eight-year-old that seemed to be all the more appealing!

2020 offers lots of suspense for pre-teen readers, and its rapidly moving pace only adds to the urgency. The race is on to save humanity. The only question is, will Susan and Jacob survive?

Instructions for Dancing | Regional News

Instructions for Dancing

Written by: Nicola Yoon

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Saashika Satish Chander (age 14)

Instructions for Dancing is an awesome contemporary romance written by Nicola Yoon. It’s told from the point of view of our main character, Yvone ‘Evie’ Thomas, who witnessed her father do something awful, resulting in the divorce of her parents. And with it, her willingness to believe the world isn’t awful and loving someone is fine deteriorates. However, her newfound love of dance and the handsome X she meets soon may change that.

The two things I love most about this book are these: the relatable and complex characters, and the fact that romance isn’t the only subject here. Don’t get me wrong – I love love just as much as the next person. But I also like variety, and Instructions for Dancing has plenty of that. It deals with infidelity, and not just what it does to the partner but also the family. We see Evie’s mum break. We see the toll it takes on her father for his own child to hate and mistrust him. It’s heartbreaking, yes, but also an interesting view. I’d never actually seen the other side of infidelity – it was surprising how much sympathy I felt.

And now onto the second reason why I love this book: the in-depth characters. X (yes, that’s his real name) is not just in the story because it needs a love interest, he’s an actual three-dimensional character. One great thing is being able to watch Evie get over her aversion to love and allow herself to be vulnerable. There’s Cassidy, your typical ‘mean friend’. Behind this, she just wants the approval of her often-absent parents. There’s Fifi, who’s a very scary dance instructor, but one with a heart of gold who just wants her students to succeed. I also adore that there’s plenty of representation. Plenty of the people, including Evie and X themselves, are African American. Cassidy and her girlfriend are LGBTQIA+.

Instructions for Dancing is an amazing book with an important message: love is about the journey and the moments you share, rather than the potential heartbreak you might feel.

Pig | Regional News



91 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

An unusually restrained Nicholas Cage, dark secrets of a notorious past, and a pig drive this melancholic and often aloof tale. Writer-director Michael Sarnoski strives to find depth in sparsity, meandering through an increasingly disenchanting story led by a promising character we observe but, sadly, never absorb.

Rob (Cage) is a recluse living in a cabin deep in the Oregon forest. His only companion is his pig, his only income the truffles she helps him find, which he trades with high-end restaurant supplier Amir (Alex Wolff). One night, Rob is attacked and his prized pig is stolen, forcing him back to the city to find the people responsible.

I know what you’re thinking, John Wick 4 has arrived early. Well, not exactly. This isn’t a revenge picture, and far more closely resembles a Leave No Trace than a Taken. What we have with Pig, on the surface at least, is a film about isolation, but beyond that I can’t decipher what it’s trying to say. Rob appears to be an interesting man, complete with a shady past, an apocalyptic worldview, and the ability to cook Michelin star-worthy meals in the middle of the woods. And yet, as we are drip-fed answers to the riddles he invites, I’m left more and more unsatisfied.

That said, it’s never for lack of trying. Patrick Scola’s photography is undeniably rich; the aromas of damp moss and bark permeate the screen when we hunt for truffles alongside Rob and his pig, while the bright lights of high-society Portland blur into a trippy kaleidoscope of artificiality. Our leads, Cage and Wolff, are each as compelling as the other, Sarnoski simply hasn’t given them enough meat to chew on. When he tries to toss in a left-field idea – an underground fight club for wealthy restaurateurs, for example – it comes off disingenuous in a film that otherwise lacks urgency.

Stylistically, Pig is an intriguing debut for Sarnoski, and with the right story he could surely soar in the future. This just wasn’t it.

Community Noticeboard | Regional News

Community Noticeboard

Presented by: Best on Tap

BATS Theatre, 15th Sep 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Community Noticeboard has the dubious honour of being literally the only show in town, thanks to COVID-19. If you can drag yourself off the couch, it’s well worth an hour of your time to head to BATS, join the masked-up and physically distanced audience, and let your mind be absorbed in this beautifully rendered piece of “truth-based, spontaneous theatre”.

The premise is a simple one: take real-life notes found on the community noticeboards at supermarkets throughout Wellington and explore the needs, wants, desires, lives, and relationships behind the notice writers and readers.

This is improv, so a member of the audience is invited pre-show to pick a dozen notices from a bowl and pin them to the board that forms the minimal set, which the actors then choose from and read out to form the basis of each scene. While the detail of the short scenarios is improvised, the flow is structured well to keep it varied and interesting.

The excellent ensemble cast of Best on Tap (Nicola Pauling, Mary Little, Geoff Simmons, Tim Croft, and Barry Miskimmin) creates a stream of poignant and often hilarious mini stories of the human condition from offers of sale as diverse as a train set, silver horseshoe, and Insinkerator. Their talent for instant but genuine characterisation is evident in the diversity and warmth of the relationships they produce from set-ups such as a couple on a first date, a mum and two annoying teenage sons, women bonding over the physical decline of a loved one, and even two fish in a tank being terrorised by a cat.

The action on stage is expertly supported by Matt Hutton and his keyboard and lighting improvisor D' Woods. In one particularly brilliant moment, the lights in the dome respond perfectly to the mimed actions of a young man being taught wiring skills by his dad.

Community Noticeboard runs only until Saturday the 18th of September and ticket sales are necessarily limited. It’s a treat. Don’t miss it.