Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Tap Head | Regional News

Tap Head

Written by: Barnie Duncan

Performed by Barnie Duncan

Directed by: Katy Maudlin

BATS Theatre, 13th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

With Tap Head, comedian Barnie Duncan has achieved what his mum Robyn, to whom this show is dedicated, always claimed was possible – that you can feel more empathy for an inanimate object than a human being.

The inanimate object in this case is a lonely cold tap who works in a public toilet in Waitangi Park, desperately trying to engage with those who pass through his sterile world. By day, he stares at the smooth mound that resides where the hot tap should be and daydreams about taking his non-existent partner in plumbing to the park to play table tennis. By night, he tries out his vaguely crude and pathetic stand-up routine at comedy clubs.

Also plying his trade on the comedy circuit is Barnie Juancan who, with his freshly shaved knees, uses surreal dad jokes to provide multiple excuses for his literal lateness in starting the show, interspersed with salsa dances. Between digs at Jair Bolsonaro and an Uber ride with a German wasp, he brings a whole new meaning to turning on a tap.

Duncan’s greatest of many performance skills is an aptitude for mime and physical comedy that renders Tap Head a fully formed character with deep feelings. He even bares his buttocks in a sad shower scene that provokes an audible “Awww” from the opening night audience. Sharply contrasting this pathos with the arrogance of Juancan, he leaves us in no doubt as to who we’re rooting for.

Aiding Duncan’s performance is a precise and clever combination of lights (Kaitlyn Johnson), sound and music (Daniel Nixon), and animated projections (Caiden Jacobson). BATS’ Co-Pro model that allows more pack-in time clearly worked to this show’s advantage as these technical elements are outstanding.

It’s only since coming home from seven years in Melbourne that Duncan has found a truly appreciative audience for his Monty Python-esque humour. With Tap Head, he has done his mum proud.

The Lion King | Regional News

The Lion King

Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice

Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi

Directed by: Julie Taymor

Spark Arena, 10th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A diehard The Lion King fan, I walk into Spark Arena barely containing my excitement, only to have my sky-high expectations met and exceeded by the very first note. Two minutes into Circle of Life and I’m already crying. Those tears flow five more times as I feel The Lion King transport me back to my childhood with stage magic the likes of which I’ve never seen before. The sad scenes aren’t what get me but the sheer spectacle, the unfathomable artistry on display. As I say to my husband Dean after the show, I’ve never cried at how good something is before, and yet here we are.

To even begin to comprehend why The Lion King is so good, we must start with Julie Taymor. Not only the director but the costumer and the co-designer of mask and puppetry with Michael Curry, Taymor’s vision is monumental. From ginormous giraffes to mischievous meerkats, “from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope”, her designs capture the vast scope of the animal kingdom and are brought to life by world-class choreographer Garth Fagan, who emboldens a cast painted by hair and makeup designer Michael Ward to truly embody each animal. The stunning masks of Scar (the standout, terrifically terrible Antony Lawrence) and Mufasa (the gallant Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile) feel as if they move, even breathe, on their own.

Two highlights for me are moments not on film: a powerful and poignant scene in which Rafiki (the extraordinary Futhi Mhlongo), Young Nala (brilliance from Filia Te), and Sarabi (Lungile Khambule, the picture of mourning) grieve the loss of Mufasa and Simba; and the massive number He Lives in You, which is still stuck in my head!

While I can’t do The Lion King justice with words, and so few words at that, I’ll do my darndest by saying out of the hundreds of shows I’ve been to, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.

The Rite of Spring | Regional News

The Rite of Spring

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

A fascinating programme opened with Chopin, followed by a frenetic and emotionally expressive performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the latter accompanied by an intriguing video display.

Michael Houstoun was a very popular choice to play Chopin and possibly the reason for an almost sold-out show. Houstoun charged straight into the first of eight dances, knocking out a crowd-pleasing, rapid, and somewhat heavy-handed polonaise. By and large this was a solid performance. Each dance had a distinct style and character, but it was almost as if Houstoun knew his solo piano could never compete on equal footing with Stravinsky’s most notorious but incredible contribution to 20th century music.

The Chopin dances were an extraordinary contrast to The Rite of Spring but a direct reference to Les Sylphides, Chopin’s ballet music, which preceded the premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet in 1913. The nod to events of 100 years ago was brought right up to date in the video imagery, a remarkable and sophisticated concept using the pre-recorded movement of a dancer to generate graphic patterns that were further manipulated in real time by the audio feed from the orchestra. Finding ourselves seated next to the grandparents of the video artist, we took a keen interest in the display. Delainy Kennedy’s grandparents were rightly very proud of his work.

A diminutive figure on the rostrum, New’s dynamic, precise but expansive direction kept the orchestra tight through the complex time changes and difficult rhythms. It would be interesting to see the video images her performance might generate.

As always, the musicianship and the superb playing of the NZSO were exceptional. The bassoon solo that opened the piece was impeccable, nothing at all like the ‘strangled oboe’ the audience thought they were hearing in 1913. As well as my new-found love for Stravinsky I am loving the work of the viola section who excelled on the night.

Matariki | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 9th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

A world premiere for the Māori new year, Gareth Farr’s Ngā Hihi o Matariki was an exhilarating experience, not just breathtaking but spine-tingling as well. Neither symphony nor concerto, and with the addition of kaikaranga and taonga pūoro, Ngā Hihi o Matariki had its own musical form. Matariki is a time for remembrance, for celebrating the present and for looking to the future and Farr and his collaborators brought all these perspectives brilliantly to life.

Lyrics were written and performed by Mere Boynton and Ariana Tikao, and Tikao also composed and played the parts for taonga pūoro. Both women moved amongst the musicians in the orchestra, creating visual interest while their positioning helped to form the sound of their singing and playing. The orchestra revelled in the intensity of the work and Boynton and Tikao were magnificent. Holding this multiplicity of musicians together magnificently, for over an hour, was conductor Gemma New. Her striking and dynamic style was a perfect match for the music.

Opening with a glittering scene built on melodic percussion and piccolo, it was apparent early on this was going to be music that easily evoked images and ideas. And it did, right through to the end. With little knowledge of the astronomy and which segment related to which star, it was still possible to feel the differences as much as hear them. Farr has always given a strong voice to percussion and the rhythms were as important throughout as the melodies. Boynton’s voice is fabulously rich, and accompanied by Tikao’s putorino, her heart-rending lament to those who have departed rose easily and soared through the auditorium.

I might have missed the Matariki fireworks over the harbour on Saturday night but the final section of Ngā Hihi o Matariki was a sonic firework display of its own. Drawing on the power of hope, the finale brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation.

That’s All She Wrote | Regional News

That’s All She Wrote

Written by: Cassandra Tse

Directed by: James Cain

Te Auaha, 8th Jul 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Everyone should see That’s All She Wrote, for their mothers, for their grandmothers, for their wives, partners, and daughters; and for themselves. Presented by Red Scare Theatre Company, That’s All She Wrote is an ode to women and non-binary creators, vastly underrepresented in the world of musical theatre. The show features music from Broadway greats like Hadestown and Waitress, as well as lesser-known shows such as Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, and Heterotopia. There is even an original song written by the talented performer Cassandra Tse herself.

The No Man Band, composed of music director Katie Morton, Ellie Stewart, Jevon Wright, and Rachel Hinds, is wickedly talented and the perfect company for their powerhouse performer. Tse is phenomenally talented, and I could listen to her serenade me for hours.

That’s All She Wrote is in the traditional cabaret style. A single mic stands centre stage on a raised platform, the band encircling Tse. Large columns plastered with sheet music seem to scatter into the air and hang there, changing colour, form, and texture with Ruby Kemp’s lighting design. Tse gracefully and purposefully moves around the theatre in her elegant cocktail dress, bringing a dynamic and natural flow to the whole piece. A catwalk divides the audience seating into an upper and lower level, which Tse makes her way along throughout multiple songs. Rachel Hilliar’s set design adds depth and movement to the show, naturally guiding Tse throughout the room during the performance and allowing her to become the musical grande dame of her dreams. The show brilliantly balances history, memoir, narrative, and music.

That’s All She Wrote is professional, it’s important, it’s refreshing, and it’s relevant. By giving a voice to female and non-binary creators, we make more space for them to create, and with more space comes more representation. Female and non-binary creators need to be seen; That’s All She Wrote needs to be seen.

Loop Tracks | Regional News

Loop Tracks

Written by: Sue Orr

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Loop Tracks had me hooked from the first sentence: “The first time I got on an aeroplane, I was sixteen years old and pregnant. I was on my way to Sydney to have my situation sorted out.” Not the OE most young women dream about.

There are twists and dysfunctional family members in this tale centred around Charlie, the 16-year-old, and her bid to abort her unwanted child. The abortion clinic in Auckland had closed down the year before, hence the flight to Sydney. Fate intervened and she produced Jim, a child who was adopted without his mother being allowed to see him. The good old days, huh?

Jim has a son, Tommy, who is on the spectrum and was dropped off by his errant, drug-taking father at the age of four, for Charlie to take care of. A whole lot of unpleasant family history unravels as Tommy’s girlfriend gets involved. Tommy becomes involved in an anti-abortion group, researching everything madly. It got me thinking about the nature versus nurture argument and if being adopted played a large part in Jim going off the rails.

In some parts of the story, Charlie refers to herself as ‘the girl/she’. I think this technique is used to show Charlie trying to disassociate from herself.

There is some gorgeous imagery – “the necklace of ruby tail lights across the city”, “the steam off my tea rises, twists like DNA helix”, and, “we’re all tigers on gold leashes.”

COVID-19 happens and among all the family drama, Charlie has a furtive flirtation through the fence with neighbour David Briscoe, who’s back from New York indefinitely. His presence prompts her to have a makeover and to focus on herself instead of her grandson. Adele, Charlie’s great friend, approves of the love interest and provides wise council throughout. She seems to be Charlie’s conscious.

The end leaves the future open to all sorts of possibilities, as it should. I loved Loop Tracks and look forward to Sue Orr’s
next novel.

The Mirror Book | Regional News

The Mirror Book

Written by: Charlotte Grimshaw

Penguin Random House NZ

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

I wanted to enjoy The Mirror Book more than I did but given the subject matter, perhaps I was being ambitious? Charlotte Grimshaw finally writes the story of her turbulent childhood and the impact it has on her adult years. Grimshaw is the daughter of famous New Zealand author CK Stead (Karl) and Kay, mother, housewife, and Karl’s first reader. Telling journalists for years of her “lovely childhood, house full of books”, Grimshaw decides to tell her truth. And where does that get her? She says further on in the memoir, “I hadn’t realised the way to save your life is to tell the story that’s true.”

Grimshaw uses stunningly descriptive language: “The elaborate warbling and chuckling of tūī, the cicadas whose sawing grew louder as summer went on, rising to such a pitch in the hot afternoons that my mind transformed the buzz into a visible force in the air, a shimmering wall of sound.” And “native pigeons, creaked by on slow wings, and kingfishers were a quick flash of blue against the green.”

I found Grimshaw repetitive, mentioning Karl’s character at least three times – charming, intellectually fearless, witty, and controlling. She did the same with her mother Kay, which makes me wonder, is she just reaffirming how she felt about them? But she did have some insight: “The insult Kay hurled at me most often was you’re just like him. Like Karl, she meant. I can’t specifically remember the insults I threw at her, but I know they would have been terrible.”

Despite her ill-disciplined childhood, minor criminal activity ending in court cases, and the death of a close male friend when she was at a difficult age, Grimshaw turned her life around, gaining a law degree and becoming a successful writer. I’d like to read some of Grimshaw’s other novels so I can enjoy the subject matter and her talent more. Given both her parents are alive at the time of writing this review, it’ll be a fun family Christmas.

Where We Swim | Regional News

Where We Swim

Written by: Ingrid Horrocks

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

This book is a mix of a mother’s life, her family’s travels, and tribulations, interwoven around swimming holes, the sea, and people and creatures that live and depend on the sea. Thrown in the mix is global warming, COVID, and questionable animal tourism.

Ingrid Horrocks is married to Tim and is the mother of twin girls. Early on, we are introduced to the family unit, their lifestyle, and learn about the fragility of life both in and out of the water. Swimming has always been a strong part of Horrocks’ life as she feels she isn’t very good at it, so she perseveres. Her best memories seem to be water related.

Swimming is the thread of this travel book that takes the family to Colombia, the Amazon, America, and Australia. The author is concerned about all forms of water including that in New Zealand and the way humans are treating a valuable resource. Horrocks loves swimming and shows the joy and peace it brings through her writing. She incorporates a Māori perception of water – ‘awa as a living being.’

Their travels are interesting to read, especially in a COVID travel void. Imagine taking twin nine-year-old daughters to the Amazon – what could possibly go wrong? Amazingly not much did. They just got the experience of a lifetime and lived a little, outside of a health and safety-mad New Zealand. Horrocks brings us back to reality with talk of tsunamis, Indigenous Australian peoples’ struggles, and Extinction Rebellion protests.

Horrocks follows other writers that are interested in water – Charlotte Smith, Frances Burney, and Mary Wollstonecraft – even driving around parts of Great Britain to see where Smith lived her life.

Suddenly we’re back in New Zealand and it feels unexpected. The ending is a bit underwhelming, and I think Horrocks didn’t quite know how to finish it.

I enjoyed Where We Swim but was looking for a bit more drama. I felt parts were disjointed and it was trying to cover too many subjects in one go.

The Commercial Hotel | Regional News

The Commercial Hotel

Written by: John Summers

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Judging by the tone of the language and topics of this book, I pictured the author in his 60s, but the fly leaf photo is of a much younger man. John Summers’ novel is an eclectic mix of family history and stories from his past. The chapter about the birth of his son is focused on the history and impressive sales figures of Arcoroc glass cups (used in hospitals). Go figure!

Summers writes in very simple language and without a lot of expressive flourishes to draw you in. I enjoyed the Elvis chapter as it was an event I could immediately picture. When talking about a group of Elvis impersonators in an Upper Hutt club, Summers made me laugh with his plural of Elvis (Elvi). It sounded like a fun night with all Elvi born equal on the stage (despite age, ethnicity, or appearance). One impersonator said, “The more you drink the more I look like Elvis.” Priceless. The best line of the book for me was: “I left the building before Elvis. The better ending.”

Not so enjoyable for me was the chapter At the Dump. It’s admirable that Summers wants to do his bit for the planet, but I think saying he’s given up buying plastic food wrap is a bit prosaic for a novel and is better suited to a blog. There’s a chapter about freezing works, and while that is a very New Zealand image, I found it grim (and I eat meat). However, there were some great expressions from co-workers: “All hair-cream and no socks”, and “He’d done a stretch in the chokey”, are very real.

Summers talks lovingly about the nice times he had with his grandfather, and this is a delightful sentiment: “In truth, it was his presence I was seeking. In that shed crowded with oiled tools and old things, the anxieties of School Certificate maths, schoolyard hierarchies and my looming, uncertain future all shrank and went still.” I could relate to that.