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Hope | Regional News


Presented by: Soweto Gospel Choir

Michael Fowler Centre, 28th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Wellington was gifted a rare appearance in our part of the world of the Soweto Gospel Choir as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African gospel music, the choir draws on the best talent from the many churches in and around Soweto, Johannesburg. They are dedicated to sharing the joy of faith through music with people across the world and have received critical acclaim and audience adoration for their powerful renditions of African American spirituals, gospel, and folk music.

Hope is an all-new concert by the three-time GRAMMY®-winning choir celebrating songs and anthems from the Freedom movement of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa and the Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King’s 1950s America.

It opens with a rousing programme of South African freedom songs. As effervescent choirmaster Shimmy Jiyane says at the start, we may not understand the words being sung in 12 Indigenous languages, but we certainly understand the feeling. The 15-strong choir pours their bodies and souls into every song with energetic, high-kicking dance moves, expressive faces and voices, and pinpoint harmonies. They’re gamely supported by keys (Diniloxolo Ndlakuse) and percussion (Sipho Ngcamu), including an impressive set of drums.

The first half ends with a vibrant part-English, part-African song dedicated to Nelson Mandela and the final harmony on a drawn-out “Madiba” sends shivers down my spine. It’s a stunning segue into the second half, sung mostly in English, with beautiful renditions of the protest music of the Civil Rights Movement, including works by James Brown, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin. However, it’s their creative reimagining of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s duet Don’t Give Up that is the highlight for me with its African chants and rhythms overlaying the pop.

A massively deserved standing ovation accompanied the sublime final singalong of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, complete with waving phone torches. I left the venue ecstatic and just a bit teary from sheer joy of it all.

The Eleventh Trip of Lilibet W. | Regional News

The Eleventh Trip of Lilibet W.

Presented by: Continuum Theatre Company

Written by: James Ladanyi

Directed by: James Ladanyi

Whisky & Wood, 28th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Part of this year’s New Zealand Fringe Festival, this play imagines a younger version of Queen Elizabeth II (Aimée Sullivan) walking into a quiet Wellington bookshop, a year after the real monarch’s death. Conversing with the bookstore clerk (Tara Canton), she slowly pieces together what might have brought her here, grappling with questions about her legacy – both as an individual and as the physical embodiment of the Crown.

Canton and Sullivan perform the two parts in the play expertly. To begin with, the environment and circumstances are unclear, but as The Keeper, Canton is effortlessly relaxed. She enters, complacently eating an apple, and writes in a journal throughout the show. Her dialogue is always natural and free. Sullivan, to contrast, uncannily captures the regal voice and mannerisms of the Queen, prim and controlled even in this strange environment. The costumes (decided by the actors themselves) also work well to differentiate the characters’ personalities, with The Keeper wearing a baggy shirt and pants with Crocs, while the young Queen is in a floral dress and pearls.

The audience is arranged in a circle, a desk at one side of the space and a comfy armchair at the other, with piles of books filling the stage in between (set design by producer, writer, and director James Ladanyi). Other books are hung by string from the ceiling, evoking a sense of wonder that supports the surreal story. Both performers use the space well, always showing us both sides of the story and projecting their voices across the stage as their discussion becomes more heated. This makes the back-and-forth almost like a tennis match.

At first, I question the need for a 10-minute interval in a 60-minute show, but it makes sense as the Queen is left on the stage by herself, reading and reflecting, giving more pace and impetus for conflict in the second act.

The Eleventh Trip of Lilibet W. is an ultimately hopeful play. It is a vivid examination of a woman we all knew about, bringing a modern, analytical perspective and inviting us to consider our own stories and legacies.

Our Own Little Mess | Regional News

Our Own Little Mess

Created by: A Slightly Isolated Dog

Directed by: Leo Gene Peters and Jane Yonge

Circa Theatre, 23rd Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The opportunity to see a performance from the creative team at A Slightly Isolated Dog is always something to look forward to and they’ve outdone themselves with Our Own Little Mess. Champions of innovation and audience collaboration, they’ve taken their mission to another level with this immersive exploration of the inner voices that drive us.

Five ordinary Kiwis are on personal journeys. An academic (Maaka Pohatu) isolates himself after being rejected for a promotion; a young woman (Louise Jiang) goes on a desperate trip to Europe, lost in grief for her mum’s death; a ventriloquist (Jack Buchanan) has an existential crisis in the desert; a stressed mum (Laurel Devenie) tells stories to her young daughter and misses her husband who’s overseas; and a gay man (Andrew Paterson) imagines his life as a series of art installations while he navigates the dating scene in New York.

As the audience, we hear through headphones the thoughts and anxieties that propel these people on their sometimes-surreal journeys to their own resolutions. This device enables us to hear the voices, both internal and external, that inform their view of the world and how they respond to it. Far from being merely a creative whim, this approach is underpinned by research evidence and the credits boast cognitive neuroscientists (Drs David Carmel and Gina Grimshaw). Audience members are invited to complete an online survey after the show, the responses to which will be part of a full academic study on inner speech.

The uber theatre production design (Meg Rollandi) features clever set pieces that are utilised over and over in new ways, while the lighting design (Leo Gene Peters) sees largely handheld lighting from lamps and torches accentuated by a few stage lights. The two work together to support the narratives. Voices are supplemented by effective and well-balanced music and sound effects (Sam Clavis).

Our Own Little Mess is a spellbinding examination of our inner worlds for this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts.

Jungle Book reimagined | Regional News

Jungle Book reimagined

Written by: Tariq Jordan

Directed by: Akram Khan

St James Theatre, 23rd Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Jungle Book reimagined is based on Rudyard Kipling’s beloved The Jungle Book but with a dystopian twist. Ravaged by climate change, Mowgli is separated from her family and arrives alone in a deserted city where animals run the streets. In this strange world, Mowgli discovers unlikely allies and learns the importance of listening to nature.

The dancers (Maya Balam Meyong, Tom Davis-Dunn, Hector Ferrer, Harry Theadora Foster, Filippo Franzese, Bianca Mikahil, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Elpida Skourou, Holly Vallis, Jan Mikaela Villanueva, and Lani Yamanaka) are flexible and full of energy, each embodying a different animal through movement that emphasises and adds layers of meaning to the dialogue spoken. All members of the ensemble stand out in their own right yet work together to become one collective master of storytelling.

From a scenography perspective, the video design (directed by Nick Hillel of YeastCulture) is astonishing and I love the use of two gauzes to screen the vivid animations (rotoscope artists and animators Naaman Azhari, Natasza Cetner, and Edson R Bazzarin, director of animation Adam Smith of YeastCulture). This adds more depth to them as it immerses the performers between two panels of moving picture, creating a satisfying blur between real life and make-believe.

The sound design (Gareth Fry) creates a wonderful soundscape that truly transports us into director and choreographer Akram Khan’s dystopian future. The compositions (Jocelyn Pook) highlight key emotional beats in what is a sensational soundtrack to this captivating performance. The script (Tariq Jordan) is poetic and succinct. This multimedia show has it all.

Every element works together so cohesively to create a mesmerising, thought-provoking piece about our need to work with nature; to belong and to bond with others. We must be one with nature. This show is a warning of a world that could be if we are not.

I sincerely hope that Akram Khan Company brings more state-of-the-art theatre to New Zealand. This is one of the best productions I have seen. Make your journey through the urban jungle and watch Jungle Book reimagined!

Celebrity Trevor Island | Regional News

Celebrity Trevor Island

Presented by: Ruff as Gutz

Directed by: Mia Oudes

Te Auaha, 21st Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

About five minutes into Celebrity Trevor Island, I whisper to my friend, “I get to write about this for a living”. I am, of course, grinning. Four improv performers – Em Barrett, Salome Bhanu, Dylan Hutton, and Eliza Sanders – are midway through strapping squeaky chicken toys to their feet with heavy-duty duct tape. Moments later, the clucky cacophony commences...

And they’re off! They dart, they dive, they dash around the chicken coop, dodging a dastardly, dangerous sheep! But it’s not a sheep, it’s a mute farmhand named Shithead (Anna Barker) in disguise! And she’s armed with a swimming noodle! Only at Fringe.

In Celebrity Trevor Island, created by Jeremy Hunt with second project lead Austin Harrison, Trevor (Hunt) is seeking a replacement for his less-than-satisfactory farmhand. Four candidates – collected from other New Zealand Fringe Festival shows – have shown up for an interview that turns out to be an unpaid job trial (classic). Onsite, they must complete a series of tasks, each more unhinged than the last. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s the pie-decorating contest, the cow-insemination challenge (the steaks are high for this one), and the Trev-ia round, which gives rise to some of the best lines of the night.

To Trev’s question, “What’s your favourite thing about Trevor”, Sanders responds, “You’ve got a tolerable aura”. She also accidentally impersonates a horse (classic). When asked “L&P or the A&P”, Hutton frantically bellows, “L&P at the A&P”, scoring (Mitre 10) mega points and laughs in the process.

Musician Ben Kelly tinkles on the keys to add to the atmosphere, but only sporadically and I want more. Bouncier music would also help to drive the action forward, as Celebrity Trevor Island does flounder round the mid-section. It’s a little Ruff around the edges, sure – but its Gutz are pure chaos and carnage and I’m not even sure I want to see a more polished version. With its unique format, electric host, and guest performers who go the whole hog, this hysterical show epitomises the spirit of the Fringe.

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) | Regional News

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another)

Written by: Norm Reynolds

Directed by: Lesley Ballantyne

Running online until 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) is an award-winning dramatisation of playwright and actor Norm Reynolds’ life as he makes his way through appointments with destiny in the realms of academia, finance, and theatre.

The work is shot entirely at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto, yet it is a piece of digital theatre. Filming onstage establishes Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) as a play, even bearing in mind its online format. I respect and appreciate the foreword at the start of the piece recognising the Indigenous people’s land on which the play was filmed. I feel more art should do this.

Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) features conversations between Reynolds and renowned American playwright Edward Albee, with Reynolds playing both himself and Albee. This is a neat concept, but at times I struggle to differentiate between the characters presented. This could be remedied through more distinct characterisation. However, through these conversations, the work opens up a dialogue about the inner workings of script creation, exploring an element of theatre often left unseen. A highlight for me is the monologue towards the end, written and presented by Reynolds as Albee, about grading papers. A mundane task, sure – but Reynolds performs it so well that it becomes one of the most interesting and memorable monologues of the show.

The piece makes good use of its digital format, incorporating aspects of sound and cinematography (John Bertram) to enhance the performance in a way that would’ve been less effective in a live theatre setting. I find some of the cinematic transitions between scenes to be distracting at times, although I am not sure whether this effect is intentional.

I never expected to watch theatre intended for a digital audience, but after this experience, I realise there should be more art available in this medium. From one reviewer to another viewer, I would recommend giving Making It Up (One Playwright to Another) a go.

A Year and a Day | Regional News

A Year and a Day

Written by: Christopher Sainton-Clark

Directed by: Rosanna Mallinson

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Again and again, Nathan wakes up on the heath just beyond his hometown in County Meath, Ireland. When the ball of light came racing towards him on that fateful October night, the year was 1959, but with each new dawn for Nathan, a year and a day has passed for the rest of the world. Leaving behind a botched heist, a vengeful criminal gang, his best friend Sam, his struggling parents, and Elsie, the love of his life, Nathan must spend his time managing the chaos caused by this inexplicable curse.

A Year and a Day takes on the cadence, rhythms, and teachings of folklore as it subtly warns the audience to live not in the past or the future but in the here and now. Recounted completely in rhyme by Christopher Sainton-Clark alone on stage, the story is engaging and paced as if to keep up with Nathan’s temporal leaps. Accompanied by an intentional and essential lighting design from Daisy den Engelse to indicate time and place, Sainton-Clark plays each character distinctly, moulding his body, voice, and mannerisms into a disappointed father, a scorned friend, a heartbroken lover, and a lost time traveller. He has no props to use, only the clothes upon his back, his body, and his emotions, yet pure magic flows forth from this immensely talented shapeshifter.

A Year and a Day spans 65 years – or just two months in Nathan’s timeline. A poignant, tender, and darkly comedic story, this New Zealand Fringe Festival show explores the intricacies of love and loss ravaged by time. As Sainton-Clark skips through days, months, and years, he paints an evocative and painfully beautiful portrait of the time traveller, focusing not on the excitement of what is to come but on the nostalgia of an unlived past and the torment of what could have been. The result is a man clutching in vain at the sands of time slipping unrelenting through his fingers.

Goody Goody Glam Pop | Regional News

Goody Goody Glam Pop

Written by: Bethany Miller and Logan Hunt

Circus Bar, 19th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Celebrity YouTuber Lisa Spector (Megan Connolly) invites you to an intimate, exclusive VIP talk show for glamorous pop icon, Miss Goody Two Shoes herself, Brooklyn Brooklyn (Bethany Miller). Fresh from her world-smashing comeback tour, the tabloid darling is live and unplugged as she ruminates on her career path from former Disney starlet to chart-topping pop queen.

Sound familiar? It should be, as the premise leans heavily on the story of Miley Cyrus. However, all is not entirely what it seems as our star originally comes from Brooklyn, Wellington, and her teen rebellion is revealed to have been super-prudent and devoid of the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll phase Cyrus went through. Just when the saccharine is hitting the max, there’s another cunning twist as uber fan girl Lisa Spector also turns out not to be what she at first seems.

Both performers carry off their roles with comedic aplomb and Miller particularly glows as the too-good-to-be-true, vainglorious Brooklyn. The pivot that raises this diamond of a show above the usual is the songwriting of Logan Hunt. His Tim Minchin-esque lyrics are brilliant and Miller’s performance of them a delight as she parodies the breathy, pouting sincerity of so many young popsters. The songs Breathless and No FOMO are genius and the line “I keep missing U” has me laughing far louder than I should in such a small venue.

Despite the minimal staging, this creative team pay attention to detail with a strong pink motif running through the two chairs, table coverings, and the wardrobe of both performers and superb guitarist Peter Liley in his ‘I am Kenough’ Barbie hoodie. There’s even a blush of pink from the Circus Bar’s LED lighting fixtures (Lucy Gray).

One iconic pop star. One totally chill, normal fan. Yeah, right! Turning the world of celebrity and its gossip-hungry fans on its head, Goody Goody Glam Pop is a fresh new work by a fresh young team. Long may its star shine bright.



Written by: Jackson Burling and Hannah Doogan

Directed by: Jackson Burling

Inverlochy Art School, 18th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

If your pillow is mouldy, your flat is draughty, your windows are swollen shut, and your landlord has ignored your email requests to fix something but has always been punctual for an inspection then fear not, ONE BEDROOM AVAILABLE IN SUPER SUNNY CENTRAL WELLINGTON FLAT $260 PER WEEK EXCLUDING EXPENSES has all the bells and whistles. This is a New Zealand Fringe Festival show for the Kiwi tenant and an urgent call to action.

Both relatable and cathartic, this political comedy musical is just as chaotic, uncomfortable, and surprising as renting in Aotearoa. When I turned up at Riley (Monet Wiljo Faifai-Collins) and Leo’s (Rachel McSweeney) ‘flat viewing’ I was as confused as they were. “Were you told 3pm or 3:30pm?” Leo asks me before she continues vacuuming the worn, stained, and warped ‘character’ floorboards.

Based on real-life experiences from some of New Zealand’s 1.4 million renters and set in an actual (former) flat, the show follows Leo and Riley’s quest to find a fifth flatmate. DJ Stan (Charleigh Griffiths) is staying on and there’s that Aussie bloke Seamus (director Jackson Burling) from the online viewing arriving tomorrow, Leo assures us, her prospective flatmates. Two hopefuls single themselves out from the crowd, over-zealous Eden Right (producer Hannah Doogan) who lives at home and a cool, nonchalant, loner called Mac (musical director Adriana Calabrese) who has lived in over 20 crappy flats.

As the viewing chugs forward, problems with the property continuously arise – but it’s the best you’ll get for this price and location! DJ Stan intermittently dims the lights, turns up the gobos, and plays a tune right on queue. Singing reimagined versions of Kiwi classics, this vocally blessed cast gives us bangers the likes of One Week in a Leaky Flat, Slice of Average, and Why Do Flat Viewings Do This To Me.

This show is an indictment of NZ’s rental crisis and habitability standards. Filled with funny shenanigans, the ending voiceover delivering facts and data pulls it all together, transforming a cheeky and relatable Fringe show into an exposé demanding change.