Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


The Lady Demands Satisfaction | Regional News

The Lady Demands Satisfaction

Written by: Arthur M. Jolly

Directed by: James Kiesel

Gryphon Theatre, 29th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Oh, how delightful, a story with sword fights and shenanigans. What fun!

Set in the 1700s, The Lady Demands Satisfaction is a farce following the peppy Trothe Pepperston (Sarah Penny) as she enlists the help of her two favourite servants (Tristana Leist and Teresa Sullivan) and her sword master aunt Theodosia (Gwendoline Guerineau) to ward off any challengers that try to take advantage of her inheritance following her father’s untimely death.

Starting with shadow swordplay, the opening splendidly sets the scene. What follows is sustained side-splitting laughter continuing up until the bows. Did I mention sword fights?

The fight scenes, coordinated by Simon Manns, are both hilarious and mesmerising. The characters are so willing to pick a fight that they would do so with any household item they could get their hands on.

Meredith Dooley’s costume design has got to be one of the many highlights of this Stagecraft Theatre production. Dooley’s design provides period-accurate costumes but with a colourful, zany flair, perfectly illustrating the essence of the play. So much effort has been put into these costumes, even all of Trothe’s handkerchiefs match her beautiful crinoline dress. 

Through gobos and candlelight, Scott Maxim’s lighting design creates an atmosphere that works perfectly with the costume and set design (Josh Hopton-Stewart) to create a cosy Georgian manor. A perfect setting for this rambunctious series of events to melodramatically unfold.

Charismatic comedic characterisation must be commended. Each actor is a master of comedy. Penny truly encapsulates her character of Trothe Pepperston, from the way she awkwardly trots to her squeals of laughter. Guerineau’s sensational sword fighting is something splendid to witness. The entire cast maintains a hilarious presence throughout the show.

I am still struggling to grasp how engaging and funny this fever dream of a play is. I would urge you to book tickets at once before any Prussian master takes your place and you’ll be left for dead without seeing this hilarious Stagecraft show.

HAUSDOWN | Regional News


Written by: Ruby Carter and Katie Hill

Directed by: Katie Hill

BATS Theatre, 28th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Fans of Jane Austen and Regency-era drama are being spoiled with a range of productions on Wellington stages, and HAUSDOWN is a refreshing and joyfully queer take on this, revelling in the inherent queerness in the extravagance of the period.

Plays that are set in the Regency era benefit greatly from attentiveness to technical elements such as costume and set in order to bring the period to life. HAUSDOWN excels at this. Costumes (Ruby Carter) are delightfully camp, capturing the characters and their world well. The rainbow palette across the different characters is a nice touch. 

The set (Scott Maxim) is also evocative and feels at home with the theatre’s stained-glass dome above. The floor is painted as concrete-coloured tiles, and a wall has been constructed to run across the back of the stage, closing in the space and giving the impression of a more traditional box set, which serves the play and period fittingly. The centre of the back wall is a large window of opaque plastic, which is then lit from behind (Teddy O’Neill) to assist in setting the scene. While there are some dark spots and unevenness in the lighting, there is a lot of creative use of colour, furthering the playfulness of the show.

The eight actors are all completely committed to the exaggerated characters they play, keeping the pace and energy high throughout. They navigate sections of dialogue and more physical clowning (choreography and clowning by Daniel Nodder) with coordination and aplomb. The accents are consistent and add further levity to the performances, but at times lines are lost as dialogue is not enunciated clearly enough, and we want to catch every word when the pace of the story is so fast.

The play is short and sharp, and put together well with strong performances and technical elements that work in concert, even if I would have liked more material in the dialogue to help tell the story. That said, HAUSDOWN is goofy fun, certainly achieving Inconceivable Productions’ goal to share whimsical, queer joy.

Waiting For Waiting For Godot | Regional News

Waiting For Waiting For Godot

Written by: Dave Hanson

Directed by: Michael Hurst

Hannah Playhouse, 28th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Waiting For Waiting For Godot by award-winning American playwright Dave Hanson takes Samuel Beckett’s iconic, absurdist masterpiece to new, meta heights. Two understudies (Callum Brodie as Ester and George Maunsell as Val) wait to go on in a production of Waiting For Godot. Stuck backstage in perpetuity, we watch the two actors contemplate fame and fortune as they wait for their number to be called, for their tables to turn. But like Godot, their time in the spotlight never comes.

I’ve dropped that semi-spoiler because it’s important to note that in this 75-minute production, nothing really happens. But I’ve never been less bored watching ‘nothing’, waiting for Waiting For Godot alongside our neurotic, hapless heroes. This comedy could be oxymoronically deemed fast-paced waiting or mile-a-minute nothingness. Even the still moments are loaded with action, the silences fraught with tension. And so brilliant are the actors, you could cut the chemistry with a knife.

Brodie is hilarious as the pompous peacock Ester, a perpetual underachiever too big for his boots (and his vest). His performance is able to reach deliciously extravagant heights thanks to the solid anchorage below: Maunsell as the more-competent, less-experienced Val. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Maunsell’s softer performance is both captivating and crucially grounding. Michael Hurst’s meticulous direction strikes balance on a precipice, never allowing the performances to teeter over the edge as the cast navigates that fine line between hysterically funny and hammy with aplomb.

Iana Grace as the assistant stage manager makes two cameos that serve to highlight how ridiculous the understudies are, what a faraway world they inhabit. While I preferred getting lost in the Ester-and-Val show, made all the more engrossing by one knockout lighting state change (Alex Turner) and a set that looks like a bomb went off, the introduction of another character does add an interesting texture to the stage dynamic.

Waiting For Waiting For Godot is a masterclass in craftsmanship. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year. I shook with laughter even as it resonated with me deeply. The best kind of theatre.

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People | Regional News

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

Written by: Rachel McAlpine

Directed by: Robin Payne

Circa Theatre, 26th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People tagline reads, “Is life worth living after 90? Ask the experts!” and this production does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s ‘close-work theatre’ in which Wellington author Rachel McAlpine has devised the script by interviewing a selection of local nonagenarians and compiling five fictional characters from their stories.

These characters are still-in-love couple Peggy (Annie Ruth) and Tom (Lloyd Scott), enjoying a stately existence in a retirement home after a life of poverty and struggle. Alongside them is Māori kuia, Puti (Grace Hoete), who was led to believe her ethnicity was Portuguese and only discovered her tangata whenua heritage later in life. Gilbert (Gary Young) is a successful man who hates the injustice he sees in the world, and Zinnia (Anna O’Brien) is a lively musician who grew up trying to deny her sexual attraction to other women.

To the accompaniment of freshly made cups of tea from kettles located at the back of the stage, the five actors (who range in age from 43 to 81, they tell us) relate the stories of these carefully composed people from the comfort of chairs, occasionally wandering the stage to emphasise a point. That’s as sophisticated as Robin Payne’s direction gets and, along with simple spotlighting (Alexander R Dickson), is all that’s needed to enable the audience to fully engage with the direct-address style of storytelling.

The characters traverse topics that are predictable enough – health issues, sex, political and social change, losing a child – but also prejudice and privilege in ways that are not so predictable. They’re expressed in a manner that can only come from the mouths of real people; “Thank you, God, for one more bonk” gets the biggest laugh.

Beautifully bookending the show is video testimony from three doyens of the Circa stage: Desmond Kelly, Kate Harcourt, and Sunny Amey.

Is life worth living after 90? Based on this production, the answer is emphatically yes!

Treasure Island – The Pantomime | Regional News

Treasure Island – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 13th Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Every year, families flock to Circa Theatre from across the region to catch the annual pantomime, an all-singing, all-dancing, all-fun Kiwi take on a children’s classic.

Treasure Island – The Pantomime follows young orphan Jim (Reuben Romanos), who lives in Island Bay with Aunt Peggy Legg (Jthan Morgan), a poor, lonely widow (aww). With a head full of stars and big dreams of something more, Jim’s mundane life becomes anything but when his dog Patch (Jackson Burling) regurgitates a treasure map. Dodging a crooked crew comprising the dastardly Long John Silver (Kathleen Burns), the hapless Smee (Tawhi Thomas), and other horsey, sleepy, and out-of-the-loop pirates (Bronwyn Turei), Jim, Patch, Peggy, and Sabrina the Appropriately Aged Witch (Natasha McAllister) embark on a rollicking race against time to get to the gold first.

Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford’s sharp, topical jokes traverse The ACT Party and Beehive bureaucracy, while other novel additions include a spaced-out nana (Turei), buxom, titillating treasure chests, and a kraken called Carin voiced by Karin McCracken. It’s safe to say, then, that Treasure Island – The Pantomime is only loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, but with such a strong story as its foundations and such a proficient team at its helm, the 21st-century treatment goes down a treat.

Alongside Morgan’s inability to not say “treasure map” as Peggy, the music (direction and arrangement by Michael Nicholas Williams) is my show highlight. Featuring P!NK, Eurythmics, The Beach Boys, and more, the soundtrack is performed pitch-perfectly by the powerhouse cast, who have me dancing in my seat. McAllister and Morgan’s choreography is the icing on the cake, especially in I Think We’re Alone Now.

The design elements – from Jon Coddington’s whimsical puppetry to Ian Harman’s elaborate set, Sheila Horton’s colourful costuming to Marcus McShane’s bright and bold lighting scheme – create a captivating world where the performers magnetise their talent to draw us in. It was a pleasure to get lost in Treasure Island – The Pantomime, and to holler along with the littlies in the crowd. I felt like a kid again.

Bright Star | Regional News

Bright Star

Written by: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell

Directed by: Stanford Reynolds

Te Auaha, 17th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

A talented literary editor with a story of her own to tell. A mayor’s son taking a different path than his father. A young soldier trying to make his mark on the world by “following his own bright star”. These characters and a vibrant bluegrass score are the main ingredients of Bright Star, a musical set in North Carolina in the 1920s to 1940s.

Billy Cane (Fynn Bodley-Davies) has just returned from World War II to his small southern hometown and dreams of writing for the Asheville Southern Journal, publisher of the best short stories from miles around. Editor Alice Murphy (Cassandra Tse) takes him on, impressed by his spirit and quick thinking if not his writing skills. What the pair don’t yet know is that hidden in Alice’s past is a secret about to change both of their lives.

This Wellington Footlights Society production is set to a live band playing bluegrass music, an energetic string-based genre with influences of jazz and blues. The man behind me in the queue beforehand said, “there better be a banjo,” and we were not disappointed. With the band and musical direction from Michael Stebbings behind them, the talented singers shine. Tse and Chris McMillan as Alice's love interest Jimmy Ray Dobbs stand out with their solos, and a surprise favourite is Billy’s hillbilly father Daddy Cane (Vishan Appanna), who has one beautiful duet with his son and hops around after frogs in the river for the rest of the play.

The set (concept and coordination by director Stanford Reynolds) and lighting (design and operation by Tom Smith and Lucas Zaner) are simple yet effective, creating a new mood for each scene with bright yellow light for party songs and darker, individual spotlights in more emotional, personal moments. The chorus rearranges a small collection of benches and chairs between scenes. I did feel that more could be made of the projector screen behind the stage, which is lit up quite sporadically throughout.

All in all, Bright Star is heartfelt, infectious, and made me cry several times – an unexpected must-see.

Music of John Williams | Regional News

Music of John Williams

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 17th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Although I am in the tiny minority of my generation who have somehow never seen the film, it says much about John Williams’ music that the opening piece, Adventures on Earth from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, was immediately recognisable to me. It was played with gusto and the smiles on the faces of the orchestra immediately engaged the attentive full house.

At first glance the programme was predominantly film soundtracks, and it would have been easy to overlook the Violin Concerto No. 2 (New Zealand premiere) tucked between E.T. and the interval. However, it was utterly impossible to ignore a single note of the spectacular performance we were lucky enough to hear next.

Anne-Sophie Mutter is a renowned violinist with a long career and, aged only 60, many years ahead of her. Mutter commissioned the Violin Concerto No. 2 from Williams and, in what must be a reflection of his respect and admiration for her talent and skill, it is technically hugely demanding, with achingly beautiful passages, fearsome cadenzas, and plenty of drama and atmosphere.

Mutter showed complete ease, total confidence, and absolute commitment to the music. Famed for her technique, she augmented and varied her tone brilliantly. The balance with the orchestra was perfect. New brought in the orchestra imperceptibly and with such cohesion it was impossible to tell sometimes where violin stopped and orchestra started.

The second half was all cinema with tracks from Hook, The Adventures of Tintin, Cinderella, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. Williams can extract such extraordinary sounds from the orchestra, there were reminders music accompanied movies long before electronic sounds and effects. We were also treated to three additional film tracks Williams had arranged for violin. Mutter dedicated the theme from Schindler’s List to all those suffering in the world through war, reminding us how fortunate we are to be able to find escapism in music and film.

Strange Way of Life | Regional News

Strange Way of Life


31 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I am fully convinced that Strange Way of Life was made as an excuse for a bunch of creatives to play cowboys in the desert. With a stacked cast and production team, the short film is the newest addition to director and screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar’s extensive oeuvre broaching themes of desire, family, passion, identity, and LGBTQIA+ issues.

After 25 years, Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke) and rancher Silva (Pedro Pascal) meet again. Following a night of passion, Jake must decipher whether his lover’s arrival was indeed to rekindle a love lost or to save his son Joe from the heavy hand of the law. A gruff and hopeless man, Hawke’s Jake exudes a dejected fatalism lifting only for brief moments in Silva’s company. Silva is a hopeless romantic who believes the dream he and Jake once shared can still come to fruition. In Strange Way of Life, Almodóvar subverts the classic trope of the cowboy, painting instead a portrait of compassion that offers new possibilities.

The debut offering from Saint Laurent Productions, a subsidiary of the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, Strange Way of Life boasts a bright and stylishly curated wardrobe. Antxón Gómez’ production design and José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography possess all the boldness and vibrancy of a signature Almodóvar film. I was struck most of all by the beauty of the editing (Teresa Font), which not only complemented but drove the story.

The brevity of the film means that it goes unfinished, leaving it up to the viewer to fill in the rest of the story. Leaving a movie open-ended enables it to live past its runtime. With this piece, Almodóvar showcases what a short film – but not a short story – can accomplish, catapulting the format back into the cinema as a valid form of expression full of untapped potential. Coming at a time when films seem to be getting increasingly longer (I’m looking at you Killers of the Flower Moon) and the multi-volume series is king, this beautiful slice of cinema is a refreshing reminder that sometimes less is more.

Only Bones – Daniel Nodder  | Regional News

Only Bones – Daniel Nodder

Presented by: Thom Monckton and Daniel Nodder

BATS Theatre, 14th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Only Bones, a remarkable physical theatre production created and performed by Daniel Nodder, is an exploration of the human body's expressive potential. This one-man show transcends traditional boundaries of performance, captivating audiences with ingenious use of movement and gesture, and all within a one-square-metre performance space.

Clocking in at just under an hour, tour-de-force Nodder unfolds without a single spoken word, relying entirely on the language of the body to convey everything from The Big Bang to the invention of fire to a truly striking performance of Shallow from A Star Is Born (2018) using his kneecaps. Yep, you read that right. In my 34 years of living, I never expected to see a ballad between patellas. But that is exactly what keeps me excited about theatre and performers like Nodder – seeing boundaries being pushed to create something truly unique. And believe me, you haven’t seen anything like this before, or the 10 versions that came before it.

Created by Thom Monckton, The Only Bones Project is a minimalist physical theatre and sparse-video performance project with the guidelines of ‘only one light, no narrative, no set, no props, no text, and all within a limited amount of space’. Performers create their own world within this concept. Nodder epitomises that sage advice, ‘less is more’. The command of his body is remarkable, sometimes cringe-inducing, with audience members gasping at joints going this way and that. From teeth to toes, Nodder can isolate his body parts and give each a personality of their own.

This fascinating and playful performance is set within the wonderful composition and sound design of Ben Kelly and lighting design of Rebekah de Roo. All components are weaved together so harmoniously.

After watching in awe and pondering how one might even discover they can contort their body this way, my afterthought was how much this performance is a testament to the creative’s commitment to expression and their craft.