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PopRox Improv Comedy Nights | Regional News

PopRox Improv Comedy Nights

Presented by: PopRox

Circa Theatre, 28th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

On the last Sunday of every month, local improv troupe PopRox puts on an immersive, cabaret-style improv show in the restaurant, bar, and foyer of Circa Theatre. Tonight’s story, creatively directed by MC Jed Davies and produced by Dylan Hutton, starts at Mainland Automotive. Here, Jonny Paul’s Tony (not to be confused with Tony from Tony’s Tyre Service) toils away fruitlessly until he joins forces with a very smart professor (Lia Kelly) who helps him build flying cars. Soon, the shop will become more successful than even Mainland Cheese.

Prior to the breakthrough, it’s chaos. Mainland Automotive’s employee Sally (Nina Hogg) never shows up because she’s too busy working her other job as a news reporter. Sarah (Tara McEntee) is in a rut and cannot escape the butt-dent on her couch. A really large building is on fire, and no one inside is stoked about it. Especially not the fire warden (Davies).

Isaac Thomas adds exceptional guitar to the action that matches the vibes at all times, while lighting designer and operator Sam Irwin utilises a neat red wash on the fly as the fire blazes, burning brighter by the minute.

Given the space, I was expecting a bit more interaction and wandering, if you will, from both the cast and audience. We’re told we can get up at any time but no one really does, which I suspect comes down to our ingrained theatre etiquette. More crowd work to help us loosen up and move around would go down a treat.

The cast utilises the space to create a show highlight when they spread out to play Sarah’s conscience, booming platitudes and cryptic clues in surround sound. More fantastic moments stem from the seamless integration of theatre sports and improv games – like when Hogg, Paul, and Kelly combine into an all-knowing entity to demand we “Ask another question!”

Improv done right is one of the best things you’ll see, so go see PopRox. I’m in awe of these expert players, who make up a riotous story, then tie all its loose ends in a bow like wings on a car in five minutes flat. What an uplifting end to my week.

The Golden Ass | Regional News

The Golden Ass

Adapted by: Michael Hurst

Directed by: Michael Hurst and John Gibson

Circa Theatre, 21st April 2024

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

The Golden Ass is an adaptation of Lucius Apuleius’ ancient Roman novel by Michael Hurst with additional text and dramaturgy by Fiona Samuel. This solo show sees Hurst retell the classic tale of a man transformed into a donkey, a wild experience that leads him to glean insight into humanity.

Hurst begins the performance in flowing beach clothes, relating the story with pace and evocative imagery. He immediately begins connecting with the audience, pulling us into his tale. While punchlines are lost in the momentum at times, the way that he embodies different characters through rapidly changing accents, postures, and mannerisms, is enthralling.

Seeking information on witchcraft to help him write a book, Hurst’s character Lucius tries to copy a ritual to turn into a bird, but is instead changed into a donkey. After this metamorphosis, he experiences different forms of cruelty, nearly forgetting himself and losing his humanity. Throughout the play, historically anachronistic inventions like email and vehicles are referred to, setting the story in a liminal, timeless period much like a fable.

The set (John Verryt) comprises a circular, sandy rug furnished only with some bags and a chilly bin. It is simple yet effective as Hurst uses the space with great physicality, moving between the different characters and scenes.

The lighting and sound, with original music by John Gibson, also add depth to the storytelling. Ocean sounds and a summery amber wash support Hurst’s vivid narration. Scene changes are quick and clear, often punctuated by a crowing rooster in the morning, which, like much in the show, is acknowledged by Hurst for comedic effect.

Injected at every turn is humour that verges on goofy and crass. But in the end, after seeing a dark and beastly side of humanity, Lucius’ sincerity and earnestness pin a hopeful tail on this story.

When the Cat’s Away | Regional News

When the Cat’s Away

Michael Fowler Centre, 21st Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Graeme King

When the Cat’s Away, featuring Annie Crummer, Debbie Harwood, Dianne Swann, Margaret Urlich, and Kim Willoughby, were a New Zealand vocal supergroup formed in 1986 for fun – only to become one of our most successful bands ever! This concert, mainly including songs by iconic NZ songwriters, was also a celebration of Urlich’s rich musical catalogue.

From the moment When the Cat’s Away walked onto the stage for the first song Outlook for Thursday it was party time, and the almost 2000-strong crowd was in dance mode… who cared if it was Sunday night! What’s the Time Mr Wolf? had us singing loudly and heading into the aisles to boogie.

Original band members Gary Verberne and Brett Adams (guitars), Barbara Griffin (keys), and Mike Russell (trumpet) were ably joined by The Band of Gold – forming a rock-solid platform for the singers.

Sharon O’Neill’s Maxine, featuring a searing sax solo by Nick Atkinson, and Asian Paradise including Harwood’s beautiful clear voice, were early highlights. Boy in the Moon, from the poignant set dedicated to Urlich, was a standout and cleverly segued into The Horses.

The Herbs duo Tama Lundon and Morrie Watene joined the stage to a standing ovation. A set of their greatest hits followed, including Crummer’s gorgeous soaring vocals on her song See What Love Can Do, finishing with E Papa sung a cappella – a highlight showcasing the duo’s rich voices.

Gutter Black took us back into full party mode and Sweet Lovers, featuring lead vocals by ex-Holidaymaker Griffin, was a treat. The pumping Room that Echoes was faultless and another standout.

Let’s Go Crazy featuring blistering guitar by Adams was followed by the Netherworld Dancing Toys’ For Today – again featuring Crummer’s sublime vocals. Melting Pot had most of the crowd singing in unison to finish the set. But the party wasn’t over yet.

The first encore Free Ride had everyone either standing up at their seats, in the aisles, or in front of the stage! I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll finished the night on a high. After 30 songs and almost two and a half hours of non-stop partying, Crummer bade the crowd goodnight with “Thank you everybody and God bless. I’ll see you at PAK’nSAVE!”

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 | Regional News

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Written by: Dave Malloy

Directed by: Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is a sung-through musical by Dave Malloy based on a scandalous segment of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It follows Natasha (Lane Corby), a naïve young woman who begins a torrid love affair with Anatole (Henry Ashby) despite her betrothal to Andrey (Glenn Horsfall). In the eye of the storm of repercussions are Natasha’s cousin Sonya (Áine Gallagher) and godmother Marya (Frankie Leota); her future in-laws Mary (Rachel McSweeney) and Prince Bolkonsky (Glenn Horsfall); and Anatole’s friend Dolokhov (Kevin Orlando) and brother-in-law Pierre (William Duignan), a depressed alcoholic who’s friends with Andrey and (unhappily) married to Hélène (Jade Merematira). Even the troika driver Balaga (Patrick Jennings) gets involved. Struggling to keep up? A hilarious Prologue opens the show with a pop, bang, and blinding sparkle to explain the whole thing.

Allow me to attempt to scratch the surface of all the jaw-dropping moments in this kaleidoscopic fever dream of a production. WITCH Music Theatre and technical producer and set designer Joshua Tucker-Emerson have completely transformed an unrecognisable Hannah Playhouse into a theatre-in-the-round, illuminated by Alex ‘Fish’ Fisher’s brilliant lighting design. Disco balls dazzle and performers literally fly (aerialist Jackson Cordery) across the stage as the exquisite ensemble entices and the core cast – draped in diamonds and swathed in silk by costume designer and creative producer Ben Tucker-Emerson – astounds the audience with whirlwind choreography (Emily McDermott and Greta Casey-Solly) and vocal chops fit for the world stage. The picture is heady, opulent, intoxicating.  

With technically flawless sound design by Oliver Devlin, a supreme live orchestra, and many of the cast playing roving instruments, the sound is full and raucous, yet sumptuous and smooth when called for. Sitting centre stage at an in-ground piano is conductor, music director, and ringmaster Hayden Taylor. Anyone listening to a single bar of any song from this production, whether belted or softly whispered, thrummed on bass or tinkled on keys, would kill to have Taylor in the music director’s seat.

Guided by directors Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew’s blazing vision, WITCH deserved every second of their standing ovation and then some. Bring your sunnies and something warm for the goosebumps.

HELIOS | Regional News


Created by: Wright&Grainger

BATS Theatre, 19th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

In the Ancient Greek myth, Phaeton is the son of the sun god, Helios. In a fit of hubris and wanting recognition from his absent father, Phaeton begs to drive Helios’ golden sun chariot across the sky for a single day. Against his father’s better judgement, Phaeton takes the reins and starts a disastrous voyage across the heavens, literally crashing and burning because he can’t control the feisty horses.

In this relatable modern reworking of the tale, Alexander Wright, accompanied by Phil Grainger’s hypnotic score, relates the story of Phaeton as a confused teenager. He’s nearing his 18th birthday, mourning the earlier loss of his little brother in an ice-skating accident, dealing with school bus politics and a complex relationship with a classmate called Michael Dale, and watching the shadows of his airline pilot dad and the golden Ford in the garage that he one day wants to drive.

Wright is there to greet the audience as they arrive and directs everyone to seats around the three-quarters stage, in the middle of which is a cluster of freestanding lights and a couple of neatly coiled microphone leads. Around the outside of these is a sunny circle of orange and white cue cards that help him remember the 70-minute story’s details and which he uses to invite members of the audience to read some of the conversational lines.

Audience interaction is the hallmark of this highly absorbing presentation. Wright is a master of incorporating audience responses into his narrative and making us feel an integral part of Phaeton’s fall from grace, which he narrates with quick-fire energy. However, rather than concluding that Phaeton’s fate is a warning not to indulge in too much teenage bravado, the conclusion of this contemporary fable is more uplifting.

In this magical piece of storytelling, the human truth of HELIOS is beautifully spun from the ancient to the modern with nothing more than a few simple set pieces, delicious music, and one committed and totally engaging performer.

Demetri Martin: Demetri Deconstructed | Regional News

Demetri Martin: Demetri Deconstructed


(4 ½ out of 5)

Available on Netflix

Reviewed by: Matt Jaden Carroll

American comedian, actor, writer, cartoonist, and musician Demetri Martin (Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show) is well known for his quirky, novelty-laden approach to stand-up comedy. Going into the Netflix comedy special Demetri Deconstructed, I expected jokes that would mess with my head. I didn’t expect to watch something that would challenge what a stand-up special is meant to be.

Typically, a stand-up special is presented as a faithful, matter-of-fact recording of a live show. But from the outset, Demetri Deconstructed implies that the show isn’t even real at all. Jokes are frequently punctuated by text overlays, overdubbed inner-monologues, meta outtakes, and other trippy effects. For me, this has a tradeoff: I pay the price of feeling quite detached from the live audience, but am treated to an abundance of extra jokes and thrills that the live audience couldn’t possibly be experiencing.

Although Demetri Deconstructed almost reinvents the artform of a stand-up special, Martin’s actual jokes remain true to form. Avoiding any long stories or political diatribes, he offers short and unique philosophical takes on the mundane. A bit like Jerry Seinfeld if he was a massive nerd. Some of Martin’s jokes are (once again) told using graphs. While he at first presents as awkward and deadpan, on closer inspection, he possesses a subtle charm, like a magician coyly smiling at the unveiling of each trick. I’d go so far as to say that Martin comes close to adopting the tone of a tour guide, quietly taking us through fun revelations and epiphanies about frankly nothing at all.

I’ll probably forget the jokes in a couple of days, but it’s hard to forget his new approach. It’s like witnessing a new genre being created – one where footage of a stand-up show is like raw material to be remixed as desired.

Demetri Deconstructed feels like a bold first step into new creative territory. That’s incredibly exciting, and I think it’s worth watching for that alone.

Rent | Regional News


Presented by: Kauri Theatre Company

Directed by: Lox Dixon

Gryphon Theatre, 10th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent follows a group of young artists struggling to make ends meet in New York City under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Mark (Ed Blunden) and Roger (Chris McMillan) are suddenly threatened with eviction by their landlord and ex-roommate Benny (Kwok Yi Lee). Still grieving the death of his girlfriend April, Roger rejects the advances of Cat Scratch Club dancer Mimi (Rach Te Tau). Meanwhile, Mark’s ex Maureen (Stacey O’Brien) has found a new love in fiery lawyer Joanne (Caitlin McDougall), and Collins (Richie Rewa) is swept up in the heavenly glow of Angel (Dennis Eir Lim), who dresses like the sparkliest Santa you ever did see (Angel’s superb costumes and wigs by Richie Rewa). It is Christmas, after all!

Resembling an electricity-starved, ex-recording studio turned barely inhabitable flat, the striking set is made all the more detailed and realistic with carefully chosen props (Emma Maguire, Kauri Theatre Company, and friends) and stringed fairy lights along the back wall (a nice touch by lighting designer Adam Harrison). Wearing costumes strongly suggestive of their counterparts from the film (wardrobe manager Hayley Knight), our cast takes to this grungy stage, backlit with twinkling hope, to crush it.

The core cast is exceptional. Musical director Anna Mckean has drawn the rockiest Adam Pascal-like timbres from McMillan and the crackliest of chemistries from his harmonies with Te Tau, whose beautiful voice blows me away in Without You. Then there’s Rewa’s powerful, haunting I’ll Cover You – Reprise that nearly makes me cry. With Lox Dixon in the director’s seat, the performers capture their characters’ essences to a T. McDougall is a boss Joanne, imbuing her with vulnerability but enough sass and spark to hold her own against Maureen. O’Brien is unbelievably good. Her Over the Moon, backed by star ensemble members Gracie Voice and Kristina Lee, is a hilarious highlight of the whole show. Eir Lim slays as a drag queen, especially with those raunchy moves in Today for You (choreographer Aroha Davidson). Blunden’s energetic performance is at the heart of it all, driving the action ever forward.  

Kauri Theatre Company should be extremely proud of this production. I wish I had more words to mention everyone involved, including the killer live band and the committed ensemble, because I could write pages longer than Benny’s eviction notices. The long and short of it is, bravo!

Kiss Of Death | Regional News

Kiss Of Death

Written by: Stephen Tester

The Heritage Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Set in Wellington at the end of WWI against the backdrop of the Spanish flu, the fictional novel Kiss of Death follows Lorna Dragana McDougal, one of Wellington’s few female solicitors. Her life is not easy. Besides raising her little sister, she is constantly having to prove herself worthy in a society dominated by men.

I have to admit, as a man living a cushy life in 2024, I simply cannot relate to what a woman in 1918 must have had to go through. If you were a woman in a male-dominated industry, life was gonna be hard. Looked down on, disrespected, and underpaid… that’s the order of the day. But Lorna rises above the abuse she suffers, managing to come out on top more than just a few times.

One of the best parts of the book for me was Lorna herself. While sharp-witted and intelligent protagonists are nothing new, it is not often we find one who has the literal world rallying against her. I really enjoyed her story and found myself wanting to spend more time with her. My favourite part was when she is forced to team up with police detectives who see her as more of a hindrance than a help. Of course, she succeeds in proving her worth all the same.

The story also deserves praise, and while I found it a little slow to begin with, it was not long before I started warming up to the narrative and where it was taking me. While I understand that authors must set up their main characters and the worlds they inhabit, in this case I would have much preferred to just dive into the main plot. That may be more of a ‘me’ problem, but I thought I should at least mention it.

Apart from that, this is a great little historical legal thriller that will definitely scratch the itch anyone has for a good mystery with a likeable and fun heroine. If you see this at your local bookshop, I highly recommend it.

Smoko | Regional News


Written by: F.E. Beyer

Sandfly Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If you could describe just one novel as having a ‘fly-on-the-wall perspective’ Smoko by F.E. Beyer would have to be it.

Many years ago, I worked for Sky City first as a waiter, then as a bartender. The hours were long, the pay was bad, and the supervisors and managers were insufferable (from my perspective). But it was my first job, so what could I do but grin and bear it? Reading Smoko brought me back to those days when I was a fresh-faced kid who just needed a job.

The book follows a newly minted postal worker named Ed as he navigates the perilous world of mail couriers. From putting up with a power-mad supervisor to avoiding the perils of office politics, Ed encounters it all, and all I could do was nod my head and smile the whole way.

One of the reasons I loved Smoko so much is that Ed is someone we can all relate to. Essentially, he is us – all of us. We see ourselves in him and understand what he is going through. We have all had to suffer through that one boss who rules over us like a tyrant, or that one workmate who drones on and never stops. Beyer pulls no punches. There are no airs and graces here; he tells it like it is, and it is precisely that kind of writing that keeps the story grounded and relatable.

And while Beyer’s writing is great, for me, it is the characters who bring the book to life. From Mavis the aforementioned tyrant, to Ross the outspoken rebel, all the way to Johnno the company veteran, each character made an impression and I cared about all of them.

These elements all add up together to make Smoko a must-read title that I think everyone will relate to. A quick little read that took me back to my early working days, and a great start to 2024.