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Reviews

The Savage Coloniser Show | Regional News

The Savage Coloniser Show

Written by: Tusiata Avia

Directed by: Anapela Polata’ivao

Circa Theatre, 3rd Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Following their critically acclaimed production Wild Dogs Under My Skirt at the 2018 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, the FCC creative team is back this festival, bringing to ferocious life Tusiata Avia’s Ockham Poetry Award-winning The Savage Coloniser Book.

Far from being a simple poetry reading, this is a blisteringly provocative theatrical presentation by six Pasifika actors who speak, sing, and move their way through Avia’s confronting texts. She is totally unafraid to cast an unforgiving and provocative eye over race and racism, coloniser and colonised. The poems cross-examine the cringe-making things white people say, Gauguin’s sexualised utopian vision of Tahiti, white criticism of intergenerational trauma as an ‘excuse’ for bad behaviour, the stereotyping of South Aucklanders, a health sector that uses BMI as a weapon against Brown people, and much more. Woe betide you if you’re a National or ACT voter; Christopher Luxon and Judith Collins don’t come off well at all. That’s not to say the show isn’t funny. It’s achingly so and at many times causes a ripple of laughter and applause through the audience, as well as the odd whoop of righteous agreement.

The exceptional cast of Stacey Leilua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Mario Faumui, Petmal Petelo, Ilaisaane Green, and Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute totally own the stage. They are a strong, slick, and superbly coordinated team (choreography by Tupua Tigafua and Mario Faumui) with just six chairs, six machetes, and a mirror as props. They are aided by a superb set and a lighting design (production designers Bradley Gledhill and Rachel Marlow) that cleverly employs projections onto a sheer screen in front of the actors and smoke and lights behind them to emphasise the poetry, along with haunting music composed by David Long.

The Savage Coloniser Show is savage both in its content and its execution, while also being a creation of theatrical artistry. Leaving much to think about and examine in your own behaviour, it is a bold and necessary understanding of the history of Aotearoa.

Queens of the Stone Age: The End Is Nero Tour | Regional News

Queens of the Stone Age: The End Is Nero Tour

TSB Arena, 1st Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Graeme King

A capacity crowd including many decades-long fans paid Homme-age to Josh and the band at an extremely hot TSB Arena. Queens of the Stone Age’s world tour supports their acclaimed eighth studio album In Times New Roman, but with an extensive catalogue spanning nearly 30 years, only five new songs out of a total of 19 were played. 

The soothing background music was in stark contrast to the band’s concert opener Regular John, featuring the blistering guitars of Josh Homme, longtime bandmate Troy Van Leeuwen, and keyboardist/guitarist Dean Fertita. The rocking No One Knows followed and had the crowd pumped and trying to sing the roof off! 

The highly interactive Homme had his adoring fans in the palm of his hand with a good-humoured call-and-response of “F… You” – offending no-one in this audience. Emotion Sickness, featuring Michael Shuman’s slick bass and gorgeous falsetto harmonies with Van Leeuwen, had the crowd clapping in time to the acapella chorus. 

Despite the occasional cigarette on stage, Homme’s vocals were impressive in range and quality! Time & Place had the band joyously jumping and dancing around the stage. Homme was mesmerising, at times just focusing on his vocal performance with his arms waving in the air, at others staggering around the stage playing searing guitar solos. A frontman at the top of his game, he gave special praise to monster drummer Jon Theodore, whom he said was “puking his guts out with food poisoning yesterday!” 

Make It Wit Chu, with the crowd singing the chorus, and Homme’s effortless falsetto segueing into The Rolling Stones’ Miss You, was a highlight – but this was a concert of too many highs, and songs, to mention.

Little Sister finished the set, but the raucous crowd wasn’t finished yet. Encores Go With The Flow and the haunting Song For The Dead, featuring a thunderous drum solo, closed the show.

The triangle-shaped lighting rig encompassing the band on stage was visually stunning, and the sound balance also impressive. The End Is Nero Tour? Simply superb.

The Suitcase Show | Regional News

The Suitcase Show

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell

Directed by: Hannah Smith

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Imagine the kind of tingly, eerie warmth that would course through your veins if you were listening to a Brothers Grimm fairytale by a roaring fire with a glass of whisky in hand. Now imagine the person telling you that story is building a whole world around you, enhancing every beat with shadowplay and spooky soundscapes, projections and puppetry.

That’s the closest I can come to describing a Trick of the Light Theatre show. Few words are capable of capturing the magic this innovative theatre company brings to the stage. Every time.

The latest entry in the canon, The Suitcase Show follows a traveller (Ralph McCubbin Howell) who’s been flagged by security (Hannah Smith) for possessing a number of suspicious items at the airport. In some dingy backroom, the traveller unveils the contents of each suitcase one by one, sharing the stories contained within to an automaton officer who just wants to know if those matches are flammable, actually.

While seemingly unconnected at first, the stories are woven together by a thematic thread that I won’t uncoil here. Each one is told with trademark Trick of the Light flair and effects that are special in all senses of the word. A moving trainset appears out of thin air; a rickety overhead projector unfolds to the beat of a retro space theme (sound design and composition by Tane Upjohn Beatson); a miniature town materialises, lit from within as if by magic; a love story for the ages plays out with nought but four LED lights and two hands (McCubbin Howell in a show highlight). It all climaxes in a hilarious scene featuring videographic wizardry (Dean Hewison) and two end-of-line officers (Anya-Tate Manning, Richard Falkner) tasked with screening the contents of the traveller’s last case. Prohibited items doesn’t begin to cut it.

Trick of the Light Theatre are self-professed notorious tinkerers. As someone who had the privilege of seeing The Suitcase Show twice, the only critiques I would have made had already been addressed by the second show. The only feedback I’ve got left now? Amazing.   

Witi’s Wāhine | Regional News

Witi’s Wāhine

Written by: Nancy Brunning

Directed by: Ngapaki Moetara and Teina Moetara

St James Theatre, 29th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Where you see one woman, you see a thousand, Witi’s Wāhine proclaims with the force of a raging storm, a standing army, an entire tangata past, present, and future echoing their voice. Woven together with the pages of Witi Ihimaera’s stories and golden threads of waiata, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts production is a tapestry of wāhine, whenua, and Māori wisdom.

Sitting downstage left, the chair with the crocheted blanket is the lone set piece for now, but it is not alone. Before actors even arrive, before guests take their seats, before the curtain rises, the chair sits occupied by memories of the past and impressions of the future, waiting in anticipation for the present to unfold. Once the performers join, there is silence. Roimata Fox, Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby, Kristyl Neho, and Olivia Violet Robinson-Falconer, with soft smiles on their lips, slowly pan the room, returning the gaze of each and every eye peering up at them. For a few minutes, we are nowhere but in the present.

For the next 120 minutes, we find ourselves somewhere in the in-between. Time and space crack and bend, ebb and flow as the cast, characters, and stories pass through the doors of the set walls (Penny Fit), portals to other realms less tangible than ours. The performers bring the set to life as they dance and fight, shuffle and take flight with unparalleled skill highlighted by brilliantly executed technical effects. The cast of eight are one but they are distinct, each playing a myriad of richly developed characters utterly singular yet somehow joined through their struggles, joys, and whakapapa.

Across the multi-coloured fabric of generations, storms rage, sunlight shines bright, blood drenches through William Smith’s evocative lighting design and Tyna Keelan’s immersive soundscape. Gossamer threads of pain and sorrow, wisdom and instinct stretch across history, twisting our heartstrings into a knot. But when the threads of time unwind, when the worlds of fiction and reality, legend and history uncoil, what remain are flax ribbons of laughter, joy, and love.

Hope | Regional News

Hope

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 February 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.