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Brandenburg | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, 11th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

A music-rich weekend had started with a fine Friday night classical programme, Mozart and Salieri, and was followed with a feast of the best baroque in Brandenburg on Saturday night. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos were so named because they were found in the Brandenburg archives 99 years after Bach’s death. Like Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major in Friday’s concert, they were not performed during the composer’s lifetime but are widely considered to be some of the best orchestral works of the Baroque period.

The soloists Bridget Douglas (flute), Yuka Eguchi (director/violin), and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes (harpsichord) were accompanied by a small chamber orchestra for Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. The acoustics in the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul are quite different from the Michael Fowler Centre. The high ceiling and stone structure added a short echo, well suited to the balance and tone and the Baroque sound. The first movement includes a long and spectacular harpsichord cadenza, exceptionally well played by Griffiths-Hughes.

Brandenburg No. 5 is the first concerto written with a solo keyboard part and the next piece, Telemann’s Concerto for Viola in G Major, is the first viola concerto to be written. I have a soft spot for the little-known and often-overlooked viola. Soloist Alexander McFarlane played with skill and feeling and a really lovely tone from the first slow movement to the fourth and final fast movement.

Handel’s Concerto Grosso in G Major No. 1 was introduced by principal second violin Andrew Thomson, who also explained the difference between a Baroque and modern bow – it’s all to do with the hair! Handel explored a variety of styles and techniques in the five movements making up the concerto and the strings sounded magnificent in the church acoustics.

To conclude, Telemann’s Overture Suite in G Minor, La Changeante, was a series of eight playful postcards depicting a wide variety of styles and form from a musical holiday in France.

Mozart & Salieri | Regional News

Mozart & Salieri

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is bringing itself up to date as carefully and subtly as a national institution can. In the last month we have enjoyed the glorious and joyful return of Te Matatini and Polyfest, both taking the stage after suffering the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic on our performing arts. In this post-pandemic renaissance, the NZSO is working to extend its reach to new audiences. Director Vesa-Matti Leppänen gave us an informative, humorous introduction to each half in which he outlined the programme and introduced us to the music we would hear. Full programme notes are now only in digital form, the audience referring to a simple run sheet for guidance on the night.

A scaled-back chamber orchestra, not sitting but standing, opened with a bright, lively start from the strings and Haydn’s short Overture to L’Infedelta delusa. This was followed by Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for orchestra and a woodwind quartet. Lost for almost a century, the sinfonia was not played in Mozart’s lifetime but the NZSO soloists did a tremendous job on the night, well balanced and articulate.

The outstanding part of the programme was Antonio Salieri’s 26 Variations on La Folia di Spagna. 26 variations present opportunity for an impressive range of musical styles, forms, instrumental combinations, and solo performances. Leppänen had set the scene for us to be able to listen for the differences, enriching the experience for a very receptive audience. The musicians rose to the challenge as well as ever and some outstanding playing matched the complexity of the composition.

Hummel’s Eight Variations and Coda on O du Lieber Augustin is based on a familiar children’s song and the audience was encouraged to join in and hum the theme. The concert ended on a lighter, simpler note but it was Salieri’s sophisticated and extraordinary variations I will seek out for future listening.

Get Stuffed | Regional News

Get Stuffed

Created by: Semi Cho

Bedlam & Squalor, 9th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Get Stuffed promises so much: “a creepy uncle’s man cave showcasing a curated taxidermy collection” and a line-up of comedians who “ask the hard-hitting questions around the double standards of stuffing a bird”. And, indeed, there are some choice examples of weird stuffing on display – an inflated blowfish with stuck-on googly eyes, a sexily reclining fox, and a toucan being embraced by a Barbie doll. These are the “4am delusions and drunken purchases” of comedian Semi Cho whose debut Fringe Festival Show this is.

The delivery of this promise, however, comes up a little short. Cho’s introduction is amusingly quirky, starting with a confession about how much she loves funerals because most people are just there for the catering, and her obsession with “glamorous roadkill”.

She then introduces the first of her guests, Australian Darryl Wilson. His short set is fine in and of itself with a bit of politics and a diatribe about bringing one’s whole self to work. It’s hard to see how it fits with the theme of stuffed animals, though, as it seems like a routine he would perform anywhere rather than one tailored to this show.

Michael Macaulay, Cho’s second guest, does try to get with the programme and relates three surprisingly funny jokes he asked ChatGPT to create on the theme of animals. He also recreates what Sir David Attenborough sounded like before he lost his Middlesborough accent (the TV legend actually grew up in Leicester but hey, don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story!) and tells a titter-inducing tale of accidentally peeing on a hedgehog.

Both guests are also invited by Cho to perform a touch test on a stuffed animal hidden under a blanket. Wilson’s turns out to be a rooster, spawning the inevitable cock joke, and Macaulay’s is a surprised-looking cat, clearly once someone’s much-loved pet.

Get Stuffed is a brave effort at an original comedy show but needs stronger attention to unity of theme.

The Big Drum Off – Rodger Fox Big Band 50th Anniversary  | Regional News

The Big Drum Off – Rodger Fox Big Band 50th Anniversary

The Opera House, 8th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Graeme King

There was a buzz of expectation in the Opera House foyer on Wednesday night. Many local musicians also made the pilgrimage to witness three top American drumming legends performing with the Rodger Fox Big Band as part of The Big Drum Off Concert Tour, celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary.

Rodger Fox CMNZ has led his band to become an institution in New Zealand and overseas over the last 50 years, and he has played with some of the world’s biggest names in jazz and blues. He is held in such high esteem that legendary musicians of the calibre of Gregg Bissonette, Peter Erskine, and Dennis Chambers are here to play with him and his band. 

The drummers each had a 30-minute set in which to showcase their own style and taste, and this allowed the Big Band soloists to feature. 

Bissonette, a jazz and rock drummer, was up first. Starting with a breathtaking version of Fireshaker, he moved on to the old jazz standard Just in Time. Stratus was followed by Time Check. During one of Bissonette’s spectacularly complex solos I actually lost the beat – but it only took a glance at Fox’s left trouser leg, which was steadfastly keeping time, to find it!

The second set featured Erskine, who has appeared on over 700 albums and film scores. At times his more delicate, nuanced classic jazz style was simply stunning. His open-mouthed smile was infectious. He started with Miles Davis’ Full Nelson followed by Still of the Night, Groove, and Sunday Morning and finished with his composition Hawaii Bathing Suit. 

Last up was Chambers, who is known for his impeccable and funky timing and fast chops – not to mention his jazz fusion, funk, and Latin music playing. He didn’t disappoint. Cissy Strut, Soul Sacrifice, and Sister Sadie led to his final tune Some Skunk Funk, where the funk power didn’t let up. 

The encore Ruth, with all three drummers on stage together, was a jazz masterclass by world-class musicians – including the homegrown ones. It was indeed a night to remember.

Moonroe’s Happy Hour | Regional News

Moonroe’s Happy Hour

Created by: Laura Oakley and Jackson Cordery

Te Auaha, 7th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Marilyn Moonroe (Laura Oakley), a diva with a lunar crescent for a head, and her sidekick Sonny (Jackson Cordery) warmly welcome you to Te Auaha for 60 minutes of variety performance.

Using a miniature leaf blower to recreate the classic moment from The Seven Year Itch where Marilyn Monroe’s white dress is blown up by a subway vent, this is a cute and quirky hour of songs, silliness, and sensational circus.

‘Stage manager’ Britney Spears pops on to set out six hula hoops on the floor and we’re treated to a flawless hoop-twirling display by Lightning Lola (Oakley). An attempt at a sexy striptease by Mark Malady (Cordery) to the song Fever is comically ruined by COVID symptoms, and so the fun continues.

Sitting in the front row is not for the faint-hearted as several audience members are brought into the action. One gamely pops a balloon from between the legs of Oakley while she’s in an open-legged handstand. Another has an improvised song written about her by a nervous pomegranate with a tiny ukulele.

Always polite and inclusive, Oakley and Cordery are charming performers with some mean circus skills. Cordery’s silks and aerial routines are spectacular and Oakley’s floor routines slick and strong. They also have a gift for light-heartedness and audience interaction that makes everyone feel a part of their world. It’s refreshing to experience a comedic performance that is uplifting rather than relying on putting others down.

A bare, black-box stage is used well to deliver the big circus numbers and the smaller, more intimate pieces. Dean Holdaway’s lighting creates a dazzling whirl of spotlights and two blinders at the back of the stage facilitate a dramatic entrance for Moonroe at the start of the show.

If you’re looking for something a bit different this Fringe Festival where you’re made to feel you belong, you can’t go wrong with Moonroe’s Happy Hour. After all, as Moonroe says, we’re just seeds in one big pomegranate.

Women Drinking Hemlock | Regional News

Women Drinking Hemlock

Written by: Sacha Acland

Directed by: B Wilson Kilby

Gryphon Theatre, 7th Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

I never thought I would see a sitcom presented not on television, but on stage. In Women Drinking Hemlock, writer Sacha Acland executes a theatrical sitcom with ease. Inspired by the title of a lost Greek play, the show follows two rival breweries seeking out their slice of Wellington's nightlife. One is owned by Archie (Nathan Arnott), entrenched in misogyny and toxicity. The other is owned by Maven (Alanah Munn), new to the brewery business, overflowing with optimism and hope.

The show strikes a perfect balance between realism and comedy. Through the expertise of the actors, the action doesn’t feel too slapstick, but nor does it feel too dreary in tone. The hijinks aren’t too ridiculous, and likewise, the heavier moments aren’t too turgid. Even though we only get to meet the characters briefly, it feels we have known them for quite some time.

I find it clever how the set design (Helen Oliver) and lighting design (Teddy O’Neill) clearly differentiate the two breweries. We can see a striking contrast between Archie’s dark and barren brewery and Maven’s, which is more enticing and homely. Not only that, but the show is extremely accessible, providing audio descriptions as well as captions by Alexander Garside throughout the performance. Additionally, touch tours of the set are available.

I feel that an incorporation of music would alleviate the few awkward silences and assist in portraying the emotions of the scenes better. I would also be interested to see the character of Sam (Holly Kennedy) fleshed out a little more, as they feel like the only character to not have a complete story arc. I can certainly see this play being translated into an actual televised sitcom easily.

Women Drinking Hemlock is thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it if you want a night of both laughter and drama that doesn’t sacrifice one for the other.

Triangle of Sadness | Regional News

Triangle of Sadness


140 minutes

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Sprawled out on the bow of a luxury yacht cruising the Greek isles, a perfectly poised and bejeweled vieux riche hand cradles an Aperol while the smell of fresh pasta wafts up from below deck, the sea gently lapping the boat, someone in the distance quoting Homer or Virgil for good measure. It’s the epitome of unattainable class and refinement of an almost unreal world. Don’t be fooled by the turquoise water of the Aegean or the saccharine deference of the staff…  for something lurks beneath the surface.

A quintessentially European film, Swedish writer and director Ruben Östlund’s newest film Triangle of Sadness has already received a Palme d’Or for best film at Cannes Film Festival and will likely win many more in the upcoming awards season. A wickedly clever satirical dark comedy, Triangle of Sadness dissects, dismembers, and spits back out the intricacies of social hierarchy.

Divided into three acts, the first carefully tiptoes around gender roles and the privilege (or curse) of being beautiful via celebrity couple Yaya (the beautiful, talented, and tragically late Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson). In act two Carl and Yaya are gifted a trip on a luxury cruise in exchange for advertising on their social media channels. Surrounded by the uber-rich, the yacht seems a dream come true until rough seas both within and without see the rehearsed congeniality and phony gentility devolve into, well… excrement. In a fight for survival, the passengers battle (graphic) food poisoning and a hijacked intercom echoing an argument about capitalism and communism during nausea-inducing high seas. Blatant allegory at its finest.

By act three the survivors marooned on an island find themselves in a Lord of the Flies situation in which lineage and wealth are no longer valued and it is real-world survival skills that crown a new leader (Dolly De Leon). Beauty, however, becomes directly linked to power, reversing the gender roles of act one. There are so many small details that truly elevate this film to greatness.

Triangle of Sadness is a rotten and festering meal of social hierarchy served on a silver platter, and it’s absolutely delicious.

Two Very Serious Plays  | Regional News

Two Very Serious Plays

Presented by: The Awkward Company

Written by: Ryan Holtham and Alex Fox

Gryphon Theatre, 4th March 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Are you ready to get enlightened? The Awkward Company invites us to learn two very serious lessons from Two Very Serious Plays.

First on the double bill is Tightbutt, a crash course on how to be tough presented by Johnny Beranucci (Ryan Holtham). The youngest Don of his Mafia family, he knows a thing or two about being tough and breaks it down in his 10-step programme. Johnny is the epitome of what he preaches – “Chew gum. Get yourself a nice weapon. Have a catchphrase.” But the veil soon slips, and the weight of ‘sucking it up to be a man’ becomes too much. A witty yet heart-rending piece.

Next we learn The Meaning of Art from not just any artist, but the great
Phillip James-Lucy-Smith XXVIII (Alex Fox). Phillip deconstructs what art, theatre, and acting is, all while poo-pooing comedy as an artform. He is steadfast in his volition that artistry and comedy are unequal, with ironic results. The more Phillip tries to show the integrity of art, the more stage blunders he encounters. As a final resort, a letter from the first of his line turns everything he believes on its head.

Across both pieces, our protagonists come from a long lineage and have carried on both their names and their ideals, perhaps intended as a reminder of how prior generations impact and shape us – even when it's not always productive. This makes for a lovely through-line between the pieces that unlocks extra depth.

Both Tightbutt and The Meaning of Art present their own commentary on seriousness: the seriousness of being open with your emotions and the true strength it requires, and the need for joviality and comedy to help us through the seriousness of life and its everyday tragedies. This perfectly summarises the efficacy of Two Very Serious Plays and the impression it leaves – a hilarious joy to watch with the heart to match.

Other Futures Big Band X Gallery Orchestra | Regional News

Other Futures Big Band X Gallery Orchestra

Hannah Playhouse, 1st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Graeme King

The New Zealand Fringe Festival is an annual arts festival held in Wellington whereby “participants are encouraged to take a creative and artistic risk”. The collaboration between the Other Futures Big Band and Gallery Orchestra, a co-production between Daniel Hayles (conductor) and Leah Thomas (clarinetist) involving over 50 musicians, certainly contained an element of risk!

This was a controlled, melodic cacophony of sound – at times the big band's powerful force blending with the soothing, almost dreamlike orchestral pieces. The hour-long concert consisted of five instrumentals, and four songs each featuring two very popular local guest vocalists, Wallace Gollan and Zoe Moon, both providing very different but assured vocal styles and musical genres.

The first instrumental For Sale demonstrated the excellent sound mix, thanks to sound engineer Marc Freeman, and special mention also to lighting designer Joshua Tucker for the ambient lighting that ensured the audience could see all musicians at all times. 

Hayles described the second track as “a spiritual jazz ECM take on Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”. Johnny Lawrence's stunning bass solo had shades of Mingus, and Dave Wilson on sax also featured.

Wallace’s at times scat-like vocals featured on her song Every Stroke, with a beautiful sax solo by Aiden McCulloch. Zoe Moon’s I Like the Rain showcased her powerful vocal range and featured an inspired trombone solo by Kaito Walley. Moon praised Hayles' arrangement of the Nina Simone song Baltimore, which included a soaring trumpet solo by Ben Hunt.

Guitarist Callum Allardice’s original Dark Love, with a fluid George Benson-esque solo, highlighted his compositional and musical talents.

Wallace’s gorgeous vocals on Orchid Care, together with Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa’s complex, energetic drum solo, were both highlights. Saxophonist and composer Louisa Williamson’s The White Room showcased the considerable talent on display.

The last track, Hayles’ Mark of the Axeman, featured a breathtaking sax solo by Bryn van Vliet and brought the performance to a close. The audience’s ecstatic clapping and cheering showed how successful the collaboration project had been. Full marks to co-producers Thomas and Hayles.