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Reviews

Uma Lava | Regional News

Uma Lava

Written by: Victor Rodger

Directed by: Vela Manusaute

Circa Theatre, 22nd Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Three unpleasant people find themselves locked in a room together. Reverend Stella (Goretti Chadwick), academic Lina (Anapela Polata’ivao), and politician Garth (Mario Faumui) each operate under the guise of benevolence, pretending to serve others while only looking out for number one. In Uma Lava, all three of them pay for it.

The first thing I’d like to say about Uma Lava is that I should have stood up at the end of it. I think my legs had turned to lead from shock, my brain too busy trying to process the depraved hour I’d just witnessed (read: screamed through). I’ve never seen anything more outrageous, crass, or disgusting. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more real, raw, or bold. In the programme notes, Victor Rodger says writing Uma Lava was the most fun he’s ever had in his life. After watching it, I could say the same.

Now that the gushing is (nearly) over, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I can’t spoil the overall premise of the show, but the room it all takes place in is superbly designed (Sean Coyle), with Jennifer Lal’s dramatic lighting scheme raising the stakes. Filth and muck pervade the space – so much so, I swear I could smell one scene. However, that’s partly a credit to Polata’ivao and her fearless embrace of such a nauseating character.

Chadwick is totally transformed from her role in Still Life With Chickens, delivering flawless comedic timing and pretty sweet dance moves. Paul McLaughlin (known simply as T.D) plays evil with glee. Faumui is the anchor, holding it all together as the one we love to hate the most. His character has zero remorse – even at the very end.

The very end, as it were, sees each character realise they are never, ever getting out of that room. Watching the revelation dawn on all three faces reminds me of the incomparable power of the theatre. It’s a moment – and a play – that will stay with me forever.

Resurrection | Regional News

Resurrection

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Edo de Waart

Michael Fowler Centre, 22nd Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The NZSO set about performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Resurrection, a panoptic musical opus. From the addition of two vocal soloists and the combined efforts of the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and the Orpheus Choir, to a panoramic soundscape achieved through off-stage horns and woodwinds, Resurrection was packed with surprises. Conductor Edo de Waart’s effortless control over the 220-odd musicians involved was astounding.

Mahler’s second symphony was a fantastic example of the variety and innovation that can be found in classical music of this period. Debuted in 1895, the relatively modern work encompassed that which came before it but even now feels futuristic in its approach. Menace and triumph, romance and betrayal, there was no end to the stories it had to tell.

Soprano Lauren Snouffer and mezzo-soprano Anna Larsson had one hell of a job. To rise above such a kaleidoscopic sound was no mean feat, but both voices flew with ease. Larsson’s solo was a highlight, with a mellow tone warm enough to melt butter but strong enough to convey the symphony’s darker moments.

Other highlights included a sinister introduction from the cellos (a section that stood out for their solidarity throughout the performance), strong percussion with the most powerful timpani rolls these ears have heard, and a sweet pizzicato segment in the second movement, which the strings nailed.

It all came together in the epic climax, which the orchestra pushed through with total clarity despite their numbers. If anything was lacking in this moment it was the choirs, their sound slightly drowned at the back of the Michael Fowler Centre.

In his final Wellington performance as musical director for the NZSO, de Waart proved himself as a force that will be missed. Under his cool, calm baton, I was almost fooled into believing this was just another performance, rather than an ambitious, striking, and graceful exit.

Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime | Regional News

Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 22nd Dec 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Alice (the eternally energetic Natasha McAllister) is a smart, capable student who wouldn’t put a toe out of line. When her friend White Rabbit (the luminous Sarah Lineham) shows up hyped up on energy drinks and off to a party in Wonderland, Alice becomes curiouser and curiouser. Just where is this topsy-turvy Wonderland where animals pet humans and the Ps are silent?

Hoping for an audition with Alice’s uncle Peter Jackson, aspiring actress and hand model Dame Marjori (the best Dame yet from Gavin Rutherford) follows Alice down the rabbit hole.

In Wonderland, Alice and Marjori meet Mad Hatter (technically Mad Phatter, played by a delightfully loopy Simon Leary), Tweedle Dum (some sparky moments from Andrew Paterson) and Tweedle Dee (gorgeous vocals but a bit of a subdued performance from Susie Berry), and a host of other kooky characters. They’re all under the thumb of the fierce, sassy Queen of Hearts (standout performer Jonathan Morgan) and her beastly Jabberwock.

Of course, there’s singing and dancing galore (musical direction and arrangement by Michael Nicholas Williams, musical staging by Leigh Evans). While the whole cast is vocally proficient, the songs are set too low for a lot of the voices. This means there aren’t many moments for the singing to shine.

The Circa Theatre pantomime is an uproarious affair for adults and children alike. Topical, localised jokes keep the grownups cackling while the littlies enjoy action and interaction in spades (or in this case, hearts). A touching highlight of Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime is when the youngsters are all called on stage to sing Love, Love, Love with Alice and the Dame, who by now is clad all in sequins. Yes queen.

With incredible costumes by Sheila Horton (Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee’s are knockouts), Lucas Neal’s vibrant set design, and Marcus McShane’s exciting lighting design, Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime is an explosion of colour and joy that I’d happily see again.

Ford v. Ferrari | Regional News

Ford v. Ferrari

(M)

152 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Director James Mangold takes a story reserved for car enthusiasts and makes its messages universal and its action tense, though a brighter light could have been shined on the multiple personalities that fuelled Ford’s historic battle with Ferrari.

In the 1960s, the Ford Motor Company is looking for a new audience and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has his eyes on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Infuriated when Ferrari (who had won the previous six races) refuses to cut a deal with the American manufacturer, Ford throws money at Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to build a car that will defeat the Italians. However, Shelby must fight for his preferred driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be behind the wheel.

Ford v. Ferrari excels where it should: the racing. The climactic 1966 Le Mans race is a true nail-biter that manages to capture the speed on the track and intensity of Miles behind the wheel. Well-paced and never visually confusing, Mangold, the man responsible for Logan (2017), solidifies himself as a formidable action director.

While Damon and Bale perform to their usual high standards, other characters are somewhat sidelined, which is a shame as many of them have a similarly crucial stake in the final race. The most developed of them is Henry Ford II, with Letts delivering the standout supporting performance. Miles’ wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), Ford executive Lee lacocca (Jon Bernthal), and Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) are characters that fall victim to this, even within a two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Still, it was fascinating to explore the difficulty of engineering a car that could survive and win Le Mans, and the mindset of a determined racer. The film also cleared up a puzzling piece of history: how another Ford driver, our own Bruce McLaren, was declared the victor when he crossed the line at the same time as Miles.

While it doesn’t use its entire runtime wisely, Ford v. Ferrari is a thrilling film that a surprisingly wide audience will enjoy.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub | Regional News

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub

Written by: Kieran Craft

Directed by: Cassandra Tse

JJ Murphy & Co, 14th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub is a play in a pub. To anyone wondering how that might work, I can now provide an answer: in the hands of Red Scare Theatre Company, it works a treat!

Darragh (Finlay Langelaan) has inherited the Green Barrow from his late father. He keeps the pub exactly the same – even down to the expired Midori and the dangerous step at the front door. But when his sister Aisling (a sassy performance filled with soul from Aimee Sullivan) returns home from her travels, and handsome stranger Arad (Alex Rabina) shows up at the door (mind the step), Darragh discovers life doesn’t get better by chance; it gets better by change.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub is a wonderful gay love story about finding your place in the world within and without your family. Darragh and Arad’s relationship is one that makes my face hurt from smiling. Their tender affection for each other is heightened by two talented actors who deliver chemistry in spades.

Each character is carefully crafted and lovingly brought to life by a playwright, director, and cast working seamlessly as one. Performances simmer and boil at just the right moments thanks to great instincts honed by Tse’s guiding hand. Hilary Norris as Nuala, Karen Anslow as Caitlin, and Ralph Johnson as Glendon (all three of whom are hilarious) round out a committed cast that doesn’t bat one eyelash at the noise of the pub below. The rising rowdiness often serves the play beautifully, but does detract from the sweeter moments for me.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub features the best incorporation of music I’ve seen in a long while, with stomping Irish songs played by an effervescent band of Sullivan, Emily Griffiths, Thomas Whaley, and musical director Michael Stebbings. I so wish the audience had been invited to join in, if only to add to the joy of an evening already overflowing with it.

Meeting Karpovsky | Regional News

Meeting Karpovsky

Directed by: Sue Rider

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sylvia (Helen Moulder) lives alone in a big empty house with a garden overrun by wisteria. Her daughter Anna has flown the nest to China, leaving behind boxes of her old things. With only her posters of the great dancer Alexander Karpovsky for company, Sylvia periodically clears the boxes, deciding which items to donate and which to keep. All the while, she chats to herself and of course, her posters, which depict Karpovsky in his various roles: Petrouchka, Widow Simone, Albrecht, and Herr Drosselmeyer, the magician in The Nutcracker.

It’s a fantastic set-up for a show and immediately reminds me of my own behaviour when going through such monotonous motions. Moving house, clearing out a wardrobe, re-arranging a bedroom… I always find a way to keep myself entertained, as does Sylvia. The beginning of Meeting Karpovsky beautifully represents the stock we put in possessions, too, with Anna’s clothes taking Sylvia back to another time and place.

Starting on such an earthly, relatable plane eases the audience into what turns into a whimsical fantasy when the real-live Karpovsky (Sir John Trimmer) arrives on the scene. With Karpovsky in the room the pace picks up. A gorgeous and powerful transition (original design by David Thornley, original lighting design by Phillip Dexter) begins to repeat with more and more frequency. Dance, song, and even mime are intricately woven into the work, adding electricity but never detracting from the story.

And yet, there are moments of such profound stillness. A mime performance from Trimmer playing Karpovsky playing the puppet Petrouchka brings a tear (well, a few tears) to my companion’s eye. As he gently binds Sylvia’s “dodgy ankle”, the audience holds its collective breath. The connection between the characters and the brilliant actors playing them touches many a chord.

Meeting Karpovsky is tender and sweet and filled with sorrow. At the same time, it’s funny and charming and a real cracker of a piece. It makes meaning out of grief and the aching longing for human connection. Bring a hankie.

Hansel & Gretel | Regional News

Hansel & Gretel

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 6th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s iteration of the classic Brothers Grimm tale is the ‘swan song’ of long-standing company member and choreographer in residence, Loughlan Prior. Hansel & Gretel is Prior’s first full-length work and with Claire Cowan’s original music and Kate Hawley’s design, it is both terrifying and utterly enchanting.

With flourishes of glitter and looming shadows, the production is gothic noir meets carnival candy floss. In the opening act, which evokes stylish silent cinema, we are introduced to the grim lives of Hansel and Gretel, danced by Shaun James Kelly and Kirby Selchow. The siblings are bullied mercilessly by their peers and come from a fragile homelife, relying on one another for both childhood cheer and comfort. Kelly and Selchow perform with tender joy and demonstrate an excellent stage dynamic. Their duets are refined and in-sync, and their harmony remains dominant throughout.

The work journeys through an expressionistic backdrop and is home to all manner of peculiar characters; exaggerated Donnie Darko-esque rabbits tiptoe through a forest of forks, a moon of cheese watches through the night with an ice-cream lodged into its right eye (a lá A Trip to the Moon), and the charismatic witch, eloquently performed by Katharine Precourt, shimmies across the stage like a theatrical talk show host. The heart of the production is a rich and beloved story and the dancers are forced to explore more than just pirouettes and pliés. Kudos to Paul Matthews, often the picture of refinement, for playing the transformed witch with absurd panache.

Hansel & Gretel has many moving parts but manages to deliver a cinematic theatre experience. Hawley’s costume and set design drip with glamour and magic and Cowan’s composition (performed by Orchestra Wellington) is bold and timeless. With Prior’s distinctive choreographic flair, the collaborators have created a fantastical pastiche which is fully supported by a passionate cast of dancers.

Bursting with unique artistry, surrealism, and dexterous humour, Hansel & Gretel is a production bound to enchant the masses.

ransom. | Regional News

ransom.

Directed by: Neenah Dekkers-Reihana and Stella Reid

Running at BATS Theatre until 16th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

ransom. is the most unique work I’ve ever seen. The only thing that comes close to it is Second Unit, an interactive experience that took over Circa Theatre earlier this year. While ransom. activates all the spaces of BATS Theatre in much the same way, it stands apart in its narrative. A rich, textural story is woven through the very fabric of this piece. Every room, every body, every detail ties back to a plot conscientiously devised by Robbie Nicol, Finnius Teppett, and co-directors Stella Reid and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana.

The year is 2024, and One New Zealand Party leader Katie Wakefield has been kidnapped. Clever propaganda in the lobby lets us know Katie is profoundly racist, although the initial video we see loses a bit of this sentiment in crafty camera effects. Once we watch the video, our group of three is taken through the building on a wild ride to discover the culprit.

Audiences themselves inhabit various roles – we’re a family, then we’re students, partygoers, the list goes on. Actors let us know what character we’re playing next without much preamble. My favourite ‘scene’ is when media mogul Kupe (Sepelini Mua'au) thrusts three clipboards, three suit jackets, and three lanyards into our hands and makes us fathom news headlines while putting on deodorant. Remarkably, “Katie Wakefield goes missing, oh no!” is the winner for our group.

The bow is tied a little too neatly for my liking at the end. Every element we see during the show is incorporated into a final explanation, but some of the links feel a little tenuous, especially around the role of the clairvoyant Ffion (a playful performance from Jean Sergent).

Rose Kirkup’s phenomenal, vivid production design brings the world of the play to life. This makes its message hit harder. The things that happen in the work are happening here. ransom. could very well be our 2024. Don’t let it be a warning; let it be a call to action.

Te Māpouriki Dusk | Regional News

Te Māpouriki Dusk

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Jun Märkl

Michael Fowler Centre, 24th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

It had been a number of years since I’d enjoyed the full force of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and Te Māpouriki Dusk was the perfect reintroduction. It was rehearsed to the measure; the concert felt effortless, a stress-free environment where musical freedom and fun prevailed.

The programme comprised five pieces that varied in every way one could imagine. At a glance I feared this would make for an incohesive show – a new work by Kiwi composer Kenneth Young, a lavish Mozart symphony, a horn feature, Schumann’s romantic first symphony – it seemed a bit much. Following the debut of Te Māpouriki – Dusk it all took shape. This was a show about journeys, through music, time, and space.

Never had I witnessed a conductor with as much vibrance as Jun Märkl. His control over dynamics and emotional output was simply astonishing, and perfectly conveyed to the orchestra.

Young’s piece opened the concert, grounding us in New Zealand before setting sail. It portrayed Captain James Cook’s trip from Europe to the Pacific, and we felt every bit of turbulence along the way. The piece exemplified Young’s marvellous understanding of the language. It had so many moving parts and transitions that caught us off-guard but never felt random, although it would have benefitted from some melodic repetition for the sake of clarity.

Principal horn Samuel Jacobs was responsible for the set’s highlight with Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, op. 11. His solo was the most visceral moment of the night; gliding over the orchestra, I felt as if I was floating there with him. He followed this with an encore on a valve-less horn. How he established such a warm tone and a lyrical, pitch-perfect sound on this primeval instrument I’ll never know.

My friend, attending his first classical concert, left the show with fascinating questions and awesome observations. For the uninitiated, this was a great introduction to the classical world. For the familiar, it was just great.