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Rhapsody | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 11th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Orchestra Wellington’s 2022 theme Circle of Friends played out in this concert with the centrepiece being Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, alongside his wife Clara Wieck’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, and their friend and supporter Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, a work given to the Schumanns’ daughter as a wedding present.

Overall, the concert delighted the audience as usual. However, the intensity of the beautiful and anguished opener Alto Rhapsody to me was missing. Mezzo-soprano Kristin Darragh combined with the Orpheus Choir Male Chorus and the orchestra to perform this work. While Darragh has a strong and lovely voice, the performance as a whole seemed curiously tentative.

Clara Schumann’s piano concerto was written between the ages of 12 and 15, when she was already much celebrated for her piano performances. Jian Liu, the soloist for this performance, was more than up to the virtuosic demands that the composer imposed on herself as the first performer of the work, delivering clarity, brilliance, speed, and elegant shaping of lyrical lines.

Conductor Mark Taddei provided the audience with an illuminating talk about Schumann’s symphony before performing it in full. He said it should be called Clara’s symphony, partly because it reflects the happiness of their marriage at the time and partly because the recurring theme within it spells out the name Clara, forwards, backwards, inverted, smoothly, spikily, and every which way. It is a glorious symphony, full of joyous energy, tenderness, and passion, sometimes lyrical, sometimes brooding. Standout moments were the song-like line of the oboe above the cellos in the second movement, the lyrical solo violin in the same movement, the early energy of the scherzo movement and its winding down to something sweeter and more gentle, the huge dramatic chords that blasted out from time to time breaking up the music’s flow, and then the thrilling pace of the finale.

The Professio(nah)ls | Regional News

The Professio(nah)ls

Presented by: Sincere Muckabouts

Te Auaha, 4th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Three fresh-faced, besuited but barefoot office workers unpack their desks and take to their keyboards for the first time. Their introduction to the world of work starts nicely enough as the two main protagonists (Caspar Ilschner and Otto Kosok) settle into their bland pods, wrestle with a box of tangled cables, joke with each other, and persuade their computers to work. However, as they get sucked into the unrelenting grind of corporatism, they are compelled to battle with constant phone calls from unseen managers, tedious meetings, a presentation about the latest financial report, business jargon, the effects of excessive caffeine consumption, and an overbearing competitiveness that descends into a literal and figurative fight for superiority. Finally, a headless, paper-stuffed boss arrives in a red-drenched nightmare to end the destruction and chaos.

For anyone who has spent time in an office job, this is all painfully familiar, but it’s unlikely you’d have ever seen your big business experiences presented in this way before. Ilschner and Kosok are consummate physical theatre cum dance performers whose athletic and carefully choreographed movements frequently mirror each other, only to be thrown into conflict as their initially friendly banter turns to vicious rivalry. They rarely speak, so their physicality is the main channel for their sophisticated symbolism and satire, which they deliver with great skill.

Martin Greshoff, as the third corporate lackey, provides a stunning live electronic soundtrack from his desk. His stark melodies are mixed with dial-up modem sounds, computer bleeps and dings, and disembodied voices. A further shoutout to Greshoff for his trombone-playing, which is a tender final counterpoint to his jangling digital soundscape.

Hollie Cohen’s design makes clever use of white cardboard boxes, paper screens, and animated projections that beautifully support the idea of an office environment while allowing the performers to create carnage in safety.

At one point in this highly original performance, a distant voice asks, “Do you work well under pressure?” The answer for these three is clearly and unequivocally, “Nah”.

Rope | Regional News


Written by: Patrick Hamilton

Directed by: Paul Stone and Helen Cashin

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 11th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

At first glance, Rope looks like your classic British murder mystery. There’s a murder, a motive, and a swanky cocktail party where the whisky flows freer than the secrets. There are also murderers, Wyndham Brandon (an unwavering Slaine McKenzie) and the erratic Charles Granillo (Tom Foy). Before you cry out that I’ve spoiled the show, I haven’t, and that’s what makes Rope so interesting. From the very first scene we know whodunnit and why.

The play then becomes an exercise in suspense. Will the party guests find the bones in the chest that they dine on? Will the murdered boy’s dad (Sir Johnstone Kentley, played with presence and pluck by co-director Paul Stone) discover his son lies crumpled but two feet away?

Because suspense is so integral to Rope, there are a handful of things that would get this production cracking along with more electricity. The pacing could accelerate in some scenes, particularly the long opener in the dark and the finale, where a slower build to the climax means it doesn’t have as much impact. Snappier exchanges of dialogue and more staccato vocal deliveries from the cast, plus tense music used more frequently (sound design by Jake Davis), would help to up the stakes. Davis’ lighting is often used to great effect, especially with a few well-timed blackouts, and there is an excellent rainy soundscape that could be ramped up with thunder and lighting.

The opulent set (Oliver Mander) positions the chest as a character in itself, while Hayley Knight and Wendy Howard’s sleek wardrobe adds to the absorbing aesthetic of an evening in the 1920s. Stone and co-director Helen Cashin’s decision not to modernise the setting proves to be a good one.

Special mention to Tim Macdonald as the gormless and charming Kenneth Raglan and Mandy Eeva Watkins as Leila Arden, who takes delight in everything ghastly. Together with Susannah Donovan (always a highlight), the fabulously French Stephanie Gartrell, and the shrewd Nick Edwards, these two outstanding performers complete the committed cast of this dark and sinister Wellington Repertory Theatre production.

Snapchat Dude Live! | Regional News

Snapchat Dude Live!

Directed by: Holly Chappell-Eason

The Opera House, 31st May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

You may recognise writer, actor, director, and comedian Tom Sainsbury from Wellington Paranormal or Give Us A Clue, a televised charades gameshow hosted by Paula Bennett. The former deputy prime minister of New Zealand is one of the many politicians Sainsbury has parodied on social media app Snapchat, so working with her on the show was quite the hoot, he tells us between endearing drags of his imaginary cigarette. Endearing because as he says, he doesn’t smoke in real life, only in his reenactments of it.

Snapchat Dude Live! is a mix of banter, storytelling, and Sainsbury’s famous Snapchat satires of middle New Zilunders. Snap videos of these impressions are projected onto two screens shaped like smartphones that form the centerpiece of the show (set by Chris Reddington, technical by Peter van Gent and Paul Randall). With wigs, a few costume staples, clever scripting, and whip-smart timing, Sainsbury interacts with pre-recordings of his characters live to tell a story in real time. And what a story it is!

I never thought I’d be so invested in a quietly sensitive lumberjack and a not-alcoholic cat lady who played hockey in high school. But Gav and Liz, I love you and I love your love.

Sainsbury brings his characters to life with a glint in his eye and a spring in his step. He adds a layer of depth to the shallowest of them and makes me like even the most unlikeable ones (although still screw you Tracey and Stacey) with the strength of his storytelling and performance.

I’d love to see Sainsbury’s confidence come up a notch when he’s interacting with the audience as himself. He tells some killer jokes and personal anecdotes that he doesn’t quite let land, moving on too quickly when we’re still busy laughing. I hope this doesn’t come out of a fear that he’s not as funny as his characters, because he certainly is.

Wicked fun and unexpectedly touching, Snapchat Live! is a blast from beginning to end with all the snooty cats in between.

Top Gun Maverick  | Regional News

Top Gun Maverick


137 mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

We have done it everyone. After some harsh (but honest) reviews over the last few issues, I have given my first five-star rating. And I can comfortably say that Tom Cruise’s latest venture Top Gun Maverick deserves all the praise it is about to get. An eye-popping blockbuster from start to finish, I would even make the case it tops its 1986 predecessor.

After serving for three decades as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Cruise) is called up as a last resort by his superiors to train a detachment of top graduates for a special assignment. While leading the group, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.

This film is thrilling. From the very first scene, audiences are treated to sensational sounds and visuals that are some of the most realistic I’ve ever seen and heard on the big screen. It’s realistic because it is real. In a special touch, Cruise himself welcomes visitors to the film, explaining that almost everything you witness is the real deal. In a time where seemingly everything is made with CGI, this approach was so refreshing. And best of all, I actually felt like I was in the cockpit myself during the blood-pumping action sequences, low-altitude flights, and airborne dogfights.

Top Gun Maverick uses nostalgia when necessary, but it also doesn’t overdo it. We can clearly see that Maverick has lived a life during the 30-year gap, while the film connects with his past enough to take us back. Through great writing, we feel that the emotional and dramatic stakes continue to rise as the story moves, but this is balanced out thanks to perfectly timed moments of humour. Cruise delivers another fantastic and witty Cruise-like performance and other cast members such as Miles Teller and Glen Powell support the star well.

A modern-day blockbuster that actually lives up to the hype, Top Gun Maverick is an adrenaline-filled joy ride that expertly touches on ideas around family, bravado, heroism, and sacrifice. In simple terms, it will take your breath away.

Sublime Interludes | Regional News

Sublime Interludes

Created by: Bjӧrn Åslund and Tabitha Dombroski

Circa Theatre, 26th May 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Sublime Interludes is created and performed by recent New Zealand School of Dance graduates Bjӧrn Åslund and Tabitha Dombroski, and it had its first staging in the 2022 New Zealand Fringe Festival. Through a minimalist set and evocative choreography, the work seeks to explore the highs and lows of human existence in a raw and unrefined way. The hour-long performance is a hypnotic journey through varying types of fear and anxiety, from the feeling of isolation, hopelessness, loneliness, to the ultimate battle or acceptance of those demons.

Åslund and Dombroski make a striking choreographic pair. Through closely danced duets and physicality they convey an impressive sense of one another’s presence and movement story. There is something special about a duo on stage, which allows more opportunity for the audience to understand and get to know the artists behind the work. For the emotionally charged and vulnerable purpose of Sublime Interludes, this is an ideal composition.

The dancers shift seamlessly between moments of serenity and soothing patterns then into extreme hyperactivity, which successfully emphasises the unpredictability of depression and anxiety. While they are both lovely to watch, their strength as performers shines in the more tender and balletic sequences. They easily create eloquent shapes with their bodies and leap deftly across the stage, highlighting elements of classical training.

Despite tackling a heavy theme, the creators ease the load by interweaving elements of humour and lightheartedness. In one scene, Åslund and Dombroski leap and spin across the stage, with large smiles on their faces to the tune of Baby Shark. And at the end we witness the performers coming to an acceptance and achieving reconnection, which is both beautiful and heart-breaking.

Sublime Interludes and the respective artists show a lot of promise, and their partnership is compelling, but there may still be a degree of untapped energy or confidence holding them back. I believe that with time and perhaps a few more performances under their belts, they will be able to uncover and cultivate their full potential.    

Too Much Hair | Regional News

Too Much Hair

Presented by: Butch Mermaid

Created by: Ania Upstill and William Duignan

BATS Theatre, 24th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Too Much Hair is a musical cabaret about gender euphoria (the state of bliss and comfort that happens when our gender expression is aligned with our identity). Starring Ania Upstill, William Duignan, JTHAN Morgan, and Felix Crossley-Pritchard, it feels like hanging out with your friends at a house party. With a band. And rainbow glitter everywhere. Everyone’s wearing sequins. You’re inside but you can pretty much guarantee unicorns and bunnies are frolicking around in the garden, where there are almost certainly fairy lights strung up in the trees. Honestly, it feels like the best house party ever.

Joyful is the best word for Too Much Hair and I’m going to keep coming back to it, not for a lack of access to a thesaurus, but because it’s the most appropriate and accurate way to describe this show. It makes me feel joyful and the cast radiates joy at every turn, particularly in songs like Joyfriend (complete with rap segment, kudos Upstill) and Affirmed in a Bookshop, a rocky number with killer guitar riffs by Duignan and rowdy vocals from Crossley-Pritchard, who plays keys beautifully throughout the show.

The structure is much like a concert, where audiences are treated to a considered setlist with interludes of banter outlining the context of the songs. Spoken word poems are woven throughout, with the three-part Traveller a poignant highlight. Tony Black’s lighting design captures the starlight in the performers’ eyes in these deep and emotional segments that fill my tummy with butterflies.

Another highlight is Morgan’s jaw-dropping performance of Monster, with powerhouse vocals that elicit many a whoop from the starstruck crowd. Monster further illustrates co-creators Upstill and Duignan’s expert navigation of the bouncy and the still, the moving and the silly, the joyful and the tender.

Too Much Hair moves a mile a minute and is so fun. It knocks you right off your feet with colour and sparkle (costume design by Sarah Bell, set design by Jade Alborn). And the titular song? Still stuck in my head!

Cringeworthy – The 80s | Regional News

Cringeworthy – The 80s

Directed by: Andrea Sanders

Circa Theatre, 20th May 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

I should state upfront that the 1980s is my decade. I turned 13 in 1984 and my iTunes library is even now loaded with hits from that era. This also seemed to be the case for much of the well-sauced preview night audience at Circa as Cringeworthy – The 80s took to the stage in all its big-haired, Lycra-clad, fluoro glory.

Beneath a giant glitterball, the cast of four (Andrea Sanders, Devon Neiman, Susie Dunn, and Matt Mulholland) energetically pump out Kiwi classics by everyone from Split Enz and Jenny Morris to The Mockers and The Holidaymakers in a first half dedicated to homegrown talent. The fact that three-quarters of the cast weren’t even alive in the 1980s doesn’t deter them from fully embracing the decade that taste forgot. Despite occasionally erratic sound levels and fuzzy mics, they intersperse the pop favourites with factoids about 1980s Kiwi history to knowing murmurs from the audience. A recurring theme is the unfortunate trend for New Zealand bands of the time to move to Australia to find fame as the local music scene wasn’t developed enough for their ambitions.

The energy and cheese amp up in the second half when the cast explode onto the stage with Mi-Sex and follow it with a non-stop deluge of British New Wave hits from the likes of The Human League, Culture Club, and Depeche Mode. Moving onto dance movies and power ballads, Sanders and Dunn’s rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, complete with billowing sheet, is the highlight of the show for me.

With impressive dance moves, especially from Neiman and Mulholland’s lizard-like hips, strong singing voices, a gorgeously pink set (Shiloh Dobie), funky lighting (Joshua Tucker), and ridiculous get-ups (Sanders and Creative Show Off Costume Hire), this show is fun with a capital F. Audience participation, singalongs, and clapping are strongly encouraged and don’t forget your lighters (read cell phone torches) for the finale of Crowded House’s Hey Now.

Long live the 80s!

Spring Symphony | Regional News

Spring Symphony

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 21st May 2022

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

The undoubted highlight of this excellent concert was The All-Seeing Sky by John Psathas, Orchestra Wellington’s composer-in-residence. The work is scored for orchestra and two percussion instruments, marimba and vibraphone. They were played by Swiss artists, Fabian Ziegler and Luca Staffelbach, with whom Psathas worked during the composition process. Quite apart from the music, this was a visual delight with the percussionists wielding their mallets like magicians.­

Psathas described the music as grim, dealing with Dante’s underworld. But in fact, while there was furious strength and rhythmic drama, there was also great delicacy and the creation of beautiful soundscapes. This was partly thanks to the qualities of the solo instruments, and partly to the beautiful passages where they were coupled with individual instruments such as the bassoon, cello, clarinet, harp, and whispering strings.

Enough of Psathas! There were two other wonderful performances in this concert! Orchestra Wellington’s theme for the season is Circle of Friends featuring works by Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara, by Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny, and by Brahms and others whose lives were intertwined.  

Fanny Mendelssohn’s Overture in C opened the concert. After a thoughtful and graceful introduction, the work breaks out into a very attractive liveliness which leads to a bold, final burst of energy. What might Fanny have produced if she were not a woman at the wrong time in history, constrained by family wealth and position as well. The orchestra gave a sparkling performance of her work.

It was only when Robert Schumann married Clara that he turned to symphonic composition producing the masterly Spring Symphony, conducted by Mendelssohn at the first performance. It is a hugely joyful work with new life flowing and bursting out relentlessly. Taddei luxuriated in both the energy and the tender passion expressed in the work.

Thank you, Orchestra Wellington.