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Reviews

The Woman in Black | Regional News

The Woman in Black

Written by: Susan Hill and Stephen Mallatratt

Directed by: David Cox

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 12th Nov 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

An old Arthur Kipps (Martin Tidy) has hired The Actor (Tim Macdonald) to help tidy up his five-hour manuscript, a story about an experience he had while visiting the small market town of Crythin Gifford some years ago. Kipps intends to read the manuscript to a small audience of friends and family, but The Actor has other ideas, employing a sound engineer and a host of special effects to bring the story to life.

The play switches between the actors in rehearsal and a dramatisation of the story, where Tidy as the real Arthur Kipps plays a host of different characters and Macdonald as The Actor plays a young Arthur Kipps. It sounds more confusing than it is! We are transported to Eel Marsh House, the ill-forsaken residence of the recently departed Mrs Alice Drablow. Kipps is Alice’s solicitor and must get her affairs in order, but is haunted by a spectre of a woman in black with a wasted face, whom the townspeople refuse to speak of.

Tidy and Macdonald rise to the challenge of a two-hour two-hander where neither actor is ever offstage. They are both marvellous. I hang off every word Macdonald says while Tidy shines as the reclusive Keckwick, with stellar accent work throughout. Another highlight of this Stagecraft production is Riley Gibson’s lighting design, an evocative interplay of smoke and shadow, darkness and vividity.

With an intriguing lack of music, Tanya Piejus’ sound design utilises silence and recorded sound to good effect, although opening night hiccups mean one important cue is unfortunately late. This is during the door scene in the first half, which I find jarring due to Macdonald’s sudden dramatic turn. There’s an expert build up of fear and thrill in the rest of his performance, and indeed, the production itself. Oftentimes, The Woman in Black is exhilaratingly scary. What fun it is to watch half a show between your fingers!

Don McGlashan And The Others | Regional News

Don McGlashan And The Others

Old St Paul’s, 28th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Graeme King

McGlashan’s latest album Bright November Morning was recorded with The Others, so this concert was a full band experience – not just McGlashan with a backing band.

The tight rhythm section of Chris O’Connor on drums and James Duncan on bass laid a solid platform for McGlashan (guitar, piano, and euphonium), the legendary Shayne P Carter on lead guitar, and Anita Clark on violin and mandolin. McGlashan was ably supported by all The Others on backing vocals.

McGlashan said that support act Michael James Keane “had told him that he was going to whip the crowd into a frenzy, and he obviously had done just that!” Keane’s songs, dry wit, and humour did win the crowd over.

The concert was a blend of McGlashan’s new material and classics: new songs Sunscreen, Lights Come On, Go Back In, and All the Goodbyes in the World were followed by A Thing Well Made, featuring euphonium, violin, and Clark’s gorgeous harmonies – creating an ethereal effect off the surrounding timber walls.

The melancholic, haunting Song for Sue, surely an APRA Silver Scroll Award contender, was followed by Bathe in the River – the first verse in te reo, to the crowd’s delight. Nothing on the Windows was followed by the anthemic Anchor Me – the simplicity of piano, violin, and Clark’s backing vocals was uplifting. Shackleton, written from McGlashan’s week-long excursion to Antarctica in 2012, preceded the classic White Valiant.

John Bryce, an angry song about Parihaka, had the band at full volume and featured the full force of O’Connor’s drumming.

Following Start Again, the driving Don’t Fight it Marsha, it’s Bigger Than Both of Us featured Carter’s intense, thrashing guitar. Dominion Road had the crowd rocking in their pews, and by The Heater it was surprising no-one was dancing in the aisles.

The first encore When the Trumpets Sound was followed by Pulled Along by Love, featuring the crowd’s vocals on the chorus!

It was a privilege to see a New Zealand musical icon at such an iconic venue as Old St Paul’s.

Black Adam | Regional News

Black Adam

(PG-13 )

125 mins

(1 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

With superhero giants Marvel finally slowing down in terms of acclaim and box office success – only one Marvel film from the last four years is among the franchise’s top five highest grossing – and it seems rivals DC have finally been given a chance to take back the coveted onscreen superhero throne. In my humble opinion, they have once again blown this chance with their latest effort Black Adam.

In ancient Kahndaq, a young boy (Jalon Christian) is bestowed the almighty powers of the gods. Nearly 5000 years later and Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) has gone from man to myth to legend. After he is freed from his tomb by a local woman (Sarah Shahi) seeking the lost champion, his unique form of justice, born out of rage, is challenged by modern-day heroes who form the Justice Society.

Blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises and the more recent Avengers: Endgame showed that superhero movies can combine thrilling action with compelling storytelling. Black Adam fails miserably in trying to do either. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of fights during the two-hour runtime, they just, well… suck. Known for his suspenseful thrillers such as The Shallows, director Jaume Collet-Serra throws his style out the window and instead settles for a barrage of slow-motion action sequences and CGI lightning bolts. There was no creativity behind many of the scenes, no thought. And while Johnson certainly looks the part as the film’s troubled champion, this is the least entertaining, least appealing role of his career.

The horrendous writing and poor performances by the cast only made things worse. Just because superheroes themselves are made up doesn’t mean superhero films need to avoid realism like the plague. No, instead let’s just teleport civilians to wherever it’s convenient for the plot, forget that humans take damage, and let a kid (Bodhi Sabongui) chat away cheerfully while mercenaries perish all around him.

In all honestly, I would have walked out the door halfway through Black Adam if it wasn’t my job to stay and watch. It’s an unpleasant barrage of symbols and sounds and adds up to little more than a two-hour montage of recycled action and comedy concepts. You’ve been warned.

Melissa Aldana Quartet | Regional News

Melissa Aldana Quartet

The Opera House, 23rd Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

Melissa Aldana and her quartet close the Wellington Jazz Festival in style, playing their latest album 12 Stars. With GRAMMY-nominated Aldana at the helm, the remarkable group plays heartfelt, energetic music that demands attention to be appreciated. The album is inspired by the subtlety of tarot and deals with themes of self-love and acceptance in the wake of 2020.

The concert opens with the titular song. I am immediately struck by the sheer passion mustered from an instrument as Aldana breaks into a mournful saxophone intro. The piece is gentle and meandering, demonstrating incredible finesse from the musicians. By the time the first song (or maybe the second?) ends 20 minutes later, I’ve completely forgotten where I am, entranced by the music.

The Bluest Eye is a playful jam that gives everyone the chance to show off. I am particularly taken by Kush Abadey on drums, who is infectiously enthusiastic. He leaps from his seat in excitement while maintaining a perfect tempo and exchanging lines with the guitarist. Lage Lund on guitar also produced the album, and he is magnificent.

Emelia might be my favourite song. Aldana opens with a hauntingly beautiful sax solo, featuring a melody that she tells us came to her in a dream. Pablo Menares is excellent on bass and has fantastic energy throughout.

Aldana uses the song Los Ojos de Chile to draw attention to the current unrest and protests in Chile. The song is hopeful and upbeat, with an almost suspenseful guitar solo from Lund. I am in awe of Aldana's vibrato; even her highest notes are crystal clear with a consistent quaver.

The band receives a standing ovation and returns for a slightly experimental encore that feels more like a jam session. I am delighted to note that the moments of silence are crisp, especially as Abadey exploits anticipatory pauses to great effect. A splendid performance and a fitting end to this year's festival.

MonoNeon | Regional News

MonoNeon

The Opera House, 22nd Oct

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

A huge hit at the 2019 Wellington Jazz Festival when he performed with Ghost-Note, the GRAMMY Award-winning experimental bassist MonoNeon packed out the Opera House with an eclectic mix of fans on his solo return visit with a three-piece band.

MonoNeon is known for his unusual playing style. While right-handed, he plays left-handed upside down on a right-handed bass guitar with a Marcel Duchamp-inspired green and yellow striped sock snuggled over the tuning pegs. This mode of playing produces a deep thrubbing sound that I could feel in my chest throughout the 90-minute concert.

MonoNeon is also known for his outlandish dress and was wearing his trademark quilted hoodie and matching pants, chunky sports shoes with his name on the front, multicoloured knitted balaclava, and day-glo sunnies. Despite this in-your-face look, he has a charmingly high-pitched voice and humble Memphis-born manner that allowed his three bandmates to take much of the spotlight.

They were ostensibly playing MonoNeon’s new album, Basqiat and Skittles. Rather than falling into the tired trap of playing the album beginning to end in track order, they mixed it up big time. Playing two or three songs in sequence, they segued seamlessly from one to the next with extended improvised solos from the energetic guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer  ̶  each highly talented musicians in their own right  ̶  who creatively free-formed until MonoNeon’s subtle finger point gave them the signal to move back to the core of the song.

MonoNeon’s use of microtonality manufactures a truly unconventional effect, no more so than when he took the stage himself at the end of the concert to strum, slide, slap, and tweak his inverted bass guitar to produce unusual funky blues sounds, much to the delight of the audience.

Lighting was used to great effect throughout with seven circular, yellow-lamped lights along the back of the stage, and good employment of the Opera House’s rig to add colour and atmosphere.

MonoNeon’s music is hard to describe but it was a uniquely ear-bending experience that I would willingly repeat.

Rodger Fox Big Band Plays Hone Tuwhare | Regional News

Rodger Fox Big Band Plays Hone Tuwhare

Conducted by: Rodger Fox

The Opera House, 22nd Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

The theatre is tense and expectant in the purple preshow glow. The Big Band gets a cheer, and Rodger Fox himself an even bigger one. After a brief introduction, we are off, and the rest of the afternoon disappears into jazz.

The concept of this Wellington Jazz Festival show is intriguing. 10 New Zealand composers have each chosen a poem from the works of Hone Tuwhare to inspire their creations. This leads to some interesting meta-interpretation, with one piece being inspired by a poem about Miles Davis, a jazz musician himself.

The opening number is in response to the poem Hotere and is a fabulous meandering piece that builds into a brilliant saxophone solo. The rest of the songs are equally brilliant and totally unique, from upbeat funk to a sort of call-and-response between piano and orchestra. The drum solos I particularly enjoyed, but really every soloist was admirable in their own right.

My personal favourite piece was composed and arranged by Godfrey De Grut in response to Haiku. It features a trombone solo by Fox, which brings the house down, and has a fantastic surf-rock feel, conjuring visuals of sun-kissed beaches. The River Is An Island also deserves mention for how well composer Anita Schwabe captured the essence of the poem.

I applaud the scenography. Eight massive round lamps backed the orchestra and were utilised expertly. The mixing is unfortunately less perfect, with static during piano ballads and a piercingly loud trumpet solo. I also wonder how the audience might have differently appreciated the songs if they were conjoined with readings of the poems themselves.

Every musician and composer deserves their own compliment, but I’m running out of words. The playing was flawless from the first song and everybody was clearly having a brilliant time. Despite some minor technical difficulties, the performance was overall spectacular and will be remembered fondly by the whole audience.

Louis Baker – Duality And The Elements | Regional News

Louis Baker – Duality And The Elements

The Opera House, 21st Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Graeme King

There’s a reason Louis Baker was one of the headline acts of the Wellington Jazz Festival – his compositions, vocal stylings and range, and guitar work are world-class.

The four songs on his new work Duality And The Elements, representing Water, Air, Earth, and Fire, acknowledged “whakapapa, love and life’s observations”. 

The stunning but subtle light show – featuring beautiful shades of red, blue, and purple – and superbly balanced sound created an intimate setting for a night of rapturous soul, R&B, and funk.

The new compositions were interspersed with some of his biggest hits. Brighter Day featured the silky backing vocals of Lisa Tomlins and Kirsten Te Rito. Black Crow had fans dancing at their seats. 

Just Want To Thank You featured Cory Champion’s slick drumming, energetic percussionist Sai August, and the sublime, funky bass of Johnny Lawrence – with Baker introducing each band member to loud applause. 

Love Levitates featured superlative piano nuances and keyboards by James Illingworth. The haunting Te Utu, Baker’s first song recorded in te reo, was followed by the instrumental Air featuring special guest Jerome Kavanagh on the first of a range of taonga pūoro – creating a gorgeous, spellbinding, and almost mystical musical journey. 

Addict cleverly segued into the Bill Withers hit Use Me. Baker’s stunning scatting and fluid guitar, reminiscent of George Benson, drew rapturous applause.

Earth, featuring delightful keyboard jazz chord scales, took the song to the beautifully lit Opera House ceiling and back. 

For Been And Gone, the second special guest Wallace joined Baker for the first live performance of their new single. The funky Fire featured the ultra-tight rhythm section and a climactic, stunning piano solo.

The only non-original song, Leon Bridges’ Bad Bad News had an infectious walking-bass to keep the crowd on their feet. Get Back, featuring a superlative piano solo, had the crowd willingly join Baker in a call-and-response.

The first encore, the enchanting Rainbow, had Baker on acoustic guitar together with soaring backing vocal harmonies. The full band, including guests, was back for the second encore The People – the perfect song to end a perfect night on.

Legacy: Lalah Hathaway sings Donny Hathaway | Regional News

Legacy: Lalah Hathaway sings Donny Hathaway

Performed by Lalah Hathaway and the NZSO

The Opera House, 19th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Finlay Langelaan

The 2022 Wellington Jazz Festival starts in style with international R&B superstar Lalah Hathaway. Supported by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Benjamin Northey, with concertmaster Donald Armstrong at the helm, the entire evening is a delight for the discerning enthusiast. From ballads to bops, Hathaway makes her New Zealand debut with grace and panache.

From the first note of the first song, Hathaway has the audience entranced. An orchestral performance is always impressive, but combined with a grand piano and Hathaway's GRAMMY-winning vocal talents, we are elevated into a world of jazz fusion and soulful blues. Every person on stage is excellent, and each solo garners a well-deserved round of hearty applause, but I would be remiss not to mention Daniel Hayles on keys. A Song For You is the highlight of the show in no small part thanks to him.

While the performances are impeccable, I find myself distracted by static during what should have been moments of silence. The scenography is wonderful, with gentle lighting changes so in tune with the music you would think you can see the melody.

Even between numbers, I catch myself on the edge of my seat as Hathaway engages the audience with casual charm and brief anecdotes. This is the first performance of her career devoted entirely to performing her father's music, and the love in both the singer and the songs is palpable. Hathaway truly brings with her a legacy of musical talent and influence.

Hathaway has just released a version of Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas, singing a duet with her father from a rediscovered recording. She treats us to a performance of the song and closes the concert with Be There, leaving the delighted audience in a festive buzz. The show received a five-minute standing ovation and undoubtedly deserved it. If this is how the Wellington Jazz Festival starts, I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

Pudgy Mediocre White Men Solve Your Problems | Regional News

Pudgy Mediocre White Men Solve Your Problems

Created by: Dylan Hutton and Austin Harrison

BATS Theatre, 18th Oct 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Welcome to the Hataitai Bowling Club and Dave and Bryan’s Improvaganza! They’ve just spent six weeks attending community “impro” classes (drop the V to be really cool) and will now solve your problems using their newfound passion and skills. As they claim, “There’s no issue you can’t ‘word at a time’ your way out of!”

Dylan Hutton (playing Bryan) and Austin Harrison (Dave) are veterans of the Wellington improvisation circuit and have created a cute premise and charmingly deliver a simple concept for an hour-long show that delighted its opening night audience. Dave and Bryan are indeed a bit pudgy in their colour-coordinated polo shirts and jeans, but the performers certainly aren’t mediocre as they bounce around their homely set and interact warmly with the crowd.

They’re ably assisted on keyboard by the oddly hirsute, 14-year-old Gabe (Matt Hutton) who needs to go home at 9pm and Scotty (Scott Maxim) who, with his trusty fire extinguisher Old Veronica, provides inspired lighting choices to elevate the action. His spotlighted diversions from the main scenes created some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Improv shows need a hook to distinguish them and in this case Harrison and Hutton turn audience members’ domestic and workplace annoyances into (somewhat dubious) life lessons by reinterpreting them through classic improv games and offering post-scene analysis to the problem’s owner. They achieve their aim of reframing issues such as a snoring girlfriend with varying degrees of success but always with a lot of laughter. They even manage to incorporate a couple of topical references, including the current stoush over funding for Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand’s University of Otago Sheila Winn Shakespeare Festival, and end with a sweet song about their friendship.

While improv is a common feature of Wellington theatre, Harrison and Hutton have created a show that is fresh and engaging with their own energy and problem-solving spin. And I now know why my cat has furballs (something to do with licking the carpet, apparently).