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Cringe Worthy! | Regional News

Cringe Worthy!

Devised by: Andrea Sanders

Directed by: Andrea Sanders

Running at Circa Theatre until 7th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Cringe Worthy! is a musical hark back to the 1970s in New Zealand. Featuring two original members of The Beatgirls, Andrea Sanders and Carrie McLaughlin, alongside Tom Knowles and Jeff Kingsford-Brown, it’s a harmony-laden, tangerine-hued, bell-bottomed adventure through the songs and artists that dominated the decade.

I have to admit, I don’t know the first thing about the 70s. In fact, I was negative 22 years old when they rolled around! If you’re in my boat, don’t hesitate to see Cringe Worthy! because you don’t know the songs. I only recognised four, but that didn’t put a damper on my experience. Not only did I take great pleasure in the relentless cacophony of laughter emitting from audience members of an older generation, I also relished in learning more about the era. After listening to Spotify on my iPhone on the way to the theatre, hearing about the rip-roaring excitement New Zealanders experienced upon the introduction of a second TV channel was a real eye-opener.

Regardless of when you were born or how interested you are in the 70s, you’ll find the musical prowess on display in Cringe Worthy! extraordinary. Each performer brings something different to the table. Sanders has an incredible range, Kingsford-Brown huge power, Knowles a stunning falsetto, and McLaughlin wonderful stage presence. Though there aren’t many moments of acapella to really let the vocals shine and the backing tracks are sometimes a smidge loud, the four-part harmonies get right down to your soul.

It’s not all soul-stirring though; Cringe Worthy! features plenty of songs that are silly and fun, with glorious choreography to match. My friend emerged with a newfound favourite called Put Another Log on the Fire (so sexist it’s laughable), while I’m still humming Take the Money and Run (the epitome of cringe worthy).

Lucas Neal’s groovy, attention-grabbing set (those lava lamps! That tweed sofa!) is the perfect backdrop for Cringe Worthy!, a superb show overflowing with talent and joy.

Pictures at an Exhibition | Regional News

Pictures at an Exhibition

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 2nd Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Marc Taddei is a master programmer who links known and lesser known works in interesting ways. Two works in this concert, Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, were originally written for piano. Both were inspired by paintings. Relevant paintings were shown on a screen behind the orchestra. A third work, Assemblage, involved a robot on stage painting. The fourth work, Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto, stood outside the programme theme.

To be frank, I thought the concert would have been better without the pictures and the robot, letting the music speak for itself.

Pictures at an Exhibition is a much-loved work. Mussorgsky tried to depict the essence of 10 paintings by a friend. The music evokes the amusing chirping of chickens, women squabbling at a market, a lumbering ox cart, children playing, a grotesque character, deathly catacombs, and a monumental piece of architecture. The whole is stitched together by a theme depicting Mussorgsky promenading between pictures, sometimes playfully, sometimes solemnly, sometimes thoughtfully. It is very engaging music, especially the promenade variations. It was played with confidence and energy.

L’Isle Joyeuse was quintessential Debussy, evoking mood and landscape with characteristic use of shimmering strings and woodwind. The painting it evokes depicts pairs of lovers sailing to the Island of Love. The orchestra captured a great sense of chattering, laughing fun in an idyllic setting.

Assemblage, a collaboration between artist Simon Ingram and composer Alex Taylor, involved a robot very slowly creating a geometric, pink artwork while the music included a representation of the workings of the machine among more conventional melodic elements. I would enjoy hearing the music again.

Lev Sivkov was the cellist for the Samuel Barber work. Now in Switzerland, but originally from Russia, this young musician created a beautiful, strong, warm, and intense tone throughout, even when Barber demanded extraordinary technique. This work is not well-known but was well worth presenting.

Burn Her | Regional News

Burn Her

Written by: Sam Brooks

Directed by: Katherine McRae

Running at Circa Theatre until 31st Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Aroha Party leader Aria (Kali Kopae) has just won a seat in parliament. She’s in the thick of champagne-sprinkled celebrations with her PR spin doctor George (Sophie Hambleton) when young intern Danny (Dryw McArthur) makes sexual allegations against her mentor and long-time friend Richard (Andrew Laing). It’s George’s job to sweep the scandal under the rug and preserve the integrity of the Aroha Party. Will she do what’s right when Labour Party weasel Lauren (Lara Macgregor) and Stuff journalist Harriet (Jean Sergent) come a-knocking?

Playwright Sam Brooks has a remarkable way with words. His witty, quick dialogue weaves biting sarcasm with painful truths about this dog-eat-dog world in which women must work harder and faster to come out on top. Golden one-liners cause shouts of laughter to ring around the theatre. I miss a few obviously hilarious jokes because the blocking occasionally sees the actors deliver lines to the outskirts of the cavernous space.

The stage is magnified by Debbie Fish’s spectacular two-storey set. It’s a pleasure to look at, though audience members at the front and sides are sometimes cut off from the action. Multiple screens project a live feed of press conferences held at the front of the stage, creating an arresting aesthetic that to me smacks of the pervasive nature of political media.

Kopae and Hambleton stand alone as compelling actors and come together as unforgettable ones. Their chemistry is undeniable. Sergent and Macgregor both excel in devious roles; Sergent delivers a bombshell with a sense of justice and a twinkle in her eye that cues a 200-breath gasp. Macgregor’s stroppy negotiations induce whoops of delight. McArthur’s considered, sensitive approach to his character evokes sympathy and compassion from the audience, while Laing confronts the challenge of conveying a character that deserves none. In Burn Her, director Katherine McRae has chosen and honed a brilliant, balanced cast.

Burn Her is a tremendous production that has me hooked from start to finish.

Voices of the World | Regional News

Voices of the World

Presented by: Stroma

Conducted by: Hamish McKeich

Hannah Playhouse, 1st Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With Voices of the World, Stroma has crafted a trance-inducing performance that comfortably meanders but never feels static.

Stroma’s incredibly varied group of players took the audience on a journey of non-western musical traditions on Thursday. We walked everywhere from the streets of Chicago to the Yunnan Province of Southwest China, often represented by field recordings of local vocalists accompanied by Stroma, or a specific and strange instrumental formation.

The opener, An Overture, immediately told the audience what they were in for. Beethoven interlaced with a selection of taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments) played by Rob Thorne made for a bewildering aural experience – in the best way possible. Moments of sheer musical excitement were cut through by tapping stones, or the bellow of a pūkāea (war trumpet).

The tone was set, and what followed was a collection of inspired, often sparse performances that allowed atmosphere to reign supreme. The performance of Anna Clyne’s A Wonderful Day was perhaps the most simplistic example of this. The vibraphone and bass clarinet perfectly moulded to the melody set by a repetitive recorded voice, which sounded raw, to authentically portray the windy streets of Chicago and transport us to them. At the other end of this simplicity was a performance of Julia Wolfe’s Reeling, an equally repetitive accompaniment of a French-Canadian singer. Much less tranquil, this piece had a profound pace and endowed the audience with the suspense of watching the flame on a fuse speed towards a stick of dynamite.

The set culminated with Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs sung by soprano Bianca Andrew; a truly grand finale. This global folk anthology featured 11 songs from Armenia, Italy, Azerbaijan, and many more. Andrew’s voice was a welcome addition, as it anchored a night of extreme variety.

Stroma explored a wide space while not pushing to make their music inaccessible to a real audience. It felt like an invitation, something we all took part in, rather than something we observed and would soon forget.

The Lion King (2019) | Regional News

The Lion King (2019)


118 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While The Lion King (2019), a direct remake of the 1994 film, boasts visual effects that wouldn’t seem out of place in the latest David Attenborough wildlife documentary, it comes across as an exercise in CGI, and does not justify its existence.

The visual effects team at The Moving Picture Company more than earn their keep. The animals and locations are rendered beautifully, and this treatment is not just reserved for lead characters; the Pride Lands look and feel like a natural African habitat. The combination of photo-realism with unnatural behaviours is seamless and not distracting.

However, the voice cast struggles to push real emotion through – yes, realistic – neutral-faced animals. When 1994-Simba cries for Mufasa, we all cried with him. When 2019-Simba (JD McCrary) cries, it looks very similar to how 2019-Simba smiles. There are standouts amongst the supporting cast, particularly Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, and Eric Andre and Keegan-Michael Key as Scar’s hyena henchmen Azizi and Kamari. These pairings manage to inject immediate comedic chemistry into what otherwise feels like a lazy regurgitation. Other cast members, such as Beyoncé as Nala and Donald Glover as adult-Simba, offer nothing interesting vocally and appear as stunt casting.

Another let down was the simplification of some of the finest musical moments in movie history. Scar’s scary and sassy Be Prepared is dampened and completely forgettable. Can You Feel the Love Tonight is an excuse for Beyoncé and Glover to appear on a track together, but the mix is sloppy and does no favours for either star – one friend even called it “grating”.

It seems Disney thought they had a good movie that people wouldn’t mind seeing again. The problem is that this isn’t a good movie, this is The Lion King, for many, the finest film of Disney’s renaissance. This retelling’s astounding effects and moments of comedy do not offer enough to return to this version.

Black Comedy | Regional News

Black Comedy

Written by: Peter Shaffer

Directed by: Neil Haydon and Oliver Mander

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 10th Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Brindsley Miller (Lee Dowsett) is a struggling artist hoping to catch a break. It’s a big night for the sculptor and his new fiancé Carol Melkett (Susannah Donovan). Millionaire aesthete Bamberger (Marty Pilott) is set to stop by to view Brindsley’s work, plus, Carol’s father Colonel Melkett (Antony Jones) is coming over to meet his future son-in-law. Lacking funds and sense, Brindsley breaks into his neighbour’s house to ‘borrow’ the furniture for a night. But of course, the antique-mad Harold Gorringe (Bryce Jennings) comes back from his holiday one night early. Never fear! A power cut means no one can see anything anyway. Lucky for some, but definitely not for the art collector, who is mostly deaf.

Raging drunk Miss Furnival (Nicola Tod), overzealous electrician Schuppanzigh (Matt Todd), and Brindsley’s sadistic ex-girlfriend Clea (Indianna Cosgriff) complicate the chaos.

This one-act farce features a reverse lighting scheme. When the power cuts, the stage lights go on, meaning the characters are in darkness but the actors are not. Angela Wei’s lighting design confuses me at first with a couple of slow cues, and dimmed lights to indicate partial light, but I soon cotton on to the conventions utilised. I crave a snappy blackout at the end as opposed to a soft fade.

This production of Black Comedy impresses me for its considered, striking set (Neil Haydon) and the calibre of its cast. Dowsett somehow brings likeability to an insufferable character. Donovan mines the comedic gold of buffoonery to great effect. Every line (or wild gesture) from Jones is a show highlight, while Tod’s drunken whooping and Jennings’ indignant hooting plant a wide grin on my face.

Each cast member takes up the reverse lighting challenge with glee. Not once do I see anyone make eye contact or look directly where they’re going. It makes for a delightful display of delirious silliness, a phrase I feel perfectly sums up this Wellington Repertory Theatre production.

Orchids | Regional News


Directed by: Sarah Foster-Sproull

Circa Theatre, 24th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Inspired by the resilience of the orchid flower, Orchids explores the many facets of femininity. Seven performers – Marianne Schultz, Katie Burton, Rose Philpott, Jahra Wasasala, Joanne Hobern, Tori Manley-Tapu, and Ivy Foster, Foster-Sproull’s daughter – dance beauty and light, darkness and rage.

It takes me a long time to shut off my narrative brain while watching Orchids. Once I accept a story is not going to emerge, I relax and allow myself to be lulled, and at times startled, into a trance.

Each vignette has its own intention. Shifts in mood and tone are frequent and dramatic, and yet the dance is seamless, blurring elegantly into a series of arresting images emblazoned in my mind’s eye. In the dark I see 10 fists clenched into a ponytail, wild hair pulled taught at every angle, feet buoyant on palms.

Bodies merge, touch, and heave as one but are strikingly individual. Orchids is written in such a way as to give each dancer time to both shine and sync. It’s about woman and women – alone and together. It’s as complex and conflicting as the female psyche, as intricate as the human condition itself, and as joyful to dissect.

The dancers never miss a beat. Considering Foster-Sproull’s relentless, remarkable choreography and that Eden Mulholland’s augmenting sound design rarely features lyrics for cues, this seems like an impossible feat to a mere mortal like me. Though equally matched in proficiency, I find myself drawn to Wasasala for her angular precision and nine-year-old Foster for her raw talent and angelic stage presence.

Jennifer Lal uses light and space to play with Andrew Foster’s set design, featuring a floating sheet of material that moves and breathes as if by magic. All elements of the design, from sound to Rose Philpott and Tori Manley-Tapu’s pastel-hued silk costumes, are breathtaking but never distracting.

Most people I spoke to after Orchids responded with noises rather than words, a fantastic testament to its instant and lasting impact.

Onepū | Regional News


Choreographed by Louise Potiki Bryant

Presented by: Atamira Dance Company

Te Papa Soundings Theatre, 19th July 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Atamira Dance Company are an Auckland based dance company whose foundations are built on creating and presenting unique Māori dance theatre experiences. Their latest work, Onepū, is an homage to the six atua wāhine (female deities) who control and release the winds of the world. The all-female work is choreographed by cross-discipline artist Louise Potiki Bryant and performed by Jessica Johns, Imogen Tapara, Rosie Tapsell, Ariana Tikao, Presley Ziogas, and Bryant herself.

Onepū is set in an otherworldly plain which is enhanced by Bryant's innovative video design and an ethereal music composition by Paddy Free and Ariana Tikao. The work is steeped in ritual symbolism, with each dancer representing different powers of the wind, and a circle of black sand signifying the bank in which the atua wāhine stand to impart their forces across the world.

Onepū is a slow burn with unadorned choreographic sequences, executed passionately by the dancers. Johns, Tapara, Tapsell, and Ziogas perform dynamic solos as their respective deities under the watch of the matriarchal figures portrayed by Bryant and Tikao. It is largely the audio-visual component that bolsters the show, which is somewhat disappointing for a dance work. The dappled video projection effectively caresses the dancers' bodies as they shift and contract across the stage, and the haunting soundscape enriches the mythology and fluid movements of the atua wāhine.

The costumes, neutral coloured dresses swathed in strips of fabric, are designed by Rona Ngahuia Osborne and create beautiful, hypnotic silhouettes as the dancers leap and twirl fervently. The lighting is shadowy and dark, which works with the dreamlike ambiance but does make it challenging for audiences to really catch every moment on stage.

The work concludes with each wāhine picking up the sand and letting it fall through her fingers like the sands of time; a poignant moment that seems grounded on a powerful connection to the earth and to the spirit. Onepū is culturally and artistically rich, but it fails to affect choreographic awe.

Mātauranga | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Carlos Kalmar

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

This was a stunning performance of a highly diverse programme, with great musicality from all performers and Uruguayan guest conductor Carlos Kalmar.

Mātauranga (Rerenga) was commissioned from Michael Norris for the NZSO's Landfall series, marking the first meetings between Māori and Pākehā when the Endeavour reached Aotearoa in 1769. Later this year the Government commemoration, Tuia – Encounters 250, reaches back further, to the earliest encounters between Māori and the land itself. The music evoked the mystery and danger of those early encounters and exploration by Māori and Pākehā alike. Clever use of taonga pūoro, live electronics, and sustained strings blended the different sounds and cultures into one to great effect.

In contrast, Mozart's Piano Concerto No.12 in A major, K.414 was very pretty and beautifully played by Steven Osborne and a much-reduced orchestra. Its markedly different tone, style, and melodious character served to accentuate the variety in this programme.

A striking arrangement on stage signalled another change of direction: strings only, separated by the double basses into two equal groups, facing each other, as required by the composer to represent a traditional tango orchestra. The stage was set for the tension and drama of stringed combat followed by peace and gentle, musical flow in the two movements of Osvaldo Golijov's Last Round.

Famous for being thought of as a war symphony (written in 1916), Carl Nielsen's Symphony No.4, Op.29 The Inextinguishable was described by the composer as a celebration of the will to live. Although the sounds of conflict throughout the music ultimately settle and resolve into glorious (and very loud) melody, we first hear machine guns and the screaming whistle of bombs, before not one but two artillery battles as twin sets of timpani fight it out.

Impeccable playing (particularly the strings) under the direction of the skilful and sensitive Kalmar, and the sheer variety of the programme, made a very memorable performance.