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Mr Fungus Dreams | Regional News

Mr Fungus Dreams

Created by: Fergus Aitken and Thom Monckton

Directed by: Thom Monckton and Amalia Calder

Circa Theatre, 23rd Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Mr Fungus Dreams has been a labour of love for co-creator and performer Fergus Aitken. When he first thought up the show’s theme of dreaming, he says it was about exploring our emotional wellbeing – our fears, our doubts, and ultimately, our resilience in the face of them.

In an almost full theatre, with an audience both young and old, Mr Fungus Dreams was a visual and comedic treat. “Theatre is a great medium and way to take people on a journey,” Aitken says. Here, the journey is a dream sequence that plays out the absurdity of where Mr Fungus’ dreams take him. Think cats, pirate ships, a funky fridge, and floating stars.

Possessing an innate talent for utilising a raft of facial expressions, Aitken expertly conveys subtle and not-so-subtle nuances to tell a story and make his audience laugh. The woman seated beside me was most definitely laughing, as was I. It was the sheep, and the tiny pyjama guy (you’ll know if you go) that did it. To see if he thought it was just as funny, a quick glance at my 10-year-old son found a face hard to read. It’s the anomaly of theatre: the humour appeals to some more than others, though there were many clearly delighted.

There were “wow”s from enamoured little people, especially around the impressive visuals and projections (lighting design by Marcus McShane, video design and production by Stephen Aitken). Great sound effects and puppetry (puppet design, production, and direction by Bridget and Roger Sanders) added to the magic. So too were the amateur sleuths of the audience whispering their theories of what was going on behind the scenes.  

If you are looking to expose your kids (and yourself) to the joys of theatre and give them an appreciation for what collaborating as a team can create, then Mr Fungus Dreams is a great way to spend an hour these holidays. 

In the parting words of Aitken (aka Mr Fungus), “we decided there needed to be more joy and silliness in this world”.

I quite agree.

Goldilocks | Regional News


Written by: Amalia Calder

Directed by: Adam Koveskali

Tararua Tramping Club Clubrooms, 23rd Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

Watch out Aotearoa! Three grizzly bears have just landed in Wellington with some mischief, friendship, and valuable life lessons in tow.

Goldilocks is the must-see of the school holidays! KidzStuff Theatre has put a modern twist on this age-old classic. Sassy Goldilocks (Amy Atkins) has got us and her followers wrapped around her finger with her social media content and presence when she visits her gran (Haydn Carter) in Wellington. Goldilocks’ gran is full of surprises and teaches us about honesty.

Super talented Carter keeps us on our toes as he plays the roles of Papa Bear, FBI, Bunny, and Shop Keep. Every character has their own personality, and he nailed the different transitions.

My utmost favourite character was Baby Bear (Jackson Burling), a lonely grizzly in a new country looking for a friend. But where are all the woodland creatures? And why are they all afraid of him?

There is a rollercoaster of emotions that you go through while watching Goldilocks, like excitement, suspicion, empathy, joy, and compassion. Some parts hit me right in the feels and I saw that the majority of the young audience understood the struggle that Baby Bear was going through.

Q Walker’s designs for the bear costumes were simple yet effective. The music (written by Amalia Calder and produced by Chrysalynn Calder) was really entertaining, easy to learn so that we could all join in song, and pretty catchy. I still have one of the songs stuck in my head! The cast and crew did a great job in creating a lovely versatile set, while subtle and appropriate lighting (Madyson King) and music cues kept the audience engaged throughout the production.

I always love asking my son what his favourite part of the show was. After Goldilocks, he answered with absolute conviction, “everything”. Head on down for a good laugh and a great big bear hug!

The Lives and Times of Tim Finn | Regional News

The Lives and Times of Tim Finn

Michael Fowler Centre, 21st Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Graeme King

The six-piece band started and a dapper Tim Finn sauntered onto the stage, seemingly tripping over a power cord and causing complete silence and darkness for a few seconds. “Whoops, that was My Mistake!” he said to laughter before launching into the song. Next I See Red, with the near-capacity crowd clapping already, featured a frantic piano solo by keyboardist Niall Anderson.

Stuff And Nonsense featured gorgeous vocals by Finn’s daughter Elliot, and beautiful flute by Carlo Barbaro. Poor Boy followed, and Finn seemed delighted that earlier that day, his driver told him he “played Poor Boy 24/7 back in the day”.

Finn wrote Nobody Takes Me Seriously thinking about the 22 jobs he had in his early twenties. “Split Enz was formed, really, by boring jobs and daydreaming.” For I Hope I Never, he switched to grand piano, his wavering voice on the high notes perhaps due to the emotion of this beautiful song.

Ghost Girl featured Tony Buchen’s warm bass guitar tones, while Six Months In A Leaky Boat had a piccolo solo by Buchen! The crowd rocked in their chairs to Anderson’s funky synth playing in Dirty Creature, which Finn wrote during a dark time in his life.

Fraction Too Much Friction featured the reggae-tinged drumming of Carlos Adura followed by the powerful Made My Day, with the band a tight cohesive unit. Next, Persuasion, with a tasty guitar solo by Brett Adams. Finn said he added lyrics to Richard Thompson’s beautiful guitar melody – basically writing the song together (long distance) by fax! 

Chocolate Cake featured a surprising harmonica solo by Buchen and impressive synchronised dancing from the entire band, with Adura standing up and dancing while playing the drums! A slow intro of It’s Only Natural segued into a rousing version, followed by the set’s final singalong Weather With You.

The first encore, Charlie, had a sultry sax solo from Barbaro. The crowd danced rapturously to Hard Act To Follow and gave Staring At The Embers a standing ovation. It was obvious how much everyone enjoyed seeing a national musical icon, together with a very talented band, playing classic songs in what is surely Wellington’s best music venue.

Dr Drama Makes a Musical | Regional News

Dr Drama Makes a Musical

Written by: James Wenley

BATS Theatre, The Dome, 19th September 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

The third in the Dr Drama trilogy, Dr Drama Makes a Musical explores what makes musicals so popular and what they have to say about society. The show is thought-provoking, educational, and immensely entertaining.

The back wall of the stage is a “shrine to musical theatre”, decorated with programmes and merchandise from musicals that Dr Drama (James Wenley) has seen or been in, which he interacts with throughout. Before the performance begins, well-known songs from musicals are played, and audience members excitedly point out productions they recognise. This environment of discussion is enhanced as a projected screen is used to display surtitles, photos, and take comments and polls from the audience.

Wenley walks us through many typical conventions of a musical, from an opening number and an ‘I want’ song, to the prevalence of heteronormative narratives. These conventions are deconstructed as Wenley discusses – and sings about – their purpose, meaning, and flaws. Despite this critical and academic lens on musicals, the entertainment and humour of the show never falter. The ‘Villain song’ is a particular hit, with Wenley’s confident singing of the catchy tune propelling the point forward, investigating where musicals have historically supported negative or discriminatory ideas in society. While one dance sequence (choreography by Brigitte Knight and assistant choreography by Elora Battah) leans into this pessimism in a way that becomes a little self-congratulatory, overall, the show conveys a galvanising and optimistic message. Phoebe Caldeiro’s original score, which she performs live, captures the key elements of musicals with humour and heart, but is let down at times by fuzzy microphones and inaccurate vocal placement.

Fans of musicals will spot obvious callouts to large-scale productions (think shiny sequined jackets and hats), with the slick lighting design (Scott Maxim and designer/operator Michael Goodwin) supporting these moments. Colours of the French flag flash when Les Misérables is referenced, and the stage is bathed in yellow as Wenley strikes the iconic pose from Hamilton.

Dr Drama Makes a Musical gives us a newfound appreciation for musicals as an artform that makes people feel connected. Wenley’s vulnerable recounting of personal experiences, coupled with audience engagement in a singalong closing number, imparts an inspirational message about the power of art.

Loops | Regional News


Presented by: Company Hiraeth

Directed by: Brynne Tasker-Poland

Hannah Playhouse, 15th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The concept of Loops is deceptively simple – two aerial artists go through a repeated series of movements accompanied by live synthesised music as a commentary on the frustrations and repercussions of burnout. However, to describe it this way is to completely fail to do justice to the mesmerising and immersive quality of this standout production.

Having won or been nominated for several professional theatre awards when it premiered in 2022, Loops has deservedly been singled out for high praise. The two aerial performers, Leanne Jenkins and Fran Muir, are beasts (director Tasker-Poland’s words to me after the show) on the loop and rope. Their mostly asynchronous movements are slick and skilful, even when showing the mental and physical breakdown that comes with burnout. When they do come together, they display touching moments of silently supportive interaction with subtle acting.

Benny Jennings’ live sound design and operation is a work of art. Starting with a soothing meditation tape of relaxation exercises and gentle music, the calming voice progressively becomes less distinct as the music gets louder and more frantic, culminating in screeching discordant notes and, finally, the quiet hiss of static as the performers drop spent to the floor.

Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting does unobtrusive but excellently supportive work to aid the narrative. White lights grow progressively stronger and harsher as the piece progresses, with a soft blue wash from backstage.

I love Tasker-Poland’s meta idea of loops being repeated throughout the production. The performers coil ropes as they perform their routine over and over, a mess of cassette tape circles around the stage and even creeps out onto the stairs, the main musical theme loops around as it increases in intensity.

This repetition is hypnotic and what drew me so readily into the world of the production. By the end I felt as strung out as the performers. As my friend said when the lights came up, “I’m exhausted!” How many other productions can claim to do that? Wow, just wow.

Ātete | Resistance | ചെറുത്തുനില്പ് | Regional News

Ātete | Resistance | ചെറുത്തുനില്പ്

Created by: Swaroopa Prameela Unni

BATS Theatre, 13th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

One in four women in Aotearoa New Zealand experience family violence. Women of Indian ethnicity are part of this statistic but, the production notes state, little is known about the challenges they face, not only from the patriarchal culture but also the shame and stigma. These women’s bodies become a site for violence in many forms – emotional, physical, financial, and sexual. On as part of the TAHI Festival, this solo dance-theatre piece explores a woman’s right to bodily autonomy within the Indian community of New Zealand through a few spoken words, many and complex dance movements, and digital media.

Ātete is choreographed in Mohiniyattam, a South Indian dance form known for its portrayal of ideal womanhood. Swaroopa Prameela Unni is elegantly expressive in her body and especially her face as she turns this dance form on its head to present stories of women growing up within Indian culture and the violence enforced on them behind the façade of respectability.

“Get married, everything will be OK”, says Unni at the start, but what unfurls through her carefully choreographed movements is anything but. Assisted by three bowls of body paint  ̶  first red, then green, and finally and violently white  ̶  she dances stories of abuse and women’s responses to it. I wish I knew more about Indian dance and the meanings of its hand gestures to appreciate the full subtleties of these stories. However, it’s clear what’s intended. If any doubt remains, the final set of projected slides makes clear that a global movement is pushing back against gender-based violence, even in India itself.

The music (Jyolsna Panicker and Sandeep Pillai) is melodic and captivating as Unni shows us what men expect from their perfect wives, then sinister and dark as we see what happens behind closed doors. The lighting (Stephen Kilroy) is similarly contrasted as the stage floods with the colours of the paint Unni is applying to herself during the scenes of harm.

Ātete is a powerful, yet hopeful, physical work of beauty and savagery.

Asteroid City | Regional News

Asteroid City


105 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A technicolour 1950s dreamland set in the United States desert, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City gives us everything we crave from his signature style including witty, stunted dialogue, endearing awkwardness, zesty production design, a star-studded cast, eccentric characters, and offbeat humour.

A frame within a frame, Asteroid City opens to an Academy-ratio black-and-white TV show with an unnamed host (Bryan Cranston) that centres on the playwright Conrad Earp’s (Edward Norton) play Asteroid City. The story expertly bounces between The Twilight Zone-esque show, the behind-the-scenes rehearsal of the play, and the pastel-paradise that is the dramatisation of said play. Asteroid City the play takes place in a tiny desert town famous for the asteroid that landed there 3000 years earlier. Tiny mushroom clouds, result of nearby atomic testing, punctuate the horizon as a troupe of self-proclaimed “brainiacs” arrive for the annual Junior Stargazer Convention with their parents. Among them are protagonist and war photojournalist Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), his father-in-law (Tom Hanks), actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), musical cowboy Montana (Rupert Friend), and school children chaperoned by June Douglas (Maya Hawke). What ensues is classic Anderson mayhem and tomfoolery.

Asteroid City is a visual feast. A testament to the brilliant trifecta that comprises director Anderson, production designer Adam Stockhausen, and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, it continues to deliver the harlequin, retro aesthetic we’ve come to know and love. In this case it is perfectly, beautifully, artificially twee and camp.

Written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, the script appears in equal measure clever and quirky. It continues Anderson’s exploration of grief, loss of innocence, and dysfunctional families, seeming to work towards a grand statement but never quite getting there. I have loved Anderson since my first encounter with his eccentric follies, finding them consummate expressions of the magical realism genre I’ve always gravitated towards. But Asteroid City is, in my opinion, devoid of the humanness that makes Anderson’s films so beautiful. It is messy, but rehearsed and clinical, leaving no room for the genuine connection between characters and viewers that typically makes his magical worlds so human.

I Want To Be Happy | Regional News

I Want To Be Happy

Written by: Carl Bland

Directed by: Carl Bland and Ben Crowder

Running at Circa Theatre until 30th Sep

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Binka (Jennifer Ludlam) is a guinea pig. Paul (Joel Tobeck) is a human conducting experiments on her. Lonely and alone, they only have each other, but they cannot communicate. Both just want to be happy.

Andrew Foster might have made the set of the year. I Want To Be Happy begins in a lab with two cages onstage: a miniature one that Paul scrutinises, poking and prodding Binka as he laments his state of affairs, and a giant one where Ludlam performs. I don’t want to give too much away, but what follows is inimitable stage magic, with set and prop tricks that elicit audience-wide giggles, scene changes featuring an ingenious use of LEDs (lighting designer Sean Lynch) and astounding costumes I wish I could’ve photographed (designed by Elizabeth Whiting, realised by The Costume Studio).

Carl Bland’s script resembles two separate poems magnetised like atoms, at its most compelling when Binka and Paul’s dialogue collides. Paul is the kind of rare character you love to hate and hate to love. Tobeck’s intricate performance imbues an emotionally stunted man with vulnerability, while Ludlam breaks our collective heart with her captivating, powerful portrayal of a guinea pig. It’s one I buy without question.

This Nightsong production gave me a thrill I never thought I’d get to relive: the first time I watched a Disney movie. I recall inching ever closer to the screen, my nose practically booping Timon as I cheered Simba on, booed Scar, sobbed when Mufasa died, swooned at the love songs, and rejoiced when the lions took pride of place at Pride Rock. A Disney adventure for grownups, I Want To Be Happy takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of adrenaline highs and devastating lows as it plumbs the depths of poignant themes like loneliness and loss, friendship and family, and above all, communication. I leaned so far forward in my chair I nearly fell out of it. I’ve never been so emotionally invested in a guinea pig.

Zenith | Regional News


Choreographed by Amelia Butcher

Directed by: Amelia Butcher

BATS Theatre, 5th Sep 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Six incredible dancers. Six touching sections. 45 minutes of captivating movement. One phenomenal piece. Zenith.

Zenith is a unique contemporary dance piece exploring ideas and perceptions of one’s ‘zenith’, the highest point. The sections are carefully crafted by director Amelia Butcher’s choreography brand, Jenire, with each part flowing seamlessly into the next. Despite this, each one possesses its own dynamic energy.

Words are not needed to convey this beautiful and poignant story that is relevant to us all. Dance is fully capable of telling it.

Kaleidoscopic is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of this piece. Each movement is utterly mesmerising, taking us full force into the heat of the emotions that are centred around finding one’s zenith. The lighting design by Alexander R Dickson perfectly complements the work, with each lighting state strongly conveying the emotions and desires embodied by the dancers in each section.

These dancers have a flair like no other – they are an ensemble, but their individual personalities and talents are clearly showcased. They have complete control over their bodies, each movement signifying something part of a deeper story.

It is difficult to determine my high point of Zenith, as each unique and powerful section resonates with me equally. From the sharp to the smooth, the visceral to the vibrant, this piece has it all.

For a story without words, Zenith makes even more of an impact when the final song includes lyrics. With lyrics so compelling that seem to echo my thoughts throughout, it feels like the show has been speaking to us all along. Words can’t do it justice; you must experience it for yourself if you want to achieve your zenith. Make sure you reach your highest point and book tickets to see this show now.