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Gravity & Grace | Regional News

Gravity & Grace

Written by: Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken

Directed by: Eleanor Bishop

Circa Theatre, 10th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Everybody fails, sometimes spectacularly. Few write a fearless book about it, but this is exactly what feminist writer Chris Kraus did after her experimental feature film epically flopped at a Berlin film market in 1998. Based on her book Aliens & Anorexia, this bold and innovative stage show seeks to answer the question: how did it all go so wrong?

Co-playwright Karin McCracken takes the lead role of Kraus and is supported by an ensemble cast of four (Nī Dekkers-Reihana, Simon Leary, Rongopai Tickell, and Sam Snedden) who expertly fill all the other roles in her strange life. McCracken is natural and engaging as someone who eventually realises that having no visual imagination is a bad foundation for becoming a filmmaker.

As much cinema as theatre, this stage show uses four cameras positioned beside, above, and on the stage to live-project the actors onto a large screen behind the acting area. Objects (including a gross-looking bowl of cold Campbell’s minestrone soup) also appear, set up on a lightbox at the edge of the stage. The technical work to mix this varying vision with recorded footage, sometimes matching it frame for frame, is astounding. Video designer Owen Iosefa McCarthy, video programmer Rachel Neser (Artificial Imagination), and show operator Natasha Thyne deserve special recognition. Also working seamlessly with the technology is a subtly effective lighting design (Rob Larsen) that lets the actors be seen but never gets in the way of the projections and atmospheric soundscape (Emi 恵美 Pogoni).

Another clever touch in the staging (performance designer Meg Rollandi) is a cut-out section of the screen that has a gauzy covering behind which the actors appear as characters, such as the British film producer Kraus has a long-distance sadomasochistic phone-sex relationship with, who Kraus never meets.

The many awesome technical ideas make the show run a little long at two-and-a-half hours, but this is my only critique of an otherwise fascinating and creatively delivered production.

Beyond Words | Regional News

Beyond Words

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Fawzi Haimor

Michael Fowler Centre, 9th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

The attacks on worshippers at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre on the 15th of March 2019 left a permanent mark on New Zealand. Over the last two years, Muslim communities around Aotearoa have provided guidance and support for this anniversary concert.

Umoja Anthem of Unity, by Valerie Coleman, set the theme – promoting peace and unity through music, deliberately intertwining Western and Eastern musical traditions. Singer Abdelilah Rharrabti, vocalist and daf (drum) musician Esmail Fathi, and saz (Turkish long-necked lute) player Liam Oliver from Ōtautahi Christchurch’s Simurgh Music School were accompanied by the orchestra, somewhat in the form of a concerto. The Eastern tonal structure was strong and the men’s voices were powerfully reminiscent of the grief and trauma suffered in 2019 and since.

Moroccan artist Oum, known for her modern take on traditional sounds, gave a strong vocal performance in Daba, that strength made greater in the way her solo voice faded at the finish.

Reza Vali’s Funèbre for solo violin and strings was a standout, emotional, gut-wrenching experience. NZSO concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen’s versatility and musicality brought a voice from his violin that echoed the voices heard earlier.

In Mantilatos, Kyriakos Tapakis showed us how a virtuoso plays his oud, how impressive it sounds, and how hard his fingers worked as the last bars raced along at breakneck pace.

Arvo Pärt’s Silouan’s Song was beautifully and confidently played and lifted to another level by conductor Fawzi Haimor’s skilful use of silence in the pauses.

The final piece, Ahlan wa Sahlan, commissioned from John Psathas and composed in collaboration with Oum and Tapakis, was about belonging and being safe with the people you know. The five movements traversed cultures and emotions, Oum’s vocals and Tapakis’ oud above the orchestra, reminding us of language and music still not always familiar to Western ears, and that we must continue to learn from the 15th of March.

The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical | Regional News

The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical

Written by: Nino Raphael

Directed by: Nino Raphael

The Welsh Dragon Bar, Weds 6th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate: The Musical sets sail off the pages of Margaret Mahy’s treasured children’s picture book of the same name. The story follows Sam (Taipuhi King) as he finally breaks free from his job as an accountant to join his pirate mother (Hilary Norris) on the high seas.

Drawing from the Mahy classic, master composer and lyricist Nino Raphael has created catchy tunes with words that roll off the tongues of the performers. The sea shanties and patter songs are superb, with a highlight being Sam’s ditty about auditing his mother’s books. I would love there to be a wider variety of songs, as I feel this would enhance the musical even more.

Raphael is fantastic on concertina, guitar, and piano. Who needs a philharmonic orchestra when you have a one-man band providing sensational accompaniment and support? He is fantastic at leading both the cast and the audience. We essentially become the ensemble, filling the quaint venue of The Welsh Dragon Bar with lively, rowdy joy. I hope that in future renditions of this show, audience interaction remains a focal point.

All the performers have stunning vocals and a strong grasp of the music despite having a short rehearsal period. They embody their roles – inspired by the original story – with distinct, hilarious characterisations. I understand the musical is intended to be longer and am very curious to see how the characters would grow and develop when given more time on stage, especially Mr Fat (Adam Herbert).

Whilst this is their (sold out!) development season, I am extremely impressed. I can see this upbeat, energetic show becoming incredibly popular. I am very privileged to have caught the first-ever performance, as well as The Welsh Dragon Bar’s Fringe Festival debut. I hope that The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate: The Musical continues to catch the wind in its sails and travels far.

JIMMY | Regional News


Written by: Micky Delahunty with Parekawa Finlay

Directed by: Micky Delahunty

Hannah Playhouse, 5th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The writer’s note in the programme sets up the premise for JIMMY, a New Zealand Fringe Festival show, as “our friend Cole Hampton. It’s the story of Jimmy, a character Cole was playing in a script I wrote for him and Ari Leason. We were rehearsing it at the time of his death. We could never do that play. So we wrote JIMMY.” It’s a poignant and tender beginning for a heartfelt love-letter-cum-eulogy to a lost companion.

Five souls are alone in their own worlds: Jack (Jared Lee) is burrowing down an internet rabbit hole on the nature of the universe; Lou (Ari Leason) is creatively stuck by mourning; Orla (Olivia Marshall) is rehearsing for opening night of a Greek tragedy; Puāwai (Parekawa Finlay) is recalling Māori legends in the constellations; and James (Jono Weston) is remembering summer with his childhood friend. These disparate threads weave together over the course of an hour as these friends and relations of Jimmy’s come together to farewell him. It’s a simply effective and highly relatable narrative structure that is reflected daily in funeral rites the world over as people from each branch of an individual’s life join in remembrance. We learn about Jimmy – his daring, humorous, creative nature – through the recollections of these five.

The vignettes of memory, loss, and grief are interspersed with songs, the real strength of this production. Each cast member has written and performs at least one song and they come together to perform two by Cole Hampton himself, the entertaining Weirdo and the uplifting Good, which they deliver as an impromptu wake for Jimmy. The cast are endearing and clearly demonstrate the varying trauma of grief without going overboard. Leason is particularly strong with her beautiful voice and guitar-playing.

The underscoring theme of space and time reflects the ultimate message of JIMMY: even if you die, you still exist through other people. And that’s something we all should wish for upon a star.

Dune: Part Two | Regional News

Dune: Part Two


165 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

There is no grammatical reason for the word ‘spice’ to be capitalised in Dune: Part Two. The hinge upon which this story turns, spice is the psychedelic drug harvested from the Sahara-esque planet of Arrakis. As the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) says in the opening line of the film, “He who controls the Spice, controls the universe.” This is all well and fine, but why did they have to go and capitalise spice? In Frank Herbert’s books, spice is rightfully helmed by a small ‘s’. In the real world, we do not capitalise oregano or basil, nor cocaine or marijuana. It’s not a proper noun either. It’s a sparkly, hallucinogenic dust that has turned the Fremen’s home planet into a desolate, battle-torn wasteland; a dust that has destroyed House Atreides and made our protagonist Paul (Timothée Chalamet) both a fugitive and a prophet; a dust that makes the whole world turn.

This grammatical oversight, however, is my biggest criticism. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Dune: Part Two is a spectacular space saga worth the two hour and 45-minute runtime. I highly recommend watching it on a big screen to become fully immersed in Greig Fraser’s arresting cinematography and soak in the magnitude of Patrice Vermette’s soviet dystopian design. The seats shake to Hans Zimmer’s reverberating soundtrack, a rumbling storm on the horizon threatening to break – a mirror to the unfolding story.  

At the centre of Dune: Part Two are the Fremen, the Indigenous people of Arrakis who are involved in a conflict much larger than they realise. The two Fremen sects are expertly personified by Stilgar (Javier Bardem), who believes Paul is Lisan al Gaib or the messiah, and Chani (Zendaya), Paul’s love interest, who thinks the idea of a foreign saviour was planted by those trying to subjugate them in the first place. Paul’s destiny weighs heavy on his shoulders as he chooses between which fate he must follow. Like it or not, he is at the centre of a universe waiting to explode.

There will definitely be a third instalment, so buckle up – it’s a wild and bumpy ride on the back of a behemoth sandworm.

The Savage Coloniser Show | Regional News

The Savage Coloniser Show

Written by: Tusiata Avia

Directed by: Anapela Polata’ivao

Circa Theatre, 3rd Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Following their critically acclaimed production Wild Dogs Under My Skirt at the 2018 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, the FCC creative team is back this festival, bringing to ferocious life Tusiata Avia’s Ockham Poetry Award-winning The Savage Coloniser Book.

Far from being a simple poetry reading, this is a blisteringly provocative theatrical presentation by six Pasifika actors who speak, sing, and move their way through Avia’s confronting texts. She is totally unafraid to cast an unforgiving and provocative eye over race and racism, coloniser and colonised. The poems cross-examine the cringe-making things white people say, Gauguin’s sexualised utopian vision of Tahiti, white criticism of intergenerational trauma as an ‘excuse’ for bad behaviour, the stereotyping of South Aucklanders, a health sector that uses BMI as a weapon against Brown people, and much more. Woe betide you if you’re a National or ACT voter; Christopher Luxon and Judith Collins don’t come off well at all. That’s not to say the show isn’t funny. It’s achingly so and at many times causes a ripple of laughter and applause through the audience, as well as the odd whoop of righteous agreement.

The exceptional cast of Stacey Leilua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Mario Faumui, Petmal Petelo, Ilaisaane Green, and Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute totally own the stage. They are a strong, slick, and superbly coordinated team (choreography by Tupua Tigafua and Mario Faumui) with just six chairs, six machetes, and a mirror as props. They are aided by a superb set and a lighting design (production designers Bradley Gledhill and Rachel Marlow) that cleverly employs projections onto a sheer screen in front of the actors and smoke and lights behind them to emphasise the poetry, along with haunting music composed by David Long.

The Savage Coloniser Show is savage both in its content and its execution, while also being a creation of theatrical artistry. Leaving much to think about and examine in your own behaviour, it is a bold and necessary understanding of the history of Aotearoa.

Queens of the Stone Age: The End Is Nero Tour | Regional News

Queens of the Stone Age: The End Is Nero Tour

TSB Arena, 1st Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Graeme King

A capacity crowd including many decades-long fans paid Homme-age to Josh and the band at an extremely hot TSB Arena. Queens of the Stone Age’s world tour supports their acclaimed eighth studio album In Times New Roman, but with an extensive catalogue spanning nearly 30 years, only five new songs out of a total of 19 were played. 

The soothing background music was in stark contrast to the band’s concert opener Regular John, featuring the blistering guitars of Josh Homme, longtime bandmate Troy Van Leeuwen, and keyboardist/guitarist Dean Fertita. The rocking No One Knows followed and had the crowd pumped and trying to sing the roof off! 

The highly interactive Homme had his adoring fans in the palm of his hand with a good-humoured call-and-response of “F… You” – offending no-one in this audience. Emotion Sickness, featuring Michael Shuman’s slick bass and gorgeous falsetto harmonies with Van Leeuwen, had the crowd clapping in time to the acapella chorus. 

Despite the occasional cigarette on stage, Homme’s vocals were impressive in range and quality! Time & Place had the band joyously jumping and dancing around the stage. Homme was mesmerising, at times just focusing on his vocal performance with his arms waving in the air, at others staggering around the stage playing searing guitar solos. A frontman at the top of his game, he gave special praise to monster drummer Jon Theodore, whom he said was “puking his guts out with food poisoning yesterday!” 

Make It Wit Chu, with the crowd singing the chorus, and Homme’s effortless falsetto segueing into The Rolling Stones’ Miss You, was a highlight – but this was a concert of too many highs, and songs, to mention.

Little Sister finished the set, but the raucous crowd wasn’t finished yet. Encores Go With The Flow and the haunting Song For The Dead, featuring a thunderous drum solo, closed the show.

The triangle-shaped lighting rig encompassing the band on stage was visually stunning, and the sound balance also impressive. The End Is Nero Tour? Simply superb.

The Suitcase Show | Regional News

The Suitcase Show

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell

Directed by: Hannah Smith

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Imagine the kind of tingly, eerie warmth that would course through your veins if you were listening to a Brothers Grimm fairytale by a roaring fire with a glass of whisky in hand. Now imagine the person telling you that story is building a whole world around you, enhancing every beat with shadowplay and spooky soundscapes, projections and puppetry.

That’s the closest I can come to describing a Trick of the Light Theatre show. Few words are capable of capturing the magic this innovative theatre company brings to the stage. Every time.

The latest entry in the canon, The Suitcase Show follows a traveller (Ralph McCubbin Howell) who’s been flagged by security (Hannah Smith) for possessing a number of suspicious items at the airport. In some dingy backroom, the traveller unveils the contents of each suitcase one by one, sharing the stories contained within to an automaton officer who just wants to know if those matches are flammable, actually.

While seemingly unconnected at first, the stories are woven together by a thematic thread that I won’t uncoil here. Each one is told with trademark Trick of the Light flair and effects that are special in all senses of the word. A moving trainset appears out of thin air; a rickety overhead projector unfolds to the beat of a retro space theme (sound design and composition by Tane Upjohn Beatson); a miniature town materialises, lit from within as if by magic; a love story for the ages plays out with nought but four LED lights and two hands (McCubbin Howell in a show highlight). It all climaxes in a hilarious scene featuring videographic wizardry (Dean Hewison) and two end-of-line officers (Anya-Tate Manning, Richard Falkner) tasked with screening the contents of the traveller’s last case. Prohibited items doesn’t begin to cut it.

Trick of the Light Theatre are self-professed notorious tinkerers. As someone who had the privilege of seeing The Suitcase Show twice, the only critiques I would have made had already been addressed by the second show. The only feedback I’ve got left now? Amazing.   

Witi’s Wāhine | Regional News

Witi’s Wāhine

Written by: Nancy Brunning

Directed by: Ngapaki Moetara and Teina Moetara

St James Theatre, 29th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Where you see one woman, you see a thousand, Witi’s Wāhine proclaims with the force of a raging storm, a standing army, an entire tangata past, present, and future echoing their voice. Woven together with the pages of Witi Ihimaera’s stories and golden threads of waiata, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts production is a tapestry of wāhine, whenua, and Māori wisdom.

Sitting downstage left, the chair with the crocheted blanket is the lone set piece for now, but it is not alone. Before actors even arrive, before guests take their seats, before the curtain rises, the chair sits occupied by memories of the past and impressions of the future, waiting in anticipation for the present to unfold. Once the performers join, there is silence. Roimata Fox, Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby, Kristyl Neho, and Olivia Violet Robinson-Falconer, with soft smiles on their lips, slowly pan the room, returning the gaze of each and every eye peering up at them. For a few minutes, we are nowhere but in the present.

For the next 120 minutes, we find ourselves somewhere in the in-between. Time and space crack and bend, ebb and flow as the cast, characters, and stories pass through the doors of the set walls (Penny Fit), portals to other realms less tangible than ours. The performers bring the set to life as they dance and fight, shuffle and take flight with unparalleled skill highlighted by brilliantly executed technical effects. The cast of eight are one but they are distinct, each playing a myriad of richly developed characters utterly singular yet somehow joined through their struggles, joys, and whakapapa.

Across the multi-coloured fabric of generations, storms rage, sunlight shines bright, blood drenches through William Smith’s evocative lighting design and Tyna Keelan’s immersive soundscape. Gossamer threads of pain and sorrow, wisdom and instinct stretch across history, twisting our heartstrings into a knot. But when the threads of time unwind, when the worlds of fiction and reality, legend and history uncoil, what remain are flax ribbons of laughter, joy, and love.