Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Alicia Olatuja | Regional News

Alicia Olatuja

Michael Fowler Centre, 8th Jun 2019

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

It’s not very often you can say the backing band were invisible and mean it in a good way, but from the moment Alicia Olatuja walked on stage in a simple but elegant blue dress and gave us a smile, everybody but her disappeared. Her body language is sassy and purposeful and her voice seems fully formed.

Olatuja was oozing confidence after a few whirlwind years in which she caught the eye of musical producers. She performed as a soloist with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir for former President Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, she has released three exceptionally well-received jazz albums, performed at all the best venues, and has constantly been on tour.

What makes her exceptional is her gift of re-interpreting songs we know (and love). I’m not going to make the mistake of calling her a jazz singer, as I can see in the distance a career on Broadway. It’s a powerful and emotive voice lacking only bass notes, but her middle and high range (she is, in fact, a mezzo-soprano) is just perfect for projecting to the back row of any auditorium. In fact, her voice borders on that of the late lamented Minnie Ripperton.

This is a well-balanced programme tonight with a repertoire from Sade, Joni Mitchell’s Cherokee Louise, a song I’m unfamiliar with, and a highlight for me: Djavan’s Portuguese language Serrado (Ao Vivo), with the perfect solo from pianist Robert Mitchell. The encore with just her guitarist, Tracy Chapman’s Everything Must Change, richly deserved the standing ovation.

I’m a huge fan of artists willing to take a chance. So early in her career, Olatuja chose to find composers who have something unusual to say rather than spout Hallmark lovey-dovey lyrics. Some of the themes border on the uncomfortable, with childhood violence, staying in broken relationships, or body image issues.

Thanks to her most recent album Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women, Olatuja has tapped into a rich vein of material that is well worth pursuing. How wonderful that she shared many of the song’s origins with us tonight. Long may she prosper.

Ghost-Note | Regional News


Michael Fowler Centre, 7th Jun 2019

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

The Wellington Jazz Festival serves as a major conduit to discovering new acts to fall in love with. Tonight, we fell head over heels in aroha.

Ghost-Note is an example of a new act, though two of its personnel, Robert Searight and Nate Worth, both drummers, have appeared in New Zealand before as part of the Snarky Puppy group. In 2017 I wrote that Snarky Puppy felt like a band painting by numbers. If I felt that band was really a limp hot dog, then Ghost-Note is a rottweiler on steroids.

With two sax/flute players, Sylvester Onyejiaka and Jonathan Mones, percussionist Robert Searight, drummer Nate Werth, bass player Dwayne Thomas Jr (dressed in a luminous orange jumpsuit), two keyboard players Xavier Taplin and Vaughn Henry, and lead guitarist Peter Knudsen, we were treated to one of the best shows in Wellington in many a year.

With world-class musicians who have played with Prince, Toto, Herbie Hancock, Justin Timberlake, and countless others, you know you are watching music royalty.

Ghost-Note started as they meant to go on; with a rhythmic groove that makes it impossible to sit still, each number drenched in funk from a band truly in sync with each other.

With so much music to contend with, I’m loath to class them simply as a funk band. There were echoes of dub reggae (all that was missing was the waft of some ganja), Earth, Wind & Fire (my favourite part), a James Brown-inspired encore, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Afrobeat, Herbie Mann, the timbales of Tito Puente, George Clinton, and even a reference to Average White Band’s Pick up the Pieces. Best you just call them world-music ambassadors.

Everybody would have a section they liked most. Mine was the interplay on six different keyboards. Or was it eight? But choosing that would take away the drive between bass and drum and percussion. Others would fancy the sax and flute partners or the funky guitar licks.

Now, go out and purchase their two albums and share them with friends who missed this wonderful show.

Sol3 Mio: Back to Basics | Regional News

Sol3 Mio: Back to Basics

Michael Fowler Centre, 4th Jun 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I was lucky enough to interview Sol3 Mio’s baritone Moses Mackay before seeing this concert. Those 15 minutes we spent on the phone gave me a glimpse into the cheek, charm, and charisma I’d be in for. Already a fan of their outstanding musicianship, I was still totally unprepared for just how good Back to Basics would be.

The theme of the concert is intimacy: instead of Sol3 Mio’s usual arena tours, they’ve chosen venues where they can truly go back to basics. This means no orchestra, no stage lighting, and no microphones (most of the time). Of course, Sol3 Mio is more than capable of filling the Michael Fowler Centre without mics, but amplifying those gorgeous voices is always a good thing in my books.

At times accompanied by virtuosic pianist Lorelle McNougton and at others with Moses on guitar, the group sings a wide-ranging repertoire. From Pene and Amitai Pati’s exceptional, ovation-worthy Nessun Dorma through Moses’ stunning Old Man River to the trio’s hilarious Banana Boat Song, this concert offers something for everyone. Audience interaction is an entertaining bonus, especially when the unwitting Moana is roped into singing Yellow Bird with the boys and treated to Pene’s tongue-in-cheek rendition of Somethin’ Stupid.

Back to Basics works because Sol3 Mio doesn’t need a spectacle to blow an audience away; they are spectacular all on their own. I’m not just talking about Pene’s irresistible bongo playing here. I’m talking about the infectious humour, vibrant personalities, and immeasurable talent of the trio, both as individuals and as a collective. Sol3 Mio brings joy. By the end of the night after a whopping 30-minute encore, cheeks hurt from smiling, bellies hurt from laughing, and we’re uplifted and awed by the presence of such musical mastery. If you’re ever given the opportunity to be serenaded by Sol3 Mio (and that’s exactly what it will feel like – a private concert just for you), seize it immediately.

Assholes: A Theory | Regional News

Assholes: A Theory

81 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Presented by: the Doc Edge Film Festival

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Has there always been so many assholes around, or is the proliferation of entitled, rude people a 21st century phenomenon? Assholes: A Theory explores this question and many more, examining why and how the asshole develops, as well as where they thrive.

This documentary (directed by Canadian filmmaker John Walker) was inspired by the bestselling book of the same name by Aaron James, a professor of philosophy. James appears in interviews throughout the film, but especially the first third, where he and others define the term asshole in quite academic terms. For example, assholes are usually (but not always) male, white, and affluent. You can’t be an asshole until you’re old enough to know better. Finally, assholery points to a feeling of superiority and dismissal of other people’s emotions (rather than a complete lack of empathy, as in narcissistic personalities).

With a burbling, jazzy soundtrack and plenty of funny anecdotes from the likes of comedian John Cleese, Assholes: A Theory is clearly aiming to be light-hearted. However, as the second half of the film swings into matters like assholes in power, it becomes harder for the director to veil the seriously negative impact these people have on the world.

Apparently, assholes thrive in competitive environments like the financial and tech industries; think Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Interviewees dance around arguably the most prominent asshole on the planet right now, President Donald Trump, before delving into the careers of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and ex-prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi. Italian LGBTQIA+ activist Vladimir Luxuria, a direct opponent of Berlusconi’s, provides fascinating insights here.

Vox pops from ordinary people slow the pace somewhat, especially as I’m not sure who these talking heads are – at least some of them describe themselves as assholes.

Despite its provocative premise, Assholes: A Theory ambles along, entertainingly musing on the people we love to hate. If you’ve ever wondered how and why people are so dang rude these days, it’s well worth a watch.

Call Me Intern | Regional News

Call Me Intern

70 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Presented by: the Doc Edge Film Festival

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

In 2016, 22-year-old New Zealander David Hyde made headlines around the world when it was revealed that as an unpaid intern for the United Nations, he was living in a tent on the side of a lake in Geneva. Little did the press – or the UN, for that matter – know that Hyde had only taken on the position (and the unfortunate sleeping arrangements) as part of a film project.

Call Me Intern is the end result of Hyde’s UN stunt, a compelling documentary about the exploitative nature of unpaid internships. Cleverly, he and co-director Nathalie Berger springboard off Hyde’s experiences at the UN to concentrate on the stories of young Black Americans Marisa and Kyle. Marisa was ousted from her unpaid role at the Obama For America campaign after she reported her sexual assault, while Kyle worked at Fortune 500 company Warner Music from a homeless shelter.

The interviews were obviously done with great skill and care, as Kyle and Marisa both reveal intimate details of their backgrounds, motivation to pursue unpaid work, and devastation when they realised their internships were a dead end. Their stories brilliantly illustrate how unpaid internships also work to restrict diversity in white-collar professions and at top companies. Only rich kids can afford to work for nothing, and statistically speaking, rich kids are more likely to be white.

The movie side-steps any accusations of millennial whingeing with extensive interviews from academics. They put these stories in a greater context, where unpaid internships account for up to half of all internships offered in America, in a workforce where entry-level jobs are all but disappearing.

I’ve never heard of an unpaid internship in Aotearoa, but the stories in Call Me Intern still resonated with me. It’s extremely hard to find meaningful work as a young person, even with a university degree. While to some degree Call Me Intern was preaching to a millennial choir, I hope that older generations can recognise the injustice the film delves into so well.

The Full Monty | Regional News

The Full Monty

Music and lyrics by David Yazbek

Directed by: Julie O’Brien

Gryphon Theatre, 29th May 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Based on the cult classic film of the same name, The Full Monty is about a group of six unemployed men who decide to stage a strip show to gain purpose in their lives and impress their wives.

Toxic masculinity. Sexism. Homophobia. Racism. Fat shaming. Slut shaming. It’s all here in this knotty, frankly gross script. I do admire a work that attempts to deal with difficult subjects, but this one barely resolves even one of the issues it raises. For the most part, The Full Monty lets bigotry fly. Unfortunately, it rather seems Kauri Theatre Company hopes we won’t notice this.

There are so many little decisions the company could have made to subvert the noxious notions expressed in The Full Monty. Let the gay couple kiss to offset the rampant homophobia (and the assault of a gay stripper) in the opening scenes. Don’t insert an Italian caricature – racist stereotyping isn’t funny. And absolutely do not graphically depict an attempted suicide in a car for no other reason than to show off your set.

Suicide is never, ever funny. If you’ve experienced it, you know this. You should know this anyway. If you choose to stage a scene featuring a deeply disgusting song called Big-Ass Rock, about helping your friend to die by suicide, you should approach the staging of it with extreme caution. Making the trigger warnings in the foyer more visible is necessary here, and the audience should be informed of the scene in the opening announcements.

There are really great moments in this show. The final scene is a riot, Jane Keller has me in stitches, Peter Quinn’s voice is exceptional, James Catherwood is adorable, the costumes (Cathy Yee and Mary Jarmulski) are total glitz and glam, and yes, it’s a great set. I’m not discounting the talent or effort of the cast and crew involved, but I just can’t abide a production content to blindside its audience in 2019.

Running Late | Regional News

Running Late

Written by: Courtney Rose Brown

Directed by: Shauwn Keil

BATS Theatre, 28th May 2019

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Running Late is the story of one remote, rural, decrepit bus stop, and six of the unlucky people that come across it.

We first come across the bus stop via Jamie (Emma Katene), a schoolgirl who’s been dropped off there indefinitely. She’s pissed off, and the only sustenance she has is half a bottle of scrumpy and a ratty cigarette (but she doesn’t have a light). Over the course of three days, she meets Lucy, or Ruihi (Kelsey Robson), a big-city Māori; the kinda-familiar Charlie (Shay Tanirau); wasted white boy Nick (Jackson Herman); and squabbling BFFs and maybe-lovers Sam (Courtney Rose Brown) and Jules (Harriet Hughes).

One of the best parts of the show is undoubtedly the set, designed by Anne-Lisa Noordover. It is perfectly detailed, down to the brown harakeke leaves and empty bottle brushed under the bus stop seat.

The scenes, connected piecemeal by Jamie, the setting, and a nearby wedding, are for the most part strong. A stand-out is the first sequence with Charlie, when Jamie realises he’s an old friend of hers that has come out as a trans man. The dialogue, peppered with Kiwi-isms, is awkward, funny, and sweet.

Other scenes don’t quite land as nicely. The opening scene between Jamie and Lucy/Ruihi, for example, never quite settles. It struggles to make the connection between the pair feel genuine, partly because we just don’t know them very well yet.

It’s unfortunately the weaker moments of Running Late that make me question its cohesion. As a slice-of-life piece, it does have a lot of valuable insights into modern-day Aotearoa. It’s just that, at times, the bus stop device doesn’t quite work. The realism of the dialogue pushes against its framing; we have to suspend our disbelief a little too far, too often.

Running Late is an exciting example of theatre inspired by everyday New Zealanders. Toi Ngākau Productions, the talented team behind the show, is a company to watch.

Jupiter | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 25th May 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Marc Taddei said he has long wanted to double bill Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8. They are the last symphonies of both composers, completed a century apart. Mozart’s work is a transition point between the more formal classical and romantic periods of music. Bruckner’s work is a culmination of the romantic style where emotion is given full play.

The huge differences in style were well displayed in this concert. If Mozart and Bruckner could have had a conversation, Mozart might well have said to Bruckner, “Less is more, Anton”. Bruckner might have retorted “Loosen up, man.”

The visible difference lay in the size of the orchestras. There were 39 players for Mozart, including four brass, five woodwind, and four double basses. The 83 for Bruckner included 15 brass, 12 woodwind, and six double basses.

Orchestra Wellington’s opening of the Mozart was magical: stirring chords using all resources followed by delicate string melodies. I would say that nothing in the concert was better than the orchestra’s playing of this first movement. It was played with precision, lyricism, well-judged transitions between themes and dynamics, and good drive and rhythm. The Mozart was a total delight: elegant, exuberant, and joyful.

Joy was not apparent in Bruckner. Rather the colours were dark and the mood dramatic and intense. Tempestuous climaxes arose and subsided over and over. I particularly enjoyed the dying end of the first movement, the insistent urgency of the second movement, the aching but robust sweetness of some of the third movement, and the sense that Bruckner reached some degree of resolution of momentous emotions in the finale.

Special mention is needed of the timpanist for drama, the horn players for emotion and volume, and the lower strings for strength and mellow sweetness. And of Mark Taddei for his ambitious programming and for eliciting inspired performances.

Paul Sinha | Regional News

Paul Sinha

Te Auaha, 21st May 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

For those wondering whether Paul ‘The Sinnerman’ Sinha from The Chase is funny, he is. Now we’ve settled that, let’s get into his New Zealand debut at the NZ International Comedy Festival.

The audience brims with anticipation before the show, with a long line snapping all the way to the stairs the second the doors open. Te Auaha’s Tapere Nui (the big theatre) is at full capacity; even ‘the gods’ are utilised to fit more bums on seats.

Paul’s show is almost a monologue; it’s a steady stream of scripted speech, rarely fumbled over. Eloquent, clever, and perfectly balanced, the script is equal parts heartbreak and hilarity, light and dark. Though clearly rehearsed and likely memorised, it’s not a tired set. The quiz master has put in the research. Israel Folau, our contentious relationship with Australia, and Hamilton are just some of the topics that Paul incorporates as he takes the mickey out of New Zealand. We don’t mind though – I much prefer being cheerily mocked as a nation to being singled out and personally ridiculed, a common comedy trope.

Watching Paul in action, I realise I’ve never seen a comedian more generous with his audience. As well as yarns about his time on The Chase (which the audience laps up), Paul shares deeply personal stories. He tells us about giving up a career as a doctor to pursue comedy (something his conservative family just loved!), shares stories from the worst week of his life, and even confronts a past traumatic sexual encounter. In this moment, the audience’s silence is deafening. But not because we’re not okay with hearing about the nigh assault. We’re silent because we’re devastated that Paul blames himself for it. If you’re reading this Paul, it wasn’t your fault, and no, you didn’t “lead him on.” Consent can be given and withdrawn at any time.

Paul is a brave, intelligent, and hilarious comedian. This is a golden hour of stand-up that I’d pay to see again and again.