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Reviews

Beethoven 9 | Regional News

Beethoven 9

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Edo de Waart

Michael Fowler Centre, 23rd Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

There was an almost full house for two very fine performances of Beethoven's Symphonies No.1 in C major, Op.21 and No.9 in D minor, Op.125.

In the first symphony the lightness of de Waart's expert touch and the reduced numbers in the orchestra produced a playful and elegant performance. Variations in timing and volume shaped the movements of this early Beethoven piece.

Over a hundred works later, his ninth symphony is long, complex, and particularly notable for his innovative use of a full choir and soloists in a symphonic work. While many of his works are known by signature phrases (think of the fifth symphony's opening bars, 'dit, dit, dit, daah – dit, dit, dit, daah’) the ninth is most recognisable for the final movement. The orchestra signals the impending theme, flitting between strings and woodwind (an excellent performance on the night from the cellos and basses) until the singers eventually take centre stage and the Ode to Joy rings out.

The voices were glorious. Although not making an impact until the finale, this was worth waiting for. The wait was time well spent. Beethoven is famous for developing the symphonic form. In return, the orchestra gave us the benefit of their skill, showing off the various orchestrations to their full. The musicality of the performance was wonderful. The soloists (Madeleine Pierard, Soprano; Kristin Darragh, Mexxo-Soprano; Simon O'Neill, Tenor; and Anthony Robin Schneider, Bass) were superb, and the Voices New Zealand choir was exceptional. Edo de Waart used the choir brilliantly to support the soloists where the music demanded, but gave them free rein where he could.

Beethoven was entirely deaf by the time he wrote his ninth symphony and producing one masterpiece after another. During the standing ovation for a wonderful concert, my companion, raising her voice to be heard, said “Can you imagine having all that in your head?”

Madam Butterfly | Regional News

Madam Butterfly

Conducted by: Matthew Ross

Written by: Giacomo Puccini

Directed by: Alex Galvin

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Puccini’s masterpiece, Madam Butterfly, opens with Lieutenant BF Pinkerton (Boyd Owen) marvelling at his new Japanese home. It’s so practical! So handsome! And just like his new Japanese wife, Butterfly (Hannah Catrin Jones), he can toss it off any time he likes. Thus the tragic love story of Madam Butterfly begins: with an opportunistic American and a kind-hearted young woman. By the end of the show, her delicate wings have been squashed underneath his foolish, selfish feet.

Madam Butterfly is the first opera I’ve ever been to – and I’m so glad I started with this one. Not only was this Eternity Opera production in English, but it was intimate, well-acted, and compelling. A few notes for my fellow novices: all dialogue is sung, even if it’s only a line; the style of operatic singing is such that you may not catch every single word; and it definitely helps to know the bones of the story before the lights go down.

The three leads, Owen, Jones, and Kieran Rayner (playing Sharpless), sounded impeccable to my ears. I loved when they sang together, their combined voices effortlessly lifting over the compact orchestra tucked to the side of the stage.

They were also superb actors. Jones was heart-breaking and appropriately fragile as Butterfly; I’m pretty sure that during her vigil for Pinkerton’s return, she didn’t so much as blink. And Leo McKenzie as her young son almost stole the show in his tiny sailor suit.

The only thing that struck me after the show was how un-Japanese it was. There was a distinct lack of Japanese cast members, and as the piece had been re-contextualised to the 1950s, the costumes were western. I would like to have seen a show where the two cultures had collided more visually, more viscerally, and more strangely.

That said, Madam Butterfly and Eternity Opera have made an opera fan out of me. Who would have thought it!

Puss in Boots The Pantomime | Regional News

Puss in Boots The Pantomime

Written by: Paul Jenden

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 23rd Dec 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In a sad shack in Aro Valley, Camilla Miller (Gavin Rutherford) and her son, Arthur Miller (Ben Emerson), struggle to get by. Hoping to catch a break after the death of Mr Miller, the family is excited to receive his last will and testament by way of NZ Post (/the supermarket/the lotto shop/the liquor store). That is, until they discover he’s squandered every last cent of his hard-earned dough during a mid-life crisis. He does, however, leave them one thing: a cat (Jonathan Morgan). The cat talks. And, well. You know the rest.

Puss in Boots The Pantomime is absolutely, unequivocally delightful. My colleague and I had a blast and frequently found ourselves in hysterics. If you’re a kid, go. If you’re an adult with kids, go. If you’re an adult without kids, go. If you’re a cat, go. Anyone and everyone should see this show if they’re seeking a fantastic night out at the theatre and a belly full of laughs.

This was one of my favourite performances of Rutherford’s, whose ad-libbing was a show (and year) highlight. Ben Emerson was suitably silly and wide-eyed as the Dame’s parkour-practising son, while Simon Leary added a sensitive touch to the cast as the gormless King Justin. Morgan’s sultry, slinky Puss in Boots was beautifully balanced against Natasha McAllister’s sweet yet sassy Princess Martha (hiya!).

Carrie Green and Jeff Kingsford-Brown nearly stole the show as the nasty trolls (boo!). Their performance of The Logical Song by Supertramp (incredible musical direction by Michael Nicholas Williams) was the best unexpected musical number I’ve witnessed at the theatre for a very long time.

It’s a well-known fact that Circa’s annual pantomime features adult jokes, and last year I commented that I found some of them inappropriate for children. I felt there was a marked improvement this year, with the lewdness less explicit and not nearly as likely to cause unwanted questions around the dinner table.

I cannot recommend Puss in Boots The Pantomime highly enough. Go!

Actual Fact | Regional News

Actual Fact

Written by: Meg Rollandi and Isobel MacKinnon

Directed by: Meg Rollandi and Isobel MacKinnon

Running at BATS Theatre until 1st Dec 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Actual Fact begins when three women witness a series of simultaneous, bizarre events. K (Karin McCracken), M (Madeline McNamara), and F (Freya Finch) are happily exchanging jokes when a fan turns on out of its own accord, a tarpaulin lights up, and two green buckets fall over. A satsuma and a cabbage are also involved, but I won’t spoil anything here.

For the rest of the show, the characters attempt to piece together the inciting incident. Each time they recount the events, they change the details of the narrative ever so slightly. It’s something we all do, but don’t care to admit. By the end of Actual Fact, even the audience is not entirely sure what happened, and nobody knows what it all means – but we’ve had fun trying to work it out alongside the exceptional cast.

Technical design elements are a focal point and highlight of this production. With cyclical videography by Charley Draper, Meg Rollandi, and Isobel MacKinnon; bass-heavy, distortive sound design by Thomas Lambert; and hypnotic, hazy lighting by Owen McCarthy (a design team at the top of their game, overseen by technical manager Michael Trigg), plus rhythmic and repetitive dialogue, I regularly found myself sinking into a trance. Rather than fight that temptation, I’d encourage the viewer to embrace it. In a dream-like state, I was able to insert my own memories and meanings into the script. This meant Actual Fact took me on an entirely subjective journey of my own experiences, and resonated more deeply as a result. I found myself exploring how I might have subverted my history, which I suspect is one of Rollandi and MacKinnon’s ambitions for the work.

Add to this stellar performances from a balanced, adroit cast, and you’ve got a winner. It’s a show you have to be in the right mood for, but if you’re willing to embrace Actual Fact, you’ll have a great ride during and an abundance of food for thought afterwards.

Mahler 7 | Regional News

Mahler 7

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Edo de Waart

Michael Fowler Centre, 9th Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans and Jennie Jones

A particularly wet and blustery end to the working week seemed to have markedly reduced the audience for Edo de Waart’s masterful command of the NZSO’s rendition of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.7 in E minor.

A big piece calls for a big orchestra, and this was one of those nights when it looked impossible to cram any more players onto the stage. And a big orchestra makes a big sound, with multiple opportunities for soloists and small groups to show us their skill. A couple of leading players were absent (first violin and cello) but, giving truth to the depth of talent in the orchestra, this did not affect the quality of the performance one iota.

The theme from the first few bars reappears at intervals during the work. The solid and perfectly pitched opening theme was heard again and again with different instruments, giving us distinctive reflections of mood and tone as we strode through the five movements.

The orchestra played straight through, allowing the audience the opportunity to immerse themselves in the music. Mahler’s narrative may never have been confirmed, but there is certainly a progression through the movements.

The first opens with solo euphonium giving way to a French horn duet with woodwind. It was a pleasure to watch the joyful double basses bringing melody and rhythm to the second movement with bow strikes and fierce pizzicato. A solo viola passage stood out in the third movement, and the thematically more complex violin part in the fourth was the culmination of all that had been building towards the exultant fifth movement in which it seemed everyone was playing everything and anything. The blend of a terrific timpani opening, the interplay of strings with brass and woodwind, then all brass together, delicate string quartet interludes, and then a combination of trombone and double bass resulted in a glorious finale of an unmistakeable masterpiece of the Romantic period.

Friday’s Flock | Regional News

Friday’s Flock

Written by: Reihana and Karla Haronga

Directed by: Reihana and Karla Haronga

Running at Circa Theatre until 17th Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sam runs the Saleyards Café in Feilding. A local institution, his customers are the very definition of regulars. Always first to arrive are Walter and his dog, Jack, who would rather sit inside thank you very much. Next is the fast-talking, clueless farmer Joseph, who couldn’t fix a fence or cook a roast to save himself. And let’s not forget the lovely lady who likes to sit at the café with a cup of tea and wait for her husband – even if his “I’ll be back in one hour dear” always means three.

Craig Geenty plays all these characters and more in this one-man show that strides the seasons – a metaphor beautifully expressed in the action of the play. In just 45 minutes, we traverse a year in the lives of the Saleyards folk.

Reihana and Karla Haronga wrote Friday’s Flock about the real Saleyards Café in Feilding, where it has been performed countless times for the patrons who inspired it. The authenticity of this process shines through, not just in the crafting of such genuine, believable, and lovable characters, but in the staging of the work as a whole.

The set (constructed by Blair Ryan) resembles a small-town café to a tee. No detail has been overlooked; it even boasts a real pie warmer stocked with pea pie pud (townies like me might be baffled by this one). In this replica Saleyards interior, the audience becomes completely immersed in the world of the play.

Geenty energetically switches from one character to the next, his transitions seamless and his characterisation clear. I’m never confused about who he is playing when, and each portrayal starts off strong. However, after the initial tableau, Geenty occasionally drifts back into his natural demeanour. Nevertheless, his performance is passionate and considered.

Friday’s Flock is a tender, poetic, and sensitive work that will warm the cockles of your heart. Plus, it’s worth seeing just for Geenty’s hilarious embodiment of a dog.

The Nutcracker | Regional News

The Nutcracker

Choreographed by Val Caniparoli

Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 2nd Nov 2018

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Nutcracker is a classic Christmas tale and, alongside the likes of Giselle and Swan Lake, a ballet company staple. With choreography by Val Caniparoli (USA) and Tchaikovsky's illustrious score delightfully performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO), the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) brings the magical Christmas story to life.

The Nutcracker isn't necessarily a traditional Kiwi Christmas experience, so for those of you who are unfamiliar, the story goes; a young girl is gifted a Nutcracker doll by a brilliant toymaker, and on Christmas Eve she dreams the doll turns into a handsome prince who rescues her from the clutches of the evil Mouse King. The pair journey through a wintery wood and partake in a glorious celebration led by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her dapper Cavalier.

The world created on the stage at the Opera House drips with fairy-tale magic and a bit of sleight of hand magic too. From the impressive set designed by Michael Auer, the vibrantly coloured costumes, and the swirling snowfall cascading over the enchanting dancers to the selection of local child performers who almost steal the first act from the professional ballerinas beside them, RNZB’s The Nutcracker presents a whimsical and merry evening at the theatre.

The dancers perform with alacrity and endearing passion, leaping skyward with ease and trusting each other inherently. Live music from the NZSO and a (disappointingly) short appearance by the Orpheus Choir beautifully transports one into an epic experience. A pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier is exquisitely romantic, setting a highlight of the evening, alongside the cheeky trio of 'Russian Caviar', who squat dance across the stage in marvellous unison.

The Nutcracker manages to deliver something for everyone. Whether you are a dance connoisseur, an appreciator of music, or someone who just loves a good old Christmas classic, you will be swept into the charming storybook world crafted by the RNZB and their fine collaborators.

Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel | Regional News

Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel

Written by: Katie Boyle

Directed by: Alexander Sparrow

Powwow, 31st Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Patricia Goldsack (Katie Boyle) – Pat to her friends and lovers – has had more sex than you can swing a stick at. She’s figured a few things out in her time, and in this show, she sure doesn’t hold back on telling us all about it.

In this solo comedy show from Sparrow & Boyle Productions, Boyle walks a tightrope between stand-up comedy and chatty theatre show. While the jokes aren’t new, she’s a remarkably likeable, warm performer who manages to somehow remain palatable.

The audience is ostensibly attending one of Pat’s famous swingers club meetings. She begins by telling us the rules – which include leaving with the same person you arrived with and using a safe word if things get uncomfortable. My favourite section is where Pat elaborates on healthy consent (“no means no”, rather than my preferred ‘an enthusiastic yes’, but that’s pretty good for an octogenarian). She traverses the audience asking for individual members’ consent to various acts, and to my horror (or delight), one consents to being on the receiving end of a wet willy.

Along the way, we hear about Pat’s many husbands and her longing for a child. Unfortunately, a lot of the material relies on tired tropes of old women and feminine sexuality. A particularly cringeworthy moment comes early, as Pat requests a young man’s help and they end up in a suggestive position; it’s the kind of thing that’s funniest to bored teenage boys. The laughs play on how gross and weird it is hear an old woman talk about her desires – ew! Women over 60 aren’t really women anymore – they’re more like deflated marshmallows holding knitting needles, right?

I know, I know; I’m a total feminist killjoy. But If the show is meant to be satire, it misses the mark by several miles. That said, Boyle does her best and many audience members were in stitches. Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel is sexy and silly – but don’t expect anything ground-breaking.

The River | Regional News

The River

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 27th Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Every year, Orchestra Wellington partners with a group of young string players from the Hutt Valley. Arohanui Strings is part of a world-wide programme designed to provide children from less privileged backgrounds with opportunities to learn an instrument and play in an orchestra. The audience took the young people – some very young – to their hearts as they joined Orchestra Wellington in Infinity Mirror, composed by Simon Eastwood specifically to allow beginning and highly skilled musicians to create music together. After a beautifully weird soundscape came more simple, strong lines for strings with lovely colour created by brass, wind and percussion. It was a serious bit of business, followed by some more relaxed collaboration including a spirited rendition of Poi E.

Works by Smetana, Bartόk and Dvořák followed. In Smetana’s wonderfully melodious The Moldau, the orchestra presented a rich flow of sound that was unmistakably a river forming, growing, and majestically travelling through a variety of landscapes. This was a disciplined performance with crisp rhythms and forward drive uncompromised by any temptation to over-milk the romantic melodies.

Bartόk’s Piano Concerto No 1 presents the piano as primarily a percussive instrument, rather than as the conveyor of complex melody and harmony. It is not to everyone’s taste and enormous technical and rhythmic challenges face both soloist and orchestra. The orchestra was undaunted by the difficulties and Christopher Park, the young German-Korean piano soloist was truly impressive in his mastery. By way of contrast, he played an encore that showed his ability to draw music of great delicacy and beauty from the piano.

The concert concluded with Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. It is a work that teems with tunes – tune after tune after wonderful tune, particularly for the lucky cellists – without ever sounding as if the tunes are merely stitched together. The orchestra did the work justice.