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Monumental | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Hamish McKeich

Michael Fowler Centre, 9th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

In his programme foreword, Peter Biggs, the new chief executive of the NZSO, says, “the inspiration for the title [Monumental] was the pairing of Richard Strauss’ extraordinary Metamorphosen and his sublime Four Last Songs with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.”

Metamorphosen is indeed extraordinary. 23 string players each held their own part under immaculate, calm, and distinct direction from McKeich. When I started learning music only the cello was on offer, though I really wanted to play the trombone. While I love a good brass sound, I am a pushover for strings and I was utterly enthralled by Strauss’ lament for the damage, atrocities, and losses of the Second World War. The complexity of 23 separate parts, played superbly, made for a brilliant and exceptionally memorable experience.

Soprano Emma Pearson brought us more astonishing beauty. Her voice filled the auditorium effortlessly with Strauss’ Four Last Songs. This is no mean feat when accompanied by an orchestra. Strauss and Pauline de Ahna, also a soprano, were married for over 55 years. These were Richard’s final tribute to Pauline, after dedicating most of the 200 lieder (songs) he wrote throughout his career to her.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 is a ‘big’ symphony. From the opening phrase to the final triumphant moment, this piece has everything. The full complement of instruments on the stage gave us ample opportunity to follow just one or two of them, or to try and keep up with the whole as they produced every shade of volume, pitch, and intensity, delivered by delicate woodwind, lyrical strings, and a big brassy sound, with timpani also prominent in every movement. Musical themes pop up throughout, coming and going and reappearing. It was like trying to follow someone through a crowd, catching an occasional glimpse before heading off in a new direction with fresh energy before eventually coming to a big, exultant, Monumental close.

The Bells | Regional News

The Bells

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 3rd Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

I had thought that I might find the full forces of the Orpheus Choir too heavy for the beauty of Fauré’s Requiem. On the contrary, the hushed singing of the Introit et Kyrie, the beautiful unaccompanied passage for altos and tenors at the opening of the Offertoire, and the floating quality of the soprano sound for the final In Paradisum were highlights of this performance. It was ironic then that at other times, the choir seemed to force their voices to find the volume being asked of them. Perhaps it was the stage configuration; the choir was a long way back from and above the orchestra during the Requiem.

The space was filled for the second work of the concert, Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, by a much-enlarged orchestra, adding powerful percussion and brass and additional woodwind for this impressive work. The Bells is truly a choral symphony, rather than a choral work with orchestral accompaniment, and the often-huge vocal sound achieved became an integral part of the whole.

While the titles of the two opening movements, Silver Sleigh Bells and Mellow Wedding Bells, suggest fun and celebration, the work in fact has an underlying mood of foreboding. Sleigh Bells starts lightly but even this movement provides a full gamut of volume, flavour, and emotion. Wedding bells is solemn, soulful, and sacrificial rather than celebratory. The mood is then downhill into the darker, world-weary but urgent soundscapes of Alarm Bells and Mournful Iron Bells until at the very end there emerges a rising, hopeful spirit leading to a full and mellow final chord.

A word on the soloists. The voice of Margaret Medlyn (soprano) is sadly unsuited to the sweetness and clarity required in Fauré’s Pie Jesu movement. However she, Wade Kernot (baritone), and Jared Holt (tenor) made expressive and beautiful contributions to The Bells.

The Glitter Garden | Regional News

The Glitter Garden

Written by: George Fowler and Lori Leigh

Directed by: Lori Leigh

Circa Theatre, 30th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

It’s the last day of the planting season, and Hugo the Gardener (Hugo Grrrl/George Fowler) is anxious to get his seeds in the soil to grow into the perfect garden. There’s just one problem: he’s too afraid to get started. Directed beautifully under Lori Leigh’s eye for intricacies, The Glitter Garden follows Hugo as he’s visited by garden friends who teach him about patience, kindness, and self-love.

In a world-first drag musical for children, we walk through the theatre doors into Hugo’s backyard on Pride Parade. Immediately, we’re encapsulated in an otherworldly kind of magic. Sean Coyle and Lucas Neal’s set design exceeds expectations, stunning the audience with the magical props and Dr. Seuss-esque scenery.

The backyard comes to life with an enchanting lighting change (lighting design by Marcus McShane) as Hugo makes a wish on a dandelion. With a catchy rap number (sound design and composition by Maxwell Apse) we’re introduced to The Ever Changing Boy (Björn Åslund), Robin Yablind (Monique Walford), and Eva Goodnight (Nick Erasmuson), whose captivating performances induce tears.

So delightfully animated he could have been built as part of the set, Hugo remains on stage for almost the entire show, seeking gardening advice from the audience. One by one, his garden friends come and go with three magical costume changes (costume design by Victoria Gridley). While Hugo takes the musical theatre route by singing live, the others deliver spot-on lip-syncs true to the drag artform (vocals by Maxwell Apse, Pippa Drakeford, and Stevie Hancox-Monk).

While some argue that drag isn’t for children, these kings and queens elegantly assure us that anyone can twirl in a tutu, get messy in the mud, and dance like a butterfly ballerina; being yourself is the most important thing.

By the finale, the full-capacity crowd is singing, dancing, and without hesitation, on their feet in a standing ovation. Undoubtedly, The Glitter Garden is a must-see that will bring colour and sparkle into the lives of kids and ‘big kids’ alike.

Werewolf: Development Season | Regional News

Werewolf: Development Season

Devised by: Joel Baxendale, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Oliver Devlin, Karin McCracken

Presented by: Binge Culture Collective

Inverlochy Art School, 26th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Freya Daly Sadgrove and Karin McCracken have been in a ‘safe space’ for some time. Joel Baxendale shows up late with a big bag of onions. His tardiness might ruin things for the group, which now includes the audience. We don’t know much about the situation except that the outside world is bad. No one can leave, and we must be seated come nightfall.

With the audience seated in a large circle, interaction is a key component of Werewolf. Some members rise to the challenge, with one particularly hilarious spectator yelling at Joel to “follow the rules” and “get in the cupboard” at increasing intervals. We are given cards to explain our ‘roles’ in the community, but only a handful of us are called upon. As a community support officer, I am on edge waiting for a task that doesn’t come.

Together, the highly effective sound design (Oliver Devlin) and lighting design (Marcus McShane) cause collective anxiety – especially at night – and build to a nerve-wracking climax filled with disturbing tableaux. The ending itself is a little confused, with standing audience members unsure of where to go as the actors make an unassuming exit. It’s not quite the right note of chaos to go out on but has all the markings of an unforgettable conclusion.

Inverlochy Art School is said to be haunted, a fact underutilised in this performance. I was expecting a Fear Factory haunted house experience, where werewolves jump out of all the nooks and crannies and padlocked rooms yield up their secrets. While I’m glad this wasn’t the case, the unnerving energy of the space only contributed marginally to my experience of Werewolf, which I feel could have been performed anywhere.

Werewolf: Development Season is a clever commentary on mob mentality and fearmongering; how quickly humans can turn into monsters. I enjoyed being part of the innovative experiment and applaud the risks taken. I can’t wait to see where to next.

Symphonic Dances | Regional News

Symphonic Dances

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 26th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

The highlight of this concert for me was Three Psalms by New Zealand composer John Psathas. It is a work for solo piano, strings, harp, and percussion, originally commissioned by Michael Houstoun, the soloist at this performance, for his 50th birthday. This concert marked his final concerto appearance before he retires later this year.

This was no lyrical adieu from Houstoun. In the first movement, the piano effects were as percussive and rhythmic as the wide range of instruments played by three amazing percussionists, with the piano and percussion often doubling or echoing each other in tone and rhythm. The second movement painted a haunting and desolate picture of the effects of war and disaster, the composer’s response to photos of such events by James Nachtwey. The third movement, inspired by Prokofiev’s third piano concerto, was lively, colourful, fast and furious, and dramatic by contrast. Full marks to Mark Taddei for holding this rhythmically challenging movement together. Bravo to Michael Houstoun. The piano never stops in this concerto. What a work and style to finish with!

Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances book-ended Psathas’ work. Having one work for strings only, one for strings with piano and percussion, and one for a very full orchestra of strings, 11 brass instruments, six percussionists, and 13 woodwind, made for a great audience experience.

The Serenade for Strings was delicious. It was possible to enjoy the different lyrical qualities of the double basses, cellos, violas, and violins separately. The performance was warm and sweet, sweeping and gorgeous, but precise and disciplined.

Symphonic Dances provided an exciting soundscape with the return of the brass and woodwind. There was a lovely section in the first movement that featured the woodwind particularly, while the brass provided regular dramatic interjections. It was great to hear the whole orchestra in full cry again.

Eroica | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Miguel Harth-Bedoya

Michael Fowler Centre, 27th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Adapting to the unusual times, this concert was rescheduled (hooray for Level 1!) to Sunday afternoon. Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya promised the best first experience new audience members would ever have. Actually, he under-promised and over-delivered. This was a stellar performance.

Anthony Ritchie’s Remember Parihaka began with almost imperceptible, perfect low notes from strings. Pulses of sound emerged through morning mist or sunrise, the essence of peaceful. One of the earliest events of non-violent opposition to oppression took place at Parihaka in 1881. Minor chords and dissonance signalled tension and resistance, flutes sounded an urgent alarm, pizzicato indicated scurrying for position, the side drum brought the troops, shots were fired and volume and intensity rose, then fell back to strings, expressing the loss and sorrow of an appalling event in our history.

Our closed borders create opportunities for our own where guest soloists had been expected. NZSO concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen is one such local hero. Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor demands the highest level of technical and musical expertise imaginable. Leppänen played with great skill and huge confidence. This was an emotional, astonishing, and beautiful performance.

A relaxed and happy conductor and orchestra finished the programme with another stunning feat: Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, Eroica, by Beethoven. Harth-Bedoya’s assured and expressive direction brought energy and life to every one of the four movements, every player and theme, development and variation. The rich and complex sound was sensitively played, phrases leading into each other yet retaining their distinct individuality. Expertly nimble playing in the Scherzo was a brilliant segue to the last movement where all the energies of the afternoon combined for the final, joyous Allegro.

Second violin Lucien Rizos was playing in his last concert after 47 years with NZSO. If I could retire on such a high note as this I imagine I would be happy for the rest of my life.

HOLE | Regional News


Written by: Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Directed by: David O’Donnell

Circa Theatre, 22nd Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Jezelle Bidois

Charting the seas of global panic and individual turmoil, HOLE sets the viewer on an educational yet thrilling voyage. With director David O’Donnell at the helm, HOLE leaves an impression on everyone in attendance.

HOLE traverses the delicate ice of both Antarctica and the political atmosphere of 1986. The show is set in the climate of the following: portions of Antarctica are being fought over by various countries, Greenpeace radically works to undermine such debates, and just to add more chaos to the world, the ozone layer has been found to have gaping holes that leave everything to the mercy of the Sun. To say the world of HOLE is chaotic is an understatement. However, Lynda Chanwai-Earle has written it in such a way that the viewer can not only clearly follow the plot, but also enjoy a full immersion into it.

The clever sound design (Phil Brownlee) and Gareth Farr’s composition works with the lighting design (Tony Black) to help guide the viewer throughout the various shifts in setting. These are vital to HOLE’s success as a story that leaves the audience thinking, but not entirely confused.

The performances of the cast members are nothing short of spectacular. I am convinced that Stevie Hancox-Monk left me with whiplash from her incredibly impressive shifts in character. Elle Wootton ensnares characters and audience members alike with her impassioned performance. And it can go without saying that the reach and command Sepelini Mua’au’s performance has over the audience is a wonder to behold. Under Carrie Thiel’s direction in intimacy and fighting, a consistent level of professionalism is achieved by all performers.

At its core, HOLE strives to illustrate the ongoing struggle of humankind; our inability to unite for common causes. Its reality was one lived differently but felt in common by everyone in the world. There is much we can take away from HOLE, especially during 2020, and that in itself is a reason to see it.

It Must Be Heaven | Regional News

It Must Be Heaven


101 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

What some find meandering and temperate others may find touching and poignant. Audiences of It Must Be Heaven are asked to be patient and observant, and those who are will leave the theatre charmed. As it guides us through a world full of quirks, this Palme d’Or-nominated film finds humour in celebrating just how weird we humans are.

It Must Be Heaven takes a meta look at the life of its writer, director, lead actor, co-producer, and narrator, Elia Suleiman. We experience several days in his shoes as he travels from his Palestinian home to Western cities attempting to sell a script for a movie about the Palestinian conflict.

While this plot might not sound like a laugh riot, it’s worth noting that this story thread is somewhat secondary. For Suleiman – both the character and the man behind the camera – this film is about observation. Strange happenings seem to weave their way into every day of our near-mute hero’s life, and he is happy simply watching on. These happenings could include two armed police officers trading sunglasses in a car while a woman is bound and blindfolded in the back, or a trip to a supermarket in New York where everyone is casually toting an assault rifle over their shoulder.

It’s these zany, dark moments that make It Must Be Heaven a memorable watch. For foreign film fans, its pacing and visual comedy may scratch an itch left by Jacques Tati, although Suleiman certainly brings a modern flair. The camera (Sofian El Fani) balances a consistent but not stagnant symmetry and captures purposeful palettes of colour.

The film manages to embed striking and smart moments in the absence of words, for example, the rejection statements Suleiman sits through and what they say about the Western understanding of Palestine. But for some, these moments will be too subtle, as will the jokes. It Must Be Heaven is one for those looking to delve outside of their comfort zone.


The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show | Regional News

The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show

The Fringe Bar, 4th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

It’s true, drag is about more than just a pretty face. The performers of The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show are here to do exactly what the show’s name implies – lip-sync like their lives depend on it.

The Fringe Bar is filled with a socially distanced audience, each with our own cabaret table bubbles. The show starts with the entrance of Eva Goodcoq, the sparkly hostess whose vibrant energy compensates for the quiet crowd of 35 (thanks, Level 2). After her fierce lip-sync to a Donna Summer hit, Eva puts us to work with a warmup, preparing us to scream, cheer, and click zealously.

One by one, the performers take their turn under the spotlight (tech by Pierce Barber). Whether their song is one I’ve never heard (Kou Bolt’s colourful and energetic anime-inspired number) or a banger from my favourite musical ever (Homer Neurotic’s wholesome and on-theme Beauty School Dropout from Grease), these “mouth-mashers” have me desperate for more... which is exactly what I’m given.

I was expecting the powerful lip-syncing, but not the exciting flashes of sparkly pink excess nipples by Selina Simone, or being left almost in tears after Willy SmacknTush’s passionate ballad, Dancing On My Own. Amy Thurst delivers a killer performance, then comedically rolls off the stage in her skin-tight dress. Yonic Kunt slays a Mariah Carey number, and in Eva’s words, “I’ve never seen a little black dress working so hard” at restraining her ginormous silicone breasts. The stand-out for me was Vixie; with a satisfying costume reveal, her innocent princess façade and Frozen lip-sync turned into a Disney-imbued version of WAP. I wasn't the only audience member whose jaw dropped in delight.

The performers deliver quirky concepts, elaborate reveals, and emotional storytelling without detracting from the focus on lip-syncing. Despite a couple of high-heeled stumbles and costume malfunctions, The Hot Spot exceeded expectations – it’s safe to say I’ll be returning when the show comes around again.