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Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala  | Regional News

Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala

The Opera House, 9th Nov 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala was pegged as the biggest night of comedy in 2020. Judging by the raucous laughter and applause thundering through three tiers of The Opera House, I wholeheartedly agree. Being part of a ginormous crowd again, jostling elbows and sharing smirks with strangers felt nigh on miraculous. How lucky are we to be in New Zealand?

It’s not just our COVID-19 response that makes me feel fortunate – it’s the wealth of comedic talent on our shores, demonstrated by this exceptional NZ line-up hosted by Pax Assadi.

Assadi sets the tone for a night of outstanding comedy and keeps it flowing smoothly, teasing and charming the audience in one breath and delivering a couple of knockout sets of his own. Charisma for days.

19 comedians bring their own unique brand of comedy to the stage, making each act feel fresh. The quality of the stand-up on show means there’s never a dull moment and no set falls flat, though I can’t help but have a few favourites.

Paul Douglas has me crying with laughter with a bit about albino bats that’s hysterical in all senses of the word. Cori Gonzalez-Macuer proves that a $1000+ improv course did not go to waste, Hayley Sproull takes to a festive keyboard with a hilarious original about children ruining wine time – I mean Christmas – and musical-comedy duo The Fan Brigade bring good into the world with a song about all the bad stuff. Sera Devcich shares the infinite joys of parenthood and reaffirms my life ambition of becoming a stay-at-home dog mum. As socialites Prue and Dilly Ramsbottom, The Topp Twins’ parody of the privileged is a hoot. They still manage to inject a large dose of heart into their set, performing a breathtaking waiata for our new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Nanaia Mahuta.

Every single comedian brought their A game to the Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala – a night of explosive joy and laughter desperately needed and greatly appreciated by all.

Baby Done | Regional News

Baby Done


91 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Baby Done doesn’t take many big swings, instead favouring charm and relatability. With two charismatic lead performances, a fast script, and dynamic supporting players, the latest Kiwi comedy defines a nice time at the movies.

When arborist and wannabe tree climbing champ Zoe (Rose Matafeo) falls pregnant with her long-term partner Tim (Matthew Lewis), she fears becoming a boring mum. While Tim adjusts and looks forward to becoming a father, Zoe seeks to realise her dreams while denying the inevitable.

The combination of Curtis Vowell’s direction and Sophie Henderson’s script leaves no room for Baby Done to run stale. Within a tight-packed 90 minutes, we visit gorgeous parts of New Zealand and meet eccentric characters. Whether they appear for multiple scenes or 30 seconds, each one makes an impact, particularly Zoe’s parents played by Loren Taylor and Fasitua Amosa, her wild friend Molly played by Emily Barclay, and Preggophile Tim played by Nic Sampson… you heard me, Preggophile Tim.

The smartest decision the director-writer duo makes is to give Matafeo and Lewis breathing room. The actors share incredible chemistry and both land jokes, but the film’s greatest asset is that they feel like real people dealing with real problems. We see through Zoe’s attempts to deny motherhood and understand her anxieties. We sympathise with Tim when Zoe’s actions force him to question their future. Ultimately, their arc is emotional and resonant, and Matafeo proves she has dramatic prowess on top of her well-established comedic chops.

I wish Baby Done had taken more risks with its story and humour. While there’s never a dull moment, it pretty much goes where you expect it to and often plays it safe. For this reason, the film is fun but light. Leaning into the more peculiar aspects of the plot may have excelled it further. But when all is said and done, Baby Done has laughs, tears, and personality, and I doubt many will leave the cinema feeling as though they wasted their time.  

The Sleeping Beauty | Regional News

The Sleeping Beauty

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Opera House, 29th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

After a long COVID-induced hiatus, the Royal New Zealand Ballet returned to the stage with their season of The Sleeping Beauty. The return came with a buzzed audience and a few minor technical difficulties, but the novelty of being in the theatre again meant that nobody seemed to mind.

Sleeping Beauty is the beloved fairy tale that has been around for centuries and has been adapted countless times. It is a story rich with drama, romance, and vitality; but unfortunately, this ballet did not quite hit the mark. Obviously, there were some roadblocks with collaborators unable to travel due to lockdown restrictions and dancers having to rehearse in bubbles, but I won’t dwell on that.

The production is split into three acts and seems to take shortcuts with the classic story – critically, there is no spinning wheel for the doomed Princess Aurora (Kate Kadow) to prick her finger on and Prince Désiré’s (Laurynas Vėjalis) quest to rescue her is colourless. The choreography is drawn out and the dancers seem a little unsure of themselves, and with an excess of sweeping ballroom scenes, it feels repetitive.  

Loughlan Prior’s Master of Ceremonies’ corralling of a group of children and the live accompaniment from Orchestra Wellington (conducted by Hamish McKeich) bring some charm to the work. Kadow and Vėjalis perform their roles carefully. I have been astounded by Vėjalis’ elevation before and was not disappointed to see him glide effortlessly through the air once again. Kadow is a tender dancer but shows her might in extended sections en pointe.

The Carabosse (Kirby Selchow) and her minions play a minor role, but they manage to demonstrate their cunning through sharp leaps and exaggerated extensions. The costuming for this wily crew, created by Donna Jefferis, is a sight to behold. Sparkling, gothic numbers with just the right amount of edge.

While it had moments of finesse and fancy, The Sleeping Beauty ultimately fell flat but likely enchanted the children in the audience. 

Ophelia Thinks Harder | Regional News

Ophelia Thinks Harder

Written by: Jean Betts

Directed by: Ivana Palezevic

Gryphon Theatre, 28th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Ophelia Thinks Harder tells the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but this time with a feminist focus. We watch as Ophelia (Aimée Sullivan) learns the difference between love and hate, and finally takes control of her own life.

Seeing the traverse staging, I’m immediately excited to see what director Ivana Palezevic chooses to do with it. The scenography utilises the stage well, giving us plenty to look at before the show begins (set design by Amy Whiterod). On one end of the theatre sits a large throne, while on the other end Ophelia lays patiently on her bed, surrounded by books and clothes, as the crowd finds their seats.

While mostly the costuming is simple, I’m particularly drawn to the very cover-of-Vogue attire donned by Hamlet (Isham Redford), along with the Queen’s (Lydia Harris) vibrant, floral gown (wardrobe design by Crystal Pulkowski). The sound (Evangelina Telfar) and lighting (Darryn Woods) complement each other well during the party scene, where the atmospheric soundscape and purple lighting create a unique sensory experience. I’m often distracted by the flashing of one broken light, but despite this, the lighting feels satisfying throughout the show.

A highlight is the fun metatheatrical plotline, where several cast members perform a play of their own. Filled with irony, this is one of many moments where the audience gets to see the actors filling the shoes of multiple characters. I particularly enjoy the performances of Allyn Robins, who charmingly plays Horatio, Harris, who has the audience in fits of laughter, and Sullivan, who impressively depicts the complexity of Ophelia’s emotions. Redford’s stage slap isn’t convincing from my viewpoint of the traverse stage, however his overall portrayal of Hamlet is powerful.

Quite forward-thinking when it was first published in 1994, the inclusion of derogatory terms in the script feels out of place, preventing it from appealing to the diversity of a modern audience. Despite this, it’s a wonderful change to be told this story through a feminist lens, where Hamlet’s actions are frowned upon, and where Ophelia really does think harder.

Drag Class! The Ultimate Amateur Drag Competition | Regional News

Drag Class! The Ultimate Amateur Drag Competition

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Johnny O’Hagan Brebner

Ivy Bar & Cabaret, 27th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

For 10 weeks, the Drag Class ‘classmates’ have been given performance assignments focused on different aspects of the drag artform, aiming to impress not only an audience, but an array of esteemed judges.

Tonight, Ivy Bar is jam-packed and the crowd is buzzing to see the now-graduates battle it out for the finale; Drag Class will finally crown a winner. With the deafening sound of a school bell, Hugo Grrrl (MC and Drag Headmaster) takes to the stage, glamorous as ever, to start the show.

Jack Christoph sets the bar high with his always-impressive costuming and a gender-swapped Cruella de Vil act. Tess Tease and her blow-up doll leave the audience both laughing and crying. Daya T, showing us that she’s more than just a pretty face, hides a skirt under her skinny jeans. While changing wigs mid-act might be a little dangerous, Louisiana Perkins performs a funny, passionate Britney Spears tribute. Jezebel delivers a killer lip-sync, and, after vigorously devouring her glass of fake blood with passionate pop-punk energy, leaves the stage sopping wet. With Marsha Mellow’s incredible stage presence and performance skills, audience members are wiping away tears as she transitions from queen to king, powerfully representing the transgender flag. Vixie and James Bondage, not often seen on one stage, both blow the audience away wearing a suit and ‘porn-stache’ on one side and a dress and pink hair extensions on the other. Wearing a gown made from images of her own face, Brenda? Areyouintheaudience (yes, that’s her name) takes self-love to another level in perhaps the most iconic moment of the night. Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for, the imaginative Ju Májin takes the crown and the title of Grand Drag Class Dux with an extraordinary performance dedicated to his competition journey.

As one of many audience members with near-perfect attendance to Drag Class shows, I’m in awe of every performer’s progress, and can’t wait to see what they bring to the future of Wellington drag.

The Witching Hours  | Regional News

The Witching Hours

Presented by: A Mulled Whine and My Accomplice

Written by: Uther Dean and Eamonn Marra

BATS Theatre, 27th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Created by Uther Dean, The Witching Hours is a podcast anthology of eerie audio adventures featuring guest writers and actors. This spooky, kooky production has swooped into BATS Theatre just in time for Halloween, with two episodes performed each night, live and in the flesh.

Tonight, we are treated to The Yeast with Two Backs by Eamonn Marra and Cyber Space by Uther Dean. Sepelini Mua’au and Lucy McCarthny work together with narrator Jonny Potts to tell the stories as Jennifer Lal’s lighting design cloaks them in purple and blue hues and shadows. Sound designer Oliver Devlin sits centre stage, creating sound effects in real time. Sound effects is quite the understatement. Devlin delivers sonic pyrotechnics from a ridiculously delightful range of props spanning silly putty to bread.  

Onto the bread, then. The Yeast with Two Backs starts on Tinder and ends the morning after, but the middle of the story does not your typical hook-up make. Tiffany the sourdough starter takes the term ‘yeast infection’ to a whole new level. I couldn’t help but screech, shriek, and flinch my way through this one in the best possible way.

Cyber Space follows a Hole Puncher (a mythical police-type entity who definitely doesn’t have plasma blood) as she seeks to discover the source of a mammoth drug empire over one night in a dystopian cyberpunk world where people live in two-square-metre dwellings if they’re lucky. Abstract examples have concrete ties to our world. The story might be set in space, but Dean’s inspired words still hit too close to home.

The performers deliver such vocal nuance that you could close your eyes and almost have the same experience, but then you’d miss the subtle expressions that add flits of light and laughter to these already uproarious works. Plus, you’d miss seeing an actual wizard at work (here’s looking at you, Devlin). I would see The Witching Hours every night if I could. What a riot of a time.

Timeless | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Hamish McKeich

Michael Fowler Centre, 24th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Just when you think you have had the best musical experience in ages (Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen, just a fortnight earlier) the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra turns out another one. The NZSO under Hamish McKeich is clearly bursting with pent-up, COVID-constrained energy.

In my household, we say “Classical classical” to describe a programme including works by the big names of the period that developed the symphonic form. On paper, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven. In performance, classical, classical, and absolutely brilliant and extraordinary.

Energised after touring the programme in the North Island, the orchestra dived into one of Mozart's most famous symphonies, No. 40 in G Minor, K.550.  Written near the end of his life, No. 40 seems the epitome of Mozart: complex, interlaced orchestration; distinct musical themes; marked changes in volume and timing; and fabulous use of the whole orchestra. Beautifully played as a whole, the double basses stood out for their fine example of the high-speed dexterity demanded from all strings in the fourth movement.

The subtitle, Tempora Mutantur, of Haydn's Symphony No. 64 in A Major, refers to the changes the passage of time brings. The orchestra and McKeich created lovely forward momentum without rushing. In what was becoming a performance to showcase the strings, this time it was the perfect, exposed sound of the violins in the second movement that shone through.

If you didn’t know, Grosse Fuge was Beethoven’s. You would be forgiven for some confusion. Stravinsky said it was “the most absolutely contemporary piece of music I know, and contemporary forever”. The wind section was gone, leaving only the strings. Almost defying analysis and description (there are not enough adjectives to do it justice), this is three fugues and a coda and a terribly difficult piece to play. The strings played their hearts and minds out in a bravura performance that will stay with me for a very long time.

Di and Viv and Rose | Regional News

Di and Viv and Rose

Written by: Amelia Bullmore

Directed by: Stephanie McKellar-Smith

Running at Circa Theatre until 7th Nov 2020

Reviewed by: Jezelle Bidois

If you’re in need of feeling that familiar ache that proceeds a good laugh, whilst wanting to have your soul warmed by nostalgia, you need not look any further than Di and Viv and Rose at Circa Theatre. Though this piece is set in the 80s and shows three girls making the transition from teenagers to adults, the word ‘timeless’ seems best to describe Di and Viv and Rose, a production not to be missed.

What floored me the most about Di and Viv and Rose is the performances of the cast members. Julie Edwards (playing Rose) enters the stage first with an energy that radiates out to the audience, setting the upbeat tone for the rest of the show. Lara Macgregor (Di) gives a hearty performance, sending the audience into fits of laughter then instantly causing them to hold their breath in concern. And Jodie Dorday (Viv) adds more complexity to the trio with a stage presence that overshadows any male wanting to confine a woman to the “social construct that is a waist”. Through costume design (Sheila Horton), their characters’ personalities are further highlighted. As this is a show made by women for women, this trio brings to light that in spite of their characters’ differences, female camaraderie is a force not to be trifled with. 

Under the direction of Stephanie McKellar-Smith and the cohesive set design (Debbie Fish) and lighting design (Jennifer Lal), a palpable atmosphere is felt by everyone. They made the flat of Di and Viv and Rose a comfortable and empowering environment that no viewer wants to leave. 

From the opening night alone, I can tell the season is set to blow audiences away. This West End production has premiered on our shores exactly when it is most needed. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Di and Viv and Rose provides a resurgence of quality entertainment that has been missed since lockdown. 

Melancholy | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 17th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

The ever-ebullient Mark Taddei pointed out that a theme of this concert was youth. The works of two of the featured composers, Josef Suk and Sergei Prokofiev were composed at the astonishingly young ages of 18 and 19 respectively. As well, the concert featured the Arohanui Strings, a group of young string players from Lower Hutt and Wellington, joining Orchestra Wellington players as they do annually. They were conducted by young assistant conductor, Luka Venter, to perform Domino Effect, a tuneful, innovative, and fun work composed by Alissa Long, a young Taiwanese New Zealander. So much talent on view!

Orchestra Wellington performed Suk’s Serenade for Strings well, capturing different moods and tempi convincingly: sunny and lyrical in the first movement, lilting and merry in the second, soulful and romantic in the third, and energetic and playful in the fourth.

My favourite work of the night was Prokofiev’s virtuosic first piano concerto with Jian Liu at the piano. The piano leads with a memorable, jagged, and discordant dotted-rhythm theme which returns several times throughout the work. Slight though Jian Liu is physically, he packed a punch in the first movement and again in the last with its running octave chords and glittering cadenza. In the middle movement, he and the orchestra created a more gentle and pensive mood without any intensity being lost.

Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 completed the concert. Though in best romantic tradition it has many beautiful melodies, they are not lingered over. Rather, the lush is interspersed with the dramatic and the lyrical is interrupted by great climaxes supported by the large brass and percussion sections. It was a feast for all instruments, and to the audience wonderful visually as well as to the ear.

That there was an almost full audience despite the attraction of election night results testifies to Orchestra Wellington’s popularity.