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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.

The Little Boys’ Room: A Drag King Show | Regional News

The Little Boys’ Room: A Drag King Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

The Fringe Bar, 17th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

According to Hugo Grrrl and the internet, Wellington has more drag kings than any other city. Every couple of months The Little Boys’ Room brings a handful of them to the stage to show that when it comes to kings, the capital has quantity and quality.

Hugo, tonight’s MC, begins the show with his usual infectious energy and an audience warmup, which involves a sliding scale of orgasm sounds (“low groans” which escalate to eye-rolling screams). He informs us that “whatever sexuality you came in with, you won’t be leaving with it,” and introduces the first of many performers to prove his theory.

Up first, Ju Májin emerges from behind the sequinned curtain, showing us exactly how to tease an audience. Bjorn Toolove makes his debut by ruining rubber ducks and evidently, childhoods; the audience can’t help but love it. In a hilarious tribute to Jack Black, Mr Mellow delivers a super tight lip-sync with the hole in the crotch of his pants undoubtedly stealing the show. Dan the Comedy Man has the audience in eruptive laughter; his deadpan, dirty dad jokes are the perfect ingredient for brewing the most delicious awkwardness. Also bringing something different, Eddie D’amore’s goosebump-inducing singing spoke to my soul, while Hannah Harlot stunned the audience with classical dance to remind us that the planet is burning. Painted in Earth-like blue tones which slowly reveal fiery body paint, their makeup artistry had me in awe. Jack Christoph energetically “serves sexy” with an amusing and nerdy strip tease, followed by a jaw-dropping performance by Timothy Taffy, whose hilariously aggressive ‘masturbation’ left Hugo cleaning up a lot of white silly string after the show. Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now will never sound the same.

Yet again, The Little Boys’ Room left the audience begging for more. We’re treated not only to drag king staples like tearaway pants and fake phalluses, but powerful political statements, stand-up comedy, and live singing. It’s safe to say this show has something special for everyone.

On the Rocks | Regional News

On the Rocks


96 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In the words of the late great Roger Ebert, “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it”. On the Rocks doesn’t break new ground, nor does it try to. Instead writer-director Sofia Coppola presents an elegant take on an old story, elevated by the ever-captivating Bill Murray.

Laura (Rashida Jones) has settled in New York with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), who’s career is taking off rapidly while she, a budding writer, struggles to put pen to paper. When Dean’s behaviour leads her to suspect foul play, her loving father Felix (Murray) makes it his mission to help get to the bottom of it.

On the Rocks presents Coppola at her most subdued, but at times her most poised. In lesser hands, this may not have been a story worth telling, or rather retelling. We’ve heard it all before, and with that, our focus quickly shifts from story to style; thankfully, this film has that in spades. The jokes, both visual and verbal, consistently land. A sparse sax-heavy score and lingering shots of the New York cityscape add the required dose of class, and with this framework the cast has all the necessary tools to flourish.

Enter Bill Murray. There is perhaps no comedic actor more capable of stealing a show, and unsurprisingly, he does it again. Aided by an intelligent, stall-free script, Murray’s Felix is charming, flirtatious, at times apathetic, and always funny. Have you ever talked your way out of a speeding ticket? Did you manage to get the cops laughing while giving your lemon a push start and wishing you well on your way? Didn’t think so. Jones thrives in her role as the film’s emotional anchor and enjoys warm chemistry with Murray. Wayans is the only detraction. While he delivers a fine performance, he simply feels miscast.

The final moments of On the Rocks are sadly predictable and much less emotionally driven than the preceding 75 minutes led me to expect. Still, the film adds yet another, lighter feather to Coppola’s hat.

#UsTwo | Regional News


Created by: Sarah and Catherine Delahunty

BATS Theatre, 13th Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sisters Sarah and Catherine Delahunty are high-profile New Zealanders renowned for their work in theatre and politics. In #UsTwo, playwright, director, and theatre matriarch Sarah joins with former Green MP, activist, and author Catherine to share six decades of personal and political history, starting right from the very beginning – with their births, one year apart in 1952 and 1953 respectively.

One of the highlights of the show is the audience’s reaction to the nostalgia the Delahunty sisters so eloquently evoke for this era. I’m delighted by the person sitting next to me, who nods fervently at every reference to 50s and 60s New Zealand. While I can’t relate as a 90s kid, it’s interesting to hear about growing up as a woman in these times and provides illuminating context for the rest of the story, filled with sharp turns, knotty twists, and more sexism than you can shake a stick at.

Over the next hour the Delahuntys take us through the changing landscape of feminism in Aotearoa from then until now. By the end of #UsTwo their brave, witty candour makes it clear to me that so much has changed, and so much hasn’t.

I am engaged and entertained throughout but distracted by the addition of a third performer, Ari Leason. While Leason has buckets of energy and a beautiful voice that lends itself to stirring three-part harmonies, her presence puts the focus on the technical aspects of the show rather than the family dynamic. Had Sarah and Catherine picked up their own props and made their own sound effects, #UsTwo would have felt more like two sisters in their jimjams sharing stories to me. I think a stripped-back rendition with lower production values would have the sort of intimacy that draws you in and stays with you.

Funny and authentic, #UsTwo packs a real punch and makes me want to throw a punch at the patriarchy in turn.

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.