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Meeting Karpovsky | Regional News

Meeting Karpovsky

Directed by: Sue Rider

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sylvia (Helen Moulder) lives alone in a big empty house with a garden overrun by wisteria. Her daughter Anna has flown the nest to China, leaving behind boxes of her old things. With only her posters of the great dancer Alexander Karpovsky for company, Sylvia periodically clears the boxes, deciding which items to donate and which to keep. All the while, she chats to herself and of course, her posters, which depict Karpovsky in his various roles: Petrouchka, Widow Simone, Albrecht, and Herr Drosselmeyer, the magician in The Nutcracker.

It’s a fantastic set-up for a show and immediately reminds me of my own behaviour when going through such monotonous motions. Moving house, clearing out a wardrobe, re-arranging a bedroom… I always find a way to keep myself entertained, as does Sylvia. The beginning of Meeting Karpovsky beautifully represents the stock we put in possessions, too, with Anna’s clothes taking Sylvia back to another time and place.

Starting on such an earthly, relatable plane eases the audience into what turns into a whimsical fantasy when the real-live Karpovsky (Sir John Trimmer) arrives on the scene. With Karpovsky in the room the pace picks up. A gorgeous and powerful transition (original design by David Thornley, original lighting design by Phillip Dexter) begins to repeat with more and more frequency. Dance, song, and even mime are intricately woven into the work, adding electricity but never detracting from the story.

And yet, there are moments of such profound stillness. A mime performance from Trimmer playing Karpovsky playing the puppet Petrouchka brings a tear (well, a few tears) to my companion’s eye. As he gently binds Sylvia’s “dodgy ankle”, the audience holds its collective breath. The connection between the characters and the brilliant actors playing them touches many a chord.

Meeting Karpovsky is tender and sweet and filled with sorrow. At the same time, it’s funny and charming and a real cracker of a piece. It makes meaning out of grief and the aching longing for human connection. Bring a hankie.

Hansel & Gretel | Regional News

Hansel & Gretel

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 6th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s iteration of the classic Brothers Grimm tale is the ‘swan song’ of long-standing company member and choreographer in residence, Loughlan Prior. Hansel & Gretel is Prior’s first full-length work and with Claire Cowan’s original music and Kate Hawley’s design, it is both terrifying and utterly enchanting.

With flourishes of glitter and looming shadows, the production is gothic noir meets carnival candy floss. In the opening act, which evokes stylish silent cinema, we are introduced to the grim lives of Hansel and Gretel, danced by Shaun James Kelly and Kirby Selchow. The siblings are bullied mercilessly by their peers and come from a fragile homelife, relying on one another for both childhood cheer and comfort. Kelly and Selchow perform with tender joy and demonstrate an excellent stage dynamic. Their duets are refined and in-sync, and their harmony remains dominant throughout.

The work journeys through an expressionistic backdrop and is home to all manner of peculiar characters; exaggerated Donnie Darko-esque rabbits tiptoe through a forest of forks, a moon of cheese watches through the night with an ice-cream lodged into its right eye (a lá A Trip to the Moon), and the charismatic witch, eloquently performed by Katharine Precourt, shimmies across the stage like a theatrical talk show host. The heart of the production is a rich and beloved story and the dancers are forced to explore more than just pirouettes and pliés. Kudos to Paul Matthews, often the picture of refinement, for playing the transformed witch with absurd panache.

Hansel & Gretel has many moving parts but manages to deliver a cinematic theatre experience. Hawley’s costume and set design drip with glamour and magic and Cowan’s composition (performed by Orchestra Wellington) is bold and timeless. With Prior’s distinctive choreographic flair, the collaborators have created a fantastical pastiche which is fully supported by a passionate cast of dancers.

Bursting with unique artistry, surrealism, and dexterous humour, Hansel & Gretel is a production bound to enchant the masses.

ransom. | Regional News


Directed by: Neenah Dekkers-Reihana and Stella Reid

Running at BATS Theatre until 16th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

ransom. is the most unique work I’ve ever seen. The only thing that comes close to it is Second Unit, an interactive experience that took over Circa Theatre earlier this year. While ransom. activates all the spaces of BATS Theatre in much the same way, it stands apart in its narrative. A rich, textural story is woven through the very fabric of this piece. Every room, every body, every detail ties back to a plot conscientiously devised by Robbie Nicol, Finnius Teppett, and co-directors Stella Reid and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana.

The year is 2024, and One New Zealand Party leader Katie Wakefield has been kidnapped. Clever propaganda in the lobby lets us know Katie is profoundly racist, although the initial video we see loses a bit of this sentiment in crafty camera effects. Once we watch the video, our group of three is taken through the building on a wild ride to discover the culprit.

Audiences themselves inhabit various roles – we’re a family, then we’re students, partygoers, the list goes on. Actors let us know what character we’re playing next without much preamble. My favourite ‘scene’ is when media mogul Kupe (Sepelini Mua'au) thrusts three clipboards, three suit jackets, and three lanyards into our hands and makes us fathom news headlines while putting on deodorant. Remarkably, “Katie Wakefield goes missing, oh no!” is the winner for our group.

The bow is tied a little too neatly for my liking at the end. Every element we see during the show is incorporated into a final explanation, but some of the links feel a little tenuous, especially around the role of the clairvoyant Ffion (a playful performance from Jean Sergent).

Rose Kirkup’s phenomenal, vivid production design brings the world of the play to life. This makes its message hit harder. The things that happen in the work are happening here. ransom. could very well be our 2024. Don’t let it be a warning; let it be a call to action.

Te Māpouriki Dusk | Regional News

Te Māpouriki Dusk

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Jun Märkl

Michael Fowler Centre, 24th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

It had been a number of years since I’d enjoyed the full force of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and Te Māpouriki Dusk was the perfect reintroduction. It was rehearsed to the measure; the concert felt effortless, a stress-free environment where musical freedom and fun prevailed.

The programme comprised five pieces that varied in every way one could imagine. At a glance I feared this would make for an incohesive show – a new work by Kiwi composer Kenneth Young, a lavish Mozart symphony, a horn feature, Schumann’s romantic first symphony – it seemed a bit much. Following the debut of Te Māpouriki – Dusk it all took shape. This was a show about journeys, through music, time, and space.

Never had I witnessed a conductor with as much vibrance as Jun Märkl. His control over dynamics and emotional output was simply astonishing, and perfectly conveyed to the orchestra.

Young’s piece opened the concert, grounding us in New Zealand before setting sail. It portrayed Captain James Cook’s trip from Europe to the Pacific, and we felt every bit of turbulence along the way. The piece exemplified Young’s marvellous understanding of the language. It had so many moving parts and transitions that caught us off-guard but never felt random, although it would have benefitted from some melodic repetition for the sake of clarity.

Principal horn Samuel Jacobs was responsible for the set’s highlight with Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, op. 11. His solo was the most visceral moment of the night; gliding over the orchestra, I felt as if I was floating there with him. He followed this with an encore on a valve-less horn. How he established such a warm tone and a lyrical, pitch-perfect sound on this primeval instrument I’ll never know.

My friend, attending his first classical concert, left the show with fascinating questions and awesome observations. For the uninitiated, this was a great introduction to the classical world. For the familiar, it was just great.

Monster Songs | Regional News

Monster Songs

Directed by: Ben Emerson

Running at BATS Theatre until 30th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Having witnessed WITCH productions in the past, I knew this would be a night of exceptional musical theatre. Even so, Monster Songs exceeded my expectations.

The raised stage (production design by Joshua Tucker) looks set for some serious freakiness before anyone takes to it, with a grunge-punk vibe continued in Jodi Walker’s on-point costumes – think pleather, mesh, and nipple pasties. Dry ice shrouds backlit silhouettes. Hair billows as performers come crashing to their knees. Soloists strike tableaus, illuminated by stage lighting fit for a concert hall. The design aesthetic is at once cohesive and arresting. It’s all about drama, and the shrieking audience is here for it.

The setlist comprises songs for and by the misfits: think Beetlejuice and Bowie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Radiohead. Some numbers send shivers down my spine, causing those rare pins-and-needles chills one craves in musical theatre. The climax of Natasha McAllister’s stunning Creep is one such moment, though the intro is a tad shaky tonight. With multi-part harmonies, the whole cast meets the challenge of the complex Gaga For Rent medley. Kree McMillan’s powerhouse vocals cause many a whistle, her performance of Sweet Transvestite with exquisite harmonies from Jonathan Morgan a wicked delight.

Jade Thomson’s gorgeous Dancer stands out to me for its understated grace amidst such larger-than-life numbers, as does Joseph Mara’s Life On Mars? Caitlin Penrose’s affecting Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is my – if not the – show highlight. She brings the house down.

Tying it all together is the supremely talented one-man band Daniel Hayles, with brilliant choreography by McAllister, Emily Downs, and Leigh Evans.

A few song choices are weaker than others – despite Devon Neiman’s impassioned performance, my companion and I both disliked the seven-minute, melody-meagre Leave Luanne. Opening night nerves mean it sometimes seems like the singers are trying to outdo each other, and transitions are a little clunky in places; both minor issues that will likely resolve over the season.

And what a season it is. Monster Songs is unmissable, heart-palpitating entertainment.

Fanfare for the Common Man | Regional News

Fanfare for the Common Man

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 19th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Orchestra Wellington’s large following is a well-deserved result of innovative programming, quality performances and a good deal of community outreach. As part of that outreach, the orchestra was joined by Arohanui Strings, a group of young people – some very young – from Wellington and the Hutt who are receiving a music education as part of a social development programme. They were a delight. There was one small girl in particular who looked as if she was on her way to rivalling Amalia Hall.

Hall, normally the orchestra’s concertmaster, was the soloist for Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. The first two movements of the Violin Concerto are reflective and melodious and demand expressiveness from the soloist. There are luscious moments for the oboe, clarinet, and horn as well. All the elements were there for these two movements, though I could have wished for a fuller, warmer tone from the violin or maybe a better balance between orchestra and soloist. The third movement bursts out in a storm of perpetual motion. Hall’s virtuosic performance of this movement was astonishingly well sustained throughout.

The other work on the programme was Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3. Like Barber, Copland was a mid-20th century American composer who avoided the more radical musical idioms of the day, Barber remaining essentially a romanticist and Copland focusing on conveying American ideals and spirit. If much of the Barber work was introspective, Copland’s work was quite the opposite. His intent was to reflect the feelings of optimism and positivity prevalent in the United States after the Second World War. It is a monumental work with a peaceful, almost dreamy start, progressing to passages of dashing exuberance and lyricism before arriving at the last movement that incorporates the theme of an earlier work, Fanfare for the Common Man, a clamouring, triumphant, and patriotic shot in the arm. Well done again, Orchestra Wellington.

Joker | Regional News



121 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Just as I thought we’d reached the peak of what a cinematic Joker could be, Joaquin Phoenix and writer-director Todd Phillips delve into an entirely new interpretation with a supremely focused character study that effectively disturbs and distresses.

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is scraping by in the bowels of Gotham City’s underworld, struggling to care for his mother while suffering from mental illness and a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably in times of discomfort. Arthur becomes further unhinged as his world continues to alienate him, and he begins to embrace the comedy he sees amongst the violent madness.

The Joker is a wonderfully adaptable character. He can function as a clown, a murderous psychopath, or a combination of the two. He is rarely portrayed realistically, and the mystery that clouds the character’s origin has enthralled fans for almost 80 years. Phoenix transforms over the course of the movie and we feel the danger intensify from frame to frame. Fleck begins as an outcast, misunderstood and abused. Once liberated, we see his body language and vocal cadence change organically as Phillips’ direction allows us to empathise with this disillusioned man.

Joker finds strength in its disconnection from the books that inspire it, which I say as a huge fan of comics. This is not a Batman story, and this Joker more closely resembles Travis Bickle than any previous iteration. Phillips unashamedly taps into influence from Taxi Driver and the style of Martin Scorsese, rediscovering a tone that mainstream theatres have been missing.

While the influence is there it isn’t a crutch, as the writing, direction, editing, and breathtaking cinematography (we can almost feel the grime on Gotham’s streets) support the weight of Phoenix’s masterful performance. A special mention must go to Robert De Niro as talk-show host Murray Franklin; his timing and prowess shine more in the short time he spends on-screen here than in any of his recent performances.

My eyes have not been glued to a screen like this in quite some time. I’m already itching to experience it again.

Cock | Regional News


Written by: Mark Bartlett

Directed by: Shane Bosher

Running at Circa Theatre until 9th Nov, 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

While on a break from his snarky, sneering boyfriend M (Simon Leary), John (Jack Buchanan) falls for a woman, W (Karin McCracken). After cheating on M again when they reconcile, John must choose between the person he has been with for seven years or the person he has just met; between security and vulnerability, knowledge and discovery, M and W.

But John flounders, shudders, a vessel of guts and nerves wrapped up warm and cosy in a flannel T-shirt.

Incensed by such indecision, M insists on meeting W. And so begins the most awkward dinner party in the history of dinner parties. Because the audience is illuminated at close quarters on this thrust stage, we see others cringe and spasm more than the characters they’re captivated by. I watch through my fingers and chew my programme as M’s dad (played by Matt Chamberlain) informs John that being gay is fixed, being gay is forever.

On that note, Cock addresses, then fiercely rejects antiquated notions of sexuality. Remembering the play is set amid a monogamous relationship, M’s confrontation of the stigma around bisexuality is one such brilliant moment. “Yes John”, he spits, “it’s fine to be both, it’s absolutely fine to be both, but not at the same time.”

What we have then is a razor-sharp, progressive, powerful work capable of provoking vital conversation afterwards that’s as funny as all hell during.

With no set, no lighting cues, and no music – save for a disarming boom between scenes that makes a lot of people jump – the actors must carry it all on a barren, bright white stage. Luckily, these cast members have arms of steel, wholly inhabiting their roles. I want to have the best argument of my life with M, shake the living daylights out of John, console and bolster W, and do what she did to M’s dad. No spoilers here, but these exceptional actors make their characters feel vividly, painfully alive.

Kris Kristofferson | Regional News

Kris Kristofferson

Michael Fowler Centre, 11th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

I’m sad to say it was lethargy that drove me from the concert hall at half time. Lethargy on behalf of not only Kristofferson himself but a lacklustre band, made up of the late Merle Haggard’s sidemen: Scott Joss on violin, Doug Colosio on keyboards, and Jeff Ingraham on drums. It was a backing band that could have, should have, driven the singer to better heights.

I take no pleasure in slagging off one of my heroes, although even that needs quantifying. Years ago, a major record company executive was being interviewed at a Highwaymen (the supergroup formed by Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash) concert in which they performed to some 60,000. When asked if he would sign any of the artists individually, he retorted a firm “No!”

When asked why not, he said their time had come and gone and that the newer country-loving audience preferred the likes of the then up-and-coming Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam, and George Strait. In other words, the Big Hat brigade.

So being the rebel (I thought I was) I took sides with their stance against overproduced Nashville music. Strange how it’s all come full circle and bands such as Drive By Truckers and The Felice Brothers are now producing themselves.

At 83 years of age, it seems time has finally caught up with Kristofferson. Though, to be fair there was a stellar group of compositions to be aired. With a voice barely above a warbling whisper, the lack of energy just sapped the room. The nimble fingerpicking has totally deserted him to the point of making me wonder if he knew more than two chords.

Perhaps a shorter concert with no intermission may have satisfied me more. I’m just sad that I missed my favourite Kristofferson song A Moment Of Forever but I am glad that I heard Help Me Make It Through The Night, a song that echoes Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay in portraying a one-night stand without overtones of anything else.