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Reviews

Poppy | Regional News

Poppy

(PG)

98 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Reviewed by Sam Hollis

While we never get to experience the tension of believing things won’t be neatly tied up with a ribbon, Poppy channels its well-worn story through a vibrant and captivating title character. Though the script leaves nuance to be desired, a strong lead performance from newcomer Libby Hunsdale lays the foundation for a film that manages to delight in all the right places.

Poppy (Hunsdale), a young Kāpiti woman with Down syndrome, wants the same things as the rest of us – love, a career, a life – but finds that others don’t have the same faith in her. As she puts in the grind to earn a mechanics apprenticeship at her family’s garage and navigate her first relationship, her overprotective brother Dave (Ari Boyland) refuses to take his foot off the brake.

It cannot be overstated how comfortably Hunsdale inhabits the frame. Her energy oozes out of the screen, never feeling one-note. Poppy often says exactly what she’s thinking, yet Hunsdale is at her most compelling in quieter moments; the slight sense of ease that washes over her when she is able to make an independent, unobstructed decision. Boyland is also terrific. With his character battling alcoholism, loneliness, guilt, and bankruptcy, there’s a lot to reckon with, but he nails down a tone early and carries it through. However, the rest of the cast, along with the story, is not as consistent.

The script by writer-director Linda Niccol asks a lot of questions and winds up in a rush to answer them. Some subplots, particularly Poppy’s romance with Luke (Seb Hunter), surge in order to make room for others, which leads to some particularly on-the-nose and cringe-worthy moments – a tip fellas, “you’re a bit cheeky, aren’t you?” is not flirting at its finest. Niccol does deserve praise for her direction, which mirrors Poppy’s urgency and, thanks in part to cinematographer Mathew Knight, captures Kāpiti in all its splendour and feels effortlessly cinematic.

While Poppy’s victory feels appropriately triumphant, for the other characters things just work out a bit too perfectly a bit too quickly. With more focus and breathing room, Poppy may have elevated from fun to fantastic.

Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream | Regional News

Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream

Written by: Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis

Directed by: Justin Lewis

Te Auaha, 25th May 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

One minute, Kutisar is putting on his Harvey Norman uniform and the next he wakes up in limbo, unsure whether he got his pants on before suffering the medical event that landed him there. We soon discover that the fate of the former chaiwallah depends on how he behaved on Earth. Kutisar begins to flash back to his younger days running a kulfi shop in Mumbai with Meera, whose people – the Parsi community – have a tradition called a sky burial where they lay their dead out in the towers of silence to be eaten by vultures. When Meera’s grandfather dies, the vultures don’t come. It turns out, in this one-man show and in real life, the birds are facing the fastest mass extinction of all time.   

Playing Kutisar, Meera, and five other characters – a hilarious highlight of which is Meera’s pompous aunty – is Jacob Rajan, who wears a set of oversized teeth as a form of mask to channel multiple larger-than-life personalities with joy and immeasurable talent.

I never lose my place thanks to Rajan’s gift for physical theatre and the transitions, made seamless by composer David Ward’s sound design and D. Andrew Potvin’s lighting design. These production elements transport the audience not just to different times, but through different worlds, where set designer John Verryt’s projected abstract images clarify the setting while enabling our imaginations to run wild. And then there is Jon Coddington’s exceptional, remarkably lifelike puppet, a vulture that at first terrifies me but that I soon learn to appreciate, to love, to mourn. The dancing helped!

Indian Ink’s Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream is an example of a team working together as one airtight unit where each part is vital to the whole. The whole, in this case, is a poignant production that I could not take my eyes off and won’t be able to stop thinking about for a long time to come.

Eat Your Landlord | Regional News

Eat Your Landlord

Devised and performed by Long Cloud Youth Theatre

Directed by: Ben Ashby

Te Auaha, 25th May 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Eat Your Landlord is a full-course meal of student life from chef (director) Ben Ashby. Entrées consist of freezing flat, the main dish certainly is Courtenay Place, add a side of lazy flatmate and uninterested landlord, and top it off with after town kick-on dessert. There is plenty to chew through and a substantial amount to digest later.

A movement-based piece, Eat Your Landlord is highly conceptual. Though I struggled to understand the full storyline, I believe Long Cloud Youth Theatre presents various scenes from the typical student lifestyle. The actors twist and contort themselves into various character tropes, forms, feelings, and situations. A single desperate tenant confronts the massive conglomerate that is their property management firm. Two flatmates attempt diplomatic discussion about dishes and toilet paper within a cage, but formal pretense quickly devolves into carnage. A night in town borders on pagan ritual. The ensemble channels frustration, rage, confusion, helplessness, love, and awe through their bodies into the performance.

Eat Your Landlord makes great use of space. The show is roving; the audience wander around the room while the performance happens around, behind, or above them. I often felt uncomfortable or in the way, as if I stumbled upon a tribal ceremony but was welcome nonetheless. As much as I did feel a part of the performance, I also felt alienated.

The lighting and sound design, both by the talented Bekky Boyce, bring the show together. The ever-dripping tap keeps you alert and on edge, while the brilliant soundtrack brings life to the dank room. The lighting (as well as the mismatched carpeted floor) consists of detachable lamps hooked up to hanging extension cords or bare bulbs creating the dark, stark setting, reminiscent of a dingy, but oh-so-cool student flat.

Though at times too conceptually complex to be accessible, Eat Your Landlord is a one-of-a-kind banquet full of young energy, pointed and overdue protest, and chaotic (but free) student life.

Virtuoso Voices  | Regional News

Virtuoso Voices

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 22nd May 2021

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Such clever programming in Virtuoso Voices, the presentation by Orchestra Wellington and Orpheus Choir Wellington of Bartók’s Cantata Profana and Orff’s Carmina Burana! Both composed in the 1930s, and similar in form, Orff’s work has been very popular while Bartók’s striking work is not often performed. By such programming are our musical horizons extended.

Orff’s work is a mostly riotous celebration of the joys of spring, love, lust, and the tavern but with an overtone expressed in the famous opening song, O Fortuna, that life is prone to changing fortunes. The music is energetic, superbly rhythmic, melodic, and contains a variety of styles. Bartók’s musical appeal is less direct and the story is much darker. Subtitled The Nine Enchanted Stags, it tells of brothers brought up to hunt turning into hunted stags, begged by their distraught father to return home but unable to do so.

A double accolade goes to Brent Stewart, a busy timpanist supremo in both works. Stewart is also the music director of Orpheus Choir, responsible for preparing their performance. Bartók demands a lot of the choir without much support from the orchestral parts and sometimes they seemed not fully comfortable. Their performance of Carmina Burana was much more assured, confidently negotiating rhythmic challenges and delivering the contrasting styles, colours, and moods required. The choir’s energy was impressive. Wellington Young Voices and the Celesta Choir, the children’s choirs in Carmina Burana, deserve special mention for the clarity and precision of their singing.

The concert’s virtuoso voices were tenor Amitai Pati, baritone Christian Thurston, and soprano Amelia Berry. They contributed some of the highlights of the concert, particularly in Carmina Burana. Pati’s humorous rendition of a tortured swan roasting on a spit and Berry’s pure tone as she sings of being torn between love and chastity were memorable moments.

I should mention also that Orchestra Wellington was fabulous!

Bobby Wood: If You Met My Mum, You’d Understand | Regional News

Bobby Wood: If You Met My Mum, You’d Understand

Written and performed by Tess Sullivan

BATS Theatre, 18th May 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The brief online introduction and lack of a programme makes this NZ International Comedy Festival gem something of a mystery when entering the Dome at BATS. The stage is typically bare for what is apparently a one-man stand-up show, consisting of just the stereotypical microphone, stool, and bottle of nondescript beer. When the lights go down, we hear the expected cheesy night-club introduction over the PA system of Bobby Wood, the self-styled Sage of Hari Hari.

However, Bobby is late and nowhere to be seen. Instead, his kilted and bespectacled mum starts speaking from the front row of the audience. We soon find out why Bobby is late as Mum relates anecdotes and embarrassing stories from his childhood about an overly complex education in how to tell the time and a pathological fear of cuckoo clocks.

After requesting extra cushions for her piles and buoyed up by a glass of red wine, Mum soon takes the microphone and hits her stride. She treats us to a litany of hilarious stories of West Coast farming life involving microwaved beanbags, killer cows, and what happened that time she fell down a hill and broke both her legs.

The highlight is her retelling of a one-night stand with a hulk of a man called Jack Melbourne, with whom she locked eyes across a crowded RSA hall during a storm. With body hair like a dish scourer, he still causes her spasms of lust every time she says his name.

Eventually, Bobby arrives and starts his routine of appalling, farm-related jokes that fall delightfully flat for a sophisticated Wellington audience. Bobby is, in fact, the world’s worst stand-up comedian thanks to his traumatic childhood. We have met his mum, so we totally understand.

Character-based comedy that gently lampoons stereotypes is something Kiwis do particularly well and this show is no exception. It is unexpected, charming, and deliciously funny.

Fantastique | Regional News

Fantastique

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Holly Mathieson

Michael Fowler Centre, 14th May 2021

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Holly Mathieson opened Fantastique with an enthusiastic, personal perspective on the programme and gave a helpful prompt that the theme was dreams. Having arrived too late to have read the programme notes, this was both very useful and an engaging insight into how she would be directing the performance.

Toru Takemitsu’s Dreamtime (Yume no Toki) made use of a rich variety of percussion and orchestration to create the dream experience and the orchestra gave it their all. I didn’t hear the same images Mathieson had suggested I might, and this served to accentuate the beautifully expressed and strong sense of how personal our dreams can be.

Dorothy Ker’s The Third Dream maximised the percussive possibilities of instruments. Ker’s piece was deeper and more menacing in tone than Takemitsu’s but there was no mistaking the dream context this time either. We are used to the sight of string players plucking at their instruments and sometimes using different bowing techniques, but Ker brought out the percussionist in unexpected places to great effect. The double basses particularly enjoyed their licence to slap, hit, and exploit some of the biggest sound boxes on stage.

Hector Berlioz challenged boundaries when he wrote his Symphonie Fantastique. The five movements describe a romantic narrative, episodes of the composer’s dream, a style which broke new ground in 1830. The treatment of the melodies, the orchestration, and the variety of effects Berlioz used to capture the mood and the story gave the NZSO musicians their chances to shine on the night. As ever, the playing was impeccable. Two harps, substantial brass and woodwind sections, and four timpani as well as many strings meant there were numerous examples of musical magic.

The last word is to congratulate principal bassoon, Robert Weeks. A very fine farewell speech from colleague David Angus told us Weeks is retiring but will continue to follow his dreams.

MLK/FBI | Regional News

MLK/FBI

(PG)

104 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

MLK/FBI is an enlightening, inspiring, and infuriating film from this year’s Doc Edge programme. While many documentaries have recounted Martin Luther King Jr’s rise and untimely demise, director Sam Pollard chooses to focus on his tension with the FBI, enclosing arcs about media influence, racial paranoia, and corruption.

Believing King to be a threat to the “American way of life”, the FBI, as directed by J Edgar Hoover, undertook widespread surveillance of his private activities in the 1960s. By tapping his phones and bugging his home and hotel rooms, they hoped to expose secrets of the minister’s sex life and communist ties. With the release of newly declassified documents, we can dissect the agency’s conduct for the first time.

MLK/FBI forces us to leave the context of the 21st century behind and observe how King’s plight was received by the American public of the day, as well as the image of the FBI that was proliferated throughout the country. By intercutting clips from various cop shows and advertisements, we are shown how Hoover carefully constructed a portrait of his organisation and its agents: heroic, clean-cut, and white.

Pollard is aware that many stories have been told about King, and thus he doesn’t swerve from his chosen subject, giving the film a concise, lean structure. It is narrated by the likes of King confidants Andrew Young and Clarence Jones, Hoover chronicler Beverly Gage, and former FBI director James Comey, whose appearance forges a connection between Hoover’s investigation of King and his of Donald Trump.

In order to criticise the FBI’s eavesdropping, we must first accept that we too should not be privy to this information. The film creates a fascinating oxymoron; in a contemporary world, where King’s legacy remains influential, we have a responsibility to understand him as a person, but if we so disagree with this behaviour, why are we here? When the tapes are released in 2027, the public will have access to recordings of King’s private affairs, the impact of which remains to be seen.

Anecdotes from MLK/FBI will likely sicken you, as they should, but it stands as a timely, superbly constructed document that all should embrace.

Giselle | Regional News

Giselle

Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Opera House, 12th May 2021

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) presented a relaxing evening at the Opera House with an ethereal retelling of Théophile Gautier’s Giselle. Like many of the classics, Giselle could do with a shakeup; a woman dying of a broken heart and accepting the infidelities of her lover may not be so relatable to modern audiences. That said, Giselle was never created for the story, it was created for the appreciation of dance.

Choreographed by Ethan Stiefel and Johan Kobborg, Giselle has become an RNZB staple, and it is easy to see why. The production is an opportunity for the dancers to home in on their technique and immerse themselves in an otherworldly beauty.

As Giselle, Mayu Tanigaito is a force to be reckoned with. She approaches the role with tenderness and remarkable expertise. Giselle is familiar territory for Tanigaito and it is clear that the character holds a special place in her repertoire. Extended sections en-pointe leave the audience breathless and her connection with fellow dancers is unflappable.

Laurynas Vėjalis and Paul Matthews perform the roles of Albrecht and Hilarion, Giselle’s besotted lovers. Vėjalis and Matthews are two sides of a coin, Vėjalis playing the refined nobleman with graceful leaps and pirouettes, while Matthews is a little more audacious and forceful in his movements. But both are striking to watch.

In the second act we enter darker territory with the cheating Albrecht haunted by his role in Giselle’s death. Led by a delicate Sara Garbowski, a stunning corps de ballet dance as the ghostly Wilis, creating a dreamy sequence with beautiful lines and delicate footwork. The women of the company deserve an extra round of applause for their poise and cohesion.    

Orchestra Wellington, conducted by the charismatic Hamish McKeich, were a welcome accompaniment and the costume design by Natalia Stewart was outstanding. The overall production value was impressive, and along with the charming performers, it was easy to settle into an evening of escapism.    

Another Mammal | Regional News

Another Mammal

Written by: Jo Randerson

Directed by: Jane Yonge

Circa Theatre, 8th May 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Wellington writer Jo Randerson has made a name for herself as a creator of dark social satire and her new play, Another Mammal, delivers that in spades, along with a healthy dose of absurdism.

A married couple, simply known as Y (Anya Tate-Manning) and Z (Natano Keni), are on the brink of divorce and attempt repeatedly to resolve their differences. However, every time they confront each other, one of them has a real or imagined gun. Their failed reconciliations inevitably lead to a comedic death as a broader metaphor for humankind’s tendency to solve problems with violence.

Tate-Manning delivers a standout performance as the female protagonist, injecting her stage presence with rapid-fire dialogue, physical energy, and expert comic timing. Keni offers a more restrained counterpoint to balance Tate-Manning’s fire. As the Stage Manager, Erina Daniels creates a subtle character who initially assists the action on stage, but then becomes an important part of it. The three mysteriously benevolent and hirsute Wolf-Apes, Peter Burman, Sean Millward, and Waitahi Aniwaniwa, gradually invade Y and Z’s sparse home with a quiet and charming bemusement.

The development of this play was one of many disrupted last year by COVID-19. That experience is evidenced through the improvised feel of the dialogue, the shapeless tracksuits worn by most of the cast, the unkempt hair and long nails of the Wolf-Apes, and the bunch of fake flowers unceremoniously squirted with hand sanitiser.

The in-your-face narrative is supported by a raw set (production design by Meg Rollandi) and lighting design (Joshua Tucker) and a loud Kiwi pop-rock soundtrack that forces the audience to stay engaged and propels them ever onwards into the next helter-skelter scene.

Another Mammal will not be every theatregoer’s mug of tea, but for those who revel in the surreal and enjoy a good laugh at the persistent failings of the human race, then this is an excellent hour’s entertainment.