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Reviews

The Road That Wasn’t There | Regional News

The Road That Wasn’t There

Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell

Directed by: Hannah Smith

Circa Theatre, 22nd Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Road That Wasn’t There is a story about Maggie (Elle Wootton), who follows maps off the edge of the world, and her son Gabriel (Paul Waggott), who follows maps to real places thanks. Maggie is a child at heart, filled with whimsy and wonder. Gabriel is very much a grownup who stopped believing in magic ages ago. When Maggie’s neighbours and the townsfolk of St Bathans become even more concerned about her behaviour than usual, they call Gabriel home. And there, in his childhood home, Maggie finally tells her son the truth about where he came from.

What a wonderful story we have here. Playwright Ralph McCubbin Howell, who plays a variety of characters with flair and gusto, has mastered a balance of accessibility and complexity. The work is suitable for older children with enough layers and depth to keep the adults engaged.

The Coraline meets A Series of Unfortunate Events vibe I was anticipating doesn’t kick in until a little later; I become entirely engrossed when the show takes a turn for the spooky. Like Gabriel, I finally take off my big kid’s hat and let Trick of The Light Theatre suck me into the mystical world they have created.

The design elements are what really hit this world home. Creepy but cute puppets (Hannah Smith, who directs), dramatic, eerie composition and sound design replete with charming ditties (Tane Upjohn-Beatson), and clever lighting that allows for shadow play (Rachel Marlow) each stand alone as exceptional. Together, they make a complete, cohesive whole at one with the action.

I love that the cast doesn’t stop performing when the puppets come out. Wootton embodies a younger version of Maggie with such conviction, it’s hard to know where puppet ends and human begins. Waggott’s besotted expression when playing puppet Walter melts my heart and plants a huge grin on my face that’s still firmly intact when the show ends.

The Road That Wasn’t There reminds me of just how magic magic is.

Goldberg Variations | Regional News

Goldberg Variations

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre, 22nd Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

First published in 1741, JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations was written for harpsichord and has since been arranged differently many times. The NZSO’s interpretation under director Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin) used a variety of instruments, maximising the musical variation and contrast. The introductory Aria is followed by 30 variations and the depth and complexity of the music and the instrumental variety made the combinations seem endless.

A subtle backdrop of coloured lighting and the movement of players as they joined and left the performance created extra visual interest. As well as a lovely echo of the movement in the music, it was a physical demonstration of the ever-changing instrumental blend and how the variations developed from the theme.

On the fortepiano Stephen De Pledge did a very fine job of coaxing tone and colour from his keyboard. De Pledge spoke briefly during the interval and we learned the difference between the harpsichord and fortepiano lies in plucking versus striking the strings. Bach might not have approved of De Pledge’s relatively modern choice of instrument, but the audience would have disagreed. De Pledge’s technique and style made the best of the possibilities afforded by the softer tone and dynamic control of the new technology.

Every musician was in good form and the reduced numbers on stage (just 18) gave each one of them their moment to shine. Though limited in number, the players explored a full spectrum of rich musical sound. The standout was Carolyn Mills on the harp who had a variation to herself. It is rare to hear a harp so clearly in ensemble play and, with a touch of musical and lighting magic, my view was obscured and it looked like the harp was playing itself.

By the close it was hard to remember this was intended for harpsichord alone. Known for innovation and invention in his own time, I like to think JS Bach might have enjoyed it too.

The King of Staten Island | Regional News

The King of Staten Island

(R16)

137 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The King of Staten Island directly addresses today’s youth. Structurally, it sticks to a familiar formula, and like many Judd Apatow films, it outstays its welcome. But its fresh subject matter and seasoned supporting cast keep the laughs coming, even if its star sometimes seems disinterested in doing so.

24-year-old Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) lives with single mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and sister Claire (Maude Apatow) on Staten Island, New York City. Scott’s father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty, and he has long suffered from depression. He is pessimistic but ambitious, dreaming of one day opening a tattoo restaurant and practising on his friend’s bodies in the meantime. When Margie starts dating Ray (Bill Burr), another fireman, Scott must face his past head-on.

People who are familiar with Apatow’s comedies will not encounter many surprises; a man-child stuck in his immature ways is forced to grow up. However, the characters driving us towards these beats are defined and fleshed out. Tomei stand outs as Scott’s down-to-earth, empathetic mother, as does Burr, who plays to his strengths and delivers more laughs than anyone. He appears as a natural enemy of Scott’s, and the chemistry between the two actors makes it all the more fun. Smaller players Bel Powley, Pamela Adlon, and Steve Buscemi utilise their minor moments to portray rounded characters.

Scott is much less interesting. His story is a recreation of Davidson’s life in most aspects and as a result, the actor meanders through scenes. What I can appreciate is the willingness to embrace a character battling mental illness. Apatow doesn’t treat it as taboo, simply addressing how this individual is dealing with it and allowing him to poke fun at himself. After a while though, this isn’t enough to sustain my interest. Parts of the plot – such as a scene where Scott joins his friends in robbing a pharmacy – are entirely unnecessary and will force many to check their watch, especially astute viewers who will be able to predict what’s coming.

The Burnt Orange Heresy | Regional News

The Burnt Orange Heresy

(R13)

99 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The Burnt Orange Heresy has something to say but no way of saying it. What begins as a compelling critique of the contemporary art scene ends as a flamboyant neo-noir romp. Sadly, the two intentions never effectively coalesce, and the film is forced to rely on a captivating cast to keep us engaged.

Charismatic art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) and his new fling Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) visit the luxurious estate of a powerful art dealer, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). The true purpose of the alluring invitation is soon revealed; to convince James to steal a painting from Cassidy’s neighbour Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), a world-renowned but enigmatic artist whose work has not been seen for decades.

The film’s saving grace is its cast, particularly Sutherland and Bang. Both portray masked men; one who will admit it, and one who won’t. James uses charm and confidence to hide insecurity and rage. We meet him as he teaches a class that Berenice attends. He analyses a worthless painting at length and suddenly, the entire class wants a print, exemplifying the power of the critic. We know we cannot trust James, but we understand why others do. As the weathered artist, Sutherland brings sensitivity to a role that risks appearing pretentious.

Director Giuseppe Capotondi refuses to lean into a single idea, and this lack of clarity often leaves the frame dull and the narrative stagnant. For a film that barely crosses the hour-and-a-half mark, The Burnt Orange Heresy feels painfully slow at times and rushed at others. The story, based on the book of the same name by Charles Willeford, naturally lends itself to a seductive, stylistic noir, but Capotondi sacrifices this opportunity in favour of something he deems more meaningful – an exploration of artistic authenticity. This doesn’t land, and in turn, the film becomes forgettable.

The Burnt Orange Heresy represents a missed opportunity. A talented cast and a bewitching plot let down by a lack of focus.

Wendy | Regional News

Wendy

(M)

112 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Watching Wendy is like diving excitedly into a colourful ball pit only to discover it’s been laced with needles. While director and co-writer Benh Zeitlin’s Peter Pan-inspired tale doesn’t lack originality or flair, its jarring inconsistencies leaves me wondering who it is intended to entertain.

Wendy (Devin France) spends most of her time hanging around her family’s Louisiana diner. She spots a boy leaping between railcars on a passing train and compels her twin brothers Douglas and James to hop aboard. They meet the rambunctious Peter (Yashua Mack), who whisks them off to a magical island and promises they’ll never grow old.

Wendy never lulls, and it thrives in moments where its fantastical world is on full display. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen grounds the film’s visual style to make the high-concept elements feel otherworldly. This offers a fresh visual take on a story that has been told time and time again, and it works, for the most part. It’s hard to get an audience on board with a giant magical glowing fish, but the combination of Grøvlen’s striking camera work and Dan Romer’s anthemic orchestral score makes it possible.

No matter how pretty the sights and sounds, eventually, I become disconnected with the story. Incomplete characters, unearned tonal shifts, and clumsy dialogue leaves the film too kiddie for adults and too dense for children. In the end, it’s unclear who we should trust or even like – certainly not Peter. Most of the character arcs are undefined; their behaviours change wildly according to what a given scene dictates. In the end, so many ideas are expressed that its final note feels ham-fisted and the story is left at odds with itself.

The imagination and technical prowess on display in Wendy delivers doses of fun, but it trips over too many hurdles to be compelling or satisfying. The emotional beats that are impactful tend to be ripped away moments later. Those entrenched in the adventures of Neverland may appreciate the take, others may forget it overnight.

Kubrick by Kubrick | Regional News

Kubrick by Kubrick

(16)

73 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Every word that could be said about Stanley Kubrick has already been written. Kubrick by Kubrick turns the final stone, presenting the words of the man himself. This eye-opening documentary focuses on the misconceptions surrounding the illusive filmmaker, humanising a man who, for some, has become mythical. It offers us a seat at Kubrick’s table as he gazes inward, analysing his career humbly and philosophically.

Stanley Kubrick crafted some of the most influential films in cinematic history across a storied five-decade career, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. He rarely granted interviews and was labelled a reclusive genius by many upon his death in 1999. In 1968, Kubrick was so impressed by an article penned by French film critic Michael Ciment that he agreed to be interviewed. The recordings heard in Kubrick by Kubrick track 20 years of their conversations.

Director Gregory Monro assumes the audience is familiar with Kubrick’s cannon, which allows him to avoid fodder. Monro is interested in the misconceptions about his practices and the intelligence behind his choices, as are many Kubrick fans. In a stroke of structural brilliance, editor Philippe Baillon fluidly maps fragments of Ciment’s sit-downs to break down Kubrick’s filmmaking philosophy step by step, speaking to one movie at a time. Discussions venture into the nature of satire, his relationship with source material, and his distrust in the goodness of man.

Where some ‘in conversation’ documentaries feel grossly self-serving, Kubrick by Kubrick feels necessary. Just hearing Kubrick’s voice is a treat, but hearing him comfortably discuss his work in an utterly unpretentious way is extraordinarily special. It shows a method to the madness; why shoot hundreds of takes? Why research like a detective looking for clues? Because “directing a movie, if you do it properly, is not always fun”.

At an hour and 13 minutes, it saddens me that there were surely pearls of wisdom that were left on the cutting room floor. Still, Kubrick by Kubrick paints an important portrait that film fans cannot miss.

Puss in Boots | Regional News

Puss in Boots

Presented by: The Pantoloons

Written by: Amanda Stone

Directed by: Amanda Stone

BATS Theatre, 15th Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Although I had heard much of The Pantoloons’ fun-filled pantomimes, I had never seen one before and so jumped at the chance to review a panto-loony rendition of Puss in Boots.

A classic ‘village idiot’ in fabulous costume (costume design by Amanda Stone) comes out into the foyer to jest with the crowd. Playing one half of double act Grabbit and Runn, Tanisha Wardle (Grabbit) excites and delights the little ones. She’s unperturbed when a boy raises his arms in the air and roars at her, simply yelling “Go Hurricanes!” right back at him. The interaction sets the tone for a rollercoaster of a show, and when Wardle comes together with Jared Pallesen (Runn), it’s comedy dynamite.

When we get into the theatre (aka Pantoland), our story quickly emerges. A nasty ogre terrorises the town, but not quite as much as Lady Grumblepoop, played by the brilliant Jacey McGrath and booed often by the audience. Don’t worry, the lady likes boos! Our hero Tom (sweetly portrayed by Jonathan Beresford) lives with his aunt Maisie (an energetic performance from Warrick Allan) and Puss in Boots (sass galore from Jenell Pollock), who ropes him into fighting the ogre. It turns out Princess Pansy (charm in spades from Brianna Anglesey) is better suited to take him down, a feminist twist that delighted me but did not delight her father the King (the regal Neil Brewer) or his royal advisor Jarvis (great hoity-toityness from James Barnett).

High production values are on display, with dramatic lighting in all the hues of the rainbow (Aaron Jonassen) and sound design worthy of the big stage (Rick Jonassen). It makes for a professional production. Our only clue that it was put together in just four weeks is the smidge of uncertainty around the lyrics and choreography. Regardless, Puss in Boots is an example of pure joy and happiness felt by all – from the enthusiastic cast and crew to the exuberant kids in the audience and their beaming parents.

Improv for Kids | Regional News

Improv for Kids

Presented by: The Improvisors

Circa Theatre, 11th Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

With lead performers Ian Harcourt, Fingal Pollock, and Ben Zolno, Improv for Kids offers an environment where anything feels possible. “We will need your help to make it happen,” says Ian. And make it happen, they do! Improv for Kids is a show that relies equally on its young audience as it does its performers. Kids are invited to participate in an immersive and collaborative approach to storytelling, resulting in wonderful off-the-cuff performances.

The scene is set straight away and is almost too good to be true; you can yell your ideas out from where you sit, you do not need to put your hand up, and if your grownup tells you to “shush”, then for the next hour only, you have licence to say “shush” back. Carte blanche to be authors of their own domain is an opportunity not to be missed and hilarious performances about green bananas, ghost bats, and hot unicorns ensue. Improv for Kids is improvisation at its best, where kids become the exhibits, the sound engineers, and the collective authors of the show.

Lighting (Darren Woods) and music (Cam Crawford) provide just the right amount of dramatic effect to a fast-paced show.

There is no pressure for the kids to join in and this seems to have the opposite effect, with the young audience consistently engaged and enthusiastic participants. The real surprise is the way the performers are able to work so creatively and intuitively with each other using the directives and ideas hollered right, left, and centre from eager children. Cleverly timed and never missing a beat, you get the feeling The Improvisors have been doing this for some time.

There are no bored children here staring mindlessly at a screen; they are part of the action and it’s refreshing to enjoy something unscripted and organic with lots of laughter and entertainment.

What a fun hour to be had. Something special for the kids these holidays, something different, each and every time.

Pastoral | Regional News

Pastoral

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Hamish McKeich

Michael Fowler Centre, 9th Jul 2020

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Feelings of warmth, familiarity, and a generosity of spirit filled the auditorium in the Michael Fowler Centre. Lockdown was a test of collaboration through technology and it was impressive but there really is nothing to beat the live experience. The house was respectably full, the audience and orchestra seemed relaxed and happy.

Diedre Irons took the stage for Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73. The first movement is filled with long runs up and down the keyboard. In lesser hands than Irons it could have sounded like someone practising their scales. Instead, the high energy and technique of Irons was a great match for the vigorous part of the orchestra. The lyrical theme of the second movement has always been one of my favourites. The strings open gently and are joined by the piano, leading to some delicate and beautifully played passages between woodwind and piano. My only criticism may be nothing more than my ears being out of practice, but the orchestra did seem to dominate at times. However, applause was long and loud, Diedre Irons receiving heartfelt thanks for an enjoyable performance.

After last year’s popular performances of Beethoven’s works, pairing Emperor with Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, the eponymous Pastoral of the programme, was always going to bring a grateful audience back to the concert hall. The Sixth Symphony was a smart choice for the times. The first movement was full of optimism and hope shining through a lush, big sound. In the second a deeply satisfying tone from bassoon and cello transported my immigrant soul to the river meadows where my parents live, a long way from the New Zealand winter. The third movement was crisp and delicate, interrupted by a summer thunderstorm that had us all running for home.

Thank you NZSO, it is good to have you back.