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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.

Frankenstein!! | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: HK Gruber and Håkan Hardenberger

Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

HK Gruber conducted the first half of this concert and composed two items within it. Born in Austria in 1943, Gruber turned away from the music of avant-garde atonal contemporaries, wishing to focus on music that would be accessible and less academic. Ironically, scores of NZSO subscribers gave this concert a miss, as they perhaps would a concert of those atonal contemporaries. They missed a lot of fun.

The concert opened with the mid-18th century Toy Symphony, whose composer is unknown. Included in the orchestra for this sprightly performance were toy instruments: a rattle, a whistle, a recorder, a triangle, and a discordant tooting horn.

Then came Stravinsky’s Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant. It was composed for a ballet for 50 ballerinas atop 50 elephants wearing pink tutus. We were without the elephants or the ballerinas, but it was not hard to imagine them.

Completing the first half was Gruber’s Aerial for orchestra and trumpet featuring Håkan Hardenberger. Apparently, Hardenberger was involved in the work’s development, demonstrating to Gruber what the trumpet could do. Hardenberger variously played the standard trumpet, a piccolo trumpet, and an archaic cow horn. Astonishingly, he also sang and blew notes simultaneously, each distinctly heard. Musically, the work contained some wonderfully unusual soundscapes, both delicate and dramatically jagged.

The classicism of Haydn’s Symphony No. 22, conducted by Hardenberger, was a welcome return to the known. The first movement is a miracle of measured beauty.

The audience loved the final work, Frankenstein!! Toy instruments featured again, including bursting paper bags and whirling hose pipes. The orchestra rose and sang at one point. It was a great piece of theatre with a mesmerising Gruber half singing, half speaking the lines of somewhat sinister children’s rhymes that referenced popular characters such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Superman, John Wayne, and Batman.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, this concert, but pretty amazing.

Here’s a Thing! NZIF Kickoff | Regional News

Here’s a Thing! NZIF Kickoff

Directed by: Jennifer O’Sullivan

BATS Theatre, 9th Oct 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

“Who’s got a thing?” asks New Zealand Improv Festival (NZIF) director and tonight’s vibrant MC Jennifer O’Sullivan. “I’ve got a thing!” eight improvisors respond enthusiastically in turn. Cam Percy, Daniel Allan, George Fenn, Jason Geary, Katherine Weaver, Lyndon Hood, Liz Butler, and Tara McEntee all step up over the course of this casual but well-run show. After a brief ‘interview’ with O’Sullivan, in which the amusingly underprepared candidates haphazardly detail their upcoming NZIF shows, they propose and direct their fellow cast members in an improv game.

Audiences are treated to a pop-up storybook, a monologue from a superhero, a conversation made up entirely of the word “mate”, and much more. Familiarity isn’t a requisite; each game is explained clearly and concisely by its director, and of course, nothing in improv is ever the same.

For example, one scene tonight features Weaver, Hood, Geary, and Fenn. After accepting obscure audience suggestions – spoon, teacher, rollercoaster, and cat – they each take turns outlining the way their characters die. Links between characters are quickly and cleverly woven and in the end, the reapers responsible are a loose screw, a stuffy backpack, a handle in a heart, and height. What we’re witnessing then is something that will never happen again. It’s a special feeling for those in the room. Great improv deepens bonds with people we know and forges bonds with people we don’t. This is great improv.

O’Sullivan expertly oversees the show, ensuring it runs smoothly and doesn’t derail. Individual directors are also quick to step in when needed, with fast thinking from improvisors on the sidelines sprinkling hilarity to stop things falling flat. Fenn running past as a skyscraper is one such moment.

I find myself craving more throwbacks to characters and situations from previous scenes throughout the night, but overall, this Thing! is a rollicking good time. Our improvisors are equally matched in talent, wit, and alacrity, dolling out delicious tasters of what is bound to be a brilliant festival.

Jojo Rabbit | Regional News

Jojo Rabbit


108 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In his most light-hearted film to date, Taika Waititi reminds us that it’s okay to laugh to overcome hate. Jojo Rabbit is a comedy, through and through, and those looking for a gloomy tale about World War II should look elsewhere. Alternatively, this is a heart-warming, gut-busting tale about learning to think for yourself; overcoming the influence of a world full of hate to decide what is truly right.

At 10 years old, Jojo Betzler’s (Roman Griffin Davis) views on the war are naïve and childish. He’s a self-confessed “Hitler fanatic” who treats the leader like his favourite celebrity. He soon discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl, in the attic. Jojo must confront his blind nationalism in the form of his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).

Due to his age, Jojo is largely shielded from the true horrors of WWII. It is not until he is confronted by grief resulting directly from it that he begins to see the full picture. This film is not gratuitous. It doesn’t have to be, nor does it promise to be. But Jojo does not escape the Nazi regime without experiencing his share of trauma.

Taika’s screenplay gives comic talents moments to shine without detracting from the characters who really matter. Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, and Taika himself never outstay their welcome, but eat up every second they have in this vibrant world. The relationships Davis portrays are visceral, particularly with McKenzie and Johansson, and this is what the film is concerned with. Each actor conveys their character’s position, and sense of humour, with pure sincerity. Who should Jojo trust: His country? His mother? Elsa? By the end, certainly not his ridiculous unicorn-eating fantasy of Adolf Hitler.

Jojo Rabbit is not about a boy learning by witnessing horrific acts, it’s about a boy talking to other human beings and concluding that they are all equal. This message just happens to be delivered through the funniest script of the year.

World of WearableArt Awards show | Regional News

World of WearableArt Awards show

Directed by: Andy Packer

TSB Bank Arena, 29th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

115 finalists from 22 countries were selected for this year’s World of WearableArt Awards show, where their designs were exhibited in a stage spectacular with colossal production values.

WOW is always breathtaking. There’s nothing quite like it in Wellington – nay, the world. If this was my first time, I’d be ranting and raving about how wonderful it was even after the cows came home. Unfortunately, I felt this year’s show was not as cohesive as the four phenomenal productions I’ve seen in the past.

The creative team had a massive job: tying six very different worlds together – Aotearoa, Avant-garde, Open, Mythology, Transform, and White – into one that showcases and celebrates the incredible works at the heart of WOW. A lot of different elements were brought into this show to never return: a little girl who ran out to marvel at her surroundings, two emcees who disappeared into the ether, a real-live ballerina inside a mirrored jewellery box that wasn’t utilised to its full effect. John Strang’s brilliant AV design wove the strongest thread between the worlds for me, with marvellously drawn throwbacks to the show’s recurring motifs of fire, slimy creatures, and eyes. Torches and giant tentacles served to strengthen these references on the ground, while a dazzling scene featuring deep sea divers caused an audible “wow” to escape my lips.

This show featured a large group of dancers who, while clearly talented, weren’t always able to keep up with Sarah Foster-Sproull’s demanding contemporary choreography. It’s the type of choreography that requires such precision, small missteps become glaringly obvious. One hand out of place, one rākau (stick) hitting the floor a split second after the next, one taiaha (close-quarters staff) raised a millimetre higher… these weren’t rare occasions. When working in time, the dancers’ wild energy and camaraderie shone through, highlighting Foster-Sproull’s visionary approach.

The 2019 World of WearableArt Awards show was a jaw-dropping affair, with plenty of moments that stood alone as exceptional.

Maiden | Regional News



93 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Maiden is an action-packed documentary that viscerally captures an important human achievement. Detailed footage from the 1980s is edited with precision to recreate an entire race across the world, although a deeper dive into its subject’s past would have painted a more complete picture.

A young British sailor named Tracy Edwards had a dream of sailing around the world. When she realised that the male-dominated industry wouldn’t allow her to do more than cook on a Whitbread Round the World Race yacht, she decided to take matters into her own hands. In 1989, she skippered Maiden, the first all-female crewed boat entered into the race, and ultimately won two legs in Division D.

Director Alex Holmes has crafted a vivid snapshot of Tracy’s environment at this particular time. We feel the scrutiny that surrounded her, which helps us empathise with her admitted “horrendous flaws”.

We see a sincere lack of fear in the entire Maiden crew, but the film shines in moments that show Tracy’s sheer drive, even when she was not popular. She was under enormous pressure and prone to anger as a result. She was forced to take the reigns as skipper on top of her duties as navigator when she fired the crew’s original skipper, the highly experienced Marie-Claude Heys, for threatening her leadership. The media wrote Maiden off as a “tin full of tarts” who wouldn’t even finish the first leg of the race. All of this caused the sworn non-feminist to reconsider her viewpoint, and the overall importance of the crew’s success. By including self-reflective interviews with Tracy, her fellow crew members, other sailors, and journalists from the time, Holmes balances this narrative beautifully.

While the film evocatively portrays Maiden’s time at sea, it doesn’t dig as deeply into aspects of Tracy’s past that undoubtedly affect her, such as the sudden death of her father when she was young. Dedicating more time to the root cause of Tracy’s positive and negative traits would have provided interesting context to her inspirational success.

Transfigured Night | Regional News

Transfigured Night

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 21st Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

The programming for this concert seemed pretty odd. How were Schoenberg, a radical composer of the early 20th century, Bach from around 1740, and a late Beethoven work to hang together? And why were we presented with all three compositions in different forms from their originals? And no place for the woodwind, brass, and percussion sections of Orchestra Wellington? I’m not sure I know the answers, but Orchestra Wellington filled the venue and the audience went away well satisfied with their evening’s listening.

Particularly well received was Bach’s Concerto No 1 in D Minor. It is thought that Bach may have based this work on an earlier, now lost, violin concerto. If so, it survives only as a work for harpsichord and strings. Commonly, as on this occasion, the piano replaces the harpsichord. The soloist was the ever-amazing Diedre Irons who played with bright and sparkling virtuosity and driving energy in a wonderful partnership with a small string orchestra led by Amalia Hall.

On either side of this work were Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Beethoven’s String Quartet No 14. Schoenberg re-worked his original string sextet for string orchestra. Beethoven’s quartet was orchestrated in 1937 by Dimitri Mitropoulos. At this concert both works were played by an enlarged string orchestra, including some NZSO and New Zealand String Quartet members. Great partnering!

At the pre-concert talk, the NZSQ played the Beethoven quartet in its original form. I could have done without the orchestral version. It lacks the tension and intensity of the original. Probably Mark Taddei and the orchestra enjoyed playing it, but really, why bother?

On the other hand, Verklärte Nacht was wonderful. It was amazing to see the colour that could be created by strings alone in the hands of an innovative composer. It was spooky, seductive, dramatic, and sweet in turn, and the solo parts performed by the lead violin and lead viola were strikingly lovely.

Purple Reign – The Songs of Prince | Regional News

Purple Reign – The Songs of Prince

Presented by: Whitireia Music

Te Auaha, 20th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With a set carefully curated from Prince’s enormous back catalogue, Whitireia Music students took us to purple church on Friday night under the musical direction of Faiva Brown and Phil Hornblow. Pop anthems and funky deep cuts rang equally true, teaching us two things along the way: Prince rules, and these students sure are talented.

As we entered, we saw Prince’s symbol glowing high above the stage. Countless microphones and amps were lined up, teasing the rich arrangements we were about to hear. I already knew this would be more than just a bunch of covers. Flashes of light and sound effects led us into the performance, setting the tone for an otherworldly performance.

The show was rehearsed to perfection. The band changed with each song, seamlessly leading from one to the next with some masterful interludes and precise timing. For a production with this many moving parts, there was never a delay or an ounce of feedback.

Through tight instrumental arrangements and an intense attention to detail, the musicians expressed an extraordinary amount of respect for Prince. Vocally there was no weak link. While I would have loved more solos from the confident horn section, the solos we did hear were appropriate and gave one reviewer a severe case of stank face. Highlights included Atlanta Luke’s pitch-perfect Little Red Corvette, Tyren Wilson-Liefting’s spacious shredding over Sign o’ the Times, Rangituehu Twomey-Waitai’s funky Musicology, and the crushing Nothing Compares 2 U sung by Rosetta Lopa. Josiah Nolan brought an effortless funk sensibility throughout the night, and his performance of Dear Mr. Man was, for me, the most unexpected and appreciated song of the night.

It became apparent that Brown was responsible for tying these elements together, playing keys, drums, and bass. He closed the night with an emotional Purple Rain. It was clear this show meant something to him, which translated beautifully to those in the audience.