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Conversations with Dead Relatives | Regional News

Conversations with Dead Relatives

Written by: Alex Ellis and Phil Ormsby

Directed by: Jennifer Ward-Lealand

Circa Theatre, 1st May 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Conversations with Dead Relatives is a heartfelt and genuine work that explores where its writers and performers, Alex Ellis and Phil Ormsby, come from. In conversation, the real-life couple discuss their lineage and enact each other’s ancestors.

The show begins with Ellis handing out homemade baking while Ormsby chats amiably away to the audience over a cuppa. We’re clearly in the couple’s living room. In this homely moment, I long to see pictures and embellishments on the stark, black walls. John Parker’s design concept doesn’t feel fully formed here, but as more and more picture frames emerge from old trunks and colour floods segments of the set, I’m slowly drawn in.

Many themes blossom out of the stories we’re told, giving depth and dimension to the cleverly curated work. An underlying theme is the question of whether or not Ellis wants to bring a child into the world. This feels unresolved to me because Ormsby never shares his own feelings on the matter. Learning his desires as well would have brought me closer to the couple as people – thus bringing me closer to the ancestors they portray.

Some characters are incredibly compelling, like Ellis’ larger-than-life Orm the Viking (what an accent!), and Ormsby’s prim, proper, and prudent Ellen Elizabeth Ellis. I’m compelled because of the excellent performances and the big personalities of these characters, not because of how they relate to the writers. It’s lovely learning about the couple’s heritage, but without a familial connection to them, the work doesn’t resonate with me on every level. I’d engage more deeply if things were turned back on the audience more often; if I was asked to think about my own family history.

Nevertheless, Conversations with Dead Relatives aptly reflects the talent and effort of those who created it. The script itself is beautifully written and the actors bring to life its stories with courage and conviction. It’s a great watch.

Kiss the Sky | Regional News

Kiss the Sky

Choreographed by KIM Jae Duk, Victoria Columbus, and Stephanie Lake

Presented by: The New Zealand Dance Company

Opera House, 1st May 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The New Zealand Dance Company’s Kiss the Sky is a triple bill of choreographic works by three powerhouse choreographers, and performed sublimely by a company of six dancers: Chris Clegg, Ngaere Jenkins, Xin Ji, Chrissy Kokiri, Katie Rudd, and Carl Tolentino. Kiss the Sky is an ode to the great expanse above us and our natural world.

The first work is a striking piece by Korean choreographer, KIM Jae Duk. Weaving sharp regimented angles with sinuous lines and stark minimalism, Sigan appears to take influence from forms of martial arts and meditation. The cast of four dancers execute the work with admirable discipline and remarkable dexterity. There is a well-ordered satisfaction to this work; however, the jarring musical score (composed by Jae Duk) creates a disconcerting experience.

The Fibonacci, evidently inspired by the mathematical sequence, is created by Wellington choreographer, Victoria Columbus. The Fibonacci demonstrates Columbus' clever mind and sharp eye for choreographic detail. Every moment is a stunning and disciplined pattern, flaunting the effortless synergy of the dancers and perfectly complemented by Rowan’s Pierce’s epic sound design. With his incredible lithe fluidity, Chris Clegg is a magician on stage, making him the standout performer.

Stephanie Lake’s If Never Was Now is a work reflective of the natural world in all its beauty and brutality. It’s like watching the daily life of bees with an industrial flair. Whether it’s through a slyly humorous mating ritual or a brutal slaying (à la a black widow spider), the dancers flit around busily and connect with one another enthusiastically. If Never Was Now is an eccentric and surreal end to the triple bill.

The New Zealand Dance Company don't often perform in Wellington, but when they do their performances are met with a raucous round of applause and stamping feet of appreciation. Kiss the Sky is no exception and there is certainly no denying their astounding talent and innovative flair.

MoodPorn | Regional News


Written by: Matthew Loveranes

Directed by: James Cain

BATS Theatre, 23rd Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

In one of Red Scare Theatre Company’s most (emotionally) ambitious shows to date, we watch two characters smear each other with the ugliest sides of love and friendship and somehow come through the other side.

‘Sweet’ Jane (Heather O’Carroll) had two best friends at university: the man she eventually married and had a baby with, Elliott, and Atlas (Ali Foa’i), who mysteriously disappeared 13 years ago. One day, while riding public transport with a racist pensioner, Jane receives a Facebook message from Atlas. She heads over to his house and the pair reacquaint themselves over several glasses of red.

This is where O’Carroll and Foa’i really kick into gear. Both actors give phenomenal performances; O’Carroll practically bathes in shame, sadness, and rage. She’s in tears for the last 20 minutes of the show, an incredibly difficult state to sustain. Foa’i, on the other hand, is beautifully restrained, only reluctantly showing us the cracks in his cool-guy façade. Director James Cain also deserves praise here for guiding the pitch of the piece so masterfully, allowing for moments of humour, exasperation, and joy.

As you might have already guessed, the script (penned by Matthew Loveranes) is heavy going. It deals with suicide, unrequited love, and betrayal. It’s also quite elevated, with each character describing their deepest, darkest secrets incredibly articulately. At times it’s beautiful, hitting beats of truth; but ultimately, it serves to elevate Jane and Atlas as romantic heroes (of sorts). It’s an interesting choice to make when so many other playwrights are scratching out ultra-realist scripts full of Kiwi yeah-nahs and ehs.

As a result, the production feels mature, if perhaps a little old-fashioned. The classic vibe is bolstered by Lucas Neal’s lovely set, which lays out a lounge (complete with original art and light fittings) on the BATS Heyday Dome stage.

MoodPorn is one of Loveranes’ best scripts yet, but what makes it really special is the acting cojones and assurance of its two leads.

Paper Shaper | Regional News

Paper Shaper

Devised by: Peter Wilson and Tim Denton

Presented by: Little Dog Barking Theatre Company

Directed by: Peter Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 27th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Susan Barker

Paper Shaper is a gentle, lovely story of a little man who lives in picture form on the side of a rubbish bin. When no one is around, he comes to life and uses the paper tossed in the bin to create birds, flowers, butterflies, and a sun – essentially, a whole world.

The play takes place in a park with the set consisting of a rubbish bin, trees, and a park bench. The paper shaper quickly endears himself to the audience, constructing magnificent paper creations, comically struggling with the heat of his self-designed sun, and dealing with the aftermath of the rain clouds he made as a solution.

The production is advertised as “The antithesis of big brand kids’ entertainment such as Hi-5 or the Wiggles”. This could not be more accurate. There were no flashing images, thumping music, or over the top theatrics. The children are drawn in gently and carefully, making this production perfect for under-5s. Every movement is gradual so that the children have no problem keeping up. I have to say, as an adult, it forced me (in a good way) to just slow down and enjoy – I think parents, along with children, can get addicted to fast-paced entertainment.

The crux of the story begins when an older man comes to the park to enjoy a picnic and has his plastic bottle and Styrofoam container rejected (or rather ejected) by the paper shaper. Although the encounter is initially frustrating, by the end of the play they form a friendship.

Paper Shaper maintained a wonderful balance of giving the children a storyline they could follow, while leaving enough room for them to use their own imaginations. I think the toddler seated behind me summed up the play for most of the audience when he stood up at the end and proclaimed, “That was amazing!”

Enigma | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Edo de Waart

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

“My Concerto has had a brilliant and decisive – failure. At the conclusion three pairs of hands were brought together very slowly, whereupon a perfectly distinct hissing from all sides forbade any such demonstration”. So wrote Brahms after an early performance of his Piano Concerto No 1 in D Minor. The concerto has gone on to be an often-performed great favourite of the piano concerto repertoire. Joyce Yang as soloist and the NZSO amply demonstrated why to a capacity audience.

The first movement provides tremendous contrasts of majestic and lyrical themes, the second restrained reflectiveness, and the third urgent drive and rollicking momentum. Joyce Yang played with great commitment and intensity throughout, summoning simplicity and elegiac sweetness and thundering strength in turn, always with exquisite phrasing and within a wonderful partnership with the orchestra created by Brahms and Maestro de Waart.

The second work of the concert was a youthful one by Richard Strauss, Serenade for Winds in E flat major. It was good to see the NZSO’s excellent wind section profiled, though the work itself, while charming, was not the most riveting vehicle for doing so.

Maestro de Waart declared his love for Elgar’s music in the printed programme, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations was lovingly and gloriously delivered. Elgar composed the variations to provide musical images of himself and his wife, and 12 of his friends. The work has an engaging generosity of spirit and sunny optimism. He summons up a friend who produces cheerfully terrible piano playing, a friend’s daughter with a stutter, a beginner string player, a genteel lady, his publisher and long-term encourager whom he depicts with great warmth, and so on. This very English work is always stirring and the audience and orchestra will have gone away in very good humour, probably humming an Enigma theme.

Fantastic Symphonies | Regional News

Fantastic Symphonies

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 12th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

This first performance by Orchestra Wellington in 2019 was intense, crazy, and fun. Fantastic Symphonies comprised two works by Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio, the first a five-movement symphony, the second characterised in the programme as a monodrama or melologue, with a dramatic narrator, two vocal soloists, and choir.

In 1830, Berlioz wrote the symphony to describe his feelings of anguished, unrequited love for an Irish Shakespearean actress. It tells of a musician haunted by a woman, in an agony of longing, failing to kill himself with an opium overdose but experiencing instead a psychedelic nightmare about being executed for her murder and about a ghoulish celebration of his death. Lélio describes the musician returning to living, still struggling with his passion but seeking a different purpose, recommitting himself to music and composing a fantasia on Shakespeare’s Tempest.

In his introduction, Taddei disparagingly and amusingly spoke of Berlioz’s music being fuelled by puppy love and opium addiction. This set the scene for the performance of Lélio. I am sure Berlioz did not find humour in his situation, but Andrew Laing as narrator chose to deliver an over-the-top performance of histrionic romanticism, which appropriately picked up the 21st-century cynicism of Taddei’s earlier comments.

Both works were wonderfully performed. Of particular note were the crispness of the symphony’s first movement, the lilting waltz and harps in the second Ball movement, the duet between cor anglais and off-stage oboe in the third movement, plaintive violas, mournful clarinet, lovely sonorities produced by six double basses and four bassoons, the drama of huge brass and percussion contributions, some beautiful ethereal singing from the Orpheus Choir, and the tender and romantic singing of tenor soloist, Declan Cudd.

By the way, Berlioz eventually married the actress. He spoke no English, she no French, it is said. The marriage did not last. What a surprise!

This Long Winter | Regional News

This Long Winter

Written by: Sarah Delahunty

Directed by: Sarah Delahunty and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana

BATS Theatre, 10th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Queen Hermione is accused of infidelity by her husband, King Leontes, and thrown in jail. After giving birth to her daughter in these confines, Hermione’s friend Paulina takes the baby princess to the king in the hopes it might soften his resolve. Raging for unjustified reasons, Leontes orders the baby be left in a desolate place to die. Hermione then faints and is presumed dead. After 16 years, a statue of Hermione is unveiled that turns out to be the real human. Amidst the confusion, chaos, and celebrations, the play ends.

In This Long Winter, Sarah Delahunty imagines what might have happened to Hermione (a gut-wrenching, grief-ridden performance by Erina Daniels) in those 16 years. Thanks to Paulina (the compelling Jean Sergent, who delivers sick burns with a glint in her eye), Hermione escapes to look for her daughter Perdita (the charming Huia Haupapa). Accompanied by the obnoxious Emilia (Alice May Connolly, whose approach to an unlikeable character is commendably considered), Hemione wanders the wilderness, encountering various other Shakespearean characters along the way.

Delahunty’s script is witty and eloquent, filled with Easter eggs for fans of the Bard. References to Titania’s infatuation with Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Shakespeare’s famous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear”, are my personal favourite moments of the play. Mostly, the action is clear enough for the uninitiated, though the characters Juliet (not from Romeo and Juliet) and Helena (not from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) cause a bit of confusion.

Performed with passion and immeasurable talent by Carrie Green, Charlotte Forrester, and Isaac Thomas, Holly Ewens’ beautiful music is seamlessly entwined into the story. Production design by Michael Trigg sees a breathtaking rendition of a storm and the clever use of chicken wire.

This Long Winter is a haunting and tremendous work, exquisitely written and realised by this talented team of 28. It possesses a refreshing sense of meaning, purpose, and urgency. Go see it now.

Us | Regional News



116 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut Get Out scored him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, cementing him – and the horror genre, now definitely enjoying a renaissance – as Hollywood forces to watch. Us, his sophomore effort, isn’t quite as narratively disciplined, but is nevertheless a riotously fun genre exercise that walks the line between laughs and scares with glee.

After a cryptic opening sequence, we meet the Wilsons: a middle-class Black family holidaying on the Californian coast. There’s Gabe (Winston Duke, dripping with dad-joke energy) and mum Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), as well as their two kids: Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Alex Evan). Us establishes a light, funny home life that swiftly turns dark when the Wilsons’ doppelgängers (played by the same actors) turn up on their driveway, dressed in blood-red jumpsuits and wielding golden scissors.

The Wilsons’ holiday home soon becomes a murderous funhouse that Peele’s camera manoeuvres around with fluid ease. Doors conceal frantic bodies, bare feet slap on wooden floors somewhere down the hall… But each shot is taut, purposeful, in sharp contrast and focus. Despite the old-school feel of its slasher gore, Us’ cinematography is so contemporary; the moving shot of a bloodied (and brilliant) Elisabeth Moss is my highlight.

Nyong’o is superb in her twin role of Adelaide and Red, her homicidal double. As Adelaide, she’s fierce, enigmatic, maternal. Red, on the other hand, is deeply chilling, expressed through a raspy voice interspersed with loud gulps. She moves as if guided by a metronome, her posture ramrod straight and her walking staccato.

The Easter eggs in this movie – referring to pop culture, religion, and other horror films – are delightful. The Shining is the most obvious influence, as Peele nicks both the creepy twins and the extended birds-eye shots of the landscape. But in the third act, when the horrors begin to unfurl, Peele’s ideas pile up too quickly. While Get Out felt elegant, Us feels overstuffed. Diving into its late plot developments does the movie no favours; it’s best enjoyed on a visceral level, behind a cushion if necessary.

The Children | Regional News

The Children

Written by: Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 27th Apr 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Robin (Peter Hambleton) and Hazel (Carmel McGlone) are retired nuclear physicists living on the east coast of England. A natural disaster has triggered an unnatural one at a nearby powerplant, and the nuclear fallout has been catastrophic. After helping with the clean up, the married couple decide they’ve done their bit and now carry out a peaceful existence just outside the exclusion zone.

Peaceful, that is, until their old friend Rose (Catherine Downes) shows up.

Downes is marvellous, riding the turbulent waves of her character with masterful control. A moment where she stands back, crude smile on her face as she watches the lethal consequences of her actions unfold, remains firmly imprinted in my mind’s eye.

McGlone is equal parts blundering charm and candid bluntness, demonstrating a light-handed and thoughtful approach to the character we sympathise with the most. Her plight is beautifully written and portrayed.

Hambleton brings to light the internal conflict of a character of contradictions. Robin behaves wickedly (towards women) and admirably (towards cows). He is a sick man acting in perfect health; a man who would happily leave his wife while using his dying breath to protect her. Hambleton’s acting chops are firmly on display in this performance.

Susan Wilson has curated every element of this Circa Theatre production to perfection. The cast is flawless. John Hodgkins’ slice-of-life, functional set captures the essence of a charming cottage in the English countryside. Marcus McShane’s lighting design complements and never detracts from the action, while Oliver Devlin’s haunting sound design ups the stakes of the mystery every time it features. Leigh Evans’ choreography is charming and disquieting when considered in conjunction with something brown and icky I can’t reveal here. The juxtaposition of her lovely, hilarious dance and this ‘something’ is beyond striking. And Sheila Horton’s naturalistic costume design ties it all together in a pretty apron bow.

It all adds up to an incredibly engaging show I couldn’t take my eyes, and can’t take my mind, off.