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Reviews

Jofus and the Plank | Regional News

Jofus and the Plank

Devised by: Kimberley Twiner and Lily Fish

Directed by: Kimberley Twiner

BATS Theatre, 9th March 2020

Reviewed by: Cole Sharland

I went into Jofus and the Plank knowing absolutely nothing about what it is, what it’s about, and what I was in for. This show is a showcase of the best of clowning. The audience is strapped in for a wild, story-time-like show as told by Jofus (played brilliantly by Lily Fish) and her best friend: a plank of wood.

Jofus’ story involves her preparing food for her uncle coming over, when all of a sudden she must run away from The Big Bad Wolf.

The stage is bare and the only prop is a plank of wood. Fish never lets go of the plank and is touching it always. The game for the majority of the show is simple: how many things can Fish turn the plank of wood into? And the result is a marvellous array of everyday household items, The Big Bad Wolf's tongue, and even parts of Jofus’ absurdly tall apartment building.

The plank of wood is not the only thing that constantly changes on stage. Fish convincingly shifts into different characters throughout the performance. Fish manages to not only change characters seamlessly, but also change characters while being Jofus as well.

Fish works in a Family Guy cutaway style skit within the show, delivering a hilarious commentary on the struggles of making a Fringe show. The structure of the show was a miss at times. Some gags and jokes were maybe repeated one too many times, and at the climax of the show it dragged on a bit too long.

This is a masterclass in clowning. Fish is a master in this and, along with director Kimberley Twiner, they have crafted an excellent and entertaining piece of theatre that is a joy to watch. Going on the journey with Jofus was a blast and had me smiling from ear to ear. Twiner and Fish are definitely ones to watch out for.

Concert for Dogs | Regional News

Concert for Dogs

Presented by: Laurie Anderson

Odlins Plaza, 7th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

When I explained the concept of Concert for Dogs to my friends, I was met with general incredulity, then, excitement to match my own. Featuring music specifically designed for our furry friends, this is actually a concert for dogs.

Walking up to Odlins Plaza, my cousin and her two dogs were greeted by countless pups of all shapes and sizes. They came a-bounding and a-yapping, a-sniffing and a-snuffing. It was a glorious sight to behold, a sentiment echoed by one of Laurie Anderson’s first lines from the stage.

“You can’t believe what this looks like from here”, she quipped, causing a collective cackle (and at least one bemused bark). “These dogs don’t know what they’re doing here.”

How very true. Over 30 minutes, Anderson and her band played and plucked frequencies for canine ears, with discords and staccato rhythms pooling into one sound pot of chaos. Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog was a setlist highlight, but the rousing symphony of barks from the dogs in attendance, conducted by Anderson, took the cake.

To find out how the audience felt about the music, I interviewed them. Most of the time, the humans interrupted to answer for their dogs.

One lab apparently calmed down when the music started, one terrier perked his ears up once, and one little Pomeranian snapped and snarled at every instance of applause. “Ah yes,” his owner sighed, “he hates it when people are happy.”

Most dogs though just busied themselves meeting the masses of new friends in their midst. It was also unbearably hot with no shade, which caused a fair bit of distress.

The concert finished with a screening of Heart of a Dog, Anderson’s documentary about her rat terrier Lolabelle. From what felt like thousands, only the dogless few remained for this; it just wasn’t feasible for the dogs to sit through an hour-and-a-half film on the concrete in such heat.

In Wellington at least, Concert for Dogs needs a serious logistical overhaul for the comfort of the audience – everyman and everydog alike.

Lita | Regional News

Lita

Written by: Lucy Dawber

Directed by: Lucy Dawber

BATS Theatre, 5th March 2020

Reviewed by: Waitahi McGee

The day after seeing Lita, I am still dancing with my mum, playing guitar with my dad, and going to the market with my nana, or as performer Lucy Dawber calls her, “Lita”.

Lita is a journey between an audience and a performer. Dawber, who plays all the characters beautifully, gives us an intimate window into Maria and Gloria’s relationship. Staging wise, The Studio at BATS Theatre was a great choice. There is no backstage but Dawber and her team create a cheeky solve with a washing line strewn across the stage, leaving a metre of space for Dawber to escape behind. Dawber plays with this fantastically, popping back and forth as different characters, sometimes playing behind the washing line, showing changes of character simply with her feet and legs!

Some of the people around me are a bit confused about the story and who is who at times, which I can see being a bit of a problem myself, but it’s not so noticeable that it pulls my attention away from the overall joyousness.

I do feel Dawber has more license to be a little more confident in her performance. There are moments in which her audience is still laughing and she pushes on. I would like to see her let her beautifully crafted moments land.

There are telenovela-style moments that are so fast-paced and dramatic it verges on absurdity and clown, and I am into it. So are the rest of the audience, judging by the roaring of laughter and some patrons, quite literally, unable to stay in their seats.

I’m pleased to see Dawber as herself at the end, which for me gives clarity to the other characters, to the story, and to the heart of the show.

Lita is a vulnerable, vigorous story that reconnects you with family. Who we have loved and who we dearly miss, while looking to the future with a curiosity of what will be. Whatever will be, will be.

MÁM | Regional News

MÁM

Created by: Michael Keegan-Dolan & Teaċ Daṁsa

TSB Bank Arena, 5th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

MÁM comes from the wild mind of Michael Keegan-Dolan, the same mind that blew Wellington away at the last New Zealand Festival with Swan Lake/Loch na hEala in 2018. This new work, which was formulated here in Wellington, is a mind-melting blend of live dance, music, and theatre. MÁM pulls no punches with its energetic choreography, lilting musical composition, and somewhat esoteric symbology.

The very first image MÁM spills out is one that takes me back to Robert Eggers’ 2015 horror film, The Witch. A man sitting with a concertina wearing the head of a black goat, a young girl in communion dress laid out on a table, and billows of smoke drifting to the ceiling screams ritualistic sacrifice. However, much to my surprise, this is not at all the path the work takes. While it delves into themes of ritualisation and hive mind, the backbone of the work is the value of community, support, and the act of empathy.

The goat-headed musician is the award-winning Cormac Begley, whose haunting concerto carries the work beautifully through melancholy, commemoration, festivity, and rich Irish tradition. A robust troupe of dancers methodically dash across the stage and spin maddeningly into one another. They clamber and crawl and entangle themselves. It’s as though we are watching the progression of a superbly arranged party.

The Berlin-based musical collective, s t a r g a z e, join Begley and the lawless dancers on stage. Their classical-contemporary fusion raises the stakes and we see the dancers fall into an unspoken competition riddled with guttural growls and careful duets. All the while the young girl in the communion dress observes wordlessly as they shamelessly live their best lives. It is perhaps reminiscent of the bridging between adolescence and adulthood.

The fervent energy from the immense cast of characters makes it impossible to look away from MÁM; just blinking puts one at risk of missing something wonderful. The work throws itself at you without inhibition and delivers an exuberant theatrical experience.

BLACK TIES | Regional News

BLACK TIES

Written by: John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho

Directed by: Rachael Maza and Tainui Tukiwaho

Shed 6, 4th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Whip-smart humour, distinctive characters, and resonant messaging make BLACK TIES a must-see production. Although it begins to meander at the rear end of its two-hour-40-minutes runtime, rapid-fire dialogue expertly penned by co-writers John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho (who also co-directs and performs in the show) keeps it compelling. Its structure allows engaging questions to be posed and consistently satisfying answers to be given.

Māori corporate hotshot Hera Tapuwera (Tuakoi Ohia) and Aboriginal consultancy entrepreneur Kane Baker (Mark Coles Smith) seem like a match made in heaven, until they attempt to jump the final hurdle – meeting the families. The Tapuweras and the Bakers have strong cultural ties that cause aggressive rifts between them, throwing the couple’s future into question.

BLACK TIES takes the colossal task of defining two family ensembles, two cultures, and two opposing locations in its stride. In establishing Māori and Aboriginal cultures, Harvey and Tukiwaho find room for satire, poignant teaching moments, examples of divisive racism, and eventually, understanding. The writers strike a balance that never tips too far in a single direction.

It's then up to the cast to deliver, and for the most part, they do. Ohia steals the show; warm but fierce, commanding but generous, her performance makes us empathise with Hera’s struggle. Other standouts include Tukiwaho as Robert Tapuwera and Jack Charles as Uncle Mick. Unfortunately, Smith’s turn as Kane was overly performative, removing me from the romance that was made entirely believable by the rest of the ensemble.

While the first half is tightly structured, effortlessly jumping location and time, the second half has a different vibe. We return as guests to the couple’s wedding reception, decorations, food, and invitations adorning our tables. This half of the show is possibly the most immersive experience I’ve had at the theatre – I really felt like a guest at a wedding! In this, the show lets go of its momentum somewhat and starts to feel its runtime. However, by the end its intentions are abundantly clear.

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi | Regional News

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi

Michael Fowler Centre, 4th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

What is evident from Giddens’ New Zealand Festival of the Arts concert is a remarkable thirst for not only authenticity, but as a musicologist, a need to find a way of preserving the past with a nod to the future. This nod is presented by Francesco Turrisi and his bewildering array of instruments from the Middle East, many of which have roots in Africa and the slave trade to which Giddens is drawn to time and time again in song.

Tonight’s concert proves to be a spectacular event over two hours. Giddens is an excellent host with plenty of in-between bon mots about the songs. Some will say there’s too much banter, and I’m inclined to agree that the ad-libbing patter seems overlong. But, as serious as Giddens is, Turrisi proves to be the perfect foil. With his absurd sense of humour, which puts me in mind of British comedic sensibilities, Turrisi extols a lot of fun into the proceedings.

Some of the subject matter is alarming. Racism, lynching, murder, and persecution all get their due. Giddens will not shy away from uncomfortable truths and nor should she. But perhaps she could do a clinic on the subject instead.

Live concerts are always worth the punt if only to see if the magic created in the studio can be replicated on stage. With frame drum, accordion, piano, double bass, violin (fiddle), and banjo, the answer is a joyous yes.

Many songs stand out. Following the North Star is exquisite. The Jewish instrumental evokes the diaspora of the pogroms. The Irish instrumental, the frame drum echoing that of the bodhrán, is perfectly placed in the set. Sampling of Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust is magic. At the Purchaser’s Option is as chilling as it gets. Under the Harlem Moon proves Giddens can sing Broadway but not jazz. And an attempt at opera, in which Giddens sings Dido’s Lament from Henry Purcell, is a low point in an evening of highs.

The highly unlikely marriage of Americana mixed with the warmth of the Mediterranean leaves few unmoved.

Eight Songs for a Mad King | Regional News

Eight Songs for a Mad King

Directed by: Thomas de Mallet Burgess

Royal New Zealand Ballet Dance Centre, 2nd Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

This New Zealand Opera production of Eight Songs for a Mad King takes a big swing. Our audience experienced the short monodrama twice – once from the outside looking in, listening through headphones, and again indoors, in the midst of the action. The text is inherently engaging, amplified by Robert Tucker’s total commitment to his role as the titular King, but the experimental staging failed to add impact beyond its intriguing premise.

In Eight Songs for a Mad King, we watch and hear a powerful man break down – a King losing his sanity in the throes of modern-day greed. He climbs, convulses, and dances around a boardroom yelping discordant melodies that leap over five octaves.

This is a challenging show for all in attendance, from its solo star and the musicians who accompany him to the audience. Its libretto, written by Randolph Stow, is derived from the words of George III, paired with music that the British king attempted to train bullfinches to sing. With this in mind, the show works wonderfully as a voyeuristic experience. It is far from what one might consider a traditional opera – it’s a story told through ever-building tension, a character study without a clear narrative.

The musicians deserve as much praise as Tucker for their commitment to the piece. Led by conductor Hamish McKeich, the ensemble is required to act as well as perform a difficult score. The interactions between them and the King successfully distance us further from reality.

Sitting outside, observing what I could of the show through a window was interesting but not engaging. While the staging was a brave attempt to juxtapose our response to madness from a distance versus up close, I felt I was missing out on compelling visual elements and simply struggling to see. When it came time to watch from inside, I appreciated the text and the work of those involved much more, but it made the first viewing somewhat redundant.

Cockroach | Regional News

Cockroach

Written by: Melita Rowston

Directed by: Melita Rowston

BATS Theatre, 1st Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Cockroach is a response to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a Latin narrative poem writhing with tales of the rape and degradation of women. This New Zealand Fringe Festival show follows C (Leah Donovan), who wakes up one morning to find herself transformed into a cockroach. Now among the grossest but most resilient insects on the planet, C exacts revenge on #YesMostMen, responding to violence with more violence.

Donovan is a relentless machine, embodying the hurt of a victim in the crick of her neck, the rage of a generation in the snap of her spine, the wrath of a gender in the guttural contraction of her vocal cords. Her repeated transformation into a cockroach is vivid and visceral, raw and wrenching. This is an unapologetic show created by unapologetic collaborators, and for that I am infinitely glad. But at this stage it feels like an experiment; a series of good ideas held together by the boundless energy and passion of a performer. Unfortunately the staging choices often work against her.

For example, there are two recordings of Donovan vocalising a sexualised murder fantasy on the telephone during a blackout. These non-live elements feel out of place and could be better utilised in other scenes. There are a few moments when Donovan must rattle off an exhaustive list while barely breathing, building her voice to a crescendo that would have hit harder with the support of an overlapping recording or soundscape. The use of the microphone is inconsistent and doesn’t contribute much when Donovan is already such a proficient vocal performer. Adding a loop pedal or distortion could achieve the desired effect and would also widen the channel of communication between the performer and the composer and live musician, Benito di Fonzo. As it stands, his grungy score sometimes takes over and I would love to see Donovan equipped with the tools to match him in sound, not just volume.

The script has all the bones of brilliance. A more cohesive staging approach would add the flesh Cockroach needs to reach its full potential.

2020 Visions (If I Hadn't Gone Blind) | Regional News

2020 Visions (If I Hadn't Gone Blind)

Created by: Tom Skelton

BATS Theatre, 28th Feb 2020

Reviewed by: Nova Moala-Knox

Tom Skelton is blind, or as he says in the first 10 minutes “a VIP – visually impaired person”, and the concept of the show is “What would life have been like if I hadn’t gone blind?” I thought this was a good idea that you could do a lot with, but for me, the concept was underused.

Skelton relies on puns for a lot of the humour, and though puns may do it for some, they don’t do it for me. I come in hoping to learn something about the experience of being blind but I leave feeling like I haven’t really learned anything. Skelton encourages the audience to relax, to feel comfortable, and not to worry about being offensive when we laugh along with him about what life is like being blind. But for me, I don’t see why a lot of the things he says are supposed to be funny. It feels like they are normal parts of life, and being blind is normal. And that’s not to say you can’t get comedy out of normal life, but I find Skelton’s delivery doesn’t succeed in doing so.

Skelton has a very likeable personality, which comes through. As soon as he starts the show I like him, I’m rooting for him, but as the show goes on I lose hope that this show will be either informative or entertaining. In saying that, most of the audience is in fits of laughter from beginning to end so I suppose it is a matter of taste. But I do leave wondering how I would feel if someone who shared a similar life experience to me, who was a part of the same demographic as myself, were to stand on stage and tell an audience “it’s okay to laugh at us, because I said so” and continue to tell a series of – well, Dad jokes that don’t really speak to our experience at all.