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Rigoletto | Regional News


Presented by: Eternity Opera

Directed by: Alex Galvin

Hannah Playhouse, 23rd Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With their fifth show, Rigoletto, Eternity Opera has served up the perfect invitation to opera for newcomers with some seriously engaging leads and a strong orchestral performance. Although, some die-hard fans may have been left wanting more.

The story concerns the egomaniacal Duke (Boyd Owen) and his jester, Rigoletto (James Clayton), who spends his days humiliating others for the Duke’s enjoyment. Rigoletto mocks Monterone (Roger Wilson) when he accuses the Duke of seducing his daughter, maddening him to the point of cursing the two men. Mistakenly, word gets out that Rigoletto is hiding a young lover, his daughter Gilda (Hannah Catrin Jones), who has taken a liking to the vile Duke.

With its twists and turns of paranoia and revenge, this story is dramatic enough to bring even the most resistant opera fans to the edge of their seats. Galvin leans into the action by minimising distractions. Sparse staging and no sets leave lighting and music to set the tone and assure the audience of where they are at a given time.

Owen and Clayton are worth the price of admission. They deliver their characters with charm and true understanding, never relying on their voices alone to startle the audience. Both gave extremely physical performances on opening night. We see a clear, heart-breaking difference in Rigoletto when he performs for the Duke versus his time hiding, protecting his beloved daughter. Owen has so much confidence it’s almost sickening, which works perfectly for the Duke. Every smirk, laugh, or contemptuous look is lapped up by the audience.

Owen, Clayton, and Jones deliver stunning vocal performances that, when paired with the tight chamber arrangement of the score, fill the Hannah Playhouse with ease. Watching Owen indulge in every beat of La donna e mobile is delightful. Unfortunately, this leaves weaker vocalists amongst the chorus and supporting cast to appear rather exposed. While visual minimalism allows aspects of the show to shine, it draws attention to less impressive elements, such as the costumes (Sally Gray), which lack consistency and flair.

Symmetry | Regional News


Written by: Uther Dean

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer and Jane Yonge

BATS Theatre, 22nd Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

El (Hannah Banks) is unhappy. Nothing in her life is wrong, per se, but nothing’s that right either. El is not herself lately, and when she meets her noisy neighbour Liz and the offensively happy Beth, things take a turn for the sinister.

Uther Dean’s script is like if Inception, If/Then, and Coraline had a love child. It’s Inception because the whole thing is a trip with a mind-bending ending, If/Then for the Liz/Beth alternate lives paradigm (and for Beth, who acts like she’s in a musical), and Coraline for its fantastical darkness and the pervasive horror it incrementally inflicts on its audience. Then, Symmetry is like if that love child was swaddled in a blanket woven from the gut-strings of a town-eating monster from The Powerpuff Girls (those things were scary).

Delivered by Banks, who must have utilised about an octave in her vocal performance, Dean’s language evokes potent, vivid imagery. While the script more than holds its own in Banks’ hands, I would be curious to see some of that imagery played out in a design vision incorporating projection, soundscape, and maybe even costume (I’m thinking about the plant scene here).

This development showing of Symmetry uses lighting states (Lucas Neal) to differentiate between multiple characters, mostly to great effect. The warm white used for Liz and cool white used for Darkness are a little too similar. Because Banks performs these two characters at a similar pitch, even with the establishing convention of the microphone, I’m still confused at first. My brain would be quicker on the uptake if there weren’t so many other things to figure out, which is why clarifying the basics (like who’s speaking when) is especially important.

I most enjoyed Banks’ brilliant performance as El and Beth for its dramatic contrast and comical, snappy transitions.

With plenty to laugh at and recoil from during, and to chew on afterwards, I cannot wait to see where Symmetry goes next. What a wild ride of a show.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | Regional News

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


161 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Quentin Tarantino’s Hollywood-hangout film pulls the audience into the town’s golden age by utilising two of modern-day’s most charismatic performers at peak fitness, though it doesn’t attack the senses in the same way as his revenge-led pictures.

In Once Upon a Time we join fading 1960’s western TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton’s cowboy shoot-em-ups are going out of fashion, which means he and Booth could be out of work. Luckily, Dalton might have an in through his neighbours… Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha).

This movie is Hollywood. Seeing DiCaprio and Pitt together on screen took me back to a time when the movie star reigned supreme. Their characters are different, but they need each other, something they embrace as the film progresses. DiCaprio plays an unconsciously lonely man whose small moments of achievement are fun to celebrate. Pitt delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Booth. He does not overact, instead embracing the nonchalance inherent in the script – primarily communicating through badassery. Supporting characters are well placed and well cast, particularly Margaret Qualley as Pussycat and the various other Manson Family members, and 10-year-old Julia Butters, who is maybe the only actor to steal shine from the leads.

The lack of thrills will be an adjustment for some. There’s a lot of driving, a lot of talking, and payoff usually comes in the form of catharsis or comedy. Cinematographer Robert Richardson beautifully captures a half real, half fantasy 1969. The script just isn’t as tight, and the concepts not as clearly executed as we have come to expect. However, the ending was worth it. It was a wonderful ‘WTF’ moment. Tate serves as an important symbol of this time in Hollywood. Robbie plays her well but is short on standout sequences.

Films like this, with actors of this calibre rarely get made anymore. Just don’t go in expecting the regular Tarantino gut-punch. His other films are crazy, this one is cool.

Bold Moves | Regional News

Bold Moves

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 16th Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's Bold Moves is a mixed bill featuring four works that have transcended the realms of classical and contemporary ballet.

George Balanchine's Serenade is a treat for ballet lovers and romantics alike. To Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, a cast of waiflike female dancers in pale blue tulle float exquisitely across the stage. Their straight lines and long limbs create beautiful shapes and convey a gorgeous unspoken emotion. Nadia Yanowsky steals the show with intense strength and well-refined technique. The piece ends with a dancer raised above the rest, bathed in a divine glow; an image resounding with remarkable grace.

Mayu Tanigaito and Laurynas Vėjalis electrify the stage in Vasily Vainonen's Flames of Paris. The pair alight the stage with incredible chemistry and exceptional discipline. Tanigaito is always a delight to watch with her charismatic stage presence, but it is Vėjalis who really flourishes on stage with his extraordinary elevation and immeasurable control. The audience is left breathless.

Andrea Schermoly's Stand to Reason was originally commissioned for the company's 2018 suffrage programme, Strength & Grace. Inspired by an 1888 pamphlet outlining the reasons why women should vote, Stand to Reason features eight women moving in unison with emphasis on arm movements and body percussion. There is a deep-set power in this work and the women perform with conviction and alacrity. The choreography is poignant and compelling; it couldn't be executed by a more determined cast of dancers.

William Forsythe's Artifact II explores the more contemporary capabilities of ballet. With an exposed backstage there is an effective depth and reality in the performance. Clad in yellow leotards the dancers form various geometric patterns and play with imitation. Every so often the curtain falls and lifts again to reveal the dancers in a new configuration. Artifact is a clever ode to ballet and George Balanchine, which the dancers attack with assurance and modernist flair.

Bold Moves proved to be an excellent evening of dance and successfully exhibited the versatility of our national ballet company.

Booksmart | Regional News



105 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While occasionally falling into coming-of-age traps, Booksmart feels genuine in a way that not many films like it do and allows a talented cast to shine in one of the year’s funniest comedies.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as high school friends Molly and Amy, who cut loose on graduation night after realising their work-hard play-never mantra may have been for nothing.

Booksmart separates itself from recent coming-of-age flicks like Lady Bird and Eighth Grade through pedal-to-the-metal comedy. At an hour 45 minutes there is no room for filler, and there isn’t any; jokes hit so rapidly it’s hard to see them coming, which is rare.

The friendship between Molly and Amy feels lived in. While both have individual misgivings, they are not simply movie-friends. If these people existed, they really would be hanging out, which is a credit to actresses Feldstein and Dever. To spoil any jokes would be a crime, but just wait until these two need a Lyft – our audience was laughing so hard we missed a few lines.

Often a high school comedy rides or dies with its supporting characters. We have the principal, the teacher, the gay kids, the rich kids, and so on. Doomed to be caricatures, Wilde somehow gives each character enough time to breathe and develop. Saturday Night Live greats Will Forte (Amy’s dad Doug), Mike O’Brien (Pat the pizza guy), and Jason Sudeikis (Principal Brown) eat up their few minutes of screen time, and lesser-known actors Billie Lourd (Gigi), Skyler Gisondo (Jared), and Noah Galvin (George) play unique, hilarious students.

While the jokes are consistently unpredictable, the story beats sometimes are. Our leads fight, make up, and learn their life lessons right on cue. However, Wilde seems aware of this formula and brings a directorial flair to these moments through some surprising editing and sound choices that serve the story’s sincerity.

Booksmart is a good coming-of-age film wrapped in one of the funniest, most authentic comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

Cringe Worthy! | Regional News

Cringe Worthy!

Devised by: Andrea Sanders

Directed by: Andrea Sanders

Running at Circa Theatre until 7th Sep 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Cringe Worthy! is a musical hark back to the 1970s in New Zealand. Featuring two original members of The Beatgirls, Andrea Sanders and Carrie McLaughlin, alongside Tom Knowles and Jeff Kingsford-Brown, it’s a harmony-laden, tangerine-hued, bell-bottomed adventure through the songs and artists that dominated the decade.

I have to admit, I don’t know the first thing about the 70s. In fact, I was negative 22 years old when they rolled around! If you’re in my boat, don’t hesitate to see Cringe Worthy! because you don’t know the songs. I only recognised four, but that didn’t put a damper on my experience. Not only did I take great pleasure in the relentless cacophony of laughter emitting from audience members of an older generation, I also relished in learning more about the era. After listening to Spotify on my iPhone on the way to the theatre, hearing about the rip-roaring excitement New Zealanders experienced upon the introduction of a second TV channel was a real eye-opener.

Regardless of when you were born or how interested you are in the 70s, you’ll find the musical prowess on display in Cringe Worthy! extraordinary. Each performer brings something different to the table. Sanders has an incredible range, Kingsford-Brown huge power, Knowles a stunning falsetto, and McLaughlin wonderful stage presence. Though there aren’t many moments of acapella to really let the vocals shine and the backing tracks are sometimes a smidge loud, the four-part harmonies get right down to your soul.

It’s not all soul-stirring though; Cringe Worthy! features plenty of songs that are silly and fun, with glorious choreography to match. My friend emerged with a newfound favourite called Put Another Log on the Fire (so sexist it’s laughable), while I’m still humming Take the Money and Run (the epitome of cringe worthy).

Lucas Neal’s groovy, attention-grabbing set (those lava lamps! That tweed sofa!) is the perfect backdrop for Cringe Worthy!, a superb show overflowing with talent and joy.

Pictures at an Exhibition | Regional News

Pictures at an Exhibition

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 2nd Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Marc Taddei is a master programmer who links known and lesser known works in interesting ways. Two works in this concert, Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, were originally written for piano. Both were inspired by paintings. Relevant paintings were shown on a screen behind the orchestra. A third work, Assemblage, involved a robot on stage painting. The fourth work, Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto, stood outside the programme theme.

To be frank, I thought the concert would have been better without the pictures and the robot, letting the music speak for itself.

Pictures at an Exhibition is a much-loved work. Mussorgsky tried to depict the essence of 10 paintings by a friend. The music evokes the amusing chirping of chickens, women squabbling at a market, a lumbering ox cart, children playing, a grotesque character, deathly catacombs, and a monumental piece of architecture. The whole is stitched together by a theme depicting Mussorgsky promenading between pictures, sometimes playfully, sometimes solemnly, sometimes thoughtfully. It is very engaging music, especially the promenade variations. It was played with confidence and energy.

L’Isle Joyeuse was quintessential Debussy, evoking mood and landscape with characteristic use of shimmering strings and woodwind. The painting it evokes depicts pairs of lovers sailing to the Island of Love. The orchestra captured a great sense of chattering, laughing fun in an idyllic setting.

Assemblage, a collaboration between artist Simon Ingram and composer Alex Taylor, involved a robot very slowly creating a geometric, pink artwork while the music included a representation of the workings of the machine among more conventional melodic elements. I would enjoy hearing the music again.

Lev Sivkov was the cellist for the Samuel Barber work. Now in Switzerland, but originally from Russia, this young musician created a beautiful, strong, warm, and intense tone throughout, even when Barber demanded extraordinary technique. This work is not well-known but was well worth presenting.

Burn Her | Regional News

Burn Her

Written by: Sam Brooks

Directed by: Katherine McRae

Running at Circa Theatre until 31st Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Aroha Party leader Aria (Kali Kopae) has just won a seat in parliament. She’s in the thick of champagne-sprinkled celebrations with her PR spin doctor George (Sophie Hambleton) when young intern Danny (Dryw McArthur) makes sexual allegations against her mentor and long-time friend Richard (Andrew Laing). It’s George’s job to sweep the scandal under the rug and preserve the integrity of the Aroha Party. Will she do what’s right when Labour Party weasel Lauren (Lara Macgregor) and Stuff journalist Harriet (Jean Sergent) come a-knocking?

Playwright Sam Brooks has a remarkable way with words. His witty, quick dialogue weaves biting sarcasm with painful truths about this dog-eat-dog world in which women must work harder and faster to come out on top. Golden one-liners cause shouts of laughter to ring around the theatre. I miss a few obviously hilarious jokes because the blocking occasionally sees the actors deliver lines to the outskirts of the cavernous space.

The stage is magnified by Debbie Fish’s spectacular two-storey set. It’s a pleasure to look at, though audience members at the front and sides are sometimes cut off from the action. Multiple screens project a live feed of press conferences held at the front of the stage, creating an arresting aesthetic that to me smacks of the pervasive nature of political media.

Kopae and Hambleton stand alone as compelling actors and come together as unforgettable ones. Their chemistry is undeniable. Sergent and Macgregor both excel in devious roles; Sergent delivers a bombshell with a sense of justice and a twinkle in her eye that cues a 200-breath gasp. Macgregor’s stroppy negotiations induce whoops of delight. McArthur’s considered, sensitive approach to his character evokes sympathy and compassion from the audience, while Laing confronts the challenge of conveying a character that deserves none. In Burn Her, director Katherine McRae has chosen and honed a brilliant, balanced cast.

Burn Her is a tremendous production that has me hooked from start to finish.

Voices of the World | Regional News

Voices of the World

Presented by: Stroma

Conducted by: Hamish McKeich

Hannah Playhouse, 1st Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With Voices of the World, Stroma has crafted a trance-inducing performance that comfortably meanders but never feels static.

Stroma’s incredibly varied group of players took the audience on a journey of non-western musical traditions on Thursday. We walked everywhere from the streets of Chicago to the Yunnan Province of Southwest China, often represented by field recordings of local vocalists accompanied by Stroma, or a specific and strange instrumental formation.

The opener, An Overture, immediately told the audience what they were in for. Beethoven interlaced with a selection of taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments) played by Rob Thorne made for a bewildering aural experience – in the best way possible. Moments of sheer musical excitement were cut through by tapping stones, or the bellow of a pūkāea (war trumpet).

The tone was set, and what followed was a collection of inspired, often sparse performances that allowed atmosphere to reign supreme. The performance of Anna Clyne’s A Wonderful Day was perhaps the most simplistic example of this. The vibraphone and bass clarinet perfectly moulded to the melody set by a repetitive recorded voice, which sounded raw, to authentically portray the windy streets of Chicago and transport us to them. At the other end of this simplicity was a performance of Julia Wolfe’s Reeling, an equally repetitive accompaniment of a French-Canadian singer. Much less tranquil, this piece had a profound pace and endowed the audience with the suspense of watching the flame on a fuse speed towards a stick of dynamite.

The set culminated with Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs sung by soprano Bianca Andrew; a truly grand finale. This global folk anthology featured 11 songs from Armenia, Italy, Azerbaijan, and many more. Andrew’s voice was a welcome addition, as it anchored a night of extreme variety.

Stroma explored a wide space while not pushing to make their music inaccessible to a real audience. It felt like an invitation, something we all took part in, rather than something we observed and would soon forget.