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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.

The Lion King (2019) | Regional News

The Lion King (2019)


118 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While The Lion King (2019), a direct remake of the 1994 film, boasts visual effects that wouldn’t seem out of place in the latest David Attenborough wildlife documentary, it comes across as an exercise in CGI, and does not justify its existence.

The visual effects team at The Moving Picture Company more than earn their keep. The animals and locations are rendered beautifully, and this treatment is not just reserved for lead characters; the Pride Lands look and feel like a natural African habitat. The combination of photo-realism with unnatural behaviours is seamless and not distracting.

However, the voice cast struggles to push real emotion through – yes, realistic – neutral-faced animals. When 1994-Simba cries for Mufasa, we all cried with him. When 2019-Simba (JD McCrary) cries, it looks very similar to how 2019-Simba smiles. There are standouts amongst the supporting cast, particularly Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, and Eric Andre and Keegan-Michael Key as Scar’s hyena henchmen Azizi and Kamari. These pairings manage to inject immediate comedic chemistry into what otherwise feels like a lazy regurgitation. Other cast members, such as Beyoncé as Nala and Donald Glover as adult-Simba, offer nothing interesting vocally and appear as stunt casting.

Another let down was the simplification of some of the finest musical moments in movie history. Scar’s scary and sassy Be Prepared is dampened and completely forgettable. Can You Feel the Love Tonight is an excuse for Beyoncé and Glover to appear on a track together, but the mix is sloppy and does no favours for either star – one friend even called it “grating”.

It seems Disney thought they had a good movie that people wouldn’t mind seeing again. The problem is that this isn’t a good movie, this is The Lion King, for many, the finest film of Disney’s renaissance. This retelling’s astounding effects and moments of comedy do not offer enough to return to this version.

Black Comedy | Regional News

Black Comedy

Written by: Peter Shaffer

Directed by: Neil Haydon and Oliver Mander

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 10th Aug 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Brindsley Miller (Lee Dowsett) is a struggling artist hoping to catch a break. It’s a big night for the sculptor and his new fiancé Carol Melkett (Susannah Donovan). Millionaire aesthete Bamberger (Marty Pilott) is set to stop by to view Brindsley’s work, plus, Carol’s father Colonel Melkett (Antony Jones) is coming over to meet his future son-in-law. Lacking funds and sense, Brindsley breaks into his neighbour’s house to ‘borrow’ the furniture for a night. But of course, the antique-mad Harold Gorringe (Bryce Jennings) comes back from his holiday one night early. Never fear! A power cut means no one can see anything anyway. Lucky for some, but definitely not for the art collector, who is mostly deaf.

Raging drunk Miss Furnival (Nicola Tod), overzealous electrician Schuppanzigh (Matt Todd), and Brindsley’s sadistic ex-girlfriend Clea (Indianna Cosgriff) complicate the chaos.

This one-act farce features a reverse lighting scheme. When the power cuts, the stage lights go on, meaning the characters are in darkness but the actors are not. Angela Wei’s lighting design confuses me at first with a couple of slow cues, and dimmed lights to indicate partial light, but I soon cotton on to the conventions utilised. I crave a snappy blackout at the end as opposed to a soft fade.

This production of Black Comedy impresses me for its considered, striking set (Neil Haydon) and the calibre of its cast. Dowsett somehow brings likeability to an insufferable character. Donovan mines the comedic gold of buffoonery to great effect. Every line (or wild gesture) from Jones is a show highlight, while Tod’s drunken whooping and Jennings’ indignant hooting plant a wide grin on my face.

Each cast member takes up the reverse lighting challenge with glee. Not once do I see anyone make eye contact or look directly where they’re going. It makes for a delightful display of delirious silliness, a phrase I feel perfectly sums up this Wellington Repertory Theatre production.

Orchids | Regional News


Directed by: Sarah Foster-Sproull

Circa Theatre, 24th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Inspired by the resilience of the orchid flower, Orchids explores the many facets of femininity. Seven performers – Marianne Schultz, Katie Burton, Rose Philpott, Jahra Wasasala, Joanne Hobern, Tori Manley-Tapu, and Ivy Foster, Foster-Sproull’s daughter – dance beauty and light, darkness and rage.

It takes me a long time to shut off my narrative brain while watching Orchids. Once I accept a story is not going to emerge, I relax and allow myself to be lulled, and at times startled, into a trance.

Each vignette has its own intention. Shifts in mood and tone are frequent and dramatic, and yet the dance is seamless, blurring elegantly into a series of arresting images emblazoned in my mind’s eye. In the dark I see 10 fists clenched into a ponytail, wild hair pulled taught at every angle, feet buoyant on palms.

Bodies merge, touch, and heave as one but are strikingly individual. Orchids is written in such a way as to give each dancer time to both shine and sync. It’s about woman and women – alone and together. It’s as complex and conflicting as the female psyche, as intricate as the human condition itself, and as joyful to dissect.

The dancers never miss a beat. Considering Foster-Sproull’s relentless, remarkable choreography and that Eden Mulholland’s augmenting sound design rarely features lyrics for cues, this seems like an impossible feat to a mere mortal like me. Though equally matched in proficiency, I find myself drawn to Wasasala for her angular precision and nine-year-old Foster for her raw talent and angelic stage presence.

Jennifer Lal uses light and space to play with Andrew Foster’s set design, featuring a floating sheet of material that moves and breathes as if by magic. All elements of the design, from sound to Rose Philpott and Tori Manley-Tapu’s pastel-hued silk costumes, are breathtaking but never distracting.

Most people I spoke to after Orchids responded with noises rather than words, a fantastic testament to its instant and lasting impact.

Onepū | Regional News


Choreographed by Louise Potiki Bryant

Presented by: Atamira Dance Company

Te Papa Soundings Theatre, 19th July 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Atamira Dance Company are an Auckland based dance company whose foundations are built on creating and presenting unique Māori dance theatre experiences. Their latest work, Onepū, is an homage to the six atua wāhine (female deities) who control and release the winds of the world. The all-female work is choreographed by cross-discipline artist Louise Potiki Bryant and performed by Jessica Johns, Imogen Tapara, Rosie Tapsell, Ariana Tikao, Presley Ziogas, and Bryant herself.

Onepū is set in an otherworldly plain which is enhanced by Bryant's innovative video design and an ethereal music composition by Paddy Free and Ariana Tikao. The work is steeped in ritual symbolism, with each dancer representing different powers of the wind, and a circle of black sand signifying the bank in which the atua wāhine stand to impart their forces across the world.

Onepū is a slow burn with unadorned choreographic sequences, executed passionately by the dancers. Johns, Tapara, Tapsell, and Ziogas perform dynamic solos as their respective deities under the watch of the matriarchal figures portrayed by Bryant and Tikao. It is largely the audio-visual component that bolsters the show, which is somewhat disappointing for a dance work. The dappled video projection effectively caresses the dancers' bodies as they shift and contract across the stage, and the haunting soundscape enriches the mythology and fluid movements of the atua wāhine.

The costumes, neutral coloured dresses swathed in strips of fabric, are designed by Rona Ngahuia Osborne and create beautiful, hypnotic silhouettes as the dancers leap and twirl fervently. The lighting is shadowy and dark, which works with the dreamlike ambiance but does make it challenging for audiences to really catch every moment on stage.

The work concludes with each wāhine picking up the sand and letting it fall through her fingers like the sands of time; a poignant moment that seems grounded on a powerful connection to the earth and to the spirit. Onepū is culturally and artistically rich, but it fails to affect choreographic awe.

Mātauranga | Regional News


Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Carlos Kalmar

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

This was a stunning performance of a highly diverse programme, with great musicality from all performers and Uruguayan guest conductor Carlos Kalmar.

Mātauranga (Rerenga) was commissioned from Michael Norris for the NZSO's Landfall series, marking the first meetings between Māori and Pākehā when the Endeavour reached Aotearoa in 1769. Later this year the Government commemoration, Tuia – Encounters 250, reaches back further, to the earliest encounters between Māori and the land itself. The music evoked the mystery and danger of those early encounters and exploration by Māori and Pākehā alike. Clever use of taonga pūoro, live electronics, and sustained strings blended the different sounds and cultures into one to great effect.

In contrast, Mozart's Piano Concerto No.12 in A major, K.414 was very pretty and beautifully played by Steven Osborne and a much-reduced orchestra. Its markedly different tone, style, and melodious character served to accentuate the variety in this programme.

A striking arrangement on stage signalled another change of direction: strings only, separated by the double basses into two equal groups, facing each other, as required by the composer to represent a traditional tango orchestra. The stage was set for the tension and drama of stringed combat followed by peace and gentle, musical flow in the two movements of Osvaldo Golijov's Last Round.

Famous for being thought of as a war symphony (written in 1916), Carl Nielsen's Symphony No.4, Op.29 The Inextinguishable was described by the composer as a celebration of the will to live. Although the sounds of conflict throughout the music ultimately settle and resolve into glorious (and very loud) melody, we first hear machine guns and the screaming whistle of bombs, before not one but two artillery battles as twin sets of timpani fight it out.

Impeccable playing (particularly the strings) under the direction of the skilful and sensitive Kalmar, and the sheer variety of the programme, made a very memorable performance.

MANIAC on the Dancefloor | Regional News

MANIAC on the Dancefloor

Written by: Natasha Lay

Directed by: Adam Rohe

BATS Theatre, 10th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

MANIAC on the Dancefloor is a dance party about depression. Many of my friends noted that description is somewhat oxymoronic, and I might have agreed with them before seeing the show. Now, I think a dance party is the perfect medium to express the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. As playwright Natasha Lay says, “it’s a good analogy for mania itself.”

The work is based on Lay’s lived experience, and features takatāpui performance artist Daedae Tekoronga-Waka as main character Anna. LGBTQIA+ representation in MANIAC on the Dancefloor is effortless. In both the script and the staging, the gender and sexuality of the characters is irrelevant to the story. While I think works that investigate and actively defy discrimination are vital, I love it when minority characters are approached in a mainstream way. I believe works like this help pave the way for true equality, and I’ll always champion them.

The focus here is on mental illness, and MANIAC on the Dancefloor is the most accessible exploration of depression I’ve ever seen. More than that, it’s fun. The killer dance moves (Marianne Infante) and we-might-as-well-be-at-a-rave lighting design (Spencer Earwaker) up the entertainment ante and plant many a grin on our faces. We giggle and groove to no end while rooting for the characters, who are so likeable because they are written and performed with genuine, heartfelt conviction.

Tekoronga-Waka gives a sensitive yet vibrant portrayal of Anna. As Anna’s friends Phil and Adam, Phillip Good melts our hearts, while director Adam Rohe is a magnet for laughs.

The passion of MANIAC on the Dancefloor’s creators, crew, and joyful cast is abundantly clear, shining through every minute of the show. One more banging dance number at the very end would send me away on a high, but I respect the poignant, lovely ending as it stands. This beautifully balanced production leaves me with plenty to think and smile about.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting | Regional News

The Dunstan Creek Haunting

Written by: Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman

Directed by: Dan Pengelly

Circa Theatre, 9th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache encountered ghost stories galore on their honeymoon in Central Otago. As they learned more and more local legends in every town they visited, strange and stranger occurrences started paranormally plaguing them. Inspired and a little spooked, the couple set about creating The Dunstan Creek Haunting.

In this Circa One show, Ladderman and Tollemache relay the tales that peppered (and salt circled) their travels. Particular emphasis is placed on the legend of Rose, the prim and proper proprietor of the Vulcan Hotel in Saint Bathans. Rose met an untimely death and is said to haunt room one of the hotel today.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting is delightfully metatheatrical, its performers gliding between direct address, playful banter, and “serious acting” (thanks for warning us David). As with every Rollicking Entertainment show I’ve seen, Ladderman and Tollemache strike up a quick and easy relationship with their audience. Individually, they both posses a warm and rich stage presence. Put them together and it’s dynamite.

What I most appreciate about the show is, when things take a turn for the dark, we’re told we can leave if we’re uncomfortable. It puts me at ease knowing anyone who might object to a supernatural ritual for any reason doesn’t have to witness one. On this evening, we all stay, and I can tell you with complete conviction I’m holding my breath the whole time. The energy is contagious as terrified giggles and giddy screams resonate through the pitch-black theatre.

Special credit must be given here to Molloy for his eerie sound and lighting design, full of surprises I can’t spoil. Chrissy Larsen’s props add an extra layer of authenticity to Richard van den Berg’s sepia-hued set imbued with the whispers of bygone days.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting is a perfectly bite-sized thriller, with the suspense building to boiling point in 70 minutes. It’s a hugely entertaining mid-winter screamfest not for the faint-hearted – bring someone/something to squeeze or be damned!

NYO Celebrates | Regional News

NYO Celebrates

Presented by: NZSO National Youth Orchestra

Conducted by: James Judd

Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Jul 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

This concert featured the finest young singers and instrumentalists from around New Zealand, marking the National Youth Orchestra’s 60th and the New Zealand Youth Choir’s 40th anniversaries.

The concert began with two New Zealand pieces, one for choir and orchestra, one for choir alone. Both the other works were seldom performed compositions, one by Sibelius for orchestra alone, the other by Elgar for choir and orchestra. The adventurous programming and the outstanding talents of the young people made for an engaging concert.

Glen Downie, the NYO’s young composer-in-residence, composed light speckled droplet for the occasion. It was a delicate piece as its title suggests, but certainly not colourless. Of particular note were the shimmering strings and the unaccompanied wordless voices of the choir. It was a lovely beginning to the concert.

The unaccompanied choir, conducted by director David Squire, performed a choral arrangement by Robert Wiremu of Waerenga-a-Hika, originally composed by Tuirina Wehi for guitar and kapa haka group to tell the story of the siege of Waerenga-a-Hika pa in 1865. In the choral version, the work utilises both kapa haka and European choral traditions. The performance was superb – dramatic, moving, and immaculate.

Sibelius’ The Oceanides for orchestra followed, depicting the expansive ocean and the nymphs that in Greek mythology were its guardians. While the strings struggled to depict the undulations of a peaceful ocean, the orchestra captured well the drama of a storm at sea.

The major work of the concert, Elgar’s The Music Makers for choir, orchestra, and solo mezzo soprano, is a heartfelt composition suggesting that each new generation of musicians and artists should be the “dreamers of dreams” to “renew our world.” Both choir and orchestra revelled in this work, easily negotiating the changes of mood, dynamics, and pace. Australian Catherine Carby contributed a rich but elegantly restrained solo voice.