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Bear North | Regional News

Bear North

Written by: Roy Hutchins and Sue Bradley

Directed by: Roy Hutchins

Gryphon Theatre, 21st Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Bear North follows a band of three merry travellers and one wolf. One of the strangest shows I’ve ever seen (winning out over Bald Man Sings Rihanna, which you’d think would be stranger), it’s a feel-good blend of song, storytelling, and interpretive dance that to me represents the essence of the NZ Fringe Festival.

Roy Hutchins is the leader of the pack. He wears a dress, bear gloves, and a large bear head. Playing a keytar and driving the conversation with the audience, he has a gentle, warm nature and is instantly likeable. The thing that I most appreciate about Hutchins is that he asks for consent before putting anyone on the spot and never forces audience interaction. When Hutchins performs, he looks surprised to find himself onstage, which is more endearing than anything else.

Sue Bradley wears a butterfly half-mask, plays an electric violin, uses a stomp box of sorts to create rhythm, and provides backing vocals. She shines on the electric violin, adding a gorgeous folk element to the music that sets the tone for the evening.

Stuart Drake on electric guitar wears a high top hat and whistles real nice. He has a sparkling smile and a serene energy, acting as an anchor to the rest of the group.

And then we have Wolfie. What on earth can I say about Wolfie? During what is a mostly ordinary (but still special) concert, Jake Brown does interpretive dance in a wolf mask. The whole time. A scene where Brown dances with an audience member is lovely, otherwise his spirited performance is just bizarre, but excellent.

The music disintegrates at times into a bit of a shambles, but it all adds to the charm of Bear North. I’d hazard a guess to say it’s a partly improvised work, so a bit of chaos can be forgiven. Though I’d love to see a touch more rehearsal, I wouldn’t change a word (or note) of this strangely touching show.

System | Regional News


Created by: Muscle Mouth

Directed by: Ross McCormack

Te Auaha, 20th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

My Fitbit generally reports an average of 70 heartbeats per minute. During Muscle Mouth’s System, my BPM went up to 140. I wasn’t clapping too hard – in fact, I wasn’t moving at all. I was just that invigorated.

System is set in a dystopian world whereby, when a body becomes obsolete, it can simply be replaced. In the corner of a room (set design by Ross McCormack), this data transfer occurs. Two bodies (McCormack and Luke Hanna) spasm and merge, twitch and fuse. System is riveting and disturbing in one breath, drawing on sci-fi influences and the morbid fascination of its audience.

In System, McCormack aimed to create a simple narrative. Even going into the show knowing it, some design elements confused the concept.

A robotic, discordant, unintelligible voice occasionally cuts through Jason Wright’s otherwise incredible, transfixing sound design. Suggesting some sort of powerful overlord, the voice detracts from McCormack’s phenomenal choreography and sends the audience down what is, to my knowledge, entirely the wrong track. If there had to be a voice at all, I would have preferred a detached, clinical one – the kind you hear in a sterile hospital over a loudspeaker. And to make the plot abundantly clear, in the final blackout, I yearned for that voice to say “transfer complete.”

I also felt there were a few too many gimmicks and illusions, although they were mind-boggling. McCormack sinking into a seemingly solid block had me watching through parted fingers, and shadows cast by Natasha James’ electric lighting and AV design caught my breath in my chest. But the dancers moving the blocks around felt arbitrary at times. These sequences could have been shortened to encompass only the necessary set changes.

Nevertheless, McCormack and Hanna are at the top of their game, giving all of themselves in a performance I will never forget. Watching System is to watch masters at work. This statement encompasses everyone involved in Muscle Mouth – a company that never ceases to amaze and astound me.

Massive Crushes | Regional News

Massive Crushes

Written by: Uther Dean

Directed by: Isobel MacKinnon

BATS Theatre, 13th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Uther Dean’s new show Massive Crushes is a collection of weird, sexy, macabre little stories performed as monologues. With its all-female cast and minimal design, it’s the sister show of Dean’s 2015 show Tiny Deaths, but maybe, just maybe, its approach to love, sex, and the patriarchy is a little more optimistic.

The cast (what a cast!) is perhaps the highlight of Massive Crushes. Stevie Hancox-Monk, having a very good year, brings the house down as a bizarre, perhaps quite lonely lady repulsed by human bodies. Harriet Prebble rolls around on the floor, flecked with tomato flesh during the worst date ever – it’s so great to see her step out of straitlaced big-theatre roles. And a delight for me was Isadora Lao, who is stuck on hold thanks to some “1984 sh*t”. She has maybe 10 lines of dialogue, but her fabulous facial expressions speak reams about dealing with patriarchal bureaucracy.

The monologues were physical and engaging – even Lucy McCarthny, who didn’t much move from her seat, made the audience wriggle with her descriptions of kissing a rotting mouth. If I had one complaint, it would be that some performers could have let the audience sit with their words a little longer; sometimes, Dean’s wordier jokes take a few seconds to hit.

Aside from a striking lighting scheme, the only major design element is a gorgeous table piled with dead flowers, skulls, bottles of wine, and piles of fruit (Lucas Neal). It was very pretty, but its aesthetic seemed to be its only purpose; some performers pulled out props, but some ignored the set entirely.

Despite the elevated strangeness of Massive Crush’s subjects, a weird kind of hope shines through. These characters are encumbered by all kinds of quirks, but they still believe love or even successful self-expression is out there somewhere. This is not a bleak show. It’s about how, against all odds, women persevere.

Bald Man Sings Rihanna | Regional News

Bald Man Sings Rihanna

Written by: Gary Sansome

Directed by: Gary Sansome

Cavern Club, 12th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I’d been excited about Bald Man Sings Rihanna for weeks. Armed only with the title, I assumed the show would be entirely dedicated to a bald man singing Rihanna, and I was there for it.

Bald Man Sings Rihanna features a lot of Bald Man (Gary Sansome), but not so much Rihanna. I was expecting backing music, stage lights, and full-on renditions of all RiRi’s greatest hits. Instead, the show is more a regular stand-up set in which Sansome has occasional outbursts of spontaneous song. I’ve got to say, I’m here for it.

Sansome is a natural entertainer, striking up easy conversation with the audience in perhaps the most improvised, effortless stand-up show I’ve ever seen. We play a massive part in Bald Man Sings Rihanna. Heckling is encouraged, so I put up a spirited defence of Hamilton (I’ve never been, so I have no idea where this came from). My friend is forced to expose her bountiful hair follicles to the crowd, a man named Scott stands on stage to have his ironing skills critiqued by the many, and a Scotsman named Gavin is accused of being nearly as much of a drunkard as Sansome.

Though we’re mocked mercilessly, we all know it’s in good fun. Our reception to Sansome is warm, namely because he doesn’t stoop to racist, sexist jokes. It means we’re a little more accommodating of personal digs. We also get the chance to insult his bald head in turn. One particularly brutal lady calls him “foreskin face”, so we certainly can’t expect him to go easy on us after that.

Sansome possesses a seemingly boundless energy. When he’s trying to remember a line, instead of pausing, he simply repeats the previous line a few times until his brain comes full circle. It comes off a little manic, but drives the performance ever-forward.

I would love to see one complete, show-stopping song and dance number from Sansome next time. But as it stands, the audience had a great time at Bald Man Sings Rihanna.

If Beale Street Could Talk | Regional News

If Beale Street Could Talk


117 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film Moonlight was one of the best films of 2016. Based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, his follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk is softer and less art house, but is no less insightful on love, community, family, and racial hatred.

19-year-old Tish (KiKi Layne) and 21-year-old sculptor Fonny (Stephan James) are hopelessly in love. Dreaming of a modest life together, their biggest problem is that they can’t secure a New York City apartment from racist landlords – until Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. A rape victim was coerced into picking him out of a line-up, so he’s chucked in the slammer with little hope of release. At the same time, Tish discovers she is pregnant.

The movie opens with a quote from Baldwin, explaining the origins of the novel’s title. Beale Street is a historically significant street in Memphis, and according to the author, is the symbolic birthplace of all Black Americans. Thanks to Jenkins’ gorgeous use of colour, slow motion sequences, and Nicholas Britell’s swelling score, the idea of legacy is evoked again and again. At times, If Beale Street Could Talk is more like a visual poem than a movie. But I’m not complaining; it’s beautiful.

And besides, there’s plenty of compelling action to drive the narrative. In a superbly shot scene starring Brian Tyree Henry as Fonny’s old friend Daniel, Henry delivers a stomach-roiling, eerie monologue on the horrors of incarceration. A climactic scene where Tish informs Fonny’s horrible “holy roller” mother (Aunjanue Ellis) that she’s expecting provoked gasps from the audience. And Regina King (Tish’s mother) more than earns her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in a sequence where she talks to Fonny’s alleged victim, begging her to recount her testimony.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a brilliantly gentle, bittersweet movie that handles big ideas of humanity and prejudice with grace. It might have received fewer accolades than Moonlight, but it’s a worthy addition to Jenkins’ oeuvre.

TRÖLL | Regional News


Written by: Ralph McCubbin Howell

Directed by: Charlotte Bradley

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 9th Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Susan Barker

TRÖLL, set in 1998, follows 12-year-old Otto through a dark period of his young life. Otto is a member of a chat group where he finds comradery – it’s the only place he feels accepted. The set is a computer desk and screen, which along with animation, music, and shadows, is utilised cleverly to deliver a full narrative.

Otto also has a mysterious, chain-smoking Icelandic grandmother living in the family’s sleepout (who becomes a source of much wisdom and humour).

While the play begins light-heartedly, and contains plenty of wit throughout, it is multifaceted, insightful, and portrays depression in a way that is poignant and relatable to children. Howell gives a fabulous performance and the script feels like what a 12-year-old would say, not what an adult would assume a young boy would say. The troll is both a real character (weaving in a fairy-tale element to the work) and a metaphor for the growing, fearsome black hole that is isolation.

This play contains so many significant themes, none of which are forced on the audience but rather seem to fit naturally within the narrative. It is hard to mention them all in one review but a few of the major ones are: the dangers of internet harassment, bullying in schools, relationships between young and old, and overcoming fear and depression.

TRÖLL is still provoking conversation in my household and especially resonated with my older children. However, there are plenty of fantastic effects and humour to keep a younger audience member engaged, even if they do not necessarily understand the larger story. Perhaps my favourite thing about TRÖLL is that it has not been sanitised by the political correctness that takes the edge out of much of the work produced in this genre.

This is a worthwhile production that my 12-year-old son loved (which is saying something). My only criticism would be that the 90’s references are at times lost on the young crowd, but other than that, I would highly recommend TRÖLL.

Rufus Wainwright | Regional News

Rufus Wainwright

The Opera House, 3rd Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

I’m a Rufus Wainwright virgin. There, I’ve got that off my chest. Oh, I know who he is and I’ve seen him plenty of times on Jools Holland plus several YouTube clips, but I’ve never listened to a whole album all the way through. I’m proud to admit I am more a fan of his father’s songs.

But tonight, all that changed. It wasn’t an instant conversion, but I’m now a bona fide fan. Mostly it has to do with an artist willing to put everything into an almost three-hour set, replete with one of the best backing bands I’ve heard in a long time. Not one to rave about percussionists, I found myself amazed as former Jeff Buckley drummer Matt Johnson coloured many of the songs with such deftness that I wondered why I don’t hear more of this in rock music today. The rest of the band consisted of keyboard player and vocalist Rachel Eckroth (who opened the show with a selection of drum and bass pieces), keyboard player Devon Brooning, bass player Paul Bryan, and guitarist and musical director Gerry Leonard.

But now I’m a convert, I’m surprised by just how many songs I knew. Three songs stood head and shoulders above the rest: a cover version of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now; a new composition, the philosophical Sword of Damocles; plus, the encore closure, a sing-along with the audience to The Beatles’ Across the Universe. I learnt later that the second half of the concert was the performance of his sophomore album Poses in full. This is a clever idea, as Wainwright had sprinkled the first half with his eponymous debut album Rufus Wainwright and other favourites. One Man Guy, a song written by his father Loudon, works best if you extrapolate the journey Wainwright has taken by way of self-reliance and also as a gay hero to many, seeking a long-term companion. Others from this set that resonated were California, Rebel Prince, and Cigarettes and Milk Chocolate.

A stunning show from a very powerful and unique voice.

John Prine | Regional News

John Prine

Shed 6, 2nd Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

I recall, not that long ago, that an opening act was given a short sharp shift. “Bring on the main act” was the call. Thanks to better behaviour these days, we’re prepared to give the newer artists some leeway. This was the case with Tyler Childers, a 27-year-old out from Kentucky. With a style similar to Sturgill Simpson (who produced Childer’s 2017 album) and Jason Isbell, there are promising signs for this newbie.

Partly a trip down memory lane and partly tracks from the new album Tree of Forgiveness, Prine proves to be the perfect host with his Southern charm, a mixture of anecdotes, and funny asides of marriage and family. It’s Prine at his most revealing, a chink in the curtain, the musing of a weary troubadour and one that simply delights. We should acknowledge what a wonderful backing band Prine brought along: bass player Dave Jacques, keyboardist Fats Kaplin, guitarist Jason Wilber, and drummer of over 40 years, Brian Owenings.

Two bouts of cancer have burnished Prine’s voice with the patina of a rusty oil can. Shaky and wistful, it never fails to invite you into his world.

I’m hoping that former Prime Minister Helen Clark was in the audience, as she is on record saying that Sam Stone is her favourite track. It’s Prine at his most sober as he recounts the tale of an injured Vietnam vet returning home hooked on morphine. The line “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where the money goes” never fails to chill. But all the songs in this two-hour set – Caravan of Fools, Crazy Arms, and Boulder to Birmingham – were given due referential treatment

The best song of the night was undoubtedly Hello in There, its bowed bass line perfect. Received with pin-dropping silence, it was followed by rapturous applause from the full house.

Part spoken, part sung, When I Get To Heaven is a crowd-stopper and the perfect, hilarious end to an evening in which all the planets aligned.

Full Scale | Regional News

Full Scale

Created by: Isobel MacKinnon and Meg Rollandi

Written by: Isobel MacKinnon

BATS Theatre, 26th Feb 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

A woman (Isobel MacKinnon) recounts stories from her childhood. It’s one peppered with ornaments, much to the dismay of her mother, who is called “the opposite of a hoarder.” The narrative is divided into two distinct sections: memories from the woman’s past are interspersed with delightful anecdotes about the ornaments she has collected.

When recounting memories of her mother, MacKinnon walks to a table stocked with her collection. She uses a GoPro to film the ornaments, which are attributed to characters that then re-enact her stories. While projecting the live footage onto the back wall of the stage is clever, this segment needs work.

Most of the time, it’s clear which ornament represents which character, but there are a number of flimsy links and figures that seem surplus to the action. When a character leaves a story, MacKinnon removes the ornament from the table and places it in three strips of dim light on the floor (lighting design by Jennifer Lal). Some of these moments make perfect sense, but others don’t. The script could be adjusted to indicate what is happening when the surplus characters are removed, and overall, I’d like to see more methodical and concise action in this segment.

It’s at the table that MacKinnon often fumbles with the script, but she recovers from these instances with courage and grace. These scenes also feel like a lost opportunity in terms of their design. Lighting on the table itself and better camera angles would create striking stage pictures. Fully committing to the hazy, blue, shadowy lighting scheme used would help it achieve its desired otherworldly effect. As it stands, the scheme feels dull and almost accidental.

It is during the anecdotal sections that both the work and MacKinnon’s performance really shine. The script is beautiful and hilarious, the story is heart-wrenching and poignant, and MacKinnon is a gifted actor.

With refinement and a more considered design approach, Full Scale would hit its mark and then some.