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Reviews

Let It Out | Regional News

Let It Out

Written and performed by James Nokise

The Fringe Bar, 5th May 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

James Nokise put a mirror up to our own ridiculousness on Wednesday night, breaking down all the comical madness we saw throughout 2020. His intoxicating energy emits infectious good vibes from the word go, and our captivated audience couldn’t wipe the smiles from their faces for the entire hour.

Let It Out shines a light on all the emotional, silly, and downright peculiar behaviour Nokise observed over the past year, starting at the beginning, when he decided to return to New Zealand to surprise his dad for his birthday… for a week. 400 days later, he’s still here, watching on as New Zealand gets weirder and weirder. There’s our outrage at the result of the cannabis referendum, our unwarranted infatuation with Ashley Bloomfield, and our collective insanity whenever Slice of Heaven plays over a loudspeaker, amongst many other gems.

While Nokise’s natural energy and enthusiasm is responsible for getting us onboard, what truly sustains us is his refined approach to the written word. He knows that in order to wring laughs from us, it’s crucial that we first grasp the premise of each bit. His confident and emotive delivery is always clear and to the point, allowing him to plunge as deep as he likes into any given topic knowing we’re right there with him.

Another of the comedian’s abilities is his character work, which is on full display tonight. Nokise can, at a moment’s notice, transform his voice and mannerisms, inviting a sudden shift in tempo that injects an added dose of hilarity. His impression of Bloomfield is so spot on I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch a COVID-19 press conference the same way again.

Transitions from bit to bit are silky smooth, but the rapid-fire pace of the set leaves us in the lurch at times. Sometimes we’re still recovering from one joke as another begins, and a tad more breathing room would give the show definition. Although, this is but a nitpick in an otherwise flawless night of comedy.

Classy Warfare | Regional News

Classy Warfare

Written and performed by Tim Batt

Cavern Club, 4th May 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In his eighth stand-up hour, two-time Billy T Award-nominee Tim Batt presents a loose but consistently hilarious series of bits that never outstay their welcome and delivers punchlines that roll around in your head long after they land. His comfort onstage allows the audience to relax and settle in for a night of top-notch comedy that is sure to be a highlight of the NZ International Comedy Festival.

Batt begins by thanking us for our bravery in attending the first performance of his new show, admitting that he first has to set a stopwatch as he hasn’t even timed it yet. This would seem to suggest a scattershot show, but Classy Warfare is anything but. He spends the night ruminating on problems facing this and future generations, all with an overarching sense of anarchic glee. Without spoiling too many specifics for his remaining shows, Batt strikes a balance between playful anecdotes of childhood embarrassment, weed-induced deep thoughts, and past jobs with explorations of the absurdity of New Zealand politics, his dire financial situation, and his distrust of capitalism.

As fans of The Worst Idea of All Time (a podcast co-hosted with comedian Guy Montgomery) will tell you, Batt can chat, and it’s this enduring vibe that he bestows on our audience. For an hour, we simply feel as though we are chilling on the couch with that funny old mate of ours who hasn’t popped by for a while. The audience is clearly familiar with his style and him with his audience, yet we are still caught off guard time and time again.

A sign of Batt’s veteran status is his ability to know when a joke has come, served its purpose, and ridden off into the sunset, making his punchlines stick and his messages even more so. The puzzle pieces are all there, and I have no doubt Batt will quickly sculpt Classy Warfare into a tight-packed performance throughout the festival.

First Cow | Regional News

First Cow

(PG)

121 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Director Kelly Reichardt shows that simplicity is not to be feared. First Cow gets to the root of human behaviour, all the while reaffirming our innate connection with nature. It refuses to get lost in plot, choosing instead to send us into a daze by letting the sounds and colours of the environment wash over us.

In the present day, a woman and her dog stumble upon two skeletons buried in a forest in Oregon. We return in the early 19th century, where Otis ‘Cookie’ Figowitz (John Magaro) meets Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee) and aids him back to health. They soon reunite at a nearby village, where its richest resident, Chief Factor (Toby Jones), has just acquired the territory’s first cow. When Lu discovers that Otis can bake incredible cakes, he sees an opportunity for prosperity. All they need is some milk.

First Cow is unafraid of silence, or rather, it embraces the symphony of nature. Reichardt’s focus is connecting us with these characters, while in a way, the characters and their tale merely connect us with the Earth; Otis’ wardrobe, for example, seamlessly blends with his woodland surroundings. Decisions to shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio and to allow branches or shrubbery to intrude in the frame show the director’s confidence and give the film its trance-like feel.

The story is meditative in a way few films this past year were, with the possible exception of Best Picture-winner Nomadland. The camera takes time to appreciate time-consuming tasks, until the home stretch when a sense of dread inevitably seeps in.

While part of me wishes the script allowed Magaro and Lee to grit their teeth a little more, the actors mine gold from the quiet bond between their characters. Jones delivers a standout performance as the wickedly snobbish Chief Factor. Watching our heroes screw him over time and time again never gets old.

First Cow is clear in its intentions, and whether you connect with them will be down to your own movie-going preferences. While it may seem light at first, it will weave its way into your mind and stick around for days.

Best Foods Comedy Gala | Regional News

Best Foods Comedy Gala

The Opera House, 2nd May 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The NZ International Comedy Festival kicked off to a full house on Sunday night as roars of laughter and tubs of mayo filled The Opera House at the Best Foods Comedy Gala.

Introducing some of the best comedians in the country, MC Justine Smith keeps the three-hour show cracking along with whizbang jokes of her own. Her sense of comedic timing makes her the perfect ringmaster, while her humour – grubby, stroppy, yet somehow still charming – sets her up as a consistent audience favourite.

“I feel like I did not make the best use of my allotted time”, Ben Hurley says at the end of his set. It’s one of the funniest moments of the night, as is Nick Rado’s aggressive imitation of kids jacked up on Raro. Guy Montgomery’s takedown of the 6 o’clock news is my gala highlight. I’ve always been a huge fan of his absurdly clever, cleverly absurd comedy.

Rhys Darby and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer are both standouts, Darby for re-enacting his anything-but-calm audition for the Calm app, and Gonzalez-Macuer for his understated but hard-hitting set on anxiety. James Nokise has us chuckling with the political, while Angella Dravid has us blushing with the overtly sexual. Spouting absolute filth while looking like a deer in headlights is a whole mood, and I’m here for it.

Musically we’re spoiled with a few treats, especially from Paul Williams on keys. That voice! His song about the dangers of walking home at night echoes Laura Davis’ wicked set, which disarms the audience by entwining serious issues with laughter. Fresh from Broadway, Jonno Roberts dazzles with a ditty on the difficulties of raising children (to put it mildly), but creeps me out by lusting after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Closing the show is Two Hearts, Laura Daniel and Joseph Moore, with Tummy Rosé. A Kiwi take on The Lonely Island, this musical comedy duo always delivers a banging finale with high production values.

What an outstanding night of standout stand-up.

Things I Know to be True | Regional News

Things I Know to be True

Written by: Andrew Bovell

Directed by: Shane Bosher

Circa Theatre, 30th Apr 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Things I Know to be True is a poignant story of family, of loss, and of love. The play follows the Price family through the ups and downs of life over the course of a year, broaching problems and situations universally known to every family, to every human. The Price children (played by Heather O’Carroll, Jthan Morgan, Daniel Watterson, and Caitlin Rivers) have grown up and started their own lives, often fiercely independent from their parents, but seem to find themselves more often than not circling back to their childhood home, for advice, help, approval, rebellion, truth, and the comfort that only family can provide.

Things I Know to be True is exquisitely crafted. Each one of the actors portrays genuine, deep, relatable, and very real characters. Lara Macgregor delivers a phenomenal performance as Fran Price, flitting between anger, joy, pride, longing, fear, and devastation as she desperately tries to make the world right for her children. As her counterpart Bob Price, Stephen Lovatt delivers a much more subtle character, enacting a stoic yet utterly tender performance of a devout father and husband.

As the backdrop for the lives of the Price family, set designer Andrew Foster creates the garden world in which the story unfolds. Four rosebushes mark the passing of time and the seasons, changing in size, shape, and foliage throughout the play as we transition between summer and fall, or from one character’s story to the next. Leaves fall from the ceiling as well as real rainwater, making the play alive and dynamic.

Though heart-wrenching, Things I Know to be True is also heart-warming. Life is not perfect for the Price family but it is real. In their lives we see our own, raw and difficult, delicate and utterly beautiful. Through their story we find comfort in knowing that though all of us share heartbreak, we also share resilience and compassion in overcoming it; and this I know to be true.

Up Down Girl | Regional News

Up Down Girl

Adapted from Up Down Boy by Sue Shields

Directed by: Nathan Mudge and Michiel van Echten

Running at Circa Theatre until 1st May 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

19-year-old Mattie (Lily Harper) is about to move out of home for the first time. Mum (Trudy Pearson) is taking her to college in just a few hours, but here’s the thing… Mattie hasn’t packed her bag yet! You know when you’re spring cleaning or moving and every item you own suddenly springs forth memories that take you back to a different time or special moment from your past? That’s happening to both Mattie and Mum as they attempt to bundle her life into a duffle bag, reminiscing all the way. Meanwhile through direct audience address, Mum shares her experience of raising a child with Down syndrome.   

Mattie’s imagination is extraordinary, her memories vividly brought to life in Up Down Girl. A number of production elements help us see into her world. Firstly, her friends (the delightful Michiel van Echten and Mycah Keall) pop out of the wings to play police officers and doctors, evil grocery shoppers and hot Westlife singers. They also serve as backup dancers for the fabulous lip-sync numbers, which Harper nails with total star power. Then there’s Ian Harman’s bright, homely set and Isadora Lao’s colourful lighting design, which leans into Mattie’s every wonderful whim. Let’s not forget the old overhead projector that sets so many magical scenes.

From patient to cranky, loving to fierce, Pearson beautifully portrays all the nuances of a mother exhausted by prejudice. Harper’s performance is funny and sassy as all heck. The relationship between the two characters gives me tingles, accentuated by the chemistry and respect the two actors clearly share.   

Up Down Girl is a feel-good play that leaves the audience grinning from ear to ear. At the same time, it is a poignant, triumphant tale of overcoming adversity (preferably while wearing a cape), embracing our differences, and the unique perspective that a person with Down syndrome can bring to the world.

Needless to say, it hit me right in the heart.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday | Regional News

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

(R16)

131 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a movie full of moments. While it makes powerful use of Billie Holiday’s signature tunes and Andra Day delivers a Herculean performance in the titular role, jarring visual inconsistencies and a supreme lack of structure make the troubles of one of the most important figures in American music feel superficial.

Billie Holiday, one of the world’s most highly regarded jazz singers, spends her life battling the trauma of abuse and drug addiction. Her refusal to let racial inequality go unaddressed leaves her stalked by the FBI, who would rather put her behind bars than ever hear another performance of Strange Fruit, the heart-wrenching and provocative ballad that has since cemented her legacy.

The use of a sit-down interview with an eccentrically ignorant reporter as a framing device leaves me trepid just minutes into the film. Strangely, this is drawn back to so infrequently it seems utterly pointless, a mere excuse for the story to jump around without aim. While Day’s Holiday is transfixing from the word go, the world and characters around her feel skin deep, the blame for which falls squarely on director Lee Daniels.

If there was ever an artist full of complexities it was surely Billie Holiday. Daniel’s direction makes her problems seem trivial. Narratively, the film doesn’t so much shift gear from scene to scene as crash land in a new environment and atmosphere and burst into flames at a moment’s notice. Visually, we might go from watching a fluid and cinematic performance to an overly stylised documentary-like scene transition, for seemingly no justifiable reason. This cheapens the experience and makes the stories of supporting characters feel disconnected.

The film builds towards a performance of Strange Fruit, which is truly magical. It’s about the only scene in the film that strives for any kind of subtlety. The United States vs. Billie Holiday suffers from a director’s desire to cram everything in, but what is the focus here? Sadly, I never find out.

Queen: It’s A Kinda Magic | Regional News

Queen: It’s A Kinda Magic

The Opera House, 18th Apr 2021

Reviewed by: Graeme King

“Are we gonna have fun tonight Wellington?” shouts Freddie Mercury (Dominic Warren) during the concert starter A Kind Of Magic, and it’s obvious the audience is in for an interactive experience.

“This is a rock ‘n’ roll gig so we’re gonna treat it as a stadium – on your feet!” This at the start of the second track Radio Ga Ga, and we are up dancing!

This concert is a recreation of the 1986 World Tour – and a lot of attention has been paid to ensure the authenticity of the costumes, instruments and equipment, background videos, stunning lightshow, and state-of-the-art sound system.  

All their biggest hits follow: Another One Bites the Dust, featuring the solid bass guitar of John Deacon (Nigel Walker), Play The Game and Killer Queen, with Brian May (Luke Wyngaard) exquisitely playing the famous guitar riffs, Fat Bottomed Girls and Tie Your Mother Down featuring a thunderous but impeccable drum solo by Roger Taylor (Michael Dickens). Bicycle Race, Save Me, Don’t Stop Me Now – after which Freddie asks for a selfie with the band, and for the audience to stand and raise their hands, with Crazy Little Thing Called Love closing the first half.

A frenetic I Want It All starts the second set, with It’s A Hard Life segueing effortlessly into You’re My Best Friend. A superb guitar solo by Brian May is followed by I Want To Break Free, whereupon Freddie (in drag) comes down into the first few rows to sit on a few male laps – rubbing some with his feather boa!

The hits keep coming – Hammer To Fall, Under Pressure, Somebody To Love, We Are The Champions – with the last song of the set the anthemic We Will Rock You.

The encore starts with Love Of My Life featuring Brian May’s sublime acoustic guitar playing and gorgeous vocals by Freddie, finishing with a climactic Bohemian Rhapsody.

Overall a clever, well-spaced production that, with the strong vocal harmonies and musicianship of the band together with Freddie’s powerful vocals and stage presence, creates an enjoyable Queen experience.

Tale of a Dog  | Regional News

Tale of a Dog

Written by: Peter Wilson

Directed by: Fraser Hooper and Amalia Calder

Tararua Tramping Club Clubrooms, 17th Apr 2021

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Presented by KidzStuff Theatre, Tale of a Dog tells the tale of Dog, the ‘trickiest of tricksters’ and last remaining performing dog in the circus. After 30 years of the same old tricks, Dog, wonderfully brought to life by David Ladderman, wants to try new things.

Fergus Aitken, larger than life as Ringmaster and Narrator, is blind to Dog’s talents and is a stickler for things remaining the same. He strategically places a ‘vacancy’ sign on Dog’s colourful tent home. With no takers for the job, he steps in rather haphazardly as a replacement for Dog, confident he can fill the void. His attempt is pitiful at best. Dog’s unique talents are not easily replaced.

“Bring back dog!” echoes through the audience captivated in the front row.

Dog agrees to come back on three conditions: he has a piano, he has bones (lots of really big bones), and he and the Ringmaster perform together. What ensues is a new circus where Dog’s talents now surprise and delight. Some rather impressive juggling between Ringmaster and Dog brings a smile to many a young face, including my eight-year-old.

With his paw-by-paw rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle on his tiny piano, Dog appears coattails and all, and the Ringmaster is as wowed and awed as his audience. One keen observer from the audience is quick to admonish the Ringmaster with an incredulous “did you not see him playing in the beginning?”

Tale of a Dog is just right for the four to seven age group. It’s a great opportunity to cultivate a love of theatre in the young, with comedy, suspense, and a little slapstick in between. On a deeper level, Tale of a Dog is a lasting legacy of late writer Peter Wilson about learning to appreciate each other’s unique differences. With perseverance and by staying true to yourself, you can achieve great things.