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Poor Things | Regional News

Poor Things


141 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I truly disliked Poor Things for the first 30 minutes. When it dawned on me that it is cinematic magical realism, I became enthralled.

Directed by Greece’s surrealist son Yorgos Lanthimos, Poor Things is a tribute to Frankenstein starring Emma Stone as Bella Baxter, a woman created by Dr Godwin ‘God’ Baxter (Willem Dafoe). In a smutty romp through a distorted Europe and free from the constraints of her time, Bella embarks on an adventure in the pursuit of knowledge, becoming the ultimate self-made woman.

There are so many interesting technical elements in Poor Things. Beginning in black and white, the film is dowsed in technicolour once Bella leaves the confines of God’s home. Often filmed through a fish-eye lens, the world is distorted, disorienting, and unbalancing – a wonderful choice by cinematographer Robbie Ryan to place the viewer in Bella’s shaky shoes. Shona Heath and James Price’s set design is over-stimulating, phallic, garish, and unfamiliar, the world as perceived by Bella. Holly Waddington’s costumes are impractical and outlandish. They look incongruent on Bella’s unfamiliar body, a perfect reflection of how they must feel to our heroine.

Bella’s mental growth is mirrored by her physicality. As she consumes knowledge, she must also satiate her sexual needs; as she gradually masters language, she achieves the same with her gangly limbs. I wonder, however, if rather than mirroring her academic growth, Bella’s bodily escapades are actually driving her quest for knowledge.

Bella seems to discover herself and her world through her body; only after carnal indulgences does she ponder philosophical matters. I suppose this is how all humans progress, as the physical is much easier to grasp than the metaphysical, but for Bella the quest for the empirical is almost purely driven by physical interactions. What bothers me about this is that Bella views her world and herself in relation to men. This begs the question, if Poor Things had been written and/or directed by a woman, would it still possess that voyeuristic perspective underpinned by the male gaze?

Bella engages positively with female characters only briefly, and many of her other interactions with women are strained. Is this to underscore that the world of Poor Things is a male-dominated one, highlighting Bella’s own emancipation even more? In that case, when encountering male judgement, would Bella not find refuge and comfort in female companionship throughout her journey? Therefore Bella’s perspective becomes one seen through male eyes. Is it her own gaze then or is it a reclaimed projection? Either way it is not entirely hers. She absorbs and reinterprets this gaze, subverting it, but often it feels voyeuristic. Nevertheless, perhaps the point is that where male characters see only her physical beauty, her own self-worth comes from her independence, character, and empathy.

The Holdovers | Regional News

The Holdovers


133 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

3pm on a sunny afternoon at the Brooklyn Penthouse Cinema and the snow is falling in The Holdovers. It lays in drifts on the ground, covering cars, coating branches, dampening the sounds of the world but unable to stifle the incomparable excitement that is the last day of school. The year is 1970 and happy boys with rosy cheeks looking forward to the promise of a fun vacation burst forth from the big doors of Barton Academy – a private boarding school in New England.

Except for a select few who have nowhere to go this Christmas. These ones must remain at Barton until after New Years in the care of their curmudgeonly classics professor Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) and Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school cook who lost her son in the Vietnam War just months ago.

Among the ragtag troupe is Angus Tully (newcomer Dominic Sessa) who is bright and caustic but erratic, a troublemaker, and a royal pain in the… you get the point. Forming an unlikely bond, the trio embark on a melancholy, albeit memorable, adventure.

Dubbed a Christmas-blues movie, The Holdovers – directed by Alexander Payne – is likely to join the holiday-cinema canon. Described as a “masterclass in melancholy” (The Guardian), it’s writer David Hemingson’s screenplay that hits me. Aside from an incredible production design team – which I am furious to learn is not responsible for one of The Holdovers’ five Academy Award nominations – and a superb trio of leading actors, it is the story that truly shines.

So many new films are a spectacle, which is not a bad thing, but the effects and the visuals, the sensationalism and the extremes are the calling cards. The Holdovers is not flashy or groundbreaking or innovative, but in my eyes, it is a work of art. There is no pretence as it captures the essence of humanity. It is simple, raw, and beautiful. It’s been a long, long time since I have seen a film that has reminded me of where my love of cinema came from.

Lads on the Island | Regional News

Lads on the Island

Written by: Sam Brooks

Directed by: Nī Dekkers-Reihana

Circa Theatre, 3rd Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Lads on the Island is a modern reimagining of Prospero’s retreat into a blue funk, not because of the betrayals of a treacherous family but from being dumped by his girlfriend.

Joining magician Prospero (Finley Hughes), as in the original, is the spirit Ariel (Reon Bell) who he magically enslaves as his companion in misery. The lads spend their time drinking beer, arguing about Sherlock Holmes, singing, and dad-dancing to pop songs. But the lads are not alone on their virtual island of self-pity and must deal with visitations from Prospero’s sister Miranda, Ariel’s boyfriend Sebastian, Ariel’s mum Sycorax, and Fern, Prospero’s ex (all played by Bronwyn Ensor).

This trio of actors is a delight with a warm, infectious chemistry between Hughes and Bell, and superb support from Ensor, who is particularly delicious as the all-powerful Sycorax. Bell shines as the loving, supportive Ariel who stands by his bestie despite Prospero’s fretting and whining. Far from being just another tale of a broken heart, this magical production, beautifully woven by playwright Sam Brooks and Dekkers-Reihana’s natural direction style, conjures an exquisite story of the enchanting and enduring power of friendship.

Major props to set designer Lucas Neal and lighting and special effects designer Michael Trigg. Their tiered set backed by sheer drapes is a constantly surprising and charming work of art with built-in lights that magically appear at a click of Ariel’s fingers in the detritus of Prospero’s man cave. Matt Asunder’s diaphanous sound and music and a hard-working smoke machine add extra layers of atmosphere to the intimate space. Special mention to the self-filling disco beer fridge and stage manager Marshall Rankin for their own special magic.

With a scattering of jokes about the impenetrability of Shakespeare, this is a beguiling reworking of the Bard’s most mystical characters that will leave you with warm fuzzies and a renewed belief in the simple beauty of friendship.

Kia Ora Khalid | Regional News

Kia Ora Khalid

Created by: composer Gareth Farr and writer Dave Armstrong

Directed by: creative lead Ditas Yap

BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In a schoolyard on a lunch break, four kids – Tom (Jack Sullivan and understudy Aidan Soper), Serena (Justina-Rose Tua), Trang (Ameira Arroyo), and Khalid (Ofri Earon and understudy Jet Wilton) – are playing a game of touch rugby. Well, trying to play. It’s “three-one to the girls” (a catchy song still stuck in my head), and Tom is getting crushed. He needs another person on his team, but he won’t let Khalid play. Khalid, you see, is a refugee. He’s from Afghanistan, so he’s probably “a Taliban”, Tom sneers.

Tom’s prejudice begins to waver when Trang reveals that she is a first-generation Cambodian whose grandfather was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. And Serena’s uncle Sio had to leave Samoa in search of higher pay to support his family, only to become a victim of war himself. Just like Khalid. And, actually, just like Tom’s grandfather…

Kia Ora Khalid is a children’s opera that crosses continents and bridges borders to show that, at our core, we’re not that different. No matter the colour of our skin, the language we speak, or the god we pray to, our love – our humanity – is universal.

Presented under the umbrella of Six Degrees Festival, this production of Kia Ora Khalid is performed by a cast of 16 young people aged 10 to 19 from various schools across Wellington. What incredible heart this ensemble pours into every second of their time on stage. Tackling a sung-through opera is no mean feat – let alone one by composer Gareth Farr with writer Dave Armstong, one so dynamic and powerful. With live accompaniment by a tight band of pianist Laura Stone, cellist Nathan Parker, percussionist Ari Cradwick, and clarinettist Felix McDougall (whose voice blows me away), and music direction from Jo Hodgson, the cast is more than up to the mammoth challenge.

High production values – particularly stage manager Emory Otto’s costume design, and sound designer Senuka Sudusinghe’s lighting design, which sees breathtaking moments of shadowplay – combine to create a kaleidoscope of colour and spectacle.

Kia Ora Khalid premiered in 2009 but feels timelier than ever today. Led by stage director Ditas Yap, this cast and crew should be very proud.

We, The Outsiders | Regional News

We, The Outsiders

Written by: Romina Meneses

Directed by: Romina Meneses

BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Migrants are the golden threads that bind this country together. This show brings their stories to light.

We, The Outsiders is an original documentary theatre piece created and inspired by real-life stories of migrant workers living in New Zealand. Written and directed by Romina Meneses, who performs alongside Akash Saravanan and Sowmya Hiremath, it explores the triumphs and tribulations of those who come to this country, opening the curtain to their diverse, yet seemingly universal experiences.

The performers speak in an interview-esque style, presenting what feels like a live documentary. They take great care in retelling experiences without creating stereotypes, embodying not the migrants themselves, but their stories. This feels very respectful considering the diversity of those who were interviewed. I also enjoy the use of humour, woven throughout as a tool to ease tension. 

Josiah Matagi’s lighting design evokes moods of pain and paradise, emphasising well the juxtaposition of the suffering and splendour of moving to a new country. Scene changes are integrated into the performance, feeling like a metaphoric reminder of the constant changing and challenging situations migrants endure. Woven together with movement, Roco Moroi Thorn and Auria Paz’s compositions create thought-provoking, mesmerising moments throughout the piece.

Here, I catch my breath to think not only of the perspectives of migrants, but also the privilege we who live here have. On top of this, as a third-generation immigrant on my mother’s side, this production resonates with me. I know my family has endured many of the hardships portrayed in these 13 scenes.

There are so many heartfelt, beautiful moments and stories encapsulated in one short hour. Presented under the umbrella of the Six Degrees Festival, supported by Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, We, The Outsiders is for all those who call New Zealand home and those who feel far from home. I urge you all to come to this enchanting piece of theatre.

The Supper Club | Regional News

The Supper Club

Created by: Ali Harper

Directed by: Ian Harman

Running at Circa Theatre until 17th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Imagine an old, abandoned Supper Club. The ghosts of grandeur haunt every cobwebbed corner, the hopes and dreams once nurtured within now scattered like boa feathers in the wind. But with Tom McLeod and The Jazz Hot Supper Club Band, New Zealand songstress Ali Harper is about to restore The Supper Club to its former glory, embodying the various singers whose echoes still reverberate through its storied, sequined past.

As characters like the happy-go-lucky English girly and the sharp, smouldering German superstar, Harper trills, thrills, and traverses everything from Cole Porter’s It’s De-Lovely to Édith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien to Madonna’s Material Girl. Because anything can (and does!) happen in this fabulous production, I don’t wish to spoil any further specifics or surprises… only to give you a taste of the tantalising talent within.

First up, there’s Harper, whose respect and reverence for the muses she inhabits is palpable. With charm, charisma, and chops for days, she is, quite simply, sensational.

Then we have that phenomenal band, with musical director Tom McLeod on arrangements and piano, Blair Latham on saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and flute, Olivia Campion on percussion, and Scott Maynard on double bass. A tight, cohesive unit in their own right, when paired with Harper, their joy is infectious, their chemistry crackling. They bounce off each other like reflections from a disco ball.

Everything director Ian Harman touches turns to gold. As set and costume designer to boot, he’s created the world where all this magic takes place. Meticulous details abound, from the crystal glasses that once would have housed the finest cognac to the way Harper’s dazzling black gown catches the light.

And speaking of light, Rich Tucker’s moody, glam lighting scheme brings this Supper Club to life, crafting intimate moments while highlighting the showstopping spectacle of it all in equal measure. The epitome of ambience.

The Supper Club? A delightful, delicious, de-lovely escape.

Wonka | Regional News



116 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Chocolate cherries and gourmet ganache, Rocher rivers and fudge flowers, the newest iteration of Roald Dahl’s capricious chocolatier in the 2023 movie Wonka is so sweet it’s saccharine. In fact, the whole story is Pure Imagination.

From the fanciful mind of Paul King – creator of PaddingtonWonka is supposedly the musical origin story of the eccentric, egocentric, megalomaniac Willy Wonka that we all know and kind of love… but it’s actually something altogether different.

Played by Timothée Chalamet, Willy is a starry-eyed youth with a “hatful of dreams” and suitcase full of chocolate hoping to change the world. Naïve and overly optimistic, the young man lands himself in a predicament involving two Dickensian con artists and an all-powerful chocolate cartel. With his ragtag band of newfound friends, including the wise orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), Willy may risk everything, but he never loses hope or the belief that the world is good.

Comparing Chalamet’s Wonka to Johnny Depp’s wouldn’t be fair, much less to the unparalleled maniacal genius of Gene Wilder. At the best of times I’m not a fan of Chalamet as I find him flat and, frankly, dull. In the shoes of the beloved Wonka he didn’t stand a chance. But truly, in this case, I don’t believe it is his fault.

Chalamet sings beautifully and dances all the better. Nathan Crowley’s production design is a decadent feast for the eyes. The jokes, though predictable, are charming, especially from Hugh Grant’s posh Oompa-Loompa. Even the fanciful moments of magic are beautifully crafted. As a standalone story, Wonka is sweet in a Disney-esque sense.

However, Wonka comes from a long-loved legacy. This prequel does not match up with the inevitable future. Chalamet’s optimistic humanitarian gives no indication of transforming into the capitalist, nihilistic sociopath he is doomed to become. In fact, he fights those characters tooth and nail. The dark and lonely future of Willy Wonka casts no shadow on this idealistic youth. Perhaps in the future, hardened by many years, the world won’t stack up to his own imagination. Perhaps he learns that only within his mind will he be free. I just wish, even fleetingly, this darkness had tangoed across the screen.

The Lady Demands Satisfaction | Regional News

The Lady Demands Satisfaction

Written by: Arthur M. Jolly

Directed by: James Kiesel

Gryphon Theatre, 29th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Oh, how delightful, a story with sword fights and shenanigans. What fun!

Set in the 1700s, The Lady Demands Satisfaction is a farce following the peppy Trothe Pepperston (Sarah Penny) as she enlists the help of her two favourite servants (Tristana Leist and Teresa Sullivan) and her sword master aunt Theodosia (Gwendoline Guerineau) to ward off any challengers that try to take advantage of her inheritance following her father’s untimely death.

Starting with shadow swordplay, the opening splendidly sets the scene. What follows is sustained side-splitting laughter continuing up until the bows. Did I mention sword fights?

The fight scenes, coordinated by Simon Manns, are both hilarious and mesmerising. The characters are so willing to pick a fight that they would do so with any household item they could get their hands on.

Meredith Dooley’s costume design has got to be one of the many highlights of this Stagecraft Theatre production. Dooley’s design provides period-accurate costumes but with a colourful, zany flair, perfectly illustrating the essence of the play. So much effort has been put into these costumes, even all of Trothe’s handkerchiefs match her beautiful crinoline dress. 

Through gobos and candlelight, Scott Maxim’s lighting design creates an atmosphere that works perfectly with the costume and set design (Josh Hopton-Stewart) to create a cosy Georgian manor. A perfect setting for this rambunctious series of events to melodramatically unfold.

Charismatic comedic characterisation must be commended. Each actor is a master of comedy. Penny truly encapsulates her character of Trothe Pepperston, from the way she awkwardly trots to her squeals of laughter. Guerineau’s sensational sword fighting is something splendid to witness. The entire cast maintains a hilarious presence throughout the show.

I am still struggling to grasp how engaging and funny this fever dream of a play is. I would urge you to book tickets at once before any Prussian master takes your place and you’ll be left for dead without seeing this hilarious Stagecraft show.

HAUSDOWN | Regional News


Written by: Ruby Carter and Katie Hill

Directed by: Katie Hill

BATS Theatre, 28th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Fans of Jane Austen and Regency-era drama are being spoiled with a range of productions on Wellington stages, and HAUSDOWN is a refreshing and joyfully queer take on this, revelling in the inherent queerness in the extravagance of the period.

Plays that are set in the Regency era benefit greatly from attentiveness to technical elements such as costume and set in order to bring the period to life. HAUSDOWN excels at this. Costumes (Ruby Carter) are delightfully camp, capturing the characters and their world well. The rainbow palette across the different characters is a nice touch. 

The set (Scott Maxim) is also evocative and feels at home with the theatre’s stained-glass dome above. The floor is painted as concrete-coloured tiles, and a wall has been constructed to run across the back of the stage, closing in the space and giving the impression of a more traditional box set, which serves the play and period fittingly. The centre of the back wall is a large window of opaque plastic, which is then lit from behind (Teddy O’Neill) to assist in setting the scene. While there are some dark spots and unevenness in the lighting, there is a lot of creative use of colour, furthering the playfulness of the show.

The eight actors are all completely committed to the exaggerated characters they play, keeping the pace and energy high throughout. They navigate sections of dialogue and more physical clowning (choreography and clowning by Daniel Nodder) with coordination and aplomb. The accents are consistent and add further levity to the performances, but at times lines are lost as dialogue is not enunciated clearly enough, and we want to catch every word when the pace of the story is so fast.

The play is short and sharp, and put together well with strong performances and technical elements that work in concert, even if I would have liked more material in the dialogue to help tell the story. That said, HAUSDOWN is goofy fun, certainly achieving Inconceivable Productions’ goal to share whimsical, queer joy.