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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.

Side by Side by Sondheim | Regional News

Side by Side by Sondheim

Directed by: Emma Kinane

Running at Circa Theatre until 22nd Mar 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Side by Side by Sondheim honours the great Stephen Sondheim with a total of 55 songs by the man himself – 27 of which are performed as a medley, assures Matthew Pike. The composer and lyricist behind such celebrated musicals as Into the Woods, Company, and Sweeney Todd, and the witty wordsmith responsible for hits like Tonight and I Feel Pretty, Sondheim is arguably the greatest American musical theatre artist around today. Dazzling, glamorous, elegant, and brimming with astronomical talent, this show feels every bit the fitting tribute.

With musical director Michael Nicholas Williams and Colin Taylor on a grand piano apiece, Side by Side by Sondheim was always going to be – well, grand. But these musicians are more than just impressive. They play flawlessly, capturing the spirit of Sondheim with doses of humour and gall, especially during interactions with singers Pike, Julie O’Brien, and Sarah Lineham. Williams and O’Brien’s raunchy rendition of I Never Do Anything Twice is one of my show highlights.

With a powerful and inimitable voice that gets deep into your bones, O’Brien is striking. She’s hilarious too; just watch her waddle and effectively rap during Getting Married Today.

Lineham surprises me with an unexpected vigour and a phenomenal range in You Gotta Get A Gimmick. Prior to this piece, her voice is delicate, soft, and lovely, tinkling above the action. She follows up the ‘gimmick’ (hint: there’s a trumpet involved), with an affecting aria. Losing My Mind is the most emotionally resonant moment of the show for me.

Every moment Pike is on stage seems effortless. He glides through the musical with ease and consistency. His voice is pure and unforced, acting as an anchor to O’Brien and Lineham’s. It reaches their heights when he sings in falsetto for a fleeting moment that catches my breath in my chest.

Side by Side by Sondheim is a great excuse to get dressed up, pop the bubbly, and enjoy a wonderful night out at the theatre.

On the Basis of Sex | Regional News

On the Basis of Sex


120 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most famous civil servants in the world. She sits on the US Supreme Court at the age of 85, and is best-known for her work demolishing legislation that discriminates on gender. Her story was always going to be incredible, but in the hands of director Mimi Leder, it becomes even more compelling. On the Basis of Sex at first seems straightforward, even glossy, but excels when it delves into the trickier stuff.

The biopic follows Ruth (Felicity Jones) from her time at Harvard Law School as one of its first-ever female students through to the case that changed everything for her – and America’s women. Along the way, we nestle into her spectacularly functional, progressive marriage with Marty (Armie Hammer), and see first-hand the kind of discrimination that Ruth and her kin were up against.

Despite its long runtime, On the Basis of Sex held me in its thrall. Sure, it was funny when the young Ruth humiliates the sexist, condescending Dean of Harvard Law (Sam Waterston), but the film is its most cutting and fresh when it skewers so-called ‘allies’ of the feminist movement. After graduating, top student Ruth can’t get a job anywhere in New York. One interview seems promising; the interviewing partner seems sympathetic to her plight – but he can’t hire her! What would the wives say? Smarmy ACLU lawyer Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) is for equal treatment for all people under the law, apparently. But he refuses to treat Ruth as his intellectual equal, and after one particular dressing-down even the audience doubts she can win.

These thematic through-lines work so well because they stem from complex social and cultural issues that women and non-binary people are still wading through today. It effectively conveys to the viewer that while ‘the Notorious RBG’ did a lot of important work for gender equality, we’ve still got a way to go. On the Basis of Sex is inspiring, but it never loses sight of the fact that social change is a lot of hard work.

Twelfth Night | Regional News

Twelfth Night

Written by: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Anastasia Matteini-Roberts

BATS Theatre, 12th Feb 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I have seen many adaptations of Twelfth Night, but never one set in a drag club. With high hopes for this 6 Degrees Festival show from the Masters students of the MFA theatre programme at Victoria University of Wellington, I walked through the doors of the BATS Random Stage straight into a rainbow dream. My expectations were met and exceeded by this bright and buoyant production.

The story of Twelfth Night is well told. Siblings Viola (the poised Rebekah Adams) and Sebastian (the gentle Finnian Nacey) are shipwrecked and, both believing the other to be dead, scarper off in different directions. Viola disguises herself as the boy Cesario and enters the service of Duke Orsino (a charming and innocent performance from Simon Davies). The Duke sends his new manservant to profess his love for Olivia (the exquisitely elegant Charli Gartrell), becoming confused by his seemingly homosexual feelings for Cesario in the process. But Olivia falls in love with Cesario too. Viola’s got game.

Chaos ensues, spurred on by drunkard Sir Toby (the show-stopping genius Brianne Kerr), Maria (a-star-has-been-born Nick Erasmuson, performing beautifully in drag), and Fabiana (the energetic Ashleigh Yates), who manipulate everyone around them with surprising agility for people who drink so much. Bearing the brunt of the nasty tricks are Malvolio (the impassioned, yellow-stockings-clad Max Nunes-Cesar) and Sir Andrew (Finnian McCauley delivers the perfect level of silly here). The dancing, singing fool (she-may-as-well-be-Prince-she’s-so-great Ariadne Baltazar) watches all, while Sebastian’s love interest Antonio (the frenzied, fiery Alfredo Gonzalez) pines, and gets arrested. The representation in this production was refreshingly effortless, though I wish more could have been made of this great romance at the end.

Each cast member allowed the next their moment in the spotlight, and what moments they were. Stunning costumes added glitz and glam, and, oh, the dance numbers! Erasmuson’s choreography with Harriet Foster’s sound design? C’est magnifique.

The inclusion of an interval would have made this a near-perfect two hours of theatre.