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Picnic at Hanging Rock | Regional News

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Written by: Tom Wright

Directed by: Tanya Piejus

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 11th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Four teenage girls from the private boarding school Appleyard College set off on a picnic to Hanging Rock, a geographical marvel and former volcano in central Victoria, Australia. On Valentine’s Day 1900, Edith, Irma, Marion, and Miranda ascend the monolith. Only Edith comes back. Later, Irma is found bruised, bloody, but alive.

Back at the college, headmistress Mrs Appleyard has turned to the bottle to cope with the growing unrest as more perturbed parents withdraw their daughters from the school. Much to her annoyance, she’s left with orphaned student Sara, a close friend of Miranda’s. Meanwhile, Englishman Mike Fitzherbert nurtures a growing obsession with the mystery.

Tom Wright’s stage adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s acclaimed 1967 historical fiction (or is it?) novel of the same name sees five actors play multiple characters. Between Emily Bell, Lydia Verschaffelt, Gracie Voice, Ava Wiszniewska, and French-accent icon Anna Curzon-Hobson, there’s a handful of distinct roles. For instance, Bell plays Sara beautifully, Voice is the dangerously infatuated Mike, and Wiszniewska tweaks the heartstrings as a traumatised Irma. But they take turns to embody the missing girls, and not in the way you might think. In the opening picnic scenes, the cast speaks in third person, narrating the girls’ actions even when carrying them out. This striking playwrighting choice depersonalises the characters for me, but equally and aptly, intensifies the disorientating sense of unease that builds throughout the play.

The superb cast accentuates the impending sense of doom with performances perfectly sculpted (director Tanya Piejus) to climax at just the right moments. Verschaffelt in particular is a knockout in the final scene (and a wickedly funny drunk as Mrs Appleyard), but the entire cast works as one cohesive, committed unit to hit the horror home. This coupled with Hanging Rock looming large above the action (AV design by Tanisha Wardle), a sparse and haunting sound design by Brian Byas, and well-timed, moody lighting changes (Jamie Byas), and Picnic at Hanging Rock is a thrilling watch.

Bravo to Wellington Repertory Theatre for this stellar production of a story I’m still thinking about. Will somebody please tell me what happened to the missing girls!

Fatal Fame | Regional News

Fatal Fame

Presented by: Dripping Bottle Theatre

Directed by: Lincoln Swinerd

BATS Theatre, 1st Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Murder becomes a regular in this 50-minute solo thriller-comedy. Fatal Fame is Dripping Bottle Theatre’s debut show, and let’s just say that it opens the company’s canon with a bang… literally. The production follows Annie (Zoe Snowdon) as she rises to infamy in the most interesting way possible. Serial killing.

Snowdon’s depiction of Annie is nuanced and realistic. Oftentimes uncomfortably so, as she embodies so excellently what a serial killer can be. We see the not-so-gentle decline of Annie from socially awkward to sociopath. Snowdon’s mannerisms and stage presence culminate in the perfect depiction of a killer who executes each of her victims convincingly, albeit very humorously.

Comedy and thriller make for a combination I didn’t think possible. Fatal Fame proves me wrong. The thriller provides a thought-provoking commentary on how real and present killers can be, and the comedy provides a much-needed escape at times from the dark themes within.

Fatal Fame foreshadows fantastically. Every word and every action has its purpose in the grand scheme of the piece.

The scenography by Scott Maxim is cleverly done. The harsh lighting makes it feel as if Annie is retelling her story through a police interview. I particularly like the motif provided by sound and lighting whenever a murder occurs.

Popping balloons at the end of the show make me incredibly uncomfortable due to my phobia of this. However, I do commend the symbolism provided. Killers such as the fictional Annie take to murder like a pin takes to inflated rubber.

This show is not for the faint of heart, yet it is well crafted. I would urge you to read the content warnings before taking your seat.

Come to Fatal Fame if you don’t mind joining Annie’s rise to popularity. However, your name will be below hers, and you will become a victim of this scarily comedic show.

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io) | Regional News

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io)


133 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

At Wellington’s opening night of the Cinema Italiano Festival, I remember my boyfriend will have to read subtitles during tonight’s screening of The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io). He then reminds me the movie is in Neapolitan, not Italian, so I too will have to read subtitles. You most likely will as well, but don’t let that stop you from catching the film on the 9th or 12th of November at the Embassy Theatre.

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io) is a biopic from director Mario Martone about Neapolitan comic theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, played by the acclaimed Toni Servillo. Written by Martone and Ippolita Di Majo, the story is a beautiful symphony, a celebration of the language and the city, its theatrical heritage and its people.

Renato Berta’s cinematography paired with Giancarlo Muselli and Carlo Rescigno’s production design is testament to Italy’s long legacy of crafting cinematic masterpieces I would gladly hang on the wall of a museum. Actor Eduardo Scarpetta, who plays Vincenzo in the film, is the great-great-grandson of the film’s protagonist, proof of the Scarpetta family’s lasting impression and endurance.  

Set in late 19th and early 20th century Naples, the story follows the rise and fall of this pivotal figure of Italian theatre. And yet I had never heard of him until now. Neither had many of the guests I spoke to after the credits. Gabriele D’Annunzio (Paolo Pierobon), Scarpetta’s contemporary and inadvertent rival, is celebrated the world over. But Scarpetta, who single-handedly took on and, at the time, surpassed the iconic commedia dell’arte character Pulcinella? He is hardly mentioned in our history books. Is it because his artform, parody, is not truly considered art that is worthy of enduring the test of time?

The King of Laughter (Qui Rido Io) tackles this notion. What makes something art? Is it how serious the content is? Or is it its cultural influence or critique? Is it the genre? Or is comedy’s accessibility what makes it important? Either way, the film makes one thing clear: we mustn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Poem of Ecstasy | Regional News

Poem of Ecstasy

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 28th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Kenneth Young describes his Dance as “a celebration of love and life”. It was glorious and exuberant, and it reminded me of the character dances seen in classical ballet, which took me to a memory of Sir Jon Trimmer on stage in one of the character parts he danced later in his career. Trimmer, who had died only two days earlier, was a neighbour and much-loved member of our community and it was lovely to have a memory of him sparked in that way.

From the joy of dance to Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, the mood remained high. If ecstasy comes from bringing together a huge number of musicians, a thoroughly mixed assortment of harmony, rhythm, tempo, volume, and orchestration in a way that pushed boundaries in 1908 and sounded as if it is still on the edge more than 100 years later, then this was it. Learning Scriabin was synaesthetic made sense of the music. If sound was colour for me, I imagine I would also want to celebrate that with noise and complexity.

Principal flautist Bridget Douglas, elevated behind the orchestra, under a single spotlight, played Debussy’s modern interpretation of an ancient Greek story, Syrinx. Douglas is an amazing musician and audience favourite. We were captivated. Conductor Gemma New had earlier asked us not to applaud but to allow the mood to carry into Sibelius’ Luonnotar. The strings set off at urgent pace before soprano Madeleine Pierard started to sing her narrative of the Finnish creation story. A demanding piece by all accounts but absolutely no trouble for Pierard. Her voice is stunning, and she made apparently light work of the difficult leaps and incredible range.

The evening finished as it had started, with a stage full of musicians expertly led by an expressive and expansive conductor. Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2 gave New the opportunity to have the last dance.

The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter | Regional News

The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter

Written by: Helen Moulder and Sue Rider

Directed by: Sue Rider

Circa Theatre, 25th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Helen Moulder has been thrilling audiences at Circa Theatre since the late 1970s and The Bicycle and The Butcher’s Daughter is another solid entry in her canon. It’s a lovely story of familial relationships in a changing world seen through the eyes of five members of a famous clan of butchers who sell their products under the cheesy tagline, “On your feet with Patterson’s Meat!”

In this one-woman show, Moulder plays everyone – businesswoman Olivia, patriarch Sir Harold, arty Jennifer, vegan comedian Lexi, and 11-year-old Grace – alongside a mysteriously mangled bicycle. This simple device cleverly mirrors the unfolding tale of the Pattersons and the fake news scandal that threatens to derail their burgeoning product deal with investors in China.

Each character is exactly drawn and, even without the basic costume changes that slow the pace somewhat, they are clearly rendered through Moulder’s acting skill. Olivia is slick, bossy, and constantly on the phone, wheeling and dealing. 94-year-old Sir Harold potters in his garden while ranting about change and drifts randomly back to “pūkeko pies” in comic outbursts. Lexi’s stand-up comedy routine, starting with a half-consumed banana folded carefully in a beeswax wrap, is sweary, angry, and genuinely funny. Estranged sister Jennifer is artily flaky as she struggles with unfunctional plumbing while trying to open her new gallery on Featherston Street. Finally, 11-year-old Gracie completes the narrative circle and we discover why bicycles are so important in the Pattersons’ family history.

Delivered on a typically sparse Circa Two set, this is an intimate production that mostly uses direct address to engage the audience. Sue Rider’s choice to use scene and costume changes is enhanced through the addition of lively Beethoven sonatas recorded by Juliet Ayre and Richard Mapp and straightforward lighting (design by Giles Burton) that keep the changes interesting.

For 75 minutes of delightful entertainment, you can’t go far wrong with The Bicycle and the Butcher’s Daughter.

MILKOWEEN! | Regional News


Created by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin

Directed by: Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin and Dylan Hutton

BATS Theatre, 25th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Milk, meet Halloween. Halloween, meet milk. MILKOWEEN! is the fourth entry in the canon of Wellington’s wettest show. In this blood-curdling, milk-churning improvised comedy, Ruff as Gutz performers make up a spooky story on the fly while we, the audience, throw water balloons at them whenever we want something to change. Three of these balloons are filled with milk. When one of them explodes, the consequences are so dire, it is worth crying over spilt milk.

In the curious, chaotic case of MILKOWEEN!, audience suggestions result in a terrifying tale set in an abandoned aquarium, where the ghost of Justin Bieber roams the halls, intoning “baby, baby, baby” and terrorising the local residents. Namely, dead fish, two sharks named Bob and Nige, and some dude (Dylan Hutton) who’s been trapped in the closet for at least 30 minutes, if not 45. The sexiest teenagers in all the land – Chad the Jock (Emma Rattenbury), Casey the Cheerleader (Tadhg Mackay), Felicia the Goth (Salomé Grace), and Nigel the Nerd (Zoë Christall) – must unravel the great mystery of the Biebs, all while dodging deadly toenails and attempting to learn the Shark Alphabet (Sharkabet for short).

The MILK concept is fun and funny, wet and wild. As you can imagine, forcing performers to change tack faster than a speeding balloon could be a recipe for disaster. Improv is challenging enough under normal conditions! Dugdale-Martin and Hutton in particular are glorious at responding to our cues, and one magical moment between a brilliant Grace and design leader and technician Jacob Banks serves as the perfect example of concept execution. The quick changes score a high laughter rate overall, a testament to the talent of this troupe. The improvisors all commit to their stereotype designations and conceive impressive character arcs in a short space of time, all the while managing to tie together such extraneous elements as unexpected cousins, interspecies relationships, and aubergines into one cohesive story.

Milky, mercurial madness at its silliest, soggiest, and most delightful.

Double Dipping: Queen & Friend and The Mechanical | Regional News

Double Dipping: Queen & Friend and The Mechanical

Produced by: New Zealand Improv Festival

BATS Theatre, 11th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Two shows for the price of one. What could be better this New Zealand Improv Festival? With just 30 minutes each, Queen & Friend and The Mechanical both manage to pull off a fully formed narrative with multiple characters based on suggestions from an excitable audience.

Using the Slido app, Queen & Friend (Imogen Behan-Willett and Mark Grimes), assisted by tech master Tristram Domican, use the audience’s selection of an inspiring location as their starting point. It’s Gore, South Island. Using clear mime skills, they quickly establish that we’re in Gore’s lone, nameless pub with its only two regular customers. Soon a third character, that of the publican, is introduced. Then the audience gets to pick whose story we follow next, choose-your-own-adventure style. The publican is the popular favourite and we’re off home to his wife, endless schnitzel-making, career angst, and emotionally stunted son.

Creating three characters per scene gives Queen & Friend its distinctiveness. Behan-Willett and Grimes deftly flit between their roles using simple physical moves that are easy to follow and fun to watch, alongside a speedily developed and entertaining storyline.

Next up is The Mechanical (Rik Brown), otherwise known as Tom Snout, the one performer left after his A Midsummer Night’s Dream play-within-a-play castmates have deserted. It soon becomes clear that Brown’s improv skills are a cut above the usual when he invites the audience to give him eight mostly random words that he will weave into a story. What follows – The Tale of the Gross Plumber – is a masterpiece of on-the-spot Shakespearean cleverness of which the Bard himself would have been proud. Weaving in multiple characters and three storylines (the fixing of a leak in the castle kitchen, a homosexual near-encounter on a snow slope, and an onion addiction), Brown uses existentialist mock-Elizabethan language and brilliant physical theatre throughout to take us on a complex and well-rounded story arc. As always with improv, I’m in awe of his instant creativity.

Ruthless! The Musical | Regional News

Ruthless! The Musical

Presented by: Kauri Theatre Company

Directed by: Bonita Edwards

Gryphon Theatre, 11th Oct 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Oh, how I would kill to watch this show again. With music by Marvin Laird and book and lyrics by Joel Paley, Ruthless! is a hilarious musical about a daughter who would do literally anything to get the lead role. Maybe even murder...

With such a talented, professional cast that commits wholeheartedly to the performance, this show is bound to make you laugh. Every quip corrals the audience into collective laughter.

One of the most hilarious moments in the show is Lita Encore’s (Jane Keller) humorous number I Hate Musicals. It’s nice to watch a fellow theatre critic singing on stage. However, I shudder to think how ruthless Lita Encore would be if she ever got the chance to review this show, because Ruthless! deserves all the praise it can get.

I thoroughly love musical director Sarah Lineham’s portrayal of Judy Denmark. Her performance puts me in mind of Rachel Bloom and Jane Krakowski. It is extremely satisfying to see her subtly portray Judy’s character development through the show. Lineham has excellent control of her voice. In saying that, all the performers do, with each musical number a thrill to listen to. It is furthermore impressive that there are no mics used in the show and each performer is able to project their voice so skilfully.  

Addy Stone as Tina is bursting with talent and certainly has a future on the stage (just don’t cast her as an understudy… seriously). I would love to see the other Tinas; I have no doubt they are equally as talented and wish them the best for the season. It’s great to see young actors supporting the cast.

The set (Rob Romijn) is a perfect backdrop for the show. The two different sets between acts cleverly represent the characters’ development. Costumes managed by Cathy Lee epitomise each of the characters and give them even more depth.

This side-splitting show about mother-daughter relationships and the ambitions that can get in the way is not to be missed. You would be ruthless to skip out on this wickedly funny musical.

A Haunting in Venice | Regional News

A Haunting in Venice


103 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

If you’re looking for the perfect spooky-season flick, you’ve found it. A Haunting in Venice ventures into all kinds of dark, dank corners, scary séances, and haunted happenings.

Detective Poirot has retired. He lives in Venice, unbothered – his bodyguard, ex-police officer Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio), sees to that. When his friend, mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) turns up on his doorstep, he reluctantly attends a séance with her in the dilapidated – and supposedly cursed – palazzo of Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). Rowena has employed a medium (Michelle Yeoh) to commune with her dead daughter. What ensues is a twisted, tragic, and titillating tale of terror and tears.

Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as director, producer, and the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot for a third time in A Haunting in Venice. Based on British author Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, the film follows Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, though personally, I think this one is the best so far.

Engaging Hollywood whodunnit horrors are few and far between these days. When done right, they are the perfect balance of fun and profundity. A Haunting in Venice is particularly introspective, with writer Michael Green’s screenplay both clever and affecting. Though there are a few jump scares, what is truly haunting is the trauma the characters grapple with, each one wrestling different demons.

Though I enjoyed A Haunting in Venice immensely, I do have a bit of a bone to pick – and not with the book, which was set in England. Why is it that when movies are set in a ‘foreign’ country, very little energy is dedicated to accuracy? For example, Italy doesn’t celebrate Halloween and Venice is famous for Carnevale, which is a similar vibe. Also, only one character is Italian, a supporting role, despite the story taking place in Italy. Italian names, words, and pronunciations are, more often than not, incorrect. This is a movie with a budget of $60 million, made by some of the brightest minds in the industry. In future, I hope to see major productions doing better research, but for that to happen we’ll all have to hold them more accountable.