Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Tchaikovsky 5 | Regional News

Tchaikovsky 5

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Han-Na Chang

Michael Fowler Centre, 18th May 2024

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Han-Na Chang showed herself to be a passionate, expressive, and energetic conductor. Born in Korea, Chang was an acclaimed cellist at the age of 11, winning a major international competition before later turning to conducting.

Opening the concert was a new work by New Zealander Leonie Holmes, I watched a shadow. Holmes created a dense, multi-layered soundscape, the swirling texture frequently pierced by higher, sharper, or louder interjections. Inspired by a poem that depicts a shadow climbing and gradually extinguishing the light on a hill, the work ends with a fortissimo climax which Chang exploited to the full.

The second work in the concert was Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote, depicting episodes from the 17th-century novel about the hapless, would-be knight adventurer, and his off-sider Sancho Panza. The solo cello part, played by Andrew Joyce, represented the Don, while Sancho Panza is represented principally by a viola played by Julia Joyce. The work is inventive, energetic, and varied in texture and mood, sometimes dramatic and heroic, sometimes lyrical, and often straight-up hilarious, as when the orchestra becomes a flock of sheep which the deluded hero imagines is an enemy to be attacked. It felt to me that the Don’s musical character got a bit submerged in the riotousness of the orchestral parts. On the other hand, it was great for once to hear a viola in an extended solo part.

Tchaikovsky’s well-loved Symphony No. 5 concluded the performance. A theme, known as the Fate theme, runs through the four movements, with mournful foreboding about fate gradually giving way to a heroic and optimistic acceptance of it. Beautiful melodies abound and there are wonderful opportunities for flute, oboe, bassoon, and horn to shine. Chang’s robust and dramatic interpretation drew the best from the orchestra and engendered wild applause from an appreciative audience.

Back to Black | Regional News

Back to Black


122 minutes

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I have been listening to Amy Winehouse every day for almost a week now. I go to bed with You Know I’m No Good playing in my head like a lullaby. I’m singing Valerie in the shower, strolling through Wellington to F*** Me Pumps, belting out Rehab in the car where no one will hear my voice breaking to keep up with hers.

After watching Back to Black I tried to sit down and write this review, but something wasn’t sitting right, so in the name of journalistic integrity I watched the 2015 documentary Amy. Now I understand that Back to Black is not about the GRAMMY®-winning jazz singer, it’s about an incomplete idea of her. It’s a shadow without even a glimmer of her complex, sincere, fiery soul.

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson with screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, the only reason I give this biopic two stars is for the exceptional effort of actress Marisa Abela as our chanteuse. She captures Winehouse’s mannerisms and sings her words with commendable intensity.

I’ve come to learn that Back to Black was made alongside the Winehouse estate – though Taylor-Johnson vehemently denies any input from the family. However, when juxtaposing the biopic with Asif Kapadia’s award-winning Amy, which is narrated in majority by the singer herself, it becomes clear that this 2024 dramatisation is just that – fictionalised. It’s skewed, taking out any agency or wholeness and reducing Winehouse’s short albeit bright life entirely to her relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil (played admirably by Jack O’Connell).

I’d like to add here that Winehouse’s father Mitch criticised and rebuked the validity of Amy, which depicts him in an all-too glaring light, something Back to Black is careful to avoid, going so far as to justify his inertia as naïveté. The biopic rescinds the narrative that the documentary has restored to Winehouse. It absolves any blame from her family, management, fans, and the media, depicting her as girlish and weak. It revokes her agency, her tortured genius, and the fierce spirit that made her special. It reduces her to an inevitable casualty.

Don’t watch Back to Black to get a glimpse of Amy. Listen to her music and you will see her.

Pus Goose | Regional News

Pus Goose

Presented by: Brynley Stent

BATS Theatre, 14th May 2024

Reviewed by: Matt Jaden Carroll

Brynley Stent is a Billy T Award-winning comedian who you may recognise from Taskmaster NZ. Pus Goose is a… wait, what is a “pus goose”? It sounds like some sort of scary monster from a bizarre horror movie. Well, as it turns out, Pus Goose is a show all about fear and just how ridiculous it can be.

Perhaps this is technically a stand-up show, but right from the start it feels nothing like one. Unlike most stand-up comedy, Pus Goose has a subtle theatrical atmosphere, evoking the nostalgia, light horror, and wonder you might associate with a Stranger Things episode. Stent’s NZ International Comedy Festival show is introduced and contextualised through the world of a spooky childhood board game. Using the game, she bouncily guides us through the dark glowing realms of her silliest fears – and with each one, we jump through a portal into an absurd tale from her life.

Pus Goose seems to be what happens when a rambunctious theatre kid insists on doing stand-up comedy. As a result of this collision, Stent breaks free from many of the limitations associated with the format. While she tells stories, impressions and sketches become highlights rather than asides, and it’s all richly decorated with infographics, videos, voiceovers, sound effects, and lighting.

The atmosphere may suggest a more serious show – but to be clear, the content ranges from quizzing the audience on the sex appeal of Cadbury Yowies, to a riveting impression of an office printer. Stent is upbeat, joyfully chaotic, and wildly expressive. She’s like that one friend who just has to act out stories for you – except this time, the friend is hilarious and armed with a special effects department.

Overall, Pus Goose successfully combines effects and immersion with the stand-up experience of laughing among your mates. Stent goes beyond expressing herself with the content of her work to express herself with the medium too. Unfortunately, now my next conversation is going to feel woefully incomplete without slideshows and sound effects.

Purple is the Gayest Colour | Regional News

Purple is the Gayest Colour

Written by: Alayne Dick

BATS Theatre, 11th May 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Alayne Dick never forgets an insult. In fact, she wrote a whole show about it, coming at you as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival. She describes herself at the start as “a lesbian who makes jokes on the internet, which makes men on the internet mad”. It’s easy to see how this adorably nerdy librarian in a purple T-shirt, shorts, high-top sneakers, and rainbow socks, with big glasses, lusciously long hair, and an obviously genital surname might upset fragile male (and probably some female) egos. She’s smart, sassy, and a whole bunch funnier than every incel on the web.

I feel seen when she starts talking about reviewers needing to use her surname in their reviews and its hilarious results: “Dick has us hungry for more” or, less kindly but perhaps more appropriately, “Dick always disappoints”.

The lack of pockets in jeggings, Vin Diesel’s ludicrously low voice, being an only child, the creepiness of pre-schoolers, Beaver Town Blenheim, the Boomer obsession with small-town murder TV, and many other subjects come under Dick’s frenetic but laser-like focus over the course of this comedy hour.

Occasional bursts of modern jazz dance accompany the high-energy delivery, but it’s not all frivolous. Like all good self-effacing stand-up, there are moments of intimacy and pathos as Dick relates her teenage dive into gay fan fiction due to the lack of good queer media – apart from Glee, obviously – and her relationship with her stoic, uncommunicative dad.

I particularly relate to her description of going to an uptight all-girls school that was simultaneously conservative and gay, then becoming a convincing vegetarian to qualify for the limited number of much tastier non-meat meals in her university hall canteen. And I’m totally going to take up her suggestion of making sure I have uninvited chaotic exes to yell “I object!” at my next wedding.

Dick doesn’t disappoint, it turns out.

Over 50,000,000 Guy Fans Can’t Be Wrong | Regional News

Over 50,000,000 Guy Fans Can’t Be Wrong

Presented by: Guy Montgomery

The Opera House, 11th May 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I am one of Guy Montgomery’s 50 million fans and I’m not wrong. A multi-award-winning, instantly recognisable face on the New Zealand comedy circuit, you may remember Guy from the “proudly stupid” clip show Fail Army or the smash-hit podcast The Worst Idea of All Time in which he and Tim Batt dissected the same bad movie over and over again. Maybe you’ve seen him on Taskmaster NZ, Celebrity Treasure Island, or Have You Been Paying Attention?. However you’ve come to know him, you’ve hopefully come to love his distinct brand of comedy like I have.

It’s one that’s very difficult to describe, but that’s my job so here goes. Surrealism meets precision, absurd observations make sense as Montgomery rolls onto the stage, stoked and surprised we’re clapping, to spin bizarre, brilliant yarns that feel erratic and tangential until you realise how intricate, how interconnected they are. He applies razor-sharp wit to the obscurest of obscurities, leaning into the illusion of being barely “smarter than a fish” when secretly, sneakily, his content is cleverer than a 12-year-old pretending to be an 11-year-old at the airport so they can receive special treatment as an unaccompanied minor. Inside joke.

I last saw Montgomery live at the 2023 NZ International Comedy Festival at Te Auaha, an excellent but much smaller venue. In Over 50,000,000 Guy Fans Can’t Be Wrong, he’s sold out The Opera House and hypothesises that the 1400-strong crowd may well be there to see him. He informs us that we’re in for “mostly sentences” and proceeds to string loads of hilarious ones together about lesbians, New Year’s resolutions, urinals, greyhounds, and more. Peppered with syllabic stress in all the wrong places, disarming and natural crowd chat, effortlessly awkward charm, and the occasional startling bellow, Montgomery’s delivery makes every sentence all the more genius. I laugh and laugh, even during the ones about sportsball despite having zero investment in the subject.

A comedian that continues to grow from strength to strength, Guy Montgomery will likely soon have 50 million-bajillion fans. Join them and you, too, can’t be wrong.

The Grand Gesture  | Regional News

The Grand Gesture

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 4th May 2024

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

This was a brilliantly designed and executed concert. The theme for The Grand Gesture was to illustrate how composers often go to the music of fellow composers, past and present, for inspiration. In this concert, Stravinsky’s Suite from Pulcinella borrowed from works composed by 18th century Pergolesi, Handel modelled his Concerti Grossi on forms used by his contemporary Corelli, while 20th century Lukas Foss’ Baroque Variations transformed baroque works by Handel, Scarlatti, and Bach.

This borrowing was illustrated by unexpected solo performances of source works at the start of each half of the programme. The soloists, violinist Amalia Hall and harpsichord player Jonathan Berkahn, were spotlit in the darkened hall as they played. Magic!

Pulcinella is an appealing work, full of good rhythms, good tunes, and good humour. Maybe the orchestra was a bit tentative at the start but it was a spirited performance on the whole. There were lots of opportunities for individual instruments to shine, especially in the wind and brass sections.

The soloists for Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins were Amalia Hall and Monique Lapins. It’s an immensely lovely work with the two violins echoing and chasing each other. I also enjoyed the fine basso continuo work of the cellos and double basses. Handel’s grand gesture, Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 12, also featured Hall and Lapins with principal cellist Inbal Megiddo. Again, this was elegantly played with clarity and balance by soloists and orchestra.

Then came Foss’ work! His sources were transformed, so that one heard sometimes just a ghost of the original, with strings bowing some notes silently or playing half phrases completed by other instruments. The effect was like splintered sound in an echo chamber. Foss also marshalled an array of unusual percussion in the last movement. It was wild. Taddei compared it to an old-fashioned acid trip!

End of Summer Time | Regional News

End of Summer Time

Written by: Roger Hall

Directed by: Ross Jolly

Circa Theatre, 4th May 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The third play featuring dairy farmer Dickie Hart, this is Roger Hall’s ode to a generation of staunch Kiwi blokes who will be gone in the next couple of decades. It’s 2023 and Dickie (Gavin Rutherford) is looking back on his and his wife’s relocation to an apartment on Auckland’s North Shore four years earlier to be near their sons. It’s all body corporate politics, flirtations and friendships with new neighbours, and secret trips to McDonald’s with his vegan grandchildren until COVID strikes and Dickie’s life takes a different tack.

The first half is entertaining but light as Dickie adjusts to his new world away from 5am calls for milking. At interval, I’m left wondering if this is just a pleasant comedy about an irascible but loveable character or whether something more meaningful will eventuate. The payoff comes early in the second half as, with what has become a typically unsentimental delivery, Dickie reveals a shocking detail. The humour then takes a much darker and more powerful turn and by the end, it feels like we’ve been allowed a privileged window into Dickie’s life and shared in both his grief and joy.

Right from his opening dad dance to the introductory music, Rutherford is on fire as Dickie. His performance is utterly engaging from go to whoa. He’s worked with director Ross Jolly more than a few times and it shows in what is a beautifully sculpted piece of character work. Building even more layers into Dickie’s persona than there are in Hall’s well-wrought script, Rutherford’s movements, voices, and expressions add colour and detail to Dickie’s inner world so that we know what he’s thinking and feeling even when he doesn’t say it.

The lovely set (Andrew Foster), creative lighting (Marcus McShane), and occasional sound and AV design (Piper Kilmister) enhance Rutherford’s performance with a touch of technical magic.

This may be the end of Dickie’s summer, but something tells me Roger Hall has more seasons left to his work.

The Fall Guy | Regional News

The Fall Guy


126 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I chose to see The Fall Guy at a time when cinemas were only screening overdone sequels and the odd feature about the depressing state of our world politics. It turned out to be a very fun, feel-good, action-packed rom com that pleasantly surprised me.

In this David Leitch flick loosely based on the 1980s series of the same name, stuntman Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) has recently lost his career and girlfriend Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) following a life-threatening accident on set. He jumps at the opportunity to reclaim his position as stuntman for star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and win back his lost love, who happens to be directing the movie. When he touches down in Sydney for the shoot, what ensues is a wild goose chase to track down the missing lead actor while continuing to show up at his day job.

The Fall Guy is a nod to the unsung heroes of Hollywood. Named stunt designer rather than stunt coordinator, Chris O’Hara is recognised for his craft’s artistry in the credits, not to mention the premise underscoring the irony of acknowledging only the big wigs on a production. As the credits roll, actual stunt footage is screened that includes a record-breaking vehicular cannon roll.

The Fall Guy won’t win any prizes, namely because stunt people are not recognised at award ceremonies and the plot leaves a lot to be desired, but the actors have great chemistry, the script (Drew Pearce) has its fair share of laughs, the soundtrack (Dominic Lewis) is banging, and by golly, practical moviemaking finally makes a comeback.

CGI changed the way movies are made. I know the work involved, but digital effects take away some of the industry’s heart. What always makes me stare wide-eyed up at the screen is the sorcery of practical effects. There’s a reason cult classics have withstood the test of time – not because they are feats of technical engineering but because they were made with pure, unadulterated movie magic. The Fall Guy brought this back for me.

PopRox Improv Comedy Nights | Regional News

PopRox Improv Comedy Nights

Presented by: PopRox

Circa Theatre, 28th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

On the last Sunday of every month, local improv troupe PopRox puts on an immersive, cabaret-style improv show in the restaurant, bar, and foyer of Circa Theatre. Tonight’s story, creatively directed by MC Jed Davies and produced by Dylan Hutton, starts at Mainland Automotive. Here, Jonny Paul’s Tony (not to be confused with Tony from Tony’s Tyre Service) toils away fruitlessly until he joins forces with a very smart professor (Lia Kelly) who helps him build flying cars. Soon, the shop will become more successful than even Mainland Cheese.

Prior to the breakthrough, it’s chaos. Mainland Automotive’s employee Sally (Nina Hogg) never shows up because she’s too busy working her other job as a news reporter. Sarah (Tara McEntee) is in a rut and cannot escape the butt-dent on her couch. A really large building is on fire, and no one inside is stoked about it. Especially not the fire warden (Davies).

Isaac Thomas adds exceptional guitar to the action that matches the vibes at all times, while lighting designer and operator Sam Irwin utilises a neat red wash on the fly as the fire blazes, burning brighter by the minute.

Given the space, I was expecting a bit more interaction and wandering, if you will, from both the cast and audience. We’re told we can get up at any time but no one really does, which I suspect comes down to our ingrained theatre etiquette. More crowd work to help us loosen up and move around would go down a treat.

The cast utilises the space to create a show highlight when they spread out to play Sarah’s conscience, booming platitudes and cryptic clues in surround sound. More fantastic moments stem from the seamless integration of theatre sports and improv games – like when Hogg, Paul, and Kelly combine into an all-knowing entity to demand we “Ask another question!”

Improv done right is one of the best things you’ll see, so go see PopRox. I’m in awe of these expert players, who make up a riotous story, then tie all its loose ends in a bow like wings on a car in five minutes flat. What an uplifting end to my week.