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Reviews

Juniper | Regional News

Juniper

(M)

94 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Despite Charlotte Rampling’s mesmerising performance, Juniper often feels like a self-aggrandising hodgepodge, so in awe of its star that it loses sight of what the story is trying to achieve. Though it touches on suicide, isolation, mortality, and familial disconnect, the film’s primary message seems to be, ‘can you believe it? We got Charlotte Rampling!’

Juniper introduces George Ferrier as Sam, a self-destructive 17-year-old who begrudgingly returns home from boarding school for the weekend with his dad Robert (Márton Csókás), with whom he barely speaks. There he meets his wheelchair-bound grandmother Ruth (Rampling), a viciously demanding former war photographer with a love for the bottle who has returned to New Zealand from England, and a battle of wills begins.

From that brief synopsis, you might assume Sam is our lead, and I think he is, but the filmmakers don’t. While the opening sequences paint a vivid (if not slightly ham-fisted) portrait of teen angst, the second Ruth is introduced, all that falls by the wayside. To utilise Rampling’s talents sparingly would have been a brave and effective creative decision, but writer-director Matthew Saville loses his nerve early, and Juniper quickly becomes a novelty vehicle for Rampling that follows a trajectory we’ve explored on screen time and time again.

The temptation to give Rampling as much screen time as possible is understandable; she is undeniably magnetic. Poised and charming despite the vile nature of her character, it’s hard to imagine the film would have sustained my gaze had it not been for her ability to add pathos to every line. Ruth, however – like much of the ensemble – is severely underwritten, particularly apparent when the script attempts to break silence with humour; in other words, she says “f**k” a lot, which as we all know, is a very naughty word for an old woman to use.

Sarcasm aside, many people will still find ways to connect with Juniper. Its characters, though somewhat synthetic, are inherently relatable and its story tried and true. In a year of red-hot Kiwi releases, Juniper just isn’t the standout it should be.

I’m Not Going To Lie To You | Regional News

I’m Not Going To Lie To You

Written by: Tessa Redman

Performed by Tessa Redman

BATS Theatre, 27th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Tessa Redman is already onstage dancing energetically to pop music when the BATS audience files in. The pink light (Elekis Poblete Teirney), small bed of potted flowers, and hanging window frame (design by Trantham Gordon) behind which she gyrates are reminiscent of the Amsterdam Red Light District, an appropriate place to start this “solo exploration into female performativity, lust, and uncontrollable desire”.

The aptly described “dance theatre explosion” starts with stylised, kapa haka-like movements, no music, and a declaration from Redman that “I like dancing”. She then states she doesn’t care for the title of the show but hasn’t renamed it because she doesn’t know what it’s about. Clearly, this is the lie, as for the next 60 minutes she performs an energetic, expansive, partly spoken, mostly danced narrative about growing up, meeting an exciting new partner and having sex with them, heartbreak, and learning to love being alone.

Her only companion on this journey is the suspended white window frame that variously becomes a seat, a swing, a confidante, and her first-time lover in a highly entertaining sequence of boring, bad sex performed to Madonna’s Crazy For You.

Redman’s unequivocal talent as a contemporary dancer shines strongest in a manic segment filled with writhing anger and lust, red light, and haunting music (sound design by LANCE). She’s not afraid to get naked on stage, expose her inner desires, and confide her experiences.

The lighting, music, and set design admirably support Redman’s story and choreography, allowing her to be intimate or to break out across the whole, wide stage of the Dome as it suits her need. A gorgeous pink dress and lustier red slip and bikini provide enough costuming to mirror the stages of her sexual and emotional development.

I’m Not Going To Lie To You is brave and sensual, funny and moving, showing us with raw drama what it is to be a young woman navigating the world.

Live Through This  | Regional News

Live Through This

Written by: Jonny Potts and Jean Sergent

Performed by Jonny Potts and Jean Sergent

Running at Circa Theatre until 13th Nov 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Live Through This is a double bill of two solo shows: The Best Show in Town is at Your Place Every Night, written and performed by Jonny Potts, and Change Your Own Life, written and performed by Jean Sergent. The two tragicomedies address love, life, and loss in very different ways.

In The Best Show in Town is at Your Place Every Night, Potts takes the audience on a tour of Wellington’s video shops, from the big players like Amalgamated and United Video to cult icons such as (the still-standing) AroVideo. By ‘takes us on a tour’, I don’t mean Potts waxes lyrical, although he does plenty of that. It is as if we’re on a bus, riding through the suburbs with a suited-up guide whose passion borders on delirium at times. Potts’ references are incendiary, kindled by genius, elusive, alluding always to something lurking beneath. A lover, a mistake, a death.

Lucas Neal’s clever, prop-heavy set here doubles as the video stores of yore and a person’s house (where the best show in town is on every night, of course). Brynne Tasker-Poland’s lighting helps establish drama, setting, and pace – especially when our bus chugs up the one-way hills of our damp city.

Change Your Own Life is Sergent’s true story of losing her best friend and brother nine months apart. As she responds to this insurmountable grief and we learn more about her life, tarot cards are slowly revealed on the back wall. It feels part-confessional, part-seminar, and part-magic, especially thanks to interludes lit in vivid purple and green by Tasker-Poland. Rapid shifts in Sergent’s performance – from gentle to explosive – at first throw me off guard. I come to realise these dramatic contrasts and conflicts must echo her experience. Grief is not linear, pretty, sitting in a shoebox. It’s loud and messy. The lid is open and we cling to those precious shoes, our breath stolen by the unfairness of it all. Thanks to Sergent for this brave, bold, and beautiful work.

Suddenly Last Summer | Regional News

Suddenly Last Summer

Written by: Tennessee Williams

Directed by: Emily K. Brown

Gryphon Theatre, 20th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

As a 90-minute one-act play, this rarely performed work by American great Tennessee Williams is unusual. His work is always intense and lyrical and this piece is especially so. Its language is visceral and violent and yet devastatingly beautiful.

Society doyenne Violet has invited to her home a young doctor hoping to benefit from her philanthropy to discuss performing a lobotomy on Catherine, Violet’s young niece. Catherine was the only witness to the death of Violet’s son Sebastian and shutting her away in a mental hospital run by nuns hasn’t been enough to stop her babbling about what happened suddenly last summer in Spain when he met his end.

It’s tempting to resort to histrionics when performing Williams, but the excellent cast, under the careful direction of Emily K. Brown, exercise restraint in their performances which are all the more powerful because of it. As Catherine, Margot van de Water is astounding. We are left in no doubt as to the trauma caused by what she has witnessed and when she reveals the gruesome truth about Sebastian’s death, it is truly shocking.

Stephanie Gartrell clearly enjoys inhabiting the daiquiri-swilling shrew that is Violet and as the earnest Dr Cukrowicz, Slaine McKenzie excels. Helen Mackenzie and Finn Nacey provide energetic and petulant support as grasping relatives. Simran Rughani and Maria Buchanan make the most of their smaller roles as housemaid and nun.

The simple garden set with its lush pot plants and creeping ivy provides an appropriately sub-tropical background to the narrative. Whoever painted the floor deserves a special mention for their beautifully rendered flagstones.

The lighting (Riley Gibson) is exceptionally well designed and responsive to the action on stage and the wardrobe (Mandy Watkins and Cara Ngajar) is lush and period appropriate.

Everything about this production is polished and professional, which is even more impressive when you consider that the country went into COVID lockdown a week from its original opening in August. Full marks, Wellington Repertory Theatre.

Ted Talks Crimes | Regional News

Ted Talks Crimes

Written by: Jeremy Hunt and Ricky Dey

Directed by: Ben Ashby

BATS Theatre, 19th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

When performer Jeremy Hunt announced that Ted Talks Crimes is a work in progress, my jaw dropped open. I’ve never seen a more developed development season! On as part of the TAHI Festival of Solo Performance, this brilliant one-man show needs little improvement, but because Hunt asked, and seeing as I’m in the business of feedback…

Ted (Hunt) is a New York crim who collects money on behalf of his mafia boss, The Don. Ted’s chosen debt-extraction method is the talk of the town. He’s a formidable tickler. After tickling the life out of one too many down-and-out marks, he begins to re-evaluate his life decisions. What kind of legacy will he leave behind? Is tickling for money a good use of his time? And why is his cut so small… Wait, I mean, is he a good man?

So begins this mile-a-minute tale of soul-searching, vengeance, and deadly bananas.

Utilising different accents to great effect (occasionally slipping out of Ted’s Italian Brooklyn lilt but mostly keeping it up), Hunt embodies multiple characters with ease, flair, and commanding physicality. His sense of comic timing perfectly serves the script (Hunt and Ricky Dey), especially when it comes to the deliciously obscure anecdotes and references woven throughout. Ted Talks Crimes is rife with my favourite kind of absurdism, where the unusual and usual squelch into a potion of crab jelly that occasionally smacks you in the face, killing you instantly, but mostly smiles down at you from its innocuous jar on the shelf. I swear this reference is relevant.

Bekky Boyce’s lighting design effortlessly distinguishes the setting as we hop between a market, an office, a bar, and more. There’s just the right amount of set furnishings and props – many of which rouse a wicked laugh – but I’d love to see a louder and more dramatic sound design (director Ben Ashby) that hypes up the drama and plays into the emotional moments, like when Ted’s life is changed by a kindly gorilla.

Whānau | Regional News

Whānau

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards

BATS Theatre, 19th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The theme of this uplifting TAHI Festival production is exactly what you’d expect from the title – family. More precisely, “lifting the lid on the complexity of family relationships from disastrous to delicious”.

This aim is achieved through four actors (Emma Katene, Daniel Gagau, Ngahiriwa Rauhina, and Melissa Sutherland) performing 13 short extracts from 11 solo works by New Zealand writers. With the help of assorted chairs, a few bits of wardrobe, and a couple of props, they deliver warm, empathetic, poignant, and often laugh-out-loud vignettes of what it means to have whānau.

The playwrights whose work is showcased here are Vela Manusaute, Felix Desmarais, Rob Mokaraka, Jamie McCaskill, Toa Fraser, John Broughton, Emily Duncan, Tom Scott, Melissa Sutherland (doing admirable double duty as playwright and actor), and Nicola Pauling. Each has their own rich way of shining light on the trials of being human through the lens of family.

The lovingly created characters we meet over the hour of the production range from a miracle baby produced from the remaining half of a fallopian tube after several ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, to an 11-year-old girl with a superhero Samoan mum, a literal and metaphorical Karen and her daughter, a young man revelling in his half-Māori/half-Pākehā ancestry, a family with projectile-vomiting children heading to the beach, and an angry mum whose kids have been removed by CYFS.

Co-directors Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards have chosen their extracts carefully and well. In addition to being woven together by theme, the pieces flow seamlessly from one to the next with appropriate music, well-applied projection onto the back wall of the theatre, sensitive lighting, and some cool dance moves from the actors who occasionally interact.

The mark of a successful theatre production is that you’re left wanting more. I could have happily watched this group of talented actors telling their uniquely Kiwi stories with genuine pathos and humour well into the night.

No Time to Die | Regional News

No Time to Die

(M)

164 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While a fitting farewell to Daniel Craig’s James Bond, much of No Time to Die feels like a wash, rinse, repeat exercise. A committed and likeable ensemble cast and vicious action sequences keep it from growing stale, but on a scale of Craig’s Bond films, it winds up somewhere in the middle: not great, not bad, just okay.

A direct sequel to 2015’s Spectre, No Time to Die is the 25th entry in the James Bond franchise and the fifth to star Craig as the illusive MI6 agent. Bond has settled down with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and ditched the secret agent life, until his old friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), shows up with a new mission: to rescue a kidnapped scientist and prevent the mysterious Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) from unleashing a deadly nanoscopic weapon on the world. Meanwhile, Bond must play nice with Nomi (Lashana Lynch), the new 007. 

Unlike the previous actors who have taken up the mantle, Craig’s Bond films are interconnected. It would seem the stage has been set for a grand finale, but instead, No Time to Die feels like a check list, a movie attempting to wrap up 15 years of story arcs and present an entertaining one-off adventure. Even with its 164-minute runtime, it’s too much to contain.

Given the wealth of characters crammed into this tale, it’s no surprise that some fall flat while others soar. Craig delivers a performance on par with his others, though he doesn’t quite tap into the raw energy and emotional gravitas found in Casino Royale and Skyfall. Of the new additions, Ana de Armas shines brightest as Paloma, a fresh-faced CIA agent with a whole lot of ambition and very little training, though I wish her screentime extended past a single sequence. Sadly, Malek’s Safin feels like every Bond villain mashed into one, and while Nomi’s presence creates an interesting dilemma for Bond, she isn’t given the space to develop as an individual.

No Time to Die feels plot-heavy where it should have felt emotionally driven. As the cherry on top of Craig’s run, it plays well. On its own, it doesn’t stand toe to toe with the best of the series.

Peregrine V | Regional News

Peregrine V

Directed by: Jonathan Briden

BATS Theatre, 16th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Clearly drawing heavily on cult sci-fi TV shows like Star Trek and Babylon 5, Peregrine V starts with a smart projected introduction to the improvised tale of a rag-tag spaceship crew that we are about to see created.

The all-knowing computer then randomly assigns six actors (Gabrielle Raz-Liebman, Jerome Cousins, Malcolm Morrison, Brendon Bennetts, Emma Maguire, and Liz Butler) their characters. They are of varying species with an expected collection of roles on the ship ranging from the shapeshifting captain and human engineer to the mutant therapist and AI entertainer. Also along for the ride are an avian diplomat and an amphibian mercenary. The actors gamefully embrace these characters, give them names, and set the audience and themselves off on a journey of discovery.

An added element of character is the beautifully animated talking computer (operated by director Jonathan Briden) that always sits on the wall behind the actors and offers droll commentary, jokes, and interaction with the characters, even condemning one of them to death with a coldness reminiscent of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The story that unfolds is more existential than the typical storylines of the TV series this show pays homage to. Some characters are not who they appear to be, causing significant angst among the crew, much of which neatly unfolds in the therapist’s office. My favourite line of the night is “I smell emotions!” yelled by the therapist just before he bounds on stage to analyse another tortured crewmate.

Costuming plays a significant part and each actor selects an appropriate outfit, which some alter to good effect during the course of the narrative to reflect their story arcs. Sound effects (Briden again) and lighting (Bethany Miller) are also used well to give context to what the actors are doing and mark the end of short scenes.

All involved with this NZ Improv Festival show obviously enjoy the sci-fi genre and its tropes and create an irrepressibly fun hour of nerdy entertainment.

The I-Files | Regional News

The I-Files

Directed by: Daniel Allan and Laura Irish

BATS Theatre, 13th Oct 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

All power to BATS for pushing ahead with the NZ Improv Festival under COVID Alert Level 2 and making it work. Suitably spooky music from the keyboard of Matt Carroll greeted the masked-up audience as they entered the Random Stage and found their physically distanced seats for this one-off supernatural story.

Those familiar with The X-Files would have immediately recognised the premise of this show with intrepid Agents Smoulder and Gully of the Federal Bureau of Improvisation investigating the unusual disappearance of an unnamed woman who has been drawn into a desert canyon near Cactustown, Arizona by mysterious voices from the past.

Even though some of them are too young to have seen the original TV show, the ensemble cast of Aaron Douglas, Christine Brooks, Ben Jardine, Liz Butler, Trubie Dylan-Smith, Laura Irish, and Daniel Allan cleverly weave a tale worthy of the X-Files scriptwriters using the scant offering of a generic outdoor location from an audience member.

Utilising their enviable physical theatre and characterisation skills, we’re soon introduced to hapless white-trash couple Clarice and Chuck and their parents, the local sheriff and his wannabe deputy Cletis, an 86-year-old librarian, and The Town Psychic. Collectively, they help the agents solve the mystery of the Lost Girls who disappeared on a Hanging Rock-style picnic in 1903 and have now somehow been transformed into a drooling monster from an unearthly, triangle-based realm, accessed through Cactus No. 3, that just wants a family. They even manage to exploit the underlying sexual tension between Mulder and Scully that so titillated X-Files audiences in the 1990s.

The cast are supported by appropriate lighting changes and blackouts that occasionally cut them off or leave them hanging to hilarious effect and Carroll’s background music that neatly highlights the tense finale. Some basic costuming and four red blocks provide just enough setting.

The great joy of improv is that you never see the same show twice and as a one-off festival performance, The I-Files delivered in spades.