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Reviews

Houstoun/Triumph! | Regional News

Houstoun/Triumph!

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 30th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Ko Tō Manawa, Ko Tōku: Puritia. Your heart is my heart: Take Hold, composed by Rob Thorne and orchestrated by Thomas Goss, opened this concert. It featured three traditional Māori instruments, a conch shell, a double flute, and a nose flute played by Rob Thorne, plus electric guitar played by Tristan Dingemans (aka Kahu) and full orchestra. It was a full-on orchestral piece which fortunately left space for the subtle and gentle sounds of the taonga puoro, but managed to almost completely obscure the guitar.

This concert also featured Samuel Barber’s piano concerto, the third of his concerti to be played by Orchestra Wellington in 2019. It was a great vehicle for Michael Houstoun’s virtuosity. It was percussive with great clotted chords and fierce rhythms, strings of fast runs, trills, and glissandi. A more lyrical passage late in the first movement and the more reflective and elegiac beginning of the second movement were a welcome contrast to the rather strident drama of the work as a whole. Not the greatest work with which to appreciate Houstoun’s full capacities, perhaps.

Finally, there was that astounding and wonderful work, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8. Originally interpreted as depicting the Stalingrad battle, Shostakovich later implied that the symphony was composed in reaction to the devastation wrought by Stalin on Russian life. The work depicts the emotions of horror, fear, dazed disbelief, and despair in the face of chaos, destruction, and extermination. Thumping drums, screaming piccolo, crashing cymbals, and brass and violins at their upper range evoke the shattering world. Many individual players made brilliant contributions, notably the piccolo, flute, cor anglais, and bass clarinet, but it was the orchestra as a whole and the conductor who made this a very memorable performance. There is never a meaningless note in this composition and that is how it was played.

Orchestra Wellington’s 2019 season was called “EPIC!” and this final offering was certainly that.

7 Days Live | Regional News

7 Days Live

Michael Fowler Centre, 23rd Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

7 Days is by far my favourite TV Three show. I love nothing more than curling up on the couch on a Friday night to watch comedians ‘discuss’ the news. With a core team of Jeremy Corbett, Paul Ego, and Dai Henwood, and such regular guests as Justine Smith, Ben Hurley, Josh Thomson, and Jeremy Elwood, the jokes are always fire. But it’s the camaraderie that really makes the show shine. It’s clear these guys are mates, so when they rip each other to pieces, we know it’s all in good fun.

That’s what makes us more inclined to accept the inappropriate jokes too, though seeing 7 Days Live made me realise just how much happens behind the screens. Corbett told me about 50 percent of what they record for each episode makes it onto the telly. Now that I’ve been to the live, uncensored show, I reckon it’s more like 20 percent.

The first half of 7 Days Live sees each comedian deliver a seven-minute stand-up set. Ego does an awesome stick man impression, Hurley waxes lyrical about the removal of his body hair, Thomson reveals the joys of having children, and Elwood tells a joke about how women never go for the nice guys. Funny how it’s only ever the ‘nice guys’ who say this, huh? With her unabashed set about shrill women versus lazy men, Smith is the one who smashes the house down, but each 7 Days comedian is at the top of their game.

In the second half, the audience is treated to the 7 Days we see on TV and then some. Corbett is the perfect host, knowing when to drive the action forward and when to let the good times roll. Henwood is my favourite in this act for his brilliant randomness, though a joke he makes about Down’s syndrome is not cool.

For the most part, 7 Days Live overflows with intelligent, hilarious comedy. There’s no doubt it’s a blimmin’ good time. But with cheap jokes that bring minorities down, methinks the editors can stick around.

Uma Lava | Regional News

Uma Lava

Written by: Victor Rodger

Directed by: Vela Manusaute

Circa Theatre, 22nd Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Three unpleasant people find themselves locked in a room together. Reverend Stella (Goretti Chadwick), academic Lina (Anapela Polata’ivao), and politician Garth (Mario Faumui) each operate under the guise of benevolence, pretending to serve others while only looking out for number one. In Uma Lava, all three of them pay for it.

The first thing I’d like to say about Uma Lava is that I should have stood up at the end of it. I think my legs had turned to lead from shock, my brain too busy trying to process the depraved hour I’d just witnessed (read: screamed through). I’ve never seen anything more outrageous, crass, or disgusting. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more real, raw, or bold. In the programme notes, Victor Rodger says writing Uma Lava was the most fun he’s ever had in his life. After watching it, I could say the same.

Now that the gushing is (nearly) over, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I can’t spoil the overall premise of the show, but the room it all takes place in is superbly designed (Sean Coyle), with Jennifer Lal’s dramatic lighting scheme raising the stakes. Filth and muck pervade the space – so much so, I swear I could smell one scene. However, that’s partly a credit to Polata’ivao and her fearless embrace of such a nauseating character.

Chadwick is totally transformed from her role in Still Life With Chickens, delivering flawless comedic timing and pretty sweet dance moves. Paul McLaughlin (known simply as T.D) plays evil with glee. Faumui is the anchor, holding it all together as the one we love to hate the most. His character has zero remorse – even at the very end.

The very end, as it were, sees each character realise they are never, ever getting out of that room. Watching the revelation dawn on all three faces reminds me of the incomparable power of the theatre. It’s a moment – and a play – that will stay with me forever.

Resurrection | Regional News

Resurrection

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Edo de Waart

Michael Fowler Centre, 22nd Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The NZSO set about performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Resurrection, a panoptic musical opus. From the addition of two vocal soloists and the combined efforts of the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and the Orpheus Choir, to a panoramic soundscape achieved through off-stage horns and woodwinds, Resurrection was packed with surprises. Conductor Edo de Waart’s effortless control over the 220-odd musicians involved was astounding.

Mahler’s second symphony was a fantastic example of the variety and innovation that can be found in classical music of this period. Debuted in 1895, the relatively modern work encompassed that which came before it but even now feels futuristic in its approach. Menace and triumph, romance and betrayal, there was no end to the stories it had to tell.

Soprano Lauren Snouffer and mezzo-soprano Anna Larsson had one hell of a job. To rise above such a kaleidoscopic sound was no mean feat, but both voices flew with ease. Larsson’s solo was a highlight, with a mellow tone warm enough to melt butter but strong enough to convey the symphony’s darker moments.

Other highlights included a sinister introduction from the cellos (a section that stood out for their solidarity throughout the performance), strong percussion with the most powerful timpani rolls these ears have heard, and a sweet pizzicato segment in the second movement, which the strings nailed.

It all came together in the epic climax, which the orchestra pushed through with total clarity despite their numbers. If anything was lacking in this moment it was the choirs, their sound slightly drowned at the back of the Michael Fowler Centre.

In his final Wellington performance as musical director for the NZSO, de Waart proved himself as a force that will be missed. Under his cool, calm baton, I was almost fooled into believing this was just another performance, rather than an ambitious, striking, and graceful exit.

Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime | Regional News

Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Susan Wilson

Running at Circa Theatre until 22nd Dec 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Alice (the eternally energetic Natasha McAllister) is a smart, capable student who wouldn’t put a toe out of line. When her friend White Rabbit (the luminous Sarah Lineham) shows up hyped up on energy drinks and off to a party in Wonderland, Alice becomes curiouser and curiouser. Just where is this topsy-turvy Wonderland where animals pet humans and the Ps are silent?

Hoping for an audition with Alice’s uncle Peter Jackson, aspiring actress and hand model Dame Marjori (the best Dame yet from Gavin Rutherford) follows Alice down the rabbit hole.

In Wonderland, Alice and Marjori meet Mad Hatter (technically Mad Phatter, played by a delightfully loopy Simon Leary), Tweedle Dum (some sparky moments from Andrew Paterson) and Tweedle Dee (gorgeous vocals but a bit of a subdued performance from Susie Berry), and a host of other kooky characters. They’re all under the thumb of the fierce, sassy Queen of Hearts (standout performer Jonathan Morgan) and her beastly Jabberwock.

Of course, there’s singing and dancing galore (musical direction and arrangement by Michael Nicholas Williams, musical staging by Leigh Evans). While the whole cast is vocally proficient, the songs are set too low for a lot of the voices. This means there aren’t many moments for the singing to shine.

The Circa Theatre pantomime is an uproarious affair for adults and children alike. Topical, localised jokes keep the grownups cackling while the littlies enjoy action and interaction in spades (or in this case, hearts). A touching highlight of Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime is when the youngsters are all called on stage to sing Love, Love, Love with Alice and the Dame, who by now is clad all in sequins. Yes queen.

With incredible costumes by Sheila Horton (Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee’s are knockouts), Lucas Neal’s vibrant set design, and Marcus McShane’s exciting lighting design, Alice in Wonderland – The Pantomime is an explosion of colour and joy that I’d happily see again.

Ford v. Ferrari | Regional News

Ford v. Ferrari

(M)

152 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Director James Mangold takes a story reserved for car enthusiasts and makes its messages universal and its action tense, though a brighter light could have been shined on the multiple personalities that fuelled Ford’s historic battle with Ferrari.

In the 1960s, the Ford Motor Company is looking for a new audience and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has his eyes on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Infuriated when Ferrari (who had won the previous six races) refuses to cut a deal with the American manufacturer, Ford throws money at Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to build a car that will defeat the Italians. However, Shelby must fight for his preferred driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be behind the wheel.

Ford v. Ferrari excels where it should: the racing. The climactic 1966 Le Mans race is a true nail-biter that manages to capture the speed on the track and intensity of Miles behind the wheel. Well-paced and never visually confusing, Mangold, the man responsible for Logan (2017), solidifies himself as a formidable action director.

While Damon and Bale perform to their usual high standards, other characters are somewhat sidelined, which is a shame as many of them have a similarly crucial stake in the final race. The most developed of them is Henry Ford II, with Letts delivering the standout supporting performance. Miles’ wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), Ford executive Lee lacocca (Jon Bernthal), and Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) are characters that fall victim to this, even within a two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Still, it was fascinating to explore the difficulty of engineering a car that could survive and win Le Mans, and the mindset of a determined racer. The film also cleared up a puzzling piece of history: how another Ford driver, our own Bruce McLaren, was declared the victor when he crossed the line at the same time as Miles.

While it doesn’t use its entire runtime wisely, Ford v. Ferrari is a thrilling film that a surprisingly wide audience will enjoy.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub | Regional News

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub

Written by: Kieran Craft

Directed by: Cassandra Tse

JJ Murphy & Co, 14th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub is a play in a pub. To anyone wondering how that might work, I can now provide an answer: in the hands of Red Scare Theatre Company, it works a treat!

Darragh (Finlay Langelaan) has inherited the Green Barrow from his late father. He keeps the pub exactly the same – even down to the expired Midori and the dangerous step at the front door. But when his sister Aisling (a sassy performance filled with soul from Aimee Sullivan) returns home from her travels, and handsome stranger Arad (Alex Rabina) shows up at the door (mind the step), Darragh discovers life doesn’t get better by chance; it gets better by change.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub is a wonderful gay love story about finding your place in the world within and without your family. Darragh and Arad’s relationship is one that makes my face hurt from smiling. Their tender affection for each other is heightened by two talented actors who deliver chemistry in spades.

Each character is carefully crafted and lovingly brought to life by a playwright, director, and cast working seamlessly as one. Performances simmer and boil at just the right moments thanks to great instincts honed by Tse’s guiding hand. Hilary Norris as Nuala, Karen Anslow as Caitlin, and Ralph Johnson as Glendon (all three of whom are hilarious) round out a committed cast that doesn’t bat one eyelash at the noise of the pub below. The rising rowdiness often serves the play beautifully, but does detract from the sweeter moments for me.

Four Nights in the Green Barrow Pub features the best incorporation of music I’ve seen in a long while, with stomping Irish songs played by an effervescent band of Sullivan, Emily Griffiths, Thomas Whaley, and musical director Michael Stebbings. I so wish the audience had been invited to join in, if only to add to the joy of an evening already overflowing with it.

Meeting Karpovsky | Regional News

Meeting Karpovsky

Directed by: Sue Rider

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Sylvia (Helen Moulder) lives alone in a big empty house with a garden overrun by wisteria. Her daughter Anna has flown the nest to China, leaving behind boxes of her old things. With only her posters of the great dancer Alexander Karpovsky for company, Sylvia periodically clears the boxes, deciding which items to donate and which to keep. All the while, she chats to herself and of course, her posters, which depict Karpovsky in his various roles: Petrouchka, Widow Simone, Albrecht, and Herr Drosselmeyer, the magician in The Nutcracker.

It’s a fantastic set-up for a show and immediately reminds me of my own behaviour when going through such monotonous motions. Moving house, clearing out a wardrobe, re-arranging a bedroom… I always find a way to keep myself entertained, as does Sylvia. The beginning of Meeting Karpovsky beautifully represents the stock we put in possessions, too, with Anna’s clothes taking Sylvia back to another time and place.

Starting on such an earthly, relatable plane eases the audience into what turns into a whimsical fantasy when the real-live Karpovsky (Sir John Trimmer) arrives on the scene. With Karpovsky in the room the pace picks up. A gorgeous and powerful transition (original design by David Thornley, original lighting design by Phillip Dexter) begins to repeat with more and more frequency. Dance, song, and even mime are intricately woven into the work, adding electricity but never detracting from the story.

And yet, there are moments of such profound stillness. A mime performance from Trimmer playing Karpovsky playing the puppet Petrouchka brings a tear (well, a few tears) to my companion’s eye. As he gently binds Sylvia’s “dodgy ankle”, the audience holds its collective breath. The connection between the characters and the brilliant actors playing them touches many a chord.

Meeting Karpovsky is tender and sweet and filled with sorrow. At the same time, it’s funny and charming and a real cracker of a piece. It makes meaning out of grief and the aching longing for human connection. Bring a hankie.

Hansel & Gretel | Regional News

Hansel & Gretel

Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet

Opera House, 6th Nov 2019

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s iteration of the classic Brothers Grimm tale is the ‘swan song’ of long-standing company member and choreographer in residence, Loughlan Prior. Hansel & Gretel is Prior’s first full-length work and with Claire Cowan’s original music and Kate Hawley’s design, it is both terrifying and utterly enchanting.

With flourishes of glitter and looming shadows, the production is gothic noir meets carnival candy floss. In the opening act, which evokes stylish silent cinema, we are introduced to the grim lives of Hansel and Gretel, danced by Shaun James Kelly and Kirby Selchow. The siblings are bullied mercilessly by their peers and come from a fragile homelife, relying on one another for both childhood cheer and comfort. Kelly and Selchow perform with tender joy and demonstrate an excellent stage dynamic. Their duets are refined and in-sync, and their harmony remains dominant throughout.

The work journeys through an expressionistic backdrop and is home to all manner of peculiar characters; exaggerated Donnie Darko-esque rabbits tiptoe through a forest of forks, a moon of cheese watches through the night with an ice-cream lodged into its right eye (a lá A Trip to the Moon), and the charismatic witch, eloquently performed by Katharine Precourt, shimmies across the stage like a theatrical talk show host. The heart of the production is a rich and beloved story and the dancers are forced to explore more than just pirouettes and pliés. Kudos to Paul Matthews, often the picture of refinement, for playing the transformed witch with absurd panache.

Hansel & Gretel has many moving parts but manages to deliver a cinematic theatre experience. Hawley’s costume and set design drip with glamour and magic and Cowan’s composition (performed by Orchestra Wellington) is bold and timeless. With Prior’s distinctive choreographic flair, the collaborators have created a fantastical pastiche which is fully supported by a passionate cast of dancers.

Bursting with unique artistry, surrealism, and dexterous humour, Hansel & Gretel is a production bound to enchant the masses.