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Brown Crown | Regional News

Brown Crown

Written by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

Directed by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

BATS Theatre, 4th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Brown Crown follows the journey of a young Sāmoan woman, Masina (Falesafune Fa’afia-Maualaivao), as she navigates a contemporary world surrounded by never-ending expectations and legacies to uphold. As Masina finds her place in the world, her story is shown in conjunction with the old legend of Nafanua told to her by her grandmother.

From the moment I enter the space I’m overwhelmed by the calm and intimate atmosphere created. The room is dimly lit, with the main source of light coming from the display of large, hanging photo frames in the centre of the stage, filled with images cast from a projector (set design by Sarai Perenise-Ropeti). Masina’s story is told primarily from her family living room, set in front of the frames which are filled beautifully with family photos. When we travel in time and into the legend of Nafanua, a strong and empowering woman and warrior, the action takes place behind the frames, with dim red light cast on the figures. The use of set and lighting (Matilde Furholm) to guide us through time and location is unique, dynamic, and absolutely exquisite. Including beautifully choreographed fight scenes (depicted through dance), each aspect of the piece plays a key role in the production, and each works to complement the rest.

With the exception of the lead role, Masina, each actor takes on several characters. Actors Fa’afia-Maualaivao, Kasi Valu, John Ulu Va'a, and Ahry Purcell work wonderfully together; I’m amazed at how well they all convey the unique personalities and stories of each of their characters.

Complete with intimate storytelling, modern comedy, and both traditional and contemporary dance, Brown Crown observes the exploration of culture and identity. The story reflects on the weight Pasifika women carry on their shoulders, but is one that resonates with everyone; there’s not a soul in the audience who doesn’t empathise with Masina throughout her journey.

Beautifully written and directed, this story has me covered in goosebumps, on the verge of tears, and hysterical with laughter. What an incredible opening night.

Dawn Raid | Regional News

Dawn Raid

(M)

98 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Oscar Kightley’s inspiring hip-hop documentary proves Kiwis can hustle with the best of them. With a firm grasp on the history of Dawn Raid Entertainment, the director prioritises narrative and character to give the film rhythm, tempo, and volume.

Formed in South Auckland in the late 1990s by classmates Tanielu Leaosavai’i (aka Brotha D) and Andy Murnane, Dawn Raid Entertainment is responsible for New Zealand’s first legitimate hip-hop movement. What the amateur businessmen lacked in finesse they made up for in determination, and subsequently, artists like Savage, Aaradhna, Deceptikonz, and Adeaze would dramatically change the landscape of Kiwi music. However, a hasty rise to the top would soon be followed by a devastating fall.

While Dawn Raid clearly comes from the mind of a born storyteller, Kightley hit the jackpot when it came to these key players. Brotha D and Andy are fascinating individuals who will make you laugh loudly and listen intently. We see this dynamic duo at their most opportunistic and their most naive. We watch in anticipation as these boys grow wise throughout the years, eventually making enough mistakes to become the men we see today.

The streets of South Auckland come alive in this doc. Kightley incorporates signature hip-hop imagery of the era to forever entangle the artistry with the environment that surrounds it, including in some hilarious animated sequences. This connection is also the source of Dawn Raid’s most poignant moments, when low expectations are surpassed against all odds. We feel the highs and lows that these pioneers journey through – when Savage scores an Akon feature just as he blows up, or when Wu Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck decides to rewrite a verse because he is blown away by Mareko’s abilities.

Dawn Raid is dense in its brevity, although it substitutes interesting parts of the label’s story in favour of entertaining ones. An equal focus on the creative processes of these artists, on top of the business-savvy minds behind the rise of Dawn Raid, would have rounded the film off like a well-placed rhyme.

The Look of Love | Regional News

The Look of Love

Written by: Ali Harper

Performed by Ali Harper

Circa Theatre until 20th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Burt Bacharach: a name synonymous with musical genius. And yet, I know his name, I know so many of his hits, but I had no idea he wrote them! The Look of Love, Ali Harper’s latest show, sees the award-winning singer honour the songwriter responsible for I Say a Little Prayer, What the World Needs Now, and Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. My friend and I had more than one ‘aha moment’. “Wait, he wrote that one too?”

With twinkling fairy lights, a sleek piano, and a couple of bar stools and mic stands the only adornments, the stage is set for intimacy and glamour. Harper is cloaked in sequins (clothes design by Roz Wilmott-Dalton) that catch the light and accentuate her star power. She is accompanied by resident musical director and pianist Tom McLeod (what chops!) and guitarist Callum Allardice, who brings a distinctly cool, laid-back vibe. Backing them all is the full might of musical director Tom Rainey’s arrangements, recorded with brass, strings, drums, the whole shebang.

The whole shebang is a great way to describe The Look of Love, a show in which everybody gives their all and then some. Harper’s joy is palpable, infectious. There is no way you can watch her perform and not see it radiating from her. There is no way you can leave the theatre without feeling it yourself. Her talent is difficult to put down in words; not only does she nail every note, her voice runs the full gamut of emotion, articulating the love and love lost that Bacharach’s songs so masterfully express.

In between songs, Harper shares Bacharach’s stories and waxes lyrical about her onstage and offstage collaborators, showering them with praise, adoration, and respect. Judging by the thunderous applause and standing ovation, the audience feels exactly the same way about Harper herself.

Go to The Look of Love and let Ali Harper catch you between the moon and Wellington City.

t-Lounge by Dilmah | Regional News

t-Lounge by Dilmah

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

t-Lounge by Dilmah is the only one of its kind in Australasia. On a blustery day in the city, my dad and I ducked in to the Willeston Street café to enjoy a decadent high tea to die for.

I should start by saying Andrew is a very fussy eater. In fact, when he was a kid, he only ate food beginning with the letter c – cheese, chips, chocolate, cake, and carrots. It was a constant source of anguish for his mother, I’m told! The fact that he demolished every morsel (bar the fish, which he hasn’t eaten in over 30 years) is probably the highest praise I can give. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do the experience justice myself.

Front of house manager Senuka kicked off the afternoon by talking us through the tea menu. The premium high tea comes with bottomless hot options, served in sophisticated glass strainers with a timer to tell you how long to let your cup steep. Offerings range from rose with French vanilla to Italian almond, with green, black, and oolong tea available alongside infusions like pure chamomile flowers.

I tried the Mediterranean mandarin to start. This was a bit too strong for me, but I enjoyed the zing and zest of it. Dad only likes strong tea, so his earl grey was spot on. He then ordered the Ceylon cinnamon spice (a wickedly spicy brew that sung of winter nights by a roaring fire) while I sampled the cinnamon t-kitsch. A mix of condensed milk and tea served in an authentic Sri Lankan t-kitsch jug, this sweet, frothy drink would be an ideal after-dinner treat.

Then it was onto the high tea, which looked divine when it landed on the table. Not for long! Cleverly organised over three tiers of ascending sweetness, I started writing down highlights and realised I was noting every single item.

Starting at the bottom on the savoury plate, my favourites were the Malabar tamarind cured salmon crepe roulades, adorned with the special touch of fish roe, and the unique Ceylon spiced chicken and cheese vol au vents. The bruschetta topped with jackfruit amazingly tasted just like chicken, and the cheese and curry leaf scones definitely top the best-of list in Wellington. I felt the lentil bites were a little dry, but it was nothing a sip of tea couldn’t fix.

From the middle semi-sweet plate, we both adored the Dilmah Ceylon cinnamon t-kitsch tres leches (effectively cake dipped in the drink I was telling you about before, making it incredibly moist), and the sugar-crusted kimbula, a Sri Lankan-style Vienna roll. Special mention must go to the buffalo curd with treacle macadamia nougatine. This dish is traditional and readily available in Sri Lanka, but not in New Zealand. With the curd coming from operations manager Chamila’s brother and sister-in-law’s farm in Christchurch, head chef Srimal designed the most enticing, maple-like syrup to drizzle on top alongside a sprinkling of candied nuts. The sweet and sour flavours and crunchy and creamy textures worked in seamless harmony, creating an explosion of intrigue for the tastebuds.

Finally, the top plate. A dangerously rich raspberry and milk chocolate cake (can you say death by chocolate?) was the highlight here, while the passionfruit macaroon balanced out the sweetness with a fresh, fruity tang. After the last bite we realised we’d overindulged – the premium high tea is definitely enough for a big lunch for two!

We finished with an iced tea each – I had a sparkling Prince of Kandy lemonade, which genuinely tasted like lemonade – and an extra treat, nitro tea. The nitrogen gas infuses tea with tiny bubbles, creating a silky, velvety texture and changing the flavour profile entirely. We tried a regular iced and nitro peppermint tea and really enjoyed the latter, which was so refreshing. This was the perfect conclusion to a perfect afternoon of five-star food, service, and of course, tea.

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show | Regional News

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

The Fringe Bar, 11th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Until tonight, it didn’t feel a lot like Christmas, but these performers truly have “made the Yuletide gay” with their festivities.

Tonight’s host is none other than Judy Virago, whose exceptional costumes are gifts in themselves. Judy keeps the audience entertained between acts with storytelling, flirting, and even a performance of her own; there’s not a moment in the night that we aren’t completely encapsulated in the show.

The first act of the evening is everyone’s favourite Aunty, Pamela Hancock, who brings such beautiful variety with her live singing and storytelling. Her character is so well established, I feel completely invested in Pam’s life. Next, The Everchanging Boy beautifully executes a simple concept through aesthetically satisfying costume and props, and elegant dance. Judy shares that they are the only person she refuses to stand next to on stage, because they’re too beautiful, and now I understand; I simply can’t take my eyes off them. Homer Neurotic is wearing a giant Christmas advent calendar, and immediately I’m taken back to the Christmases of my youth. This time, it’s absolutely adult content. What’s in Homer’s boxes? I can’t wait to find out. With his brilliant combination of funny and sexy, this king is a crowd favourite. Christmas isn’t complete without a Grinch, so Willy SmacknTush is here to deliver. When he performs, he commands the attention of the entire room. Donning a shiny suit and some very big, green hair, Willy retells a story we've all heard, but this time when The Grinch destroys Christmas, we absolutely love it. Once of the most polished drag performers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, Hariel is the gift that keeps on giving. With her burlesque-style performance, Hariel is cheeky, flirtatious, and wonderfully lewd, while somehow... tasteful? Her lip-sync is flawlessly articulate, and completely mesmerising.

Finishing the show with a festive group act, these performers have me completely invested, and ready to sing Christmas carols. With tinsel, music, and a whole lot of glitter, it finally feels like Christmas.

Rachmaninoff 2: Triumph  | Regional News

Rachmaninoff 2: Triumph

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

I imagine this concert was christened Triumph because of the positive critical and public reception of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in contrast to the debacle of his first symphony some years previously, which nearly destroyed his confidence as a composer.

Equally, though, the second work on the programme, View from Olympus by New Zealand composer John Psathas was a triumph in terms of audience response: the crowd went wild! The work is a double concerto for pianist and a percussionist playing a wide variety of instruments. The soloists were Michael Houstoun and percussionist Jeremy Fitzsimons. The first and third movements, drawn from Psathas’ Greek heritage, conveyed the avenging spirit of the Furies and the wine-possessed frenzy of the Maenads of Greek mythology, both fierce and powerful groups of women. The second movement, The Smiling Child, is a tribute to his two children and, by contrast, is delicate, tender, and playful. The range of sounds and timbre achieved by the soloists was simply staggering, with the piano part integral to the overall effect. While Houstoun worked overtime with his fingers, Fitzsimons added to the visual interest of the performance as he moved across the stage between instrument stations. And let’s not forget the orchestra: ubiquitous strings, powerful interjections from brass instruments, and yet more percussion. It was all stunning and magical.

One can see why Rachmaninoff’s second symphony has sometimes in the past been shortened in performance. It is a vast, tumultuous work. Wonderful, but it does go on! Marc Taddei and the orchestra delivered an energetic, driving, and colourful performance that honoured the composer’s intent to express emotions. It has it all: agitated then sweet, sombre then tender, passionate then nostalgic, exuberant and festive, melody after melody, and climax after climax. I think the orchestra had a ball, a fitting climax to their subscription concert year.

Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show  | Regional News

Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

Ivy Bar & Cabaret, 5th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

The Ivy Bar stage is covered in absorbent sheets, and the front row are equipped with waterproof ponchos; if you aren’t prepared to get messy, you’re in the wrong place.

Splosh: to cover one’s self in food in order to achieve sexual stimulation or arousal. As a show title, it’s enough of a content warning. Willy SmacknTush, the “hoist with the moist,” makes a powerful entrance to open the show, and assures us that by the end of it we’ll be “begging for second helpings.”

First up, Robin Yablind treats us to his specialty ‘draglesque’ style, revealing several thoughtfully positioned citrus squeezers; they say he’s sexually confusing, but with fresh orange juice dripping down his chest, I’m not confused at all. Jezebel, head to toe in cow print, bathes in a pool of about 10 litres of milk. Soaking up the audiences’ squeals, this truly messy queen does not hold back. Braiden Butter is an audience favourite, and with his signature combination of comedy and dance, his beet cannot be beat. Harlie Lux, while nailing a lip-sync, invites us to eat an ice cream sundae off her chest. This queen is always a treat, but tonight she takes it to the next level. Amy Thurst, Wellington’s favourite bogan mum, genuinely makes me thursty as she guzzles a couple bottles of red. My shirt may now be wine-stained, but it’s worth it. The Bombay Bombshell’s dedication should be commended, but she has me literally gagging as she makes out with a fish. It does not smell good. It’s fantastic.

The finale act, no matter how many times I see it, is mind-blowing. Ju Majin and Brenda? Areyouintheaudience are back with their human PB&J sandwich, and food porn has never been better.

I often find myself describing drag shows as delicious, mouth-watering, gag-worthy queer magic. In Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show, these adjectives became literal, leaving me covered in sparkling wine, and wondering if I’d just experienced my favourite drag show of all time.

The Slutcracker | Regional News

The Slutcracker

Story by Jean Sergent and Salesi Le’ota

Directed by: Jean Sergent

Running at BATS Theatre until 12th Dec

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

It’s Christmas Eve, and Clyde (Jake Brown) is busy swiping left when his toy soldier (Dryw McArthur) comes to life for a night out on the town. Through the seedy streets of Courtenay Place to the vom-filled buckets of Cuba Street they waltz, hitting gay clubs and espresso joints along the way. This 45-minute high-energy queer ballet celebrates the magic of a Christmas spent with chosen family.

The Slutcracker features very little dialogue, with some lines drowned out by Maxwell Apse’s fantastic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s original The Nutcracker score. Because of this, I crave more precision from some of the cast. Brigid Costello’s slick yet simplified choreography allows for the fact that not everyone onstage is a professional ballet dancer. Not all the performances are exceptional when it comes to dance alone, which would be a drawback if The Slutcracker was just a ballet – but it’s so much more than that. It’s joyful, sincere storytelling brought to life by passionate performers who put their all into elevating queer voices.

Brown gives 110 percent, delivering frenzied footwork with a Cheshire cat grin planted ear to ear. He’s an immensely loveable protagonist. As his boy toy for the eve, McArthur cuts a striking figure with graceful leaps and pirouettes that make me wonder if he has a dance background. Andrew Paterson takes sass to the max with a tap dance drag routine for the ages. With stellar facials and electric energy throughout, Georgia Kellett reigns over Midnight Espresso as the Sugar Plum Fairy, while Felix Crossley-Pritchard makes a fabulously evil Rat King. Shay Tanirau and Phase flesh out the storyline and help the choreography shine in the ensemble.

Accentuated by the soft, colourful hues of Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting design, Lucas Neal’s festive set lets us know what we’re in for from the get-go: a night of love, laughter, and unbridled joy – just what Christmas should be.   

Mank | Regional News

Mank

(M)

131 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Right from the word go, when tilted opening titles loft over a black-and-white California sky – almost ironically reading “Netflix International Pictures Presents” – Mank feels as though it was pulled from the rubble of a time capsule planted in the 1930s, grime and gashes intact.

Herman J. Mankiewicz, or Mank (Gary Oldman), is an alcoholic screenwriter with a wit renowned by the top brass of 30s Hollywood, including press tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Following a car crash, a bedridden Mank is asked to pen a script for the debut film of a “young genius from New York”, Orson Welles (Tom Burke).

Of course, the film in question is Citizen Kane, still regarded by many to be the greatest and most influential film ever made. Cited as an early example of auteurism, Welles is often considered the sole mind behind its creation. Mank tells a different story.

Though its narrative doesn’t reach the heights of suspense achieved in other David Fincher films, Mank feels like the cinematic gift we deserve this Christmas. Between the imposing sets, regal costumes, and boisterous personalities on display, it captures the dingy atmosphere of an early noir classic. It shines in black-and-white, photographed by Erik Messerschmidt with plenty of canted callbacks to Citizen Kane.

Mank is about the conflict behind creativity; the contentious debate for authorship between Mank and Welles, Hearst’s fear of public humiliation when it becomes clear that Mank’s script about power, greed, and corruption is based on him. It may not sound fun per se, but Jack Fincher’s endlessly witty script makes the story sing. Mank is a talker, and Oldman places each word perfectly – some slurred beyond comprehension, others overtly articulated to offend that rich prick at the other end of the dining table.

Mank is a lesson in craft and polish. While its narrative is catnip to any movie fan, I can’t help but wonder if casual viewers will find it as fascinating. Its physical beauty is bound to make anyone suspect there is more beneath the surface, and those intrigued by its plot will find new details every time they put it on.