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Wicked  | Regional News


Presented by: Capital Theatre Trust and G&T Productions

Directed by: Grant Meese

St James Theatre, 22nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked is the untold story of the witches of Oz: Glinda the Good (Maya Handa Naff) and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West (Heather Wilcock). This Wizard of Oz prequel starts and ends at the same moment in time in the great Emerald City, flashing back to Glinda and Elphaba’s first encounter at Shiz University and picking up the story from there. With black-catty dynamics between the broommates exacerbated by a boy, Fiyero (Nick Lerew), the multi-award-winning musical follows the prickly relationship of Glinda and Elphaba as it shifts and changes… For Good.

Our two leads crackle with chemistry. Even when Defying Gravity on a broomstick, Wilcock’s grounding and intuitive stage presence stabilises the mile-a-minute action, especially when paired with Naff’s deliciously extravagant performance, which is show-stealing, star-striking gold at every turn. Even their voices work in perfect harmony, with the magic happening when Wilcock’s rich tonal depth meets the purity and clarity of Naff’s soprano trills.

I swoon over Lerew’s velvet voice and charm, cackle at Kevin Orlando’s quirks as the hapless Boq, commiserate with Ben Emerson’s gentle, genial, G.O.A.T Dr Dillamond, and find my new favourite number in the cabaret-esque A Sentimental Man, where David Hoskins gives us the ol’ razzle dazzle as the wizard. Anna Smith lands emotional king-hits as Nessarose, while headmistress Madame Morrible (Frankie Leota) is every bit as horrible (and entertaining) as she should be. The core cast is supported by an ensemble effervescent with energy and teeming with talent.

All of the design elements – from Martin Searancke’s theatrical lighting sorcery to the spectacular set, costumes, and props (that Oz head!) provided by NZ Musical Theatre Consortium – would befit Broadway or The West End. Couple that with consummate direction from Grant Meese, Leigh Evans’ tight and terrifying choreography (the monkeys’ malformed movements make me physically recoil), and Kate Marshall’s masterful music direction, accentuated by faultless live orchestration, and Wicked is world class in Wellington.

Bluebeard’s Castle  | Regional News

Bluebeard’s Castle

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and NZ Opera

Conducted by: Lawrence Renes

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

In my concert experience this year, I can’t imagine that anything will eclipse this performance of Bartók’s opera, Bluebeard’s Castle.

The work calls for a large orchestra stacked with percussion, brass, woodwind, and fewer strings than one might have expected, and two singers, a dramatic soprano and a dramatic baritone. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was on fire throughout the performance with immaculate, precise but emotional and intense playing. Lester Lynch from the United States was Bluebeard and Susan Bullock from England was his wife, Judith. Both had glorious, unforced, effortless voices. Unlike much romantic and dramatic opera, their parts were not florid or ornamented. The rhythms were speech-like and their diction was excellent. Bartók’s orchestration is extremely well matched to what is happening on the stage and to the ebb and flow of the feelings of the characters. The conductor did a superb job of uniting the performance.

While the music performed was as composed, the tale was not. The original interpretation of a fable is a ghastly tale of a woman in love with a man about whom horrible rumours abound. Nevertheless, she demands that he releases to her the secrets of his life. Her entry into his castle ends with her discovering his three dead wives, whom she joins.

This production, however, is an astonishing and powerful reinterpretation of the story, recast by the UK-based Theatre of Sound to centre on a loving couple whose lives disintegrate when Judith is affected by dementia. Surprisingly, the original libretto fits the new scenario convincingly. The audience sees and feels the memories, the love and tenderness, the frustration, loneliness, fear, and anguish the couple experiences. The acting was strong, sensitive, and subtle and the effect compelling and harrowing.

Altogether this was an outstandingly rewarding performance, musically, dramatically, and emotionally.

Barbie | Regional News



114 minutes

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

We have been bombarded with media surrounding the release of the much-awaited Barbie movie. From billboards to press tours, bus-stop posters to teaser trailers, from Dua Lipa’s hit song Dance The Night playing on our airwaves to the infamous “She’s everything. He’s just Ken” tagline posts.

Love it or hate it, I’d like to officially extend a very warm, aggressively pink welcome to Barbie Land… no, not to you Ken.

Barbie Land is a dream. The streets are lined with Barbie Dream Houses – did I mention the streets are pink? The clothes are impeccable and beautiful, the weather is always sunny, the Barbies and Kens are perfect and perpetually happy, and every day is the best day ever. Until Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) starts having thoughts about death and her feet go flat. What ensues is a riotous, eye-opening, world-changing, mind-blowing adventure into the real world for both Barbie and her Ken (Ryan Gosling, who steals the show).

It was hard avoiding spoilers, so if you have succeeded thus far, I will let you discover this plastic fantastic world for yourself. But that’s easy, because the true heroes of Barbie are not the dolls but the production team. Sarah Greenwood’s production design is so meticulous, so perfect, so utterly researched it should be deemed the eighth wonder… okay maybe not, but the entire team ensured every detail in Barbie Land is essentially a replica of the actual toys. I offer the same praise to Jacqueline Durran’s costume design. The amount of work that these two departments must have done to achieve the end result is simply mind-boggling.

Director, producer, and writer Greta Gerwig, a feminist icon of our generation, has outdone herself yet again. Barbie is a satire, a tribute, a critique, an adventure, and everything in between. It is so self-aware in its simultaneous championing and condemnation of consumerism, beauty standards, gender roles, existentialism, and more. A new addition to the feminist canon, the mere existence of a movie like Barbie means we have made leaps and bounds as a society. It has its flaws, of course, but it’s fun, it’s beautiful, and it has something to say.

This Barbie highly recommends the movie.

Prophecy | Regional News


Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Three varied and striking 20th century works, early compositions by young Englishmen, featured in this concert. As conductor Marc Taddei pointed out, they were a riposte to the recent, wonderful all-German concert.

A prophecy forecasting his death was delivered to Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, after blaspheming against the God of Israel. The narrative of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was unfolded by Orchestra Wellington, a 28-strong Wellington Brass Band, the Orpheus Choir, and baritone soloist Benson Wilson. It was a dramatic, fast-moving, and very loud tale that kept the audience rapt. The stars, I thought, were the choir. Whether singing over the top of large instrumental resources, or unaccompanied, they negotiated tricky harmonies and a range of dynamics with assurance and sensitivity. The well-prepared brass band added colour and depth. Wilson’s voice is smooth and rich but a bit lacking in drama, perhaps, for the part.

The grief of a passionate pacifist in the face of WWII is the essential quality of Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto. The solo part is fiendishly difficult in speed, dynamics, and fingering and bowing techniques. This is an austerely beautiful work. Both orchestra and soloist Amalia Hall delivered technically, musically, and emotionally.

Thomas Adès’ first orchestral work …but all shall be well is a curious work exploring meandering musical lines within a somewhat fuzzy and subtle soundscape without significant climaxes. It is just as well that it opened the programme, or it might have been overwhelmed by the power of the other works.

Briar Prastiti, a young woman of mixed Kiwi and Greek heritage, was commissioned to write a work for Orchestra Wellington. Ákri is an exciting debut orchestral work that conveys the dilemmas of being on the edge (ákri) of two cultures. It is all of sweet, moody, bold, delicate, soaring, and dramatic. Congratulations to Orchestra Wellington for their initiative, and for another compelling performance.


Top Girls | Regional News

Top Girls

Written by: Caryl Churchill

Directed by: Bel Campbell

Gryphon Theatre, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Written in 1982 at the height of Thatcherism in the UK, Top Girls is Caryl Churchill’s landmark feminist lament on motherhood, women in the workplace, ableism, and individualist versus collective thinking.

Bel Campbell’s new production for Wellington Repertory Theatre wisely treats it as a period piece with 80s staging and costuming. Some of the script inevitably feels dated, especially in the second act in an uncompromising, female-run recruitment agency where other women are considered only worthy of secretarial jobs in cosmetic and knitwear firms. However, the final act in particular – where estranged sisters argue about politics and the disabled daughter of one of them suffers because of their unresolved conflict – feels very relevant to contemporary societal divisions.

All of the highly competent cast, except Rachel McLean as central character Marlene, play multiple roles and do it with skill, cleverly adapting their voices and bodies to each part. A highlight is Shemaia Dixon’s Dull Gret, a devil-battling warrior woman painted by Bruegel in 1563, who says little but eats a lot – principally everyone else’s food – in the opening scene of a celebratory dinner. Susannah Donovan’s Pope Joan is also entertaining as she relates a hilariously horrifying story of giving birth in the middle of a street parade, then gets progressively drunker and can’t remember her Latin.

The T-shaped, three-quarters set (Sam Hearps) provides an intimate space for tough themes and allows the cast to deliver the many asides to the audience in the first act. However, it does give them challenges in terms of projection, particularly with many overlapping lines in the script.

The pink-based lighting design (Jamie Byas) works well and the sound design (Campbell) containing songs of the era effectively maintains the 80s vibe. Wardrobe (Carol Walters) is era-appropriate, although the odd lining and petticoat would stop manmade fabric sticking awkwardly to pantyhose.

Overall, this is a strong production of a difficult play, and all involved should be commended for taking it on.

Birthday Book of Storms | Regional News

Birthday Book of Storms

Written by: R. Johns

Directed by: Jaime G. Dörner

Hannah Playhouse, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

There’s an ominous feeling when you walk into the Hannah Playhouse theatre, as Robin Kakolyris (Girl) stares out to the audience ­– a feeling much akin to the anticipation of a storm. What follows is a hurricane of poetry, heartbreak, and love so tumultuous that even as I am writing this review, I can barely do such tragedy justice. Birthday Book of Storms explores the many faces of the inextricably linked writers Sylvia Plath (Anita Torrance), Ted Hughes (Phil Roberts), and Hughes’ lover Assia Wevill (Tania Lentini). The play fictionalises Plath and Wevill’s cataclysmic undoing of their relationships with Hughes.

All of R. Johns’ sentences are crafted masterfully, with the play reading as a poem does. One could compare it to violently ripping a page out of Plath’s work. For me, the monologues are the most impactful aspect of the script. They uncoil the characters, revealing nuanced, wonderfully tragic human beings in their most vulnerable states. All the performers strike each word with utter conviction, revealing the bare bones of these damaged people.

It must be noted that Roberts looks strikingly similar to Hughes, as if his ghost is haunting us through the play. Torrance as Plath and Lentini as Wevill provide powerful depictions of these historical figures.

I find it clever how the lighting (designed by Natala Gwiazdzinski) emphasises potent emotions felt by the characters. I do however wonder if adding music to the heartfelt moments would add to the tension. I also feel that the production would benefit from an intermission to allow the audience to recoup their thoughts after such intensity, especially as there is a perfect moment in the narrative for this.

Carefully crafted, complex, contradictory, and compelling, Birthday Book of Storms has it all. This play doesn’t drizzle, it torrents – an intense tempest of the lives of such beautifully broken people. Make sure that you book tickets now before the storm passes.

Dirty Work | Regional News

Dirty Work

Written by: Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan

Directed by: Justin Lewis

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Local choir Note Bene has turned up to Soundings Theatre without really knowing why. Indian Ink Theatre Company told them to learn a bunch of specific songs for a play, and when they arrive, they’re shown onstage and cast as office workers. Finding their way through the network of brightly coloured cubicles (set design by John Verryt), they sit down at their new desks and try to look busy until a cue from musical director Josh Clark means they can finally burst into song.

What a concept! Dirty Work is set in a modern-day office, where Joy (Catherine Yates) is cleaning in the wee hours before overzealous office manager Neil (Justin Rogers) arrives ahead of schedule. Next, Zara (Tessa Rao) walks in with the whole team (Nota Bene, with singers from other Wellington choirs) in tow. But Joy still hasn’t finished cleaning, all the computers are missing, and the company director (Jacob Rajan in a knockout audio performance) has just Zoomed in with a to-do list that’s way above Neil’s paygrade.

Remarkably, Nota Bene looks perfectly at ease – you can hardly tell they’ve got no clue what’s going on. Incorporating physical theatre into his performance, Rogers expertly portrays a subtle shift in his character’s perspective in the final scenes. Rao navigates a similar character arc with aptitude and aplomb, while Yates brings the house down as the lovable, no-nonsense Joy.  

You could certainly expect chaos incarnate from this play. But I leave the theatre marvelling at how cohesive it all is, how Rajan and Justin Lewis have entwined Dirty Work’s themes so seamlessly throughout, even how natural its absurdist elements feel (due credit here to director Lewis for conducting the action as masterfully as Clark conducts Nota Bene). This play doesn’t spoon-feed its audience pathos. Even with a choir, it doesn’t use music to tell you how to feel. It doesn’t hit you on the nose with its underlying message. With self-love as its beating heart, it’s an entertaining but tender exploration of finding your place, your worth, and your identity amidst the relentless grind of the nine to five.

Long Ride Home | Regional News

Long Ride Home

Written by: Jack McGee

Directed by: Jack McGee

Te Auaha, 2nd Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

A story about a brother and a sister biking together to a party, Long Ride Home explores a complicated relationship between siblings who have had bitterness and resentment build between them.

The stage is empty except for two bicycles which are placed apart from each other, each facing the audience. They are held in place by devices clipped onto the back wheels (set design by Squash Co. Arts Collective with support from Sam Griffen). With a stage this empty, actors Anna Barker as Cate and Dylan Hutton as David do a great job setting the scene with their physicality as they ride the bikes in place, changing gears and straining to show when they are biking up a hill. The imitation of biking on a stage has comedic value, but more interestingly, it places the characters in an exposed situation where their frustrations can pour out honestly.

The scenery is further evoked by an effective soundscape of traffic noises (sound design by Esteban Jaramillo) and spotlights that rise and fall on either bike to show us when one of the siblings disappears from the scene, riding ahead or falling behind (lighting design by Squash Co. Arts Collective with coordination by Julia McDonald). The coloured lights and music in the background when the characters arrive at the party are also a nice touch.

While the brother and sister biking onstage together is an interesting image, I find myself wanting the performers to make more of the opportunities they have to interact with each other in the space, as many of the lines feel as though they’re being delivered inwardly rather than to their scene partner. However, Barker does a fantastic job of selling what her character is going through internally, particularly in her facial expressiveness in the awkward silences throughout the play. Hutton similarly peddles the right mix of cockiness and insecurity for his character.

Discord between adult siblings is a compelling motif, and Long Ride Home captures the relatable feeling when grievances get in the way of making amends, even with the people we’re supposed to be closest to.

Public Service Announcements: Election 2023 | Regional News

Public Service Announcements: Election 2023

Written by: Thom Adams, Johanna Cosgrove, and Jamie McCaskill

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 26th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Created by James Nokise and Anya Tate-Manning, Public Service Announcements (PSA) is Aotearoa’s longest-running political satire. When I caught my first one back in 2017, I was practically apolitical but still found it accessible because it’s totally nonpartisan and parodies every politician in da House. It sparked the conversation for me and my interest in New Zealand politics in turn. So, going into my third campaign (read: show) with a slightly firmer grasp, I agree with co-writer Johanna Cosgrove’s statement that each edition feels “more urgent and unhinged” than the last. Our political landscape is interesting right now, and for PSA, mistakes mean pisstakes.

In Election 2023, Carrie Green, Tom Knowles, Simon Leary, Jamie McCaskill, Sepelini Mua’au, and Tate-Manning bring MPs from Labour, National, Green Party, ACT, Te Pāti Māori, and New Zealand First to party on a stage resembling a grownup playground (a knock-your-socks-off set by Daniel Williams). Thanks to Helen Todd’s distinctive, RGBY lighting design and Williams’ costume design – the brilliance of which is highlighted in turbo costume changes during the final scene – audiences never lose sight of who’s speaking when. We do lose some lines on opening night however, so ear-splitting is our own laughter.

Onto the funny stuff then. (The whole show is the funny stuff, but alas, word count.) Oliver Devlin’s sound design sees the flighty Greens introduced to the White Lotus theme song, and Labour to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand (a stroke of genius). How did Leary’s lips chap instantaneously as Chris Hipkins? McCaskill’s Winston’s Song is still stuck in my head, as are Carrie Green’s hilarious outbreaks of Te Aroha as Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Mua’au’s three-fingered “Hi”s as David Seymour; Knowles’ Sméagol-esque Christopher Luxon; Tate-Manning’s cannibalistic Judith Collins on mute… There are too many highlights to list, and they’re all fire. The meta references woven throughout, especially to Gavin Rutherford’s appropriately inappropriate directorial decisions, are the honey on the Beehive for me.

Whether you care about politics or you don’t give a coup, take a seat at PSA for a rollercoaster riot this election. They’ve got my vote.