Reviews, News and Commentary

Soundings: vivid, entertaining and instructive encounters with the underwater world

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples


Diving for stories in the beckoning sea

Kennedy Warne

Massey University Press

RRP $39.95

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

It seems that it is only in the last fifty years that we have taken a new approach to  the ocean and our fisheries. Only a few years ago the seas were regarded as the source of endless bounty but now  we realise that there needs to be more careful management and in many cases, preservation of our  fisheries and endangered species.

This move to understanding the blue planet has been championed by individuals such as  Sir David Attenborough but there are also many New  Zealanders such as Kennedy Warne who are bringing a new understanding to the oceans both here and internationally.

Warne is probably best known in New Zealand as the co-founder and editor of NZ Geographic magazine for which he has written for over thirty years.

Internationally he is widely known for his work for National Geographic having been commissioned to write articles about his experiences diving in locations all around the world.

In his new book “Soundings” he revisits his journeys and assignments internationally and locally linking these adventures to his own life in a family which has had strong links to the sea for many generations. With all these encounters he also connects with the social, political, economic and environmental issues around the sea and it’s populations.

He visits locations in Africa, America, Canada, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand encountering an amazing range of habitats and species.

His grandfather Leon Warne was much involved with the big game fishing boom of the 1920s having been involved with Zane Grey, the American writer and angler who published his adventures in Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, New Zealand. With this book he did more to promote New Zealand big-game fishing than any other person.

The accounts of his assignments are informative and entertaining, sometimes they read like adventure stories while at other times more like travelogues.

He visits places that very few of us will get to experience such as The Okavango Delta. a vast inland river delta in northern Botswana which flood seasonally, becoming a lush animal habitat. Here he travels by dugout canoes to find and encounter hippos, and crocodiles. He even comes within arm’s length of a crocodile swimming underwater at night with just a torch to guide him. Here he finds the fishing spider which sits on lily pads anchored by two of its legs, using the other six to  catch small fish.

He also goes to The Magdalen Islands, a small archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence at the time of the seal hunt. This provides the opportunity for  a history of the harp seal industry and the impact of bans in reducing the wholesale slaughter of the whitecoat pups. He writes of the involvement of local Inuit,  fishermen and scientists and the need to balance the economic and ecological aspects of the trade. As well as the hunting impacts on the seal population he notes that in 1981 because of sea warming  the ice pack which normally carries the seals for the start of their lives completely broke up and all the young seals died.

In the Philippines he observes the tourism encounter with the whale shark where tourists hang off the sides of outriggers to take selfies of themselves and the sharks which turn up each day because they are fed by the local fishermen to create a feeding frenzy. It’s a much easier occupation than catching fish and has created a new industry for the local village. But, Warne points out this is changing  the dietary and migratory habits of the fish which could well have dire consequences in the future.

He links this to his  growing love and respect  for sharks and our changing attitudes to them which have changed over the past few years from an endemic fear of the shark to an appreciation and understanding of their place in the ecosystem and the  need to see the connections between humans and  nature.

His descriptions are vivid, entertaining and instructive. With all these assignments he provides histories of the area, descriptions of the  the local fisheries and the many threats to the ecosystems. He also speaks with experts in a variety of specialist areas who help bring an understanding to the complex underwater world.

His descriptions of his encounters can be poetic at times as when he writes about  Deep Water Cove, in the Bay of Islands

“In 2010, dismayed by the disappearance of marine life, two of the local hapū placed a traditional rāhui — a temporary fishing closure — on Deep Water Cove and the wider Maunganui Bay. Fishing was banned until stocks recovered. The rāhui has stayed in place, renewed every two years,

The rāhui has revitalised the reef. White Reef should now be called Golden Reef, because it is covered in the waving gold, mustard and brown blades of a variety of kelps and other seaweeds. Through the underwater forest swim demoiselles, scarlet pigfish, black angelfish, striped red moki, snapper, eagle rays and pigment-daubed Sandagers wrasse, patterned like a Kandinsky painting. Above the forest float dozens of comb jellyfish, translucent oval animals that show flecks of jewelled colour when they catch the sunlight. I watch four leatherjackets, a type of triggerfish, peck at one jellyfish, reducing the frail creature to strands of jelly. Yellow-tailed kingfish patrol the perimeter, occasionally darting into the kelp to hunt bait fish.”

Kennedy Warne, co-founder of New Zealand Geographic magazine and contributor to National Geographic, often writes about the sea, including the book Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea. His most recent books, however, are land-based: Tuhoe: Portrait of a Nation and View From the Road, a collaboration with photographer Arno Gasteiger. He has also produced two children’s books with Northland illustrator Heather Hunt: Cuckoo and the Warbler and It’s My Egg (and you can’t have it!). Once a fortnight Warne speaks about the outdoors, nature and adventure on RNZ’s morning programme, Nine to Noon, in a slot entitled ‘Off the Beaten Track’.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Cosi Fan Tutte: A triumvirate of creative talent guiding four outstanding voices 

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Jonathan Abernethy (Ferrando), Hanna Hipp (Dorabella), Emma Pearson (Fiordiligi) and Julien Van Mellaerts (Guglielmo) Credit Jinki Cambronero

Cosi Fan Tutte

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

NZ Opera

Aotea Centre

May 31 – June 4

Then Wellington (June 14 – 18) and Christchurch (June 28 – July 2)

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Cosi Fan Tutte is not the most perfect of Mozart’s operas but with NZ Opera’s latest offering the creative  triumvirate of director Lindy Hume, designer Tracey Grant Lord and conductor Natalie Murray Beale  have expertly guided six outstanding voices in a lively farce.

The opera tells of two friends who take a bet with the cynical “old philosopher” Don Alfonso that they would be able to cheat on their girlfriends with ease. They disguise themselves, woo each other’s fiancée and ultimately marry them.

The work reveals historic and contemporary attitudes to love, fidelity and relationships while the mix of comic and serious music makes for a multi-layered depiction of chaotic interpersonal relationships. It juxtaposes notions of true love and fidelity, betrayal and manipulation, farce and genuine human emotion in a mosaic woven together by the composer’s magnificent music.

There are however elements of political incorrectness which can be seen as troubling, starting with the title “All Women are like that” and even librettist Da Ponte’s alternative title “The School for Lovers” could be seen as problematic.

The aspects of misogyny are not reserved to Cosi and can be found in most of Mozart’s operas and in many of the theatrical and literary works of the eighteenth-century including novels such as Fielding’s “Tom Jones” and the thread can be traced back to earlier authors such as Boccaccio.

Early on in the work  the “old philosopher” Don Alfonso makes an observation about women,

Woman’s constancy
Is like the Arabian Phoenix;
Everyone swears it exists,
But no one knows where.

Then, later on, the more  enlightened and cynical bar manager, Despina provides a more pragmatic observation when she sings.

To hope for faithfulness

in men, in soldiers?

Don’t let people hear you, for heaven’s sake!

All men are made of the same stuff;

Lying tears, false looks,

deceitful voices, lying charms – 

these are their outstanding qualities.

There is an ambiguity throughout the work with not only the actions and the text but also the music which ranges from the comic to the serious and all the characters adopt disguises of  some sort.

Director Lindy Hume has attempted to give the work something of a feminist take but ultimately as she says “the work is about four flawed individuals who detach from their dependencies, lose their innocence, give in to sexual desire and have their fragile certainty smashed, but who paradoxically gain far more along the way. Self-knowledge is not the lesson that the cynic Don Alfonso is teaching. Rather it’s a hard-won, bittersweet wisdom to which we as humans aspire.”

Tracey Grant Lord’s modernist set of bar, terrace and lounge functions well but the  notion of the set as a metaphor for the crumbling relationship  mirrored in the  collapsing set is never fully resolved.

The singing of the entire cast was excellent. Emma Pearson was a glorious Fiordiligi, her voice quivering with outrage when first confronted by (the disguised) Ferrando. Later as she reacts to his advances her voice and manner became tense,  expressing a mixture of sadness and wonder before a transformation into passionate longing.

Hannah Hipp’s Dorabella displayed a more physical and urgent demeanor and her robust and mercurial voice contrasted well with Pearson’s nuanced performance.

Both Jonathan Abernethy (Ferrando) and Julien Van Mellaerts (Guglielmo) gave fine comic performances, particularly once they had taken on their disguises.

Abernethy was also able to give an intense display of wretchedness on realizing that Dorabella had been unfaithful while Van Mellaerts rich baritone served him well in his arias with Hipp.

Andrew Foster-Williams gave his Don Alfonso a standout performance with an animated voice. He was the arch manipulator inhabiting roles within the narrative as well directing the characters and events. At times it seemed that he was the conductor of the orchestra, and he was particularly ingenious in the way he summoned up the cast of departing soldiers who marched down the aisle at his command.

Despina (Georgia Jamieson Emms) in this production is changed from being a maid to the two sisters into the manager at the local bar which makes her privy to all the secrets the various characters share. Her sharp voice added expertly to several of the trios and sextets. She showed her acting skills in a nice little vignette singing to the sisters while whipping up a couple of cocktails. However, in her roles as notary and doctor she appeared to take the notions of farce a bit too far.

The APO under the direction of conductor Natalie Murray Beale gave a splendid performance making  Mozart’s music  one of the great delights of the evening.

It is unfortunate that the opening scene takes place in a  bar with a lot of drinking and for some this might be too close to reality with the impact of the recent Mama Hooch trials.

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Reviews, News and Commentary

Kinky Boots kicks off with bundles of energy

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Kinky Boots

Book by Harvey Fierstein

Music & Lyrics by Cyndy Lauper

Based on the original movie by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth

Director, David Adkins

Music Director, Zac Johns

Civic Theatre, Auckland until 17 June


The Opera House, Wellington 28 June to 17 July

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Last Thursday night, I dutifully packed up my oh-so-serious mindset and my increasingly jaded cynicism about recent trends towards frothy, glitzy music theatre that doesn’t actually say anything much, and took them along to the Opening Night of Kinky Boots at the Civic.  I like to think I’m fairly open-minded but that niggly little feller who lurks somewhere just behind my left ear was gently prodding me to regard Kinky Boots all as rather ho-hum.

Apparently they’ve been making shoes in Northampton for about 900 years but there seemed to be an awful lot of unsold men’s brogues lying around in the factory by the end of the twentieth.  A woman from Northampton coincidentally sitting next to me nodded and said rather knowingly “… it was mainly the cheaper, better, more fashionable Italian imports that were killing us off as the shoe capital of the world”.

The curtain went up and it was.  Pretty ho-hum.  The set was a fairly functional interpretation of the original rather tired factory, the band made the right noises and the cast sang a few songs in good workmanlike fashion.  But it was all a bit bleak. 

That is …

… until Charlie Price (Nic Kyle), the slightly depressed and highly stressed inheritor of his father’s failing shoe factory chanced on drag queen Lola (Stewart Adam McKensey) in London together with her colourful, dynamic and Angelic dance crew.  From that point on everything changed.  The shoes became boots and they were for anything but walking.

The scenes got shorter and tighter, metaphorically the lighting moved from analogue-drear to digital- crisp and Lauper’s songs became sharper and more energised.  The band became tighter and introduced some nifty key shifts, the laughs grew louder and the physical dynamism of this show shifted to another level.  As for the cast … well, the cast somehow didn’t just change gear.  They got a completely new gearbox.

Charlie and Lola saw an opportunity and took it, rapidly shifting the collapsing Price & Sons into a niche market – one for boots with outrageous heels of course – and glamorously reinventing this collapsing business.  And all would be revealed to the world at a glamorous shoe fair in Milan.

The show is ultimately powered by Stewart Adam McKensey and he is rightly billed as the star of both the Angels and the show.  His skillfully nuanced characterisation of Lola reveals an emotional depth I didn’t anticipate, superbly backed up with impressive vocal strength, impeccable comic timing and seemingly endless bundles of energy, not to mention some pretty fast footwork too.   He is unquestionably Head Angel whether in the boxing ring or in mascara and gives us a Lola who takes pride in both his profession and his life.  

Offsetting him is Charlie (Nic Kyle), the less colourful but still strong Everyman, who proves a strong foil for Lola.  His self-deprecating and even melancholic ‘Soul of a Man’ is heartfelt and reveals his own depth. 

Lola, who becomes the project’s design consultant, overcomes the prejudices of Charlie and some of his workers who aren’t quite adjusted to seeing men in frocks – or thigh-high boots for that matter.  Hardly surprising because both grew up in different worlds.  But both had overpowering fathers.  Rather than succumb to parental expectations, they each choose a new and positive way forward and learn to embrace their differences while creating a line of sturdy stilettos. Ultimately this all comes down to their friendship realised in their touching duet ‘Not My Father’s’ Son.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Naomi Cohen skillfully develops Charlie’s love interest as Lauren, culminating in a hilarious rendition of ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ revealing a sharp and chaotic wit.  In fact comedy is everywhere and adds to the madcap momentum of this thoroughly enjoyable night out.  Director Adkins has clearly worked on this and his cast don’t let him down – none more so than the manly Patrick Jennings (Don) and the nerdy Jeremy Downing (George).  Both of course ultimately look brilliant in thigh-high boots.

But this show touches on a good bit more too.  Kinky Boots is about acceptance, resilience and then recognising and grasping opportunities – and doing so with joie de vivre, energy and boundless positivism.

The only thing I missed in Kinky Boots was that big, memorable song so much a feature of the genre.  There were no ‘Memories’, or ‘Can You Hear the People Sing’, or ‘Do-Re-Mi’ or ‘Maria’ or ‘Defying Gravity’.  Instead we got ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’ – Lola’s big show-stopping lament for her dying father, but I’m unlikely to remember it in ten years time.

So there you have it.  Just a minor quibble in a fun-filled plotline about a factory owner and a drag queen teaming up to save a family business by making fabulous high-heeled boots that’s about so much more, not the least being the city of Northampton itself. 

The sex really is only in the heel.  Kinky Boots is really about Olga’s Step Six – ‘you change world when you change your mind’.

Highly recommended for everyone from pre-teens to Boomers.

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Reviews, News and Commentary

Black Grace – Rumours of Paradise, collecting memories and visions

John Daly-Peoples

Black Grace – Paradise Rumour

SkyCity Theatre

June 7

John Daly-Peoples

Later this week in Sharjah, one of the larger cities of the United Arab Emirates Black Grace will be performing a newly commissioned work at the Biennial Festival 15. Then on June 7th they will perform the same work in Auckland  at SkyCity Theatre .

The new work “Paradise Rumour” has evolved out of the choreographer Neil Ieremia’s  poem which addressed issues of colonisation, adaptation and the pressures of contemporary life.

A line from his text (see below) – “renovating my culture to fit in an apartment box” seems particularly perceptive about the way cultural forms are adapted, reimagined and made relevant.

At a recent  preview of the work four dancers performed with highly charged movements typical of Ieremia’s choreography. The dancing was stylised some of it being performed with three dancers standing one behind each other as though a living totem, At other times they moved deftly around the floor, searching and discovering.

In their totemic like stance the dancer’s arms were like semaphore signalling, a rudimentary form of communication but one which had a delicacy and an urgency.

Neil Ieremia says, “Paradise Rumour is an extension of my 2009 work Gathering Clouds, a response to an economist’s discussion paper on Pacific migration titled “Growing Pains: The valuation and cost of human capital and the impact of Pacific migration on the New Zealand economy”.  The Human Rights Commission released a review of Dr. Clydesdale’s paper titled ‘Pacific Peoples in New Zealand; review of the public controversy about a discussion paper on immigration policy and the economic contribution of Pacific migrants to New Zealand’.  It found that the paper was poorly researched and prejudiced, I couldn’t help but feel that the damage had already been done”. 

Ieremia adds, “The provocation for Paradise Rumour, was based on the central question of, how far have we really come since then?”

Paradise Rumour bounces back and forth through time and space, starting with the arrival of the missionaries to the Pacific, and collecting memories, visions, experiences both personal and collective. 

Weaving together four separate parts of the same experience within the one person, the first dancer represents hope + resistance, the second sorrow + acceptance, the third control + release, and the fourth faith + crisis.

Paradise Rumour with and original soundtrack by Anonymouz features six performers including dancers, Demi-Jo Manalo, Rodney Tyrell and Faith Schuster. 

Paradise Rumour by Neil Ieremia (2008)

Here come the skybreakers, god traders

renovating my culture to fit in an apartment box

with a flat screen and a flat nose

dressed in white with black book measles, muskets and blankets

Flavour said ‘fight the power’

hand vs. knife,

knife vs. gun,

gun vs. bigger gun vs. bigger bomb, vs. bigger budget vs. bigger dick, vs. nothing left

to touch, feel, eat, see, or love

I who am

Must assimilate, replicate, dislocate, shut the gate so the sheep don’t relocate

to Australia, where the tax rate is lower,

human rights is slower

I will return to her someday


I owe her

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Reviews, News and Commentary

“Brent Harris: The Other Side” reveals a complex life

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Brent Harris, Here we give thanks to Kelly

Brent Harris: The Other Side

Auckland Art Gallery

September 17  

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“Brent Harris: The Other Side” is the first major survey exhibition of the artist’s work to be held in New Zealand. It includes recent works that reflect the artist’s reconnection with the country as well as paintings and prints drawn from his most important series of works dating from the late 1980s to the present.

The New Zealand born artist moved to Melbourne in 1981 to study at the Victorian College of the Arts where he has lived there since. In 2016, following the death of his father, he felt able to return to his country of birth after an absence of several decades. It was an episode in his life that resulted in an intense period of artistic production.

Over a career of more than four decades, Harris has developed a significant body of work including paintings, prints and drawings. His work combines personal and universal images which deal with issues around self, family, land and the spiritual. These touch on personal elements of  desire, sexuality, guilt, mortality and  identity.

Much of his work shows a stylistic debt to other artists, notably Colin McCahon. One of the first works in the exhibition, “Here I give thanks to Kelly” looks very much like a McCahon of the late 1950’s with its combination of geometry and words. The text itself is a direct reference to  McCahon’s abstract work  “Here I give thanks Mondrian”.

Harris is also referencing the work of the American abstract artist Ellsworth Kelly who often used simple organic shapes.

Brent Harris, The Stations, 1989

Another obvious borrowing is seen in his earlier “The Stations” where he  used  the geometric, abstract shapes of American Barnett Newman. These simple rectilinear lines, intersecting shapes and cross forms become a means of addressing issues around religion spirituality. In this regard his work is also similar to McCahons who used simple lines and symbols to depict the final journey of Christ.

Brent Harris, The Station 2021

A more recent “The Stations” series combines more figurative and landscape elements so the work takes on the sense of a more personal journey.

In both these series of the stations the first image contains a large “O” shape, one which occurs in many of his other works. The “O” shape is like an abstract bullseye where the eye exists as a symbol for the  Biblical all-seeing eye and is  close to the “I” used by McCahon to signify himself and a greater power. This same shape can also be seen as a mirror in which the artist reflects on himself as well as having other figures engaged in self-reflection.

Another borrowing from McCahon is the “The Gate. The Mirror” which combines the symbolism of McCahon’s “Gate” series with their combination of landscape and self-revelation. These elements of McCahon are combined with the minimalist mark making of Jaspar Johns.

Several of the works feature landscapes which are drawn from the landscape of his youth – distant snow-capped mountains like ice cream which are used to  signify an Eden like landscape which also includes an Adam and Eve.

Brent Harris, Swamp Grey

“The Swamp” series feature abstract shapes which resemble wispy  swamp plant forms or creatures which seem to be morphing into humanoid shapes. existing in some sort of dreamworld. This sense of dreamworld is also present in another series titled “The Grotesquerie”,  which have strong psychological aspects, examining his fraught family connections. Here Dali-like stylised  images of his father and mother are observed by the “O” of the artist.

Brent Harris Grotesquerie No.20 2009

With many of his work notably “The Swamp” and “The Grotesquerie” one can detect a surrealist element which can be seen as the artist using his art as a form of psychoanalysis. It enables him to explore and understand his relationship with family and religion. 

The way the artist has used elements of landscape, family figures and references to other artists is one of the  stimulating aspects of the exhibition, discovering how he has created his own visual language and how he has used it.

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Reviews, News and Commentary

RNZB’s Romeo and Juliet full of energy and emotion

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Sara Garbowski (Lady Capulet) and Damani Campbell Williams (Lord Capulet)

Romeo and Juliet by Serge Prokofiev
Royal New Zealand Ballet in association with Avis
Aotea Centre, Auckland

Until May 13

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Of all the great full-length ballets Romeo and Juliet is the closest to real life. There are no fairies, no changelings, no wicked witches or wizards. It is a tale of human dimensions in which individuals make decisions based on their emotions. It is a story about romantic love, but also about the destructive consequences of that love when social norms interfere.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production of the work is an adventurous take on the Shakespearean tale choreographed by Andrea Schermoly in a reworking of the ballet originally conceived of by Francesco Ventriglia.  

The sets and costumes designed by the Academy Award-winning designer James Acheson are a masterly combination of realism and inventiveness.  Elements of the architecture of Verona and the facade of San Zeno are combined with images derived from Renaissance art – a crucifix by Giotto and a Madonna and child by Cimabue to create old Verona.

The costumes are ravishing – from the elaborate dresses worn at the ball that could have come straight from an image of the Medici court to the gaudy flounced dresses of the local prostitutes and the colour-coordinated wear of the hot Capulets and the cool Montagues. The staging was also very effective notably with the lush ballroom scene and the two sequences of swordplay which were highly choreographed, provided some electrifying action.

The production is one of the most comprehensively designed the company has had and is an indication of the new heights of creativity that have recently been achieved by the Royal New Zealand Ballet

Romeo and Juliet is still a relevant story today, exploring issues of the personal and the familial and how these conflict with the social and political demands of society.

Romeo and his Montague friends and the rival Capulets may be the testosterone-fuelled youth of Verona but they could be of any time or any place. They follow their own rules but there are also the demands of family. These tensions also become something of a metaphor for the present-day conflict in the Ukraine just as they reflected the tensions  within Soviet Russia at the time Prokofiev was composing.

Katherine Minor (Juliet) and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (Romeo)

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (Romeo) and Katherine Minor (Juliet) have to create characters with the emotional and physical attributes of young people falling in love. They both gave engaging and expressive performances full of energy and emotion.

In much of their dancing in Act II where Minor was  lifted and carried by Guillemot-Rodgerson she gave an impression of lightness  but when she was confronted by her father over her marriage she danced with a blistering angularity displaying the defiance of youth.

She was particularly effective in the drug taking scene where her facial expressions and body movements displayed her reluctance and then acceptance of drinking the potion.

Minor captured the subtle changes of the transformation from child to young woman with a simplicity tinged with apprehension while Guillemot-Rodgerson’s dancing was assured at all times, mixing his macho qualities with an emerging gentleness.

In much of their dancing they achieved a limpid sensuality and in the final sequence, when Romeo danced with the dead Juliet, the two dancers achieved an almost ethereal quality.

There were some outstanding performances by other cast members, with Sara Garbowski investing Lady Capulet with a fury of volcanic proportions while  Damani Campbell Williams as Lord Capulet danced with a barely controlled anger when confronting his daughter about her relationship.

The other young members of the House of Montague, Mercutio (Kihiro Kusukami), and Benvolio (Shaun James Kelly) gave some robust, athletic dancing with their displays of arrogance and wit.

Branden Reiners as Tybalt was a superb, strutting bully and Laura Gretchen Steimie as Juliet’s nurse was able to combine a touch of comedy with her serious colluding.

The great star of the ballet is Prokofiev and his music, which underpins the drama and the emotion of the ballet. The APO under Hamish McKeich ensured the music really was an integral part of the work.

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Reviews, News and Commentary

A Kind of Shelter: Stories and conversations about the future which entertain, educate and inspire.

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

A Kind of Shelter Whakaruru-taha

An anthology of new writing for a changed world

Edited by Witi Ihimaera and Michelle Elvy

Massey University Press

RRP $39.99

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In “A Kind of Shelter Whakaruru-taha” Witi Ihimaera and Michelle Elvy have  brought together sixty-eight writers and eight visual artists, imagining them at a grand discussion group or hui where they share ideas about the future. These local and international artists include fiction and creative non-fiction writers as well as poets.

While the editors aim was to create a political and social framework which would engage with developing ideas about our future, the book is more of an eclectic set of voices who are variously, thoughtful, focussed, uncertain and tentative in their contemplation of the future. The various writings range from the intimate to the didactic, addressing the issues around past, present and future as the explore history, notions of indigeneity, climate change as well as social and political change. They all offer insights and guides to life which entertain, educate and inspire.

Some of the writers take on the serious social matters  of the day like poets Essa Ranapiri and Michelle Rahurahu in their “Ram Raid” where the feelings and aspirations of youth escaping a rules-based society are linked to the actions of Tane in his  separation of Earth and Sky.

Lisa Reihana “Ranginui and  Papatūānuku”

One of Lisa Reihana’s  photographs in the book also illustrated the myth of Ranginui and  Papatūānuku with an image of the  creation of  the cosmos and moody brooding skies.

Then there are the joyous sounds of Ian Wedde’s “Tree House” with his description of the inner-city bird life with their human-like qualities while Cilla McQueen’s “Way Up South” with its panoramic description of Rakiora and references to Hone Tuwhare are eloquent explorations of the land and its history.

While many of the works are short pieces of writing some are more substantial as with “Ancestry, kin and shared history”  a discussion with  Dame Anne Salmond, Witi Ihimarea and the Brazilian indigenous, academic activist Apareceida Viaҫa which provides a wide ranging discussion on The Treaty, indigenous culture, as well as  the thought-provoking differences between Māori and the Wari tribe of Brazil and their approaches to the environment , the animal world and their ancestors. According to Viaҫa most Amazonian people have no concept of ancestry.

In “Come and see it all the way from the town” Laura Jean McKay has written about similar themes which she previously developed in her book “The animals in that Country” exploring the natural  world through the eyes and speech of animals and inanimate objects.

Among the  more experimental works is Harry  Ricket’s “Loemis song cycle: Epilogue” which follows the conception, production and performance of a requiem style musical work  with five writers accompanied by an ensemble of musicians which explore a series of unrelated events, evoking ideas around transition, inevitability, optimism and infinity.

Through these writing the authors talk of journeys both physical and psychological, of crises such as Covid 19 along with other encounters and events which have shaped and changed their lives. Some writers dwell on the present, others on past histories and families which also become  reflections on the future.

Wendy Perkins “At the Kauri Museum” where personal history and colonial history are tied to the history of the gun and kauri in shaping the land and society.

Yuki Kihara, “Otamahua Quail Island”

Another of the photographers included in the book is Yuki Kihara who represented New Zealand at last year’s Venice Biennale. with her work “Otamahua Quail Island”  In the photographic series “Quarantine Islands” the artist dressed as “Salome”  travelled across time uniting the various histories and forgotten stories of the islands with their connections to the Covid 19.covid pandemic.

Other writers  include Alison Wong, Paula Morris, Tina Makereti, Ben Brown, David Eggleton, Hinemoana Baker, Erik Kennedy, Nina Mingya Powles, Gregory O’Brien, Vincent O’Sullivan, Patricia Grace, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Whiti Hereaka. Guest writers from overseas include Jose-Luis Novo and Ru Freeman.

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Reviews, News and Commentary

Adolescence and Change can be Tragic

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav de Waele)


A film by Lukas Dhont

In NZ cinemas from May 11

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Growing up on a farm in the country, I don’t recall having any one special friend but of having many – albeit some closer than others – and all in a lifestyle largely shaped by my family and my then school friends.

When I was about the same age as Leo and Remi the central figures in Lukas Dhont’s Close, I too moved to a much larger secondary school but have only a semblance of memory about the significant and protracted leap this entailed.  From a childhood built around play and make-believe I was slowly and irrevocably thrust into an adolescent world where choices were broader, responsibilities and aspirations took on a different shape and my own personality became more sharply defined in a context of my peers and by the world around me.  Somewhere and somehow I learned that each of those peers was different.

This step into adolescence is the lynchpin for Lukas Dhont’s remarkable film which illustrates two protagonists approaching this new adolescent world … but differently.  Growing up together the two boys have become inseparable.  They frolic together in Leo’s parents’ flower farm, race each other on their bikes and share each others’ parents, meals and sleepovers.  Their lives and their view of the world has been built around a make-believe they have created together.  It is one of joy.  Of fun.

In their newly-arriving adolescent world, however, intrinsic differences starts to become apparent.  Leo is starting to emerge as more of an extrovert, discovering additional new friends, taking up new sports and developing his own self-confidence.  Whereas the more introverted Remi is growing into a quieter and more sensitive soul who finds joy in more personal and immediate things.  He immerses himself in his art, plays the oboe like an angel and finds the much larger peer group something of a challenge.

But as the film progresses it becomes clear that more is going on here.  The two are slowly growing into two different people only subconsciously aware that they are growing away from each other.  And so too are their emerging differences becoming apparent to others in terms they can neither grasp nor understand. One day a young female classmate puts Leo on the spot by asking whether or not they are ‘together.’  Leo immediately sets the record straight explaining that they are simply best friends. When she persists, he becomes defensive while Remi quietly observes.  But that is not enough and the drama all comes to a head when Remi heatedly confronts Leo about what he perceives as an increased alienation. The discussion soon turns into a full-on schoolyard tussle and the two must eventually be separated by a teacher and an older brother. 

There is pain and confusion for both, all built on an inability to understand, to articulate, to appreciate. For this is what happens during the years of adolescence and puberty when people are at their most vulnerable and when the most innocent comment can be misunderstood, can hurt and shape one’s future.

No spoilers here about where all this leads but the ending is both unexpected and tragic.  At the same time it also points to challenge and promise.

This film is lyrical and beatific with some beautifully-crafted cinematography with very few fades between scenes, being both smooth and polished.  The dialogue (a mixture of French, Dutch and Flemish) is sparse and rudimentary as befits this refreshingly simplistic style of storytelling.

If I have a criticism it is perhaps that the imagery becomes a little over-powering at times: mechanical tractors destroy the remnants of a fragile flower crop; delicate fingers quickly learning to plant anew; Leo is isolated from his friend Emil behind the grill of an ice-hockey mask; the cutting off of a plaster cast from a broken arm signifies a new beginning; the use of repeated frantic cycle-riding indicates the speed with which things happen and, of course, that almost-clichaic a bare and empty room.

This is an astute and delicately crafted film about a crucial period in the life of all adolescents.

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Reviews, News and Commentary

Alan Ayckbourn’s Nostalgic Delight

Louise Wallace as Sheila and Edwin Wright as Philip

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Relatively Speaking

By Alan Ayckbourn

Tadpole Productions

Directed by Janice Finn

With  Benjamin Murray, Michelle Blundell, Louise Wallace, Edwin Wright

Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna

Until 14 May

Knowing this play is 55 years old, and not having seen it for many, many years, I decided to go back for a quick dip before committing to pen these words.  Long regarded as one of England’s more outstanding playwrights of the twentieth century, Alan Ayckbourn created Relatively Speaking, a near-definitive comedy of manners in 1967, among the earliest of his 80-odd plays and his first big hit.  I’m so glad I did, having forgotten at the marvel that is his structure, language and observations of human idiosyncracy.  So I couldn’t wait to see what Janice Finn and a good, strong cast would do with it for Tadpole Productions.  Well maybe not entirely, as Ayckbourn’s context is itself a bit passe well into the 21st Century and probably adds a bit more piquant layering all by itself,

Timing is everything in comedy and, judging by the sniggers, guffaws and belly laughs on opening night at the Pumphouse, comic-timing in this production is impeccable.  That is largely down to Janice Finn who has pretty much played this the way it was written, supported by a talented cast who also know a thing or two about ironic comedy.

A gangling Benjamin Murray gave us a Greg who my mind suggested bore some kind of resemblance to a very very young Mick Jagger (although my accompanist felt Bowie was more apt) pursuing a Ginny (Michelle Blundell, who I had could have sworn I’d seen on TV only a couple of weeks previously in most of the obituary-clips about a young Mary Quant).

Generationally removed, Edwin Wright’s comic role of Philip manages to become confused, apoplectic and devious – sometimes all at the same time – playing it straight all the way without a shred of hamminess whatsoever.  Sheila (“she costs me thirty quid a week to run and that doesn’t include overheads”) is his world-weary-wife, created with the classic skill, awe and sometimes stunned amazement that audiences have come to expect from Louise Wallace.

The tight stage and only two sets called for some deft and inexpensive design, that included a tiny London flat and a somewhat more spacious garden.

At the Pumphouse Theatre for another couple of weeks, Janice Finn’s production of Relatively Speaking for Tadpole is well worth a nostalgic night out that will leave you chuckling all the way home.  There’s something rather comforting about a play that has been performed to packed houses since 1967, and especially one that can make even a well-chilled social media audience of today roll over with laughter.

Oh yes, what’s it all about ?  Well, as Ayckbourn himself has witten …

“…The characters are not aware of their situation – or at least never for more than a few seconds at a time. Greg never knows what’s going on; Philip does for a few minutes … but by the end of the play he’s as baffled as ever; Ginny starts the ball rolling with the initial lie but … rapidly loses her grip on the situation; the irony of the play is that, at the end, it is Sheila who, ignorant of everything up to that point, suddenly realises the whole situation. Not only that, but for the first time she introduces with the last line of the play a plot element of her own invention”.

Sums it up really. 

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Witi’s Wahine: ordinary lives full of humanity

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Witi’s Wahine by Nancy Brunning

Auckland Theatre Company

Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until May 20

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

With “Witi’s Wahine” playwright Nancy Brunning has delved into the many books of Witi Ihimaera and re-presented them in a new dramatic form which shows both the richness of the authors writing and his ability to tell meaningful stories which are also fables and parables which offer insights into Māori life and culture.

As Witi and others  have noted, the meeting house is both a metaphor and a living entity representing the ancestors, the past tales, myths and aspirations of the iwi. It this concept that is at the heart of “Witi’s Wahine”. The  actors and performers both act out and share the stories and experiences of several women who we have previously encountered in Ihimaera’s fictional world but feel as though they have had a much greater impact.

They become part of the whare nui as the posts which support the structure and their tales are the tukutuku panels providing stories and metaphors.

Just as the tukutuku panels are made by weaving strands of material so the various stories which are recounted build, up a woven history of ancestors, individuals and families.

All these stories focus on the female protagonists, on the matriarchs who are healers, storytellers, keepers of children (and husbands) and truth-seekers. Māori myth and  cosmology is full of  stories of powerful women, and they have been given new life through  through the work of Ihimaera as well as female writers such as Robyn Kahukiwa and Patricia Grace.

The main actors – Pehia King, Olivia Violet Robinson-Falconer, Roimata Fox, Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby are like a group of Aunties engaged in a korero; relaxing, playing cards, remembering, guiding and instructing. They also engage with the audience as a whole as well as some individuals so we became part  of the story sharing which contributed to emotional dimensions of the work.

The stories they tell are range from the mythic tales of creation through to contemporary times and their locations range from the small East Coast town of Waituhi where Ihimaera grew up  to the  deserts of Tunisia.

Nancy Brunning has taken vignettes from several of  Ihimaera’s book as well as including the author’s first youthful piece of writing which is a reworking of the Rapunzel fairy story. The stories are drawn from his first book, Pounamu, Pounamu, Tangi, Whanau, The Matriarch and several others including The Whale Rider with its retelling of the myth of Paikea.

There was a subtle soundscape featuring the sounds  of birds, bees, whales and heartbeat along with two sets One is just the bare stage while the other a more abstract one with six openings suggestion  passage to the past and future. It is the actors who describe the settings with a minimum props and minimal action although the various dance performances are spirited and the re-enactment  of Te Kooti’s  battle and withdrawal  at Ngatapa was a  dramatic and stirring sequence.

In several scenes featuring dance and waiata that the other members of the cast – Raiha Moetara, Matawai Hanatia Winiata, Maramaria Ki-Tihirahi Moetora, and Pepi-ria Moetara-Pokai added a rich dimension to the play. The stories range over themes of birth illness, death, guilt and  discovery. Some are witty, some polemical, some tell  of myth and history most tell of the ordinary lives of delightful characters, rich lives full of humanity.

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