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The Made: A hilarious romp … with some food for thought thrown in

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Hannah Tasker-Poland (Aire) Joe Dekkers-Reihana (Sam) Alison Bruce (Alice)   credit Jinki Cambronero

The Made

By Emily Perkins

Directed by Colin McColl

Auckland Theatre Company

ASB Waterfront Theatre

Until 8 October

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Many years ago my then 7-y-o daughter received a birthday gift in the form of a tamagotchi or toy-pet.  Many of her cohort had similar tamagotchis and sustaining their welfare, longevity and happiness became a short-lived but major part of the kid’s lives.  

This half-buried memory leapt back into vivid and immediate focus when ‘I-woke-up-and-was-very-happee’ cyborg Arie (Hannah Tasker-Poland), who graces the stage with immobility right from the time the audience is first admitted, swings mechanically into action in the opening scenes of Emily Perkins’ hilarious new play The Made.

Chief protagonist Alice (Alison Bruce in a standout performance) is a driven, down to earth, working mother desperately trying to secure funding to develop her cyborg into a sentient* robot. But successful sentience is a sometime thing and her claim for R&D funding is rebuffed while she staunchly suffers the trials and tribulations that middle age has thrust upon her. 

The sudden arrival of Alice’s mercurial drug-dealing, university dropout child Sam (played with verve and endearing vigour by Murdoch Keane) reveals that the future may lie in … mushrooms!  And this opens the door to … well, to a plethora of issues that are as relevant today as they are to the future.

Colin McColl ensures that the mirth flows in The Made.  He keeps the audience in stitches with the two cyborgs at point using highly successful one-liners, sight gags, deliciously overacted situational comedy and a more than capable cast.

Both cyborgs have a physical presence that features throughout the play.  Sam’s ‘Nanny’ (Bronwyn Bradley) who helped raise him, is a kind of accidentally-sentient Mk 1 prototype.  She is rather unceremoniously unpacked from a box before demonstrating brief traces of that sentience and goes on to even reveal shreds of nuance!  And the aforementioned Arie (Hannah Tasker-Poland), probably best described as a Mk 1.5 attempted-sentient with shortcomings, then jitters and judders her way throughout – sometimes at the most inopportune times – and always wakes being ‘very-happee’.

The issues that arise are immediately apparent and very, very funny.  How should we relate to inanimate things?  Why are humans so hellbent on making humanoid likenesses?  Do, and should, robots have feelings? What about interaction and who is ultimately in control?  What about procreation?  These, and a range of other popular conceptions and misconceptions, are what audiences will quickly love and laugh themselves silly over.

While the play quickly grabs its audience by the throat and thrusts these questions in its face using outrageously unashamed comedy, playwright Emily Perkins skilfully allows other broader issues to bubble away just beneath the surface so The Made also reaches a completely different level.

Therein lies its real heart and ultimately this is a play about humanity, about family and about values.

Alice questions sexual roles and stereotypes, marriage breakup, business decision-making and processes, as well as middle-age and menopause and more than a few other things as well.  All from a woman’s perspective. 

In the background her cello-playing former husband David (Peter Daube) is styled as her anchor, even if she does not initially realise it.  The Director (Adam Gardiner) from whom she seeks more funding furthers a business-as-patriachy theme in an appropriately two-dimensional way, and most of the other cast members also remain important though mainly as caricatures that enhance the comedy.  With delightful irony, it is the effervescent Sam who truly appreciates his nanny for what she was, who steals the show and who will quite possibly best accommodate future-world. 

Production values in The Made maintain the high standards expected of Auckland’s premier theatre company.  There is a simple two-set stage, a well-handled sound-scape and some subtle cyber-voice generation. 

So, on balance, congratulations to ATC for generating new work, especially from a writer who is a standout among Aotearoa’s more recent generation of literary high achievers.

Meanwhile my daughter still wistfully concedes that she loved her tamagotchi years ago … and reckons the tamagotchi loved her back too.

*sentient – having reactions like living things would, ranging from positive states like pleasure to negative states like pain.

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Macbeth : Passion, Pain and a  Triumph for Netia Jones

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Banquo (Wade Kernot) and Macbeth (Phillip Rhodes) as young potential kings hover.  Photo Grant Triplow.

Macbeth

By Giuseppe Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave

Directed and designed by Netia Jones

Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland

Until 25 September

Then

St James Theatre, Pōneke, Wellington, 5, 7 and 9 October

Isaac Theatre Royal, Ōtautahi, Christchurch, 22 and 22 October

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

While Shakespeare’s Macbeth may have been initially published 400 years ago, followed by Verdi’s opera more than 100 years later, its prevalent themes of political ambition, corruption and tyranny remain universal.

And while Shakespeare may have conceived these original themes in Scotland, Verdi saw them as being just as relevant in a 19th century Italy moving inexorably towards a realignment of its own political future.  In fact, while breaking new ground away from the hitherto largely romantic nature of Italian opera, Verdi himself urged that Shakespeare’s original psychological insights were not lost in the opera.

He would likely be just as emphatic in the 21st century where the increasingly confrontational nature of national politics, the branding, brandishing and blamefulness of international geopolitics and even the chattering class’s tabloid hypotheses about the future of the British Monarchy demonstrate their relevance.

Netia Jones has certainly not lost sight of them in her new realisation of Macbeth for NZ Opera.   In something of a coup for the company, her services as director, set designer and video artist result in a visual feast that is a  wonderment to behold.  Her brilliantly innovative staging of this dark, twisted and internecine world manages to be contemporary while remaining true to the power of both Shakespeare and to Verdi.  It is a triumph. 

Using sensitively created digital imagery she creates a world that resembles a black and white movie and then overlays it with bursts and splashes of red until the stage fairly drips with blood.  But her sensitivity remains throughout with the stark and unexpected introduction of cyan highlights underscoring relevant dramatic moments.

The highlight of her creation is unquestionably the Birnham Wood scene.  Here she somehow manages to generate the illusion of tripling the numbers and the movement on stage, then creating near-documentary level imagery and mixing darkness with light in ways that that reach visceral levels.

NZ Opera has long been applauded for nurturing and assisting the development of many New Zealand artists and in this Macbeth each principal and sub-principal is sung by a New Zealander.

The sole exception is Amanda Echalaz, the South African soprano now resident in New York, who has risen to world prominence.  It is easy to see why after her astonishing “La luce langue” in Act I.  As Lady Macbeth she is fierce, formidable and manipulative. In a bravura performance she is the perfect foil for Macbeth, driven by power and greed that is ultimately futile and meaningless.

Phillip Rhodes appeared totally wrung out and exhausted as Macbeth after a marathon performance in his first principal role.  His brooding, troubled presence permeates everything and his eventual unravelling demonstrates a quality to his characterisation that only adds to its depth.  By way of an aside, Phillip would also have been delighted that his son Logan appeared as one of the young Future Kings.

Wade Kernot is near-spectral as Banquo and looms large as a Ghost, while Jared Holt is a standout as Macduff.  Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono gives us a strong Malcolm who returns and is crowned as King of Scotland; while a compassionate and always in control Morag Atchison is the Lady in Waiting who knows a lot more than she lets on.

But it is the witches that provide the supernatural underpinnings of Macbeth, giving it an omnipresent tone and a structure.  First hinted at when they vanish through walls in the opening scene, the witches are played by the whole chorus and they ‘steam, storm and splutter’ as well as ‘hubble and bubble’.  They morph into crowd scenes, become party-goers, workers, exiles and troopers and then revert to witches once again.  They are everywhere and they dominate the stage and this production. 

Brad Cohen (Conductor) has noted that Verdi’s music was created to ‘terrify, not to soothe’ in his programme notes when conducting NZ Opera’s 1998 Macbeth.  It still does and, in Netia Jones’ setting, even more so.

Congratulations NZ Opera.

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The Wasp: A Welcome Suspension of Disbelief

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Bree Peters (Heather) and Miriama McDowell (Carla)

The Wasp

By Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

Q Theatre Loft

Until 24 September

By Malcolm Calder

16 September 2002

Coleridge would not have had Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s The Wasp in mind when he wrote of a willing suspension of disbelief.  Getting to the end of The Wasp certainly requires a lot of it. 

But it does so insidiously, initially sucking the audience into a fairly believable opening scenario laced with enough severed-sentences, innuendo and veiled suggestions for us to wonder where it might be going.  Playing ‘beat the playwright’ in my head, and knowing this would be a psychological thriller, I tried very hard to imagine a range of possibilities.  But I didn’t get even close.

Two pals from schooldays meet up again more than 20 years after they fell out as adolescents, never having spoken since.  Carla is pregnant for the fifth time, married to a man twice her age and has struggled to make the best of what she’s got (‘a bit of work at Countdown’).  Nor is she averse to other financial opportunities when they arise.

Heather lives a more upwardly mobile lifestyle, is childlessly married to a man we never meet and whom she remorselessly disparages (he gets only three words off-stage at the very end).  She has a special offer to make to Carla.  This is all revealed in a tightly-written initial scene in which Sam Snedden draws fine performances from a down to earth Miriama McDowell (Carla) and a slightly jittery Bree Peters (Heather).

That’s just the beginning and the disbelief kicks in shortly thereafter.  And somehow we almost believe it.  Well, some of it.  Maybe.   The two revisit their pasts and attempt to rationalise the course of their respective lives and minds.  The Wasp reveals things buried deep in those minds that have been festering for nearly a quarter of a century.  It becomes totally outrageous and pretty nasty in fact.

Localisation is well-handled in this highly entertaining and demanding two-hander.  However I felt the denouement of Act 1 was a bit rushed and diminished the impact of its shock value, while the pace of Act 2 was occasionally erratic.  But that shouldn’t distract the audience from enjoying the verbal and emotional gymnastics revealed as The Wasp twists, turns and eventually unravels.  Yes, the mayhem too.  And definitely that suspension of disbelief.

Q Theatre is deserving of acknowledgement for its Matchbox Series.  The Wasp certainly fits in well.

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Aucklandia … and that other suburb

Andrew Grainger (Hugh) and Lisa Chappell (Gillian)

The Campervan

By Kathryn Burnett

Tadpole Productions

Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna

to 18 September

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

8 September 2022

Tadpole Productions know what they’re doing. Research boomers living on the North Shore, identify their tastes, ensure Tadpole product isn’t over-demanding and has a high entertainment quotient, throw in a bunch of well-credentialled actors and then the audience should lap it up.  And, just to be on the safe side, add in some delightful digs at another suburb (which had better remain nameless) and the recipe for success is looks even healthier.

Tadpole’s latest production is Kathryn Burnett’s The Campervan.  It’s a world premiere – great term that, helps even more with box office.

This play asks what happens when a blustering, over-entitled alpha male has a late mid-life crisis (or possibly an early later-life one) and decides to walk away from his massive share portfolio, sell off all his family’s 28 properties and a farm up north, not to mention getting rid of the wine cellar, sundry artworks and miscellaneous trinkets? Nope. He has had a revelation and is going to totally change his life by walking away from this consumerist lifestyle and live on-site in a two-berth Winnebago whilst creating an infinitely renewable city-based farm.

Wonderful  Admirable even. Um, err, no it’s not because he has unfortunately forgotten to discuss the plan with anyone who might be impacted by such a unilateral decision.  

The resulting hullabaloo, disruption and confusion opens the door to a gaggle of sight gags, some side-splitting one-liners and general hilarity.  It also provides The Campervan with a context.

Simon Prast fills this with a close-knit ensemble that overplays deliciously and delivers more than a few surprises.  The well-travelled Andrew Grainger switches from the besuited businessman Hugh to the manically single-minded idealist Hugh who blusters, bullies and freely admits to seeing others’ viewpoints – but conveniently forgets that he is holding a mirror.  He blindsides substantially younger second wife Tamsin (a not-quite coquettish Catriona Toop) who sees her future lifestyle potentially vanish overnight – shock, horror.  A trusted and thrice-divorced business colleague with a roving eye Johnny (Greg Johnson) is not consulted, generating strategies around own financial future.  And elastic-bodied, film-maker son Marco (fully funded by the Bank of Dad of course) can’t begin to even contemplate an instant digital demise.

However former first wife Gillian (Lisa Chappell) has seen it all before.  Her droll observations fill the gaps with an ascerbic wit that’s timed to perfection.  And her calm presence proves to be the glue that holds everything together.

Simon Prast surprises even got me!  At the beginning of Act 2 when a well dressed bloke re-entered with the audience and sat adjacent to me in an aisle seat.  I barely glanced at him apart from a fleeting second where I ‘sorta’ mentally noted that he looked ‘kinda’ familiar.  I felt like a right idiot of course when he stood and raced to the stage to commence a press conference as Hugh.

Campervan is ideally structured for a comedy and is essentially an old-fashioned type of play, much of its humour is derived from one-liners rather than being comedically embedded and the first Act might benefit from a tiny edit or two. But that’s unlikely to trouble Tadpole audiences. There is more than enough highly entertaining hilarity and craziness here for a jolly good night out.  Well done Tadpole.

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Black Grace: Bodies in Fluid Motion

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Life – O Le Olaga Dances

By Neil Ieremia

Black Grace

Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre

Auckland

Sept 4

Wellington 6 Sept

Christchurch 10 Sept

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

After being stymied for two or three years though lockdowns, travel restrictions and other constraints our world-leading contemporary dance company is back in Tamaki Makaurau.  And back in a big way.

With a gentle, humble and humorous backgrounder from Neil Ieremia the performance opens with the physically percussive Handgame, an excerpt from his 1995 gem Relentless.  This attention-grabbing entrée immediately brings the sellout audience into Black Grace’s Samoan world.  Featuring Lorde’s Royals, it harks back to Ieremia’s own background growing up in Porirua.

The second work, Fatu (Heart), a New Zealand premiere, is inspired by an artwork gifted from eminent visual artist Fatu Akelei Feu’u (ONZM) and performed to an original soundtrack including live drumming by Isitolo Alesana and the vocal colours of Te Vaka.

Interestingly, the three swirling colours derived from Fatu’s original are a delicious contrast to the straight lines and clear definition of more traditional Samoan art.  Here fluid bodies become things of beauty constantly in motion and the three key colours of the artwork meld into a single swirling unity.  It is light, it floats and it is filled with joy, freedom and exhilaration.  It is brilliant.

The final work and a further New Zealand premiere is Black Grace’s latest work, O Le Olaga (Life).  This a deeper piece that reimagines Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major and is a tribute to Neil Ieremia’s own parents. Black Grace brings this to Aotearoa after triumphant seasons at the internationally-renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts and at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan.

Life addresses the obstacles, hurdles and obstacles confronted, overcome and adopted by his family, celebrates their life and their journey through time.  He sees himself as a survivor from a place where cultures have collided, and it is through this lens that he has been inspired to collect and reorganise elements of beauty, rhythm and ever-present music.  These are illustrated through the explosion of colour and pattern found in his mother’s dresses, the pride with which his father reveals his traditional tattoo when he dances, the murmuring of nightly prayers and the cracking of voices as hearts are lifted in traditional hymns of praise.

Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major forms an achingly joyful and triumphant environment that becomes a hymn of praise and worship dividing the work into natural movements that range from profound sadness to festive brilliance.  Quite fittingly O Le Olaga was rewarded with a standing ovation.

The design and lighting of JAX Messenger is a large part of these three works, the Auckland Gospel Choir also feature and company has again partnered with Zambesi in costume design.

It has been a significant couple of weeks for Samoan art and Samoan artists in Tamaki Makaurau with three productions taking place over two weeksEach is different, each is significant and each can stand proudly on the world stage.

Black Grace matou te fa’aaloalo ma fa’afetai.

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The Writer: The Push and Pull of Theatre

Sophie Henderson
The Writer by Ella Hickson
A Silo Theatre production
Q Theatre (Rangitira)
Until September 18
Reviewed by Malcolm Calder 

Push or Pull 

It’s about 4 years since Ella Hickson’s new play The Writer was first performed at the Almeida Theatre in London.  At the time it was contentious, eliciting either howls of outrage (because some saw it as attempting to trample over and challenge the theatrical forms and practices of the very sector of which it is a part) or delighted screams of excitement (because others saw it as enabling explosive new opportunities to further develop the creative role of women). 

Four years later, in Tamaki Makaura, the same issues remain.  But a lot has happened in those four years.  Covid has scythed its way through the sector wreaking havoc on everyone concerned, contemporary feminism has become a very complex thing indeed, Gender issues have become both established and acknowledged and everyone has had four years of further reflection. 

In The Writer the unnamed key character duels verbally and perhaps physically too with her protagonist, a Director.  It is about aspiration and actualisation, control and domination and it is about women and sexual stereotypes. 

At one level it is binary, at another it is truly complex. In Sophie Roberts outstanding Silo Theatre production The Writer opens with a searingly intense confrontation on an empty stage between the protagonist, a passionate and angry 26-year-old who despises the conventions of male-dominated modern theatre and believes her writing to be a tool that can ‘overturn the patriarchy’.   

Her somewhat passive antagonist, who might be a director, is very definitely the voice of the establishment and governed by a cautious pragmatism that’s more concerned with keeping the theatre afloat than breaking new dramatic ground. 

The two standpoints are diametric opposites and doomed to never meet.  Theatre-as-a-sacred-space with a political purpose is confronted only with a mixture of amused condescension and a vain attempt to co-opt the fire in someone else’s belly.  It’s just not going to happen – which is a credit to how brilliantly Ash Williams and Matt Whelan make this scene leap off the page. What it does do though, is provide a context for much of the ensuing or prior action conducted in a series of semi dream/realty sequences between the Writer and the Director. 

These move backward in time (could be forward but that’s not important) to a rehearsal setting on-stage complete with questions from the audience, to before and after versions of an apartment, to an idyllic chalk circle. Initially the push-pull is between the Writer and her Needy Boyfriend.  He sees her as good for sex, her passion as an income-generating opportunity (‘movie scripts pay better’) and insecurely resents not being the centre of her world.

He is dismissively consigned to the past-his-use-by-date pile. Spoiler Alert – as the publicity says, things do explode and walls do collapse in this play, revealing the flimsiness behind the physical reality of what we see.  Then the Writer jumbles him up with the Director (Steven Lovatt) – suggesting but never telling and ever the affable master of the laid back manner and the laconic response – yet with a biting rebuff always up his sleeve.   

The Writer moves on to join a tribe of women living a new world order that’s bereft of men. This generates both an income stream and a relationship with New Girlfriend living in an apartment that mirrors her former relationship with Needy Boyfriend.  It wrestles with the increasing complexity of contemporary feminism. Spoiler Alert – yes, there is a baby in this play or are there two?  And what physical reality do they reflect? The Writer closes with an anecdote about Pablo Picasso up a ladder painting Guernica whilst his two lovers have a fist fight.  

Picasso, so the legend goes, obliviously continues painting.  Clearly male artists have been granted the privilege of pursuing their art untrammelled by domesticity in a way female artists haven’t – and still aren’t.  But it’s not that simple either and nothing is neatly resolved by the end of the play. Sophie Roberts has cast outstandingly.  Ash Williams and Matt Whelan command the stage particularly in that opening scene.  Sophie Henderson endows the Writer with passion, intelligence and commitment that is the soul of the play and, while Lovatt’s Editor has few lines, his underplayed contrapuntal presence is the perfect foil. 

Did I like The Writer?  Wrong question.  For me, this play tends to trip over its own binary standpoint.  It is about something far bigger and far more complex, and raises more questions than it answers.  The more I think about it, the more questions it raises. What The Writer does do is provide a riveting two hours.  But make sure you’ve got someone to discuss it with later because there’s lots to talk about.  After all, that’s what makes good theatre good. 
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Dawn Raids: Dark truths revealed through humour and heartbreak

Bella Kalolo-Suraj (To’aga), Lauie Tofa (Mose), Michael Falesiu’ (Sione/Fabian), Talia-Rae Mavaega (Teresa) Image, Andi Crown

Dawn Raids

Auckland Theatre Company

Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until September 3

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The last couple of years has shown just how dependant New Zealand is on overseas workers filling many lower paid jobs in the economy  with many sectors in the economy crying out for immigrant workers, especially  from the Pacific. The issue of  cheap labour has been a continuing factor in New Zealand since WWII when Pacific Island immigration increased with the encouragement of government and business. Pacific Island workers provided an important source of labour for expanding industries. 

In the 1970’ however there was a downturn in the economy, unemployment was rising, and an increasing number of Pacific Islanders were arriving on visitors’ permits. Many remained in the country to work and these ‘overstayers’ became scapegoats for those looking for someone or something to blame for the social and economic problems facing the country.

The dawn raids began in the 1970s in Auckland. They represent a low point in the relationship between the government and the Pacific community. It was a time when the New Zealand Police was instructed by the government to enter homes  stop people on the checking for visas and passports.

Oscar Kightley’s “Dawn Raids” is set in 1970’s Ponsonby with  police raids on the street, the pub and in homes.

In the play we encounter one family whose lives are in a delicate balance as they are sheltering an overstayer, Fuarosa, who is the fiancé of their son Sione. Her presence creates all sorts of tensions with the ever-present threat of her discovery looming over them.  There are conflicts between the couple and with the father Mose, who sees that even walking to the letterbox could attract unnecessary attention to the family.

We also connect with the family’s aspirations. The mother  To’aga who has an unfulfilled dream, the sister Teresa who is following her ambitions studying Law at University as well as pursuing a radical path in joining the Brown Panthers.

Then there is Sione who we initially encounter in his stage persona of  Fabian, pursuing his dream of being a star but is now performing as an ‘Hawaiian’ singer and Elvis impersonator singing with the Noble Hawaiian Sabretooth Tigers who in the final moments of the play morph into the Noble Samoan Sabretooth Tigers.

The play could have taken a more political approach peppered with polemical dialogue but Kightley has resisted this instead only briefly alluding to politics and history. What the play dose is show the impact of the raids on the one family and their close contacts.

This makes for an emotionally charged work which sees history in terms of individuals and their individual experience.

Each of the characters combines elements of the stereotype along with nuanced individuality which are brilliantly expressed

Lauie Tofa’s Mose as the laid-back patriarch who has difficulty controlling his family, especially Teresa is the comedian of the piece delivering his one liners and wry observations to create a man wanting to retain the good and the bad of village life and he also aspires to integration.

Bella Kalolo-Suraj as Mose’s wife To’aga is the voice of reason and solidity conveying much of the emotional richness of the play as she negotiates her children’s desires and her husband’s dictates.

Michael Falesiu’s performance as Sione/Fabian is brilliant. He has the voice and stage presence to make his cabaret appearances thoroughly entertaining. He also  manages the complex of the character, cleverly juggling stage career and domestic future with a palpable tension while Gabrielle Solomona as his fiancé Fuarosa, captures the wide-eyed innocence and eagerness of the newly arrived.

As Teresa, Talia-Rae Mavaega  gives a forceful portrayal of a young woman with a passionate revolutionary spirt confronting political and social issues as well as the issues of control within  the family

In the minor roles  Italia Hunt gives a finely judged performance as the conflicted policeman Steve as does Jake Tupu  as the politically ambivalent Bene.

Kightley’s play is an astute balance of the personal and the political, the humorous and heartbreak. Dialogue and music complement each other and there is effective use of the various settings of club, bar street and home. Kiightkly’s use of humour and the everyday makes the police raids, the sirens and the barking dogs all the more dramatic and threatening demonstrating the playwrights profound understanding of stage craft and of realising dark truths.

The play is  great reminder of one of New Zealand darker periods but it is also a reminder that we have some great dramatists whose work often doesn’t get shown enough.

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Jukebox Joy at the Civic

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Pacifica the Musical

Civic Theatre, Auckland

To Sunday August 28

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Jukebox musicals have been around for a long time.  Typically using a fairly simple storyline and intermixing this with known songs, the two elements then combine to develop a whole that complements itself.  This genre goes all the way back to John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera in the eighteenth century and has been used in many successful films and stage productions and films ever since.  More recent popular examples include Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys and Moulin Rouge.

Pacifica the Musical is the latest. It’s likely to be a hit in Auckland or in any of our largest cities and, could well go on to realise its creators aspirations and achieve a more international life expectancy.

This show is a credit to those who have put it together. It weaves a storyline across 300 years, telling of a mysterious missing taonga in a “little black box”, and then travels to and fro from some unspecified part of Polynesia to New Zealand. It crosses generations and ultimately demonstrates that some truths are eternal. There’s some genuinely funny interaction, love and legend are woven throughout and holding everything together is a melange of songs by some of our favourite composers and artists.

These days I frequently leave a venue with depressed amazement at the dark thoughts some creatives dream up. But not this time. Delightfully, there is not a scrap of angst in this show. With Pacifica i felt only joy, happiness and a sense of celebration. tradition is honoured, family is respected and Aotearoa’s Pacific immigrants are clearly and firmly established as an integral part of this country.

When I left the theatre I was smiling. And so was every single face I saw. Pacifica is the work of producer/director Pak Peacock and a highly credentialled team. The digital set is skilfully established by Delaney Kennedy and the deft choreographic work of Hadleigh Pouesi can be spotted – especially among his hip-hop dance crew, a masterstroke of casting.

Jerry-Moses Roebeck (Tanga) and Irene Falou (Venus)

Other cast, some of them very young and early in their careers, simply fizz with energy and their voices are a joy to behold. Jerry-Moses Roebeck (Tanga) and Irene Falou (Venus) in particular. They are given strong ensemble support and assurance from established actors like Nick Afoa.

Composing a new score is a complex process, fraught with risk and often takes years to reach its final form.  So it was probably wise for Jacob Nansen to simplify things and reach out through music and songs already known to his audience.  To say it was well-received is an understatement.  On opening night there almost appeared to be separate cheer squads in the audience as each new tune was rolled out.  Anika Moa’s mob hooting over on the left, Annie Crummer’s supporters hollering over on the right, Neil Finn’s appreciators at the back, and Six60’s straight down the middle.  Jacob has done a masterful job bringing these different musical styles into a homogenous whole and bookends them to perfection with two from Dame Hinewehi Mohi – her mesmerising Pukaea and Kotahitanga.

On balance, Pacifica could perhaps handle a slight trim or edit in a couple of places. But that’s minor and will no doubt happen. in the meantime, go see it. You won’t be disappointed.

Yes of course the taonga is recovered. and the girl get the boy. That’s what music theatre is about after all!

 
 
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Two new books about art and culture in NZ

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

 Culture in a Small Country: The Arts in New Zealand by Roger Horrocks

Atuanui Press

$45.00

A Book of Seeing by Roger Horrocks

Atuanui Press

$38.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

With his two new books, “Culture in a Small Country” and “A Book of Seeing” Roger Horrocks has provided an excellent addition to books about New Zealand art and culture.

Where “Culture in a Small Country” provides an overview of New Zealand culture “A Book of Seeing” is the authors more personal approach to investigating and understanding art and culture and how we perceive it. One is a wide-ranging exploration of our cultural history the other is something of a guide to the way explore our world .

Horrocks is well qualified to take on the immense task of describing and interpreting culture. He taught at the  University of Auckland  on a range of subjects including poetry, film, TV and  media.

He has published many books including a biography of the artist Len Lye and he wrote the libretto for Eve de Castro-Robinson’s 2012 opera about Lye. He has made films and published two collections of poetry, and he was a co-editor of innovative literary magazines.

He has been influential in a number of cultural organisations including NZ On Air, the Auckland International Film Festival, Script to Screen and NZ on Screen. In 2019 the Royal Society Te Apārangi gave him its Pou Aronui Award and was [previously awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit.

The topics included in “Culture in a Small Country” are an indication of his range of interests – Writing, Publishing, The Visual Arts, Film, Classical Music, Popular Music, The Digital Age as well as a chapter on  the impact of the  pandemic.

Within those general headings he provides a wealth of information and commentary which will remind the reader of our distant as well as recent past and the huge developments which have occurred in the arts in the last fifty years.

He knits together the multiple stands of our culture, the interwoven artists and events which have provided a rich tapestry of histories and ideas

The book combines the elements of an academic treatise with extensive notes along with a down to earth readability with anecdotes and lively information. He has also drawn on personal experience as well as relationships with a wide range of New Zealand painters, writers, composers, filmmakers and other artists.

The mini-interviews and biographies of well-known and influential practitioners helps give the book an informal tone whereby serious subjects are negotiated without too much erudition.

“A Book of Seeing” is a meditation and reflection on  range of topics related to seeing. Here the topics cover the various ways we look at, experience and comprehend the arts.  The more than thirty chapter cover  a number of topics – The Experience of Colour, The Origins of the Eyes, Viewing Films, Science and Seeing, Visual Modesty, Philosophers See Time and Language and Seeing.

In this sweeping and elegant approach to his subject the author follows writers such as John Berger who, fifty years ago in his books “Ways of seeing” noted that “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak”. This recognition that seeing is at the core of the way we need to approach art and that the way we see is conditioned by many personal, social, cultural and scientific factors.

Horrocks takes a personal approach to his subject and in his opening chapter, describes his teenage writings about the suburb he lived in at the time. He reflects on his early intentions and ability to look at his environment and then attempt to describe his thoughts through writing. It is a practice which he has followed since then in all his critical endeavours and it also  sets the tone for the rest  of the book 

He seamlessly brings together ideas, comments and reflection by artist, philosophers, writers, poets, musicians and scientists -Wittgenstein,  Baudelaire, Francis Crick, Borges and Lucretius along with New Zealanders Peter Simpson Michele Leggott and Allen Curnow.

He manages to explore some very simple questions – How do we see? What is it we actually  see?, How much of what we see is conditioned and learned?. In answering these questions Horrocks combines simplicity, a keen perception and an intellectual precision which is revealing and rewarding.

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Reviews, News and Commentary

A new book celebrating Hundertwasser in New Zealand

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Hundertwasser in New Zealand

By Andreas Hirsch

Oratia Books

RRP $70.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

It’s almost fifty years since Hundertwasser burst onto the art scene in New Zealand with his major exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery. That show which opened in April 1973 was the start of an interconnected, almost symbiotic relationship between New Zealand and the Austrian artist.

The catalogue for that show sold in its thousands and it seemed that most New Zealand art lovers had a copy of it. The book went on to be published in 18 editions selling over 750,000 copies.

Hundertwasser’s connections with New Zealand went further than that exhibition. Not only did he design a new flag for the country which almost became the official flag but he designed one of the country’s few ’iconic” architectural works with the Kawakawa public toilets. The recent opening of the Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei which he also designed has further cemented his creative impact on New Zealand society.

Hundertwasser Art Centre

In some ways Hundertwasser could be seen as the archetypal New Zealand artist / architect.  He displayed the No 8 wire mentality in his approach to architecture and design as well as a desire to own his own piece of land and developed an affinity with Māori. He also  drew inspiration from the landscape as well as seeing the need to integrate the individual into the physical and natural environment.

A new book  “Hundertwasser in New Zealand” by Andreas Hirsch, a long-time friend of the artist  provides insights into this latter-day New Zealand citizen who had a major impact on the arts, the environmental movement and Northland itself.

The book records his journeys around the world including the voyages on his boat, Regentag which sailed from Europe to New Zealand, metaphorically linking his European life to his New Zealand life. The book is also a record of his artistic journeys as he developed his artwork and the themes he was fascinated with. There is also his journey within New Zealand as he sought to acquire property and then his years of developing his farmland  in the Kaurinui Valley.

In the book much is written about his career up to his major Auckland show at a time when his work was becoming internationally recognised . As the German curator Wieland Schmied noted at the opening of the exhibition in Auckland. ‘The themes of Hundertwasser’s pictures are labyrinthine architectural structures, hill-like houses surrounded by protecting fences, house-like steamers surrounded by protecting waves, leaf-like windows surrounded by protecting spirals, the spirals running inwards with many convolutions like paths leading towards a cave of security.’ These are themes which were much in keeping with Māori creative approaches.

His interest in alternative architecture is outlined from his early rooftop living in Vienna in a building designed by Otto Wagner to his encounter with the New Zealand architect  Ivan Tarulevicz whose  house in Tauranga Hundertwasser saw as  a functioning implementation of his vision of green roofs with sheep grazing on the roof. Several years before Tarulevicz had been responsible for getting Buckminster Fuller, a proponent  of the geodesic dome to come to New Zealand to talk.

The book also expands on the way that Hundertwasser came to acquire land in Northland and his growing understanding and respect for Māori. At the same time, he was expanding his commitment to ecological and conservation issues which were in turn were linked his artistic work, producing paintings and posters related to  these ideas.

For many New Zealanders, Hundertwasser’s career centre on that 1973 exhibition but the book expands on his twenty years of his output before arriving in Auckland. His early life and much of his outlook was built on his Jewish / Aryan heritage and like many in post-war Germany he saw the need for a social revolution. There is also material about the process leading up to that Auckland  show and the efforts of his Australian dealer Hertha Dabbert who had given hm a  Melbourne  show  in 1970 

The texts also provide ways of insights into the artists approach to art and life, notably with his notion of the five skins of the human being, the importance of the spiral and his  ideas about the horizontal (the domain of nature) and the vertical, (the domain of man).

Hundertwasser, Fagan’s Farm

The book manages to show how the artist’s career and ideas are reflected in his art  and the way the  works become the visual diary of his physical, intellectual and social  progress. Paintings such as “Fagan’s Farm” which have many of the features of his work is based on the farm owned by neighbours of his in Northland. The painting is a plan of the farm with many  features of the landscape but it is also something of a metaphysical map as well, embodying the notions of “crop circles” inherent in the land as well as the idea of the spiral or koru  which  refers to the endless cycle of growth and renewal.

It is a handsome publication with a number of full colour illustrations of his work along with images of his architectural work both here and elsewhere. There are also preliminary sketches of the Arts Centre as well as illustrations of early concepts of building with nature.

It is a book which traces out the history of a visionary creator but also provides insight into the way in which an individual can help change thinking in terms of social issues and our ways of seeing.