The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005


Photo credit John McDermott

An exuberant onstage cartoon, Indian Ink Theatre Company’s The Elephant Thief begins in a jail cell and ends in… space, or the afterlife, or some other such vague spoiler. It’s an outsized feast of imaginative staging and potential pachyderm puns, anchored by a winning performance by company newcomer Vanessa Kumar.

The show’s setting is a not-too-distant future in which climate change has rendered much of the world’s surface uninhabitable and the surviving Indian subcontinent emerges as the planet’s last superpower. Leela (Kumar) leaves her elephant-handling tribe’s lands to see the world, not knowing that much of it is submerged — or that she and her elephant will become inveigled within an unlikely geopolitical farce between the remnants of the old world’s dying empires.

The show plays in the evenings, for ticket-purchasing adults, on a live stage; but there’s much of the Saturday-morning cartoon to the proceedings. Leela is a wily, wide-eyed trickster-naif after Anansi, Brer Rabbit, or Yogi Bear; Indian Ink veteran Nisha Madhan essays a succession of duplicitous matriarchs whose inspirations appear equal parts Pratibha Patil and Pixar. Their chemistry is boisterous yet nuanced, lending the show a strong female-driven impetus.

Elsewhere the cartoonish tone extends into thinly-drawn, tiring stereotypes and third-act moralising that would’ve been just as strong had it remained unspoken. The ensemble cast are deft when jumping between identities, settling on characters whose leery caricature proves unsuited to the script’s joke-free final scenes.

The Elephant Thief’s Hannah Playhouse run of 18 May-4 June is the second leg on a national tour for the show, making its way to New Plymouth and Auckland over the coming months. Check for further details.


Performed Eliza Sanders stands on one leg with the other contorted beside her.

Dancer Eliza Sanders. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

I couldn’t see any of the House of Sand shows in the Fringe Festival this year so I’m really pleased that two of them – Pedal and Castles – are coming back to BATS Theatre this month.  Castles won the SYNZ Award and was nominated in a number of other categories.  I sent some questions to performer Eliza Sanders.

Q. What inspired these pieces?

A. It’s hard to pinpoint specific ideas that inspired the works. There are definitely themes that are dominant throughout both pieces, such as freedom, discovery, flight, self analysis/critique and sex. I am not interested in having a meaning or a message I want to get across, rather I just try to make things that have some innately interesting quality or have an aesthetic that evoke an emotional response. I’m really passionate in all my work that whatever an audience member sees or understands the work to be is exactly what it is. I’ve really enjoyed talking to people after my shows and discovering their interpretations of the material that I never would have thought of before, but when they say it the representation seems completely obvious. So the next time I perform the work I see what they saw and it is completely new to me too.

Q. Pedal is the forerunner to Castles – what does this mean?

A. I created Pedal while I was still at school [New Zealand School of Dance]. After audiences in Canberra and Wellington responded so generously to what I had made, I wanted to really experiment with the form that had evolved. I felt as though I had only skimmed the surface of what was possible in the context of being alone on stage with only my voice and a few pieces of fabric to work with.

The dramatic arc and journey in Castles was much more planned from the outset. I was travelling in Europe and America for a few months when I had the inspiration for the how the journey should continue. I had a strong sense that the ‘story’ (whatever that might be) I had begun in Pedal was not completely concluded and I wanted to revisit the Character (for want of a better word) and method to see where else it might go. It certainly feels like a progression from where I started with Pedal.

Q. What can people expect?

A. People often say my work is strange, or not like anything they’ve ever seen before. I guess in a way it is strange, I’m telling a story but I don’t know what it is. It’s almost entirely scored by my own text but what I say rarely makes very much logical sense. I perform physical and intricate dance sequences which I hope use the training I have to communicate what only movement can, while delivering semi-sensical text. I suppose audiences can expect a weird hybrid of the cabaret, absurdist theatre and the virtuosic movement style that New Zealand and Australia are known for. I hope that they defy type casting. I’m trained as a dancer, but I’m also passionate about theatre, music, visual and performance art so my hope is that Pedal and Castles are an intersection of all these things using my primary background in dance as tool to pull them all together.

Q. Who else is involved with your work?

My brother Charles who is co-creator of House of Sand has been my partner on all things production based for the season. I also had creative assistance/advice from a whole range of peers and tutors while I was creating Pedal at NZSD. John Butterfield and Tommy Truss were particularly helpful in the early stages of putting Pedal together. Laura Beanland-Stephens has been a constant voice of reason. My mum and her sewing machine has also played a pretty massive part in the physical creation of the props and costumes. Owen Macarthy has done all the lighting design for both shows as well as filming past shows and editing promo videos. Anton Cleaver-Wilkinson has done all the poster design from Melbourne and the promotion images were taken by Stephen A’Court and Lorna Sim who have both been incredible generous in offering their photography services for free! I’m so grateful to all these people

Q. Do we have to see both shows to make sense of them?

A. No. Both works hold their own without the other to support them. However I think the progression and difference between the two is what many people will find fascinating. I hope that most people come to see both because they are a conversation with each other and each makes the other a richer experience.

  • House of Sand season Pedals & Castles performed in repertory at BATS theatre 17-21 Mary 2016, with a double bill on 21 May  2016

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…but it pours, especially in Porirua today, causing sudden flooding and serious disruption.

I downloaded the hourly rainfall data from Greater Wellington’s site (a rather painful manual process, but a big improvement from not long ago, when you could only get the charts as static images) and put together a quick graph. Here are cumulative rainfall totals for today, for selected stations in the region arranged roughly from north to south.

Wellington region rainfall for 20160505

Unfortunately there’s no station in Porirua itself, but the one just upstream in Tawa received the greatest total. 60mm in a day is not a huge total in itself, but most of it came in two or three hours before 9am, peaking at a torrential 20mm/hr. MetService’s radar caught the deluge at its height:

Taupo Stream (just north of Plimmerton) also caught a good 50mm, and I suspect that there were very localised falls in Porirua that were even higher. I saw a few complaints on social media along the lines of “Typical! A little bit of rain and the infrastructure can’t handle it”, but when you get half a month’s rainfall in a couple of hours, most drainage systems would struggle to cope…especially in floodplains and reclaimed mudflats.


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From the makers of Hook, Line & Sinker and Taking the Waewae Express comes a new female-centred story rich in drama and emotion. Two first time mothers, Bunny (Miriama McDowell) and Aila (Renee Lyons) end up sharing a room in a post-natal ward after the birth of their babies. A precarious friendship develops between them as they face the challenges of new motherhood. They must also confront their pasts and the truth of the paternity of their newborn babies. Babies and absent fathers, opera and drag racing, gardening and Schubert, The great maiden’s blush is a story of friendship, forgiveness and the redemptive power of truth.

Find out more on the film-makers’ own Facebook page over here.

Written & directed by Andrea Bosshard & Shane Loader; featuring Miriama McDowell & Renee Lyons.

  • The great maiden’s blush premieres today at 7.30pm at the Embassy Theatre, in cinemas from 5 May.


More posts…

Towards Tangi-te-Keo

by Mr Goulter May 1, 2016

Up the back of Newtown — past the hospital, past New Zealand’s first branch library, past the community display-window where the Conscientious Objectors’ memorials absent from Pukeahu Park quietly underscore ANZAC celebrations — runs a narrow path marking the spine of Tangi-te-Keo (later Mt Victoria). Māori knew the spine of Tangi-te-Keo as Te Ranga-a-Hiwi, the Ridge of […]

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A new taonga for Ngā Taonga

by Mr Goulter April 30, 2016

The 2014 amalgamation of our Film, Television and Sound Archives into Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision saw its nomenclature justified this week with the unveiling of an aural taonga for the ages. On the 35th anniversary of Wellington Access Radio’s arrival on air, broadcast material dating back throughout the station’s lively history has been added […]

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Review: The moa show

by librarykris April 27, 2016

The Junction Hotel is pub in rural Thames. It’s fairly typical– a bar, a dart board, a smoking area, the regulars. There’s Henry Hikoi from Ngati Pukeko, Brian Tritt who’s in every day, and Carmichael. When the three of them start drinking together and talking about the moa in the hills they wake up in […]

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by Tom April 25, 2016

Abandoned railway stations. Precarious swingbridges over precipitous chasms. Hidden valleys full of lush forest. Remnants of ancient kāinga. Those might not be what you’d expect from the recently-opened Paekakariki Escarpment track. I certainly expected rugged landscapes and magnificent views, and you get those in abundance, but there’s much more here to be discovered than you might imagine […]

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Snapshots of Mount Victoria

by Tom Ackroyd April 23, 2016

A few photos I took as I walked the dog in the Mount Victoria town belt, and of the unveiling of a new living sculpture at the Innermost Gardens.   “A Living Sculpture” On April 3rd, Grant Lyon’s sculpture “Yeah, Nah” was unveiled by Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown at the Innermost Gardens in Mount Victoria, at […]

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Beggars belief

by Tom April 8, 2016

You may have seen yesterday’s DomPost story on begging, which trumpeted that the Council was “considering banning begging or fining good samaritans.” This generated much justified outrage, even though deeper into the article it became clearer that this was just one extreme option among a wide range of measures that had been considered after complaints from the public, […]

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