The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

Review: The Little Mermaid

by Emma Maguire on November 22, 2021 in Theatre

Somehow it’s nearly Christmas again, and that means Circa Theatre’s annual pantomime is back! I’ve been going every year since I moved to Wellington, and I’ve gotta say, it’s still a fantastic and very ridiculous experience.

This year it’s a wet and wild ride through The Little Mermaid, written once again by Circa stalwarts Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford.

It’s 3021 and most of Pōneke is underwater. Taken over by merpeople – created when the Wellington sewerage pipes finally burst for good and flooded Upper Hutt (or so we’re told), the remaining human population lives on top of the hills of Wellington – ‘Wellington Heights’. An endless – though seemingly quite chill – forever war has been going on between the merpeople and the people of Wellington Heights, and that is where we set our scene.

Coral (Natasha McAllister), a mermaid, is fascinated by the human world, and saves the life of Lyall Bay (Jake McKay) a human man when his boat capsizes in the harbour. So interested she is by the land people, she is tricked into having her tail and voice taken away by her evil aunt Bermuda (Kathleen Burns), so she can go onto land to find Lyall. Meanwhile, King Lando (Simon Leary) and the Dame, Shelly (Gavin Rutherford) have reunited after 20 years apart, and are dancing around each other, clearly madly in love. Along for the ride is Crabby (Trae Te Wiki), Coral’s crab assistant, and Shaggy (Jthan Morgan), King Lando’s NZSL interpreter (who is a shag – like, the bird). Jthan also plays Neptuna, Bermuda’s sister, to a delightfully chaotic effect.

Look, it’s a fabulous show, as it always is. In particular this year I really appreciated the choreography, and the score, which is quite the earworm and has some endearing leitmotifs sprinkled within. As pantos do, there’s a ton of songs we know well in it – I particularly enjoyed Kathleen’s rendition of Pokerface, and the show concluder fun.’s Some Nights. 

All the performers are very strong and a pleasure to watch. Both of Jthan’s performances were truly excellent, and I really liked the sheer committeemen Trae gave to Crabby, who was part crab, part puppy, and all parts very charming.

A particularly clever aspect of this year’s show was that a lot of it was conducted in New Zealand Sign Language, and the ‘audience interaction’ piece, where children would usually go up onto stage but couldn’t due to COVID-19 restrictions, involved us all learning parts of a song in NZSL. As Coral loses her voice for a large portion of the piece, I found the use of NZSL particularly clever, and a great inclusive way to go about performing without dialogue. Having performed portions of a show in NZSL before, I know how challenging it can be to sign and speak at the same time, especially if you’re new to it, and all performers took to signing with great joy and aplomb.

There’s something for everyone in this year’s panto, with the usual innuendo and sauciness from the Dame to some very prescient notes about Wellington life in other moments. There was also a joke about APRA which I am certain I’m the only one in the audience who laughed at it – so I just wanted to mention that and say, hey, I feel you, and I understand.

Though the audience was slightly smaller this year due to Level 2 distancing requirements, the room was full of joy and delight throughout, and I left the show yearning for the sea. In times of such uncertainty it is so good to see a piece of theatre that’s full of energy and excitement, where evil is vanquished and everyone finds love by the final notes.

As I say every year, Circa panto greatest hits album when?

 

Tickets are very limited for this show and it is mostly already sold out, but if there’s any left, dive in and pick them up here.

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Review: Hole

by Emma Maguire on November 21, 2021 in Theatre

I’ve been on a reviewing spree this week, so I passed this one onto our lovely guest reviewer, who took up the mantle very well for his first time reviewing. Check out his piece below!

Hole is unbelievably charming.

The play itself is cleverly written, utilizing the charm of the characters to get important information across to the audience. And honestly, what a cast to get the lot across. Greenpeace, Pollution, O-Zone Girl, Speights, Romance, Cold. There’s lots to laugh through, in early awkward interactions, language, Belgian confused for French (and understandably so).

The staging was tight, nothing felt off or forced. All throughout I felt like I was witness to people existing and responding, never a choreographed piece. The given circumstances were never lost either, you ALWAYS felt like it was cold. Attention to detail was crisp. I was also thoroughly impressed with the intimacy coordination. There was a lot of great tension building throughout but this paid off the absolute most when it came to the intimate moments.

The relationships were incredible. Props to the entire cast, I was genuinely amazed throughout but Stevie Hancox-Monk blew my mind. I’ve never seen them so charming, so lovable. I laughed with them and felt their pain, they were so emotionally generous – I was spellbound. To add one more point, their French accent was very solid.

Elle Wootton’s drunk acting was by far the best I’ve ever seen. Knowing this is a feat even seasoned actors struggle to achieve, the believability of her character’s intoxication was a standout for me. So sick.

Lights (Isadora Lao) and sound (Phil Brownlee) were brilliant, complimentary to the world we were in and to the scene setting, alongside the projections layered on to the block set pieces. The use of the projections (designed by Rachel Neser) in general were a winner here; for scene, for story, for combining purposes with acting.  The set was simple and I never felt a need for more set. Used efficiently. Supply Boxes as boxes. Supply Boxes as chairs.

I was really pleased I got to see this show, I’m really stoked that I got the chance to be in the audience.

 

Hole is on at Circa Theatre until the 18th of December. Tickets are very limited due to distancing rules. Pick them up here

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Review: Poprox Improv

by Emma Maguire on November 18, 2021 in Theatre

 

Poprox Improv is the brainchild of a bunch of Wellington theatre stalwarts: Pippa Drakeford-Croad, Dylan Hutton, Austin Harrison, Nina Hogg, Jonny Paul & Nino Raphael, and it is a show absolutely worthy of their talent. Performed for the first time this night at Miramar’s gorgeous new performance venue – Roxy Live (a glorious new space in the foyer of the Roxy Cinema on Park Road), this show is immersive, delightful and truly the most unhinged improv I’ve seen in a good long while.

(I mean that in a very complimentary way.)

A cabaret of the whimsical, the show is broken into several games, which I’m presuming will change across different iterations of the show. Warming us up with a rhyme game (with Nino setting the scene on the keyboard), we’re encouraged to boo when someone messes up, but there’s nothing at all malicious in it. Then Jonny plays four scenes with each of the other performers ducking in to play the other character in the scene, there’s a love story about two film projectionists, a vigil for a cat and a frankly horrifying scene at the dentist.  The show culminates in a power ballad reminiscing on what had just happened.

There is a certain kind of joy in seeing performers who like each other perform on stage together, and that is certainly obvious in this piece. There’s a degree of stitching-up, a certain kind of tease, a nonsense and a delight in the uncanny that makes the hour and change of this show pass very quickly.

This group delights in misfirings, with bizarre ask-fors taken, some questionable object work and misheard audience prompts, but that’s the joy of it all.  Finding the awkward and absolutely powering through it is so enjoyable to watch, and genuinely quite a skill, and throughout the show I’m frequently laughing so hard my chest hurts.

The chemistry and the improvising talent of this group cannot be understated. Though there are some challenging aspects to performing in a place like this – size, shape and breadth of the audience are all unusual – they take to it incredibly well and provide us with a hilarious, fantastic work.

Absolutely bloody good, check out the next one next time they’re about, it’ll make your night.

 

For more details about Poprox Improv, hit them up on Facebook.

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Wellington writers increasingly (and entirely justifiably) are viewing the ongoing climate disaster as a rich source of material for creating intriguing, imaginative speculative fiction. Based in future worlds where humanity has failed to stop a catastrophic, civilization-altering change in the climate system, these stories of what might be, if we don’t sort our shit out, right now.

Recently, Kirsten McDougall’s third novel She’s a Killer has delved into the near-future world of ‘wealthugees’ escaping climate calamity by escaping to NZ. Lawrence Pratchett’s The Burning River came out a couple of years back, and is set in a more distant time, when the world has heated up to the point where civilization has collapsed and wild-fires run rampant across the land. There’s also the likes of Andi C. Buchanan’s and Patricia Grace’s short stories On the Right Track and The Unremembered, and Tim Jones’ novella Where We Land (and probably a bunch more that I’ve missed or overlooked).

Joining the ranks of Wellington-based cli-fi authors is Jillian Webster with her debut novel – The Weight of a Thousand Oceans. This story set is at the Lawrence Pratchett end of the speculative pendulum: the world is hotter and our technological, wired civilisation has collapsed over a period of time now referred to as “The End” A greatly reduced population ekes out a subsistence living on the remaining bits of land that haven’t been inundated by sea-level rise.

Our protagonist is Maia, a young woman who lives with her grandfather in a hut in the Southern Islands (both the North and South Islands have been archipelagos unto themselves, their single landmasses turning into many as the rising sea separated regions from each other, resulting in the Northern and Southern Islands). It would be a fair bet that none of NZ’s coastal cities or towns have survived this inundation. It was nice knowing ye, Wellington.

Maia’s grandfather is unwell, his dependency on pain-killing marijuana increasing as he becomes frailer with each passing week. Maia’s future is thus a topic of much discussion – living a alone isn’t really an option, but her grandfather’s suggestion that she move to live with one of the Northern Tribes leaves Maia cold. She wants to explore, to venture out into the wider world, and perhaps go to the distant Old Arctic Circle, where it’s rumoured that civilisation is being rekindled.

While all this is going on, Maia is having dreams and strange visions that hint at … something? That she’s suffering nightmares and hallucinations. Or is there more to it? (Hopefully not too much of a spoiler: there’s a lot more to it).

Maia is fantastic protagonist, all the things you want when a book is so heavily focused on a specific character: thoughtful, strong-willed, curious, but thankfully not a full-fledged Mary Sue. She has moments of self-doubt, of fear, and times when she makes dubious spur-of-the moment decisions that (just about literally) plunge her into deep trouble.

Once Maia’s made up her mind as to what she wants to do, the story starts to rollick along. There’s pirates, sunken cities and startling revelations. There’s more mysterious visions and dreams. There’s a giant garbage patch in the sea (which is, depressingly, already a real thing, but greatly expanded in this story, and which plays a pivotal role).

A floating garbage patch

In these middle and latter sections of the book, Maia also experiences her first of love and sex. I didn’t do any real background reading on the book or author before delving into the book and it was interesting reading it without any context as to what the target audience might be. It feels a little young adulty, but could well slot into the (hip-new-thing) category of new adult. Or just some standard “grown-up’ cli-fi. But also, labels, pffft.

(Also, a shout out to the book designer, Murphy Rae. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the cliche, but we all do, of course, and the imagery and designs of this book and its sequel The Burn of a Thousand Suns are gorgeous. The mesmerising long-tentacled jellyfish that adorns the cover of Thousand Oceans is bright and alluring, contrasted against a background of dark ocean water, conveying a similar dichotomy of beauty and just-below-the-surface danger that is reflected in Maia’s own character.)

Where that mix of potential power and youthful naivete will lead Maia becomes a question for the future, as her initial plans are derailed by the new emotional ties forged over the course of her adventures. Good news, then, that the sequel (the aforementioned The Burn of a Thousand Suns) is already available, with the third instalment planned for 2002. Either semi-binge now and wait for the denouement when it arrives (arrgh! it’s like waiting for new Succession episodes!), or wait for that third volume to drop and read in one long blissful rhapsody.

There’s adventure, romance, tragedy, mystery and, yes, there’s sex. If they tick your boxes, this a book (and series) for you.

And, good news for you, reader, we have copies of both the first two books in the Forgotten Ones series to give away! Just flick an email to [email protected] with the subject “forgotten ones giveaway” and we’ll put you in the draw. (And we promise won’t add you to any mailing list, or anything.)

If you don’t win, you can purchase the books online from Mighty Ape.

And find out more about Jillian on her website.

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