The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

Te Rā Aroha Press are about to launch Isa Pearl Ritchie’s Into the Labyrinth, the second of her Wellington-based YA Dreamweavers fantasy series (following on from Awa and the Dreamweavers, released last year).

The series features Awa…

…an intermediate student navigating changes to her family as a child of divorce, moving to a new school, racism and bullying, and discovering that she’s a rare Dreamweaver.

We’ve got copies of both books to giveaway – flick us an email to [email protected] with the subject “Dreamweavers” and you’re in the draw. We’ll pick a winner from that hat of randomness at the end of this week (21st Feb) and notify the winner via email.

Into the Labyrinth is officially launched in 20th February – keep an eye out for a review on the Wellingtonista in the near future!

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the perfect pick for Summer Shakespeare, traditionally held in the Dell in Wellington’s Botanical Gardens at night in the middle of summer, but then the production moved to the basement theatre at Te Whaea in Newtown, and things pivoted from the usual. It was odd not to be sitting on scratchy dry grass, gradually getting colder and colder in Wellington’s night air as the show progressed, and instead watching from the front row of a rostrum in a concrete basement, players mere feet from my face, but it was a good time all the same.

‘Things pivoting from the usual’ is an apt description for this iteration of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Shane Bosher, straight from another directing gig at Circa. With queering of the story, considerable amounts of neon, and many meta moments, it’s certainly not your usual.

Autocratic and tyrannical Duke of Athens, Theseus (Hamish Boyle), is getting ready for his politically convenient marriage to Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta (Sara Douglas), when their company is interrupted by Egeus (Phil Peleton), Hermia’s father, who demands that she marry Demetrius (Matthew Staijen-Leach), a beloved sort, instead of the man she loves, Lysander (Andrew Clarke). Theseus presents Hermia (Aimee Sullivan), with an impossible choice. She must either marry Demetrius, or be put to death. Forced to flee into the woods, Hermia and Lysander, as well as Demetrius and Helenus (Dryw McArthur) – who’s madly in love with Demetrius already – run into some quarrelling fairies, get dosed with an aphrodisiac, and really, the chaos starts there.

The fairies who live in the woods – Queen Oberon (Grace Hoet) and Queen Titania (Catherine Zulver) – are squabbling over trivial matters. Oberon seeks revenge by sending her delightful henchfairy Puck (Ariadne Baltazar) to fetch the aforementioned aphrodisiac and drip it in Titania’s eyes when she sleeps, confounding her to fall in love with the first thing she sees when she wakes.

On the other side of the woods, a group of Mechanicals are trying to put on a play suitable for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. It doesn’t go especially well. More on that later.

What immediately strikes me about this performance is the sheer sense of fun it has. The characters leap from the page, blazing bright in front of our eyes, and the energy from the performers doesn’t let up for the couple of hours we’re in the space. I especially enjoyed the physicality of the fight scenes – the pivotal confrontation between Helenus, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander being a particular favourite – where all four performers enact incredible complicated choreography and throw their entire selves (quite literally) into it.

The setting is modern, a underground club perhaps, and while I would have loved to have seen this play staged outdoors, the vibe makes sense. In the city, all kinds of colourful weirdness goes down in the wee small hours of night, after all, and in the intimacy of this theatre, we feel a part of the action.

While I found immense enjoyment in watching this show and all those who performed within it, I’d like to make a special mention of the Mechanicals. The officious Petra Quince (Charlotte Dodd), overinflated Bottom (James Bayliss), bashful Snug (David Bowers-Mason), spirited Flute (Jake Brown), and likeable Snout (Lucy McCarthy) and Starveling (Rosemary Lewis) bring so much joy to the piece, playing their roles with a recognisable am-dram charm. We’ve all been there. The Mechanicals mightn’t be natural-born performers, but they’re damn well going to give it a good go, and their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe at the end of the show is over-enthusiastic and full of hilarity, culminating in an epic death scene, complete with ‘daggers’ and water guns.

Those in love in this play, for the most part, have good chemistry, and I do appreciate the casting of Dryw McArthur as a male Helenus (as opposed to Helena, from the original script), and Grace Hoet as a female Oberon. Queering a play like this works incredibly well, and allows for a more modern exploration of some of the relationships, especially considering the setting.

I do wonder a little about the cross-casting of Helenus (Helena), however. McArthur’s playing of Helenus is very strong, quick-witted and clever, and he’s incredibly enjoyable to watch, but I do still wonder about the cross-casting.

It’s an interesting choice when so few women in this playing hit the mark finding the autonomy they so clearly seek – Theseus clearly holds the power in Athens over Hippolyta (despite her being the Queen of the Amazons, come on), and the sheer amount of male lovers draw the eye often more so than Hermia – that it feels a little bit unfortunate to lose such a strong-willed woman from the text. However, I suppose the inclusion of a female Oberon and a female Quince did help balance the piece out somewhat. The cross-casting, and the subsequent queering of the piece helps the play find the modernity it needs, and for the most part, I did appreciate it.

What worries me about the playing of this piece is the confusion around consent. Perhaps Demetrius’ infatuation with Helenus at the end of the play would have been fine at the time of writing, but thinking of it these days leaves a an unsavory taste in the mouth. Near the end of the play, Puck removes the love potion from Lysander, so he’ll only care for Hermia once again. Puck doesn’t, however, remove the potion from Demetrius – as is true in the original text – and Demetrius and Helenus get married, with Demetrius’ infatuation with Helenus seemingly only driven by the potion he’s under. This isn’t ideal for our modern stage, and it is especially not ideal with the queering of this relationship. Is Demetrius bisexual, or is his love for Helenus only drawn from the potion? Does he truly care for him, or is it just coercion? Does this relationship work beyond the pages of the script?

Perhaps this was the director’s intention – Dream does feature a spectrum of depictions of love/”love” – from the unyielding, unbreakable bond Hermia and Lysander have, to the bitter-tasting thing that has Theseus and Hippolyta – it could be a meta take. However,  it reads uncomfortably, and could have easily be remedied with tiny alterations to the script, or different non-verbal playing of the relationship between the characters. Helenus says, “The more I love, the more he hateth me,” and was Demetrius of sound mind and will, it seems like that’d still be true at the end of the piece.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a glorious celebration of one of Shakespeare’s great comedies – blending meta, modernity and music with the glitter and glam of a night out. It’s well worth a watch, if you can stomach the uncomfortable moments that occasionally crop up.

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Review: Dance me to the end

by librarykris on February 13, 2020 in Festival

Director Carrie Thiel is seeking to “create connectivity using multimedia, motion capture and virtual reality technologies in a theatre setting.” Working with professional dancer Laura Jones, sound designer Chris Winter and 3D180 VR filmmaker Ed Davis, she’s brought together something that’s quite special. 

The performance itself is short and is designed as a ‘proof of concept’. Combining motion capture, virtual reality, filmed and live performance it adds the element of an unrehearsed performer (wearing the VR headset). The narrative concerns Anna (Jones) who is in the studio for the first time after the death of a longtime collaborator. She struggles to concentrate until she feels something (or someone) in the studio with her. 

There are two ways to watch. You can choose to be an audience member where you’ll watch the person in the VR headset interact with the live performer while the scene from the VR is projected onto a screen at the back of the room. You can choose to wear the VR headset (slightly pricier ticket) and control the view on the screen as well as interact with the digital character and Anna. I appreciated being able to watch the story first as it gave me an idea of how I could interact with Jones when I was wearing the VR headset. (I wish I’d sat on the side furtherest from the door so I could see the live, projected, and technical aspects all at the same time!)

This is a story about loss and Thiel has resources to help any audience members/participants with grief should they react during the performance. Her and the team are very clear that any reaction is appropriate. 

One of the best VR experiences I’ve had. I’m thinking more about the story experience than I am the technology.

  • Dance Me to the End on at BATS Theatre as part of 6 degrees festival to 15 February 2020. Sessions at 5:30pm, 6:45pm, 8:00 pm and 9:15 pm. Participate onstage, watch from the audience or book a private VR session.

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A woman in a blue blazer looks excitedThis is a ‘tune up’ of 2018’s STUPID BITCH which played in a dance studio above Cuba Street in the Fringe Festival. As a work in development it garnered actor/writer Claire Waldron nominations for Outstanding Performer in the Wellington and Dunedin Fringe Festivals. This time around it’s at BATS Theatre in The Heyday Dome. Waldron is presenting it as part of the 6 Degrees Festival.

Described as “An original, multi-media show about a range of women from different backgrounds with nothing in common who might, if they were all in the one room, think of the other women as‘ stupid bitches’“ the multiple characters are a kaleidoscope, reflecting the other’s experience  This is exemplified in a sequence near the start of the piece. Words scroll upwards over a close up video of a face. They are projected onto a dark piece of cloth hanging from a pole suspended from the roof.  Waldron has cocooned herself in the trailing fabric on the ground. The story describes an encounter with a woman in Pigeon Park, judging her as needing help. Help is offered but is met with a stinging rejection. This exploration of how women see and are seen oscillates throughout the show. We never meet exact opposites, only facets of different characters. How women enact power and surrender, desire and drive, mothering and care. Waldron is a character herself, popping up in the spotlight (self-directed) to tell us about her history as an actor. She says “To be an older actress is a type of resistance, your very existence onstage is an act of rebellion.” To see, and to be seen.

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More posts…

Review: The Human Voice (La voix humaine)

by Sophie February 2, 2020

TW: Suicide Jean Cocteau wrote La Voix Humaine in 1928 as a one-act play.  Francis Poulenc set it to music 30 years later, despite having already known Cocteau well for years, and gave the reason for the delay as having needed more life experience to do it justice.  During those years he struggled with depression […]

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Festival time!

by librarykris January 24, 2020

Late January 2020 and the summery weather is here. I finally feel like I’m waking up in 2020  – which is a bit awkward given I’ve been back at work for a few weeks…but enough about work!  Brace yourselves for a busy theatrical start to the year. We’ve got three Festivals coming our way in […]

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Review: Alice in Wonderland

by Emma Maguire November 18, 2019

Circa’s panto this year is Alice in Wonderland, and it is a mystical journey down the rabbit hole (Mt Vic tunnel), to discover fun, some quality Kiwi bangers, and utter manicism (in a good way). Written by Circa stalwarts, Gavin Rutherford and Simon Leary (who play the Dame and the Mad Hatter respectively), it’s a […]

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Four Nights In the Green Barrow Pub – Review

by Sophie November 15, 2019

Four Nights In the Green Barrow Pub is the third of Cassandra Tse’s shows I’ve seen, and each one was wildly different from the others.  M’Lady had me in stitches, The Aliens, in tears.  Four Nights, though, took me down memory lane. Having a hundred noisy musical Irish cousins of my own, I was probably […]

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Blackbird Ensemble Performs Björk: All Is Full Of Love – Review

by Sophie October 19, 2019

Blackbird Ensemble are “NZ’s most exciting chamber orchestra”, and Thursday’s homage to Björk supported that claim more than competently.  A collection of strings, horns, percussionists, and Claire Cowan’s multi-instrumentalism brought director Cowan’s arrangements to vibrant and emotional life.  The musicians were more than just that; in their glowing boiler suits they became part of a sensory […]

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Review: Cock

by Emma Maguire October 13, 2019

Cock is tense. It is beautiful, jarringly intimate, and phenomenally crafted. It’s also completely heartbreaking. Circa One’s set (designed by Sean Lynch) inspires thoughts of a boxing ring, or a fashion show – in the round, with bright lights cast down onto a white floor below. The audience sits on three sides; I view the […]

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