Review: Trifles

by Emma Maguire on February 6, 2022

Reviewed by Shauwn Keil.

Upon entering the theatre, we are treated to a magnificent set, designed by Jasmine Bryham. Everything that reminds you of Nana and Poppa’s house is present. Jars of God knows what across the kitchen bench. A kettle and cool mugs. Dinner set items. A paua shell ashtray on a shelf on the right. Newspaper spread on the larger table. Even a cheeky sewing kit pretending to be a biscuit tin. The set invokes nostalgia for me, and combined with the little more than ambient nature sounds (presumably put together by composer Raven Harvey-Lomas) I feel like I’m probably sitting in a rural New Zealand home rather than next to the K-Fry on Cambridge Terrace. The lights (Matilde Vadseth Furholm) feel quite eerie, I’ll say now that this is maintained through the course of the production with very little changes to the lighting. You are held in one state for the most part without a blackout, and for my taste personally, it’s a fitting and excellent choice. Anyway, I’m looking too far forward. I’m sitting there like “woah, I can’t wait to see how we go.”

The play does start in the dark, and we first meet Samantha and Richard Hale, played by Abby Lyons and Oliver Knott respectively. The first things I notice are a pregnant baby belly, one that Lyons sustains the effects of perfectly throughout the productions entirety, and a bit of word slurring. As diction picks up for the most part carrying on, I can look at this, perhaps, as a shared actors choice of showing the given circumstances of arriving late and being tired. There is a gag of banging the small table set up early, which I’m a sucker for – though I crave more surprise.

Three other characters make their way on to the stage, and sadly this is where I start to see performance clashes, confusing the overall style a little. Constable David (Sean Burnett-Dugdale Martin) and Officer Murray (Will Toon) make for a good dumb and dumber cop pairing. Sean in particular holds an impressive and resonant voice, commanding attention in all of his moments on stage. I felt, however, that while these characters earned a bit of levity and defused tension well in moments that were necessary, less caricature would have made for a more cohesive performance between the cast. I did not feel like they were quite from the same world and as a result, some moments of tension were missed in favour of humor that didn’t land.

As drama unfolds, it is lovely to watch life exist around the main focus. Sam and Angela Peters (Ottilie Bleackley, also Dramaturg) making tea in the kitchen while the narrative continues is a great example of keeping the world alive beyond the dialogue we hear from another character. I would even ask for more opportunities like this. Could a character be reading the newspaper and checking back in to the conversation once in a while? Did that pot want to go back in to the sink? Even so, it’s small things like making a cuppa that reinforce the idea of a naturalistic setting. This gets a golden tick.

Anyway, we get our first lighting change while the story plays out a silhouette on a black curtain with a tungsten back light. A beautiful effect, missing a little energy. Sharon Wright (Lily Wright, also Costume Designer) holds our focus in these silhouette moments, playing out the tragedy. What’s consistent in each return to the silhouette is rushing. As we don’t get to see what is being reacted to, just a little more air around the actors discoveries would chill our bones all the more. Future red light and spooky sound set this up nicely, we just need that third part of the unholy trinity for a truly memorable moment.

Mentions of Country Calendar, Facebook, Cellphones and the overall aesthetic of the play leave me uncertain of what time period we are in – it’s possible I missed a direct mention. But I won’t push on through the entire story. I will say that I found this adaptation to be wonderful on paper. Alia Marshall (Writer, Director) has crafted a beautiful piece touching on sexism in rural New Zealand, and really, in general. Not only the toxic displays of it from the fuzz and Dick, but the heart-breaking effects that it has on the women shown in conversation.

I’m not just talking about the “you should smile more” fedora type (not that that doesn’t totally suck either), I mean the intense stuff you wince at and struggle to imagine because you don’t think you have any male friends who would be capable of it. Being able to see conversations take place on the subject only to be brought down when the men return really irks me, in a way that I believe it was meant to. My friend commented that he didn’t feel like these problems exist anymore and that there’s little point addressing them without a solution. “How much awareness can you bring if you don’t have an answer?” I couldn’t disagree more and we debated this for a good while after the show. While he wasn’t on board, I think it’s important for people in that mindset to view such content, in fact, I’d go a step further and say that they need it the most. Theatre challenges and we need more audiences to challenge – scary as that may seem.

The blocking is dope, I got a good sense of the director’s vision and choices made through the intentional blocking. All I could ask for is a bit more commitment at times from actors to move with the same intent. I know I am being quite picky in the performance department, and it comes from a place of seeing the high potential of this play and how much further a team effort could have brought the production. Make no mistake, I enjoyed my time in the theatre and I’ll reiterate that the script was fantastic. I think the main thing is unifying the cast on what we are wanting to achieve, making sure we are generous actors selling another scene partner’s performance in our reactions rather than looking for our own glorious moments in them, and fighting the urge to rush. Even in moments of pause, a little breathing wouldn’t go amiss. Everything is already there to turn this play from good to great, and great to truly memorable.

This was the closing performance of Trifles at BATS Theatre, and it was abundantly clear that the team put a lot of heart in to this production. Criticisms aside, I couldn’t help but smile with them all during the bows, it was one of the sweetest things I’d seen. I would sincerely love to catch another version of this play, and I look forward to seeing future works from Heartbreaker Productions. Peace homie.

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Review: Soho Cinders

by Emma Maguire on January 31, 2022

Reviewed by Talia Carlisle

The set of Soho Cinders is a simple train station in London, but the story, design and performances are far from simple.

A saucy queer rewrite of Cinderella, Soho Cinders tells us the story of Robbie (Chris McMillan), who’s caught between sugar daddy Lord Bellingham (Stanford Reynolds) and London Mayoral Candidate James Prince (Michael Stebbings). Along the way, we meet other characters reminiscent of the original story – Clodagh (Ellie Stewart) and Dana (India Loveday) sticking out to me as superstars of the show.

The show shines with vibrancy, with gorgeous costumes, immaculate brightly-coloured eyeshadow and a lot of life and spirit. Both McMillan and Stebbings had great chemistry and aww moments with their onstage bffs/duets partners (Robbie with bestie Velcro (Aoife Walsh), James and fiancé Marilyn (Abigail Helsby)).

My favourite song, “So Over Men” really got the audience pumping, and in general the ensemble was very versatile with excellent quick costume changes! The booth singers were very worth mentioning – beautiful harmonies with the beautiful music all across the show, and the live band added another fabulous element to the piece – the keyboardist (Shawn Condon) added some beautiful twinkles when magic was needed and guitarist Ed Blunden confidently maneuvered a varied score with the commitment of the full band.

I particularly enjoyed Aimee Sullivan as the Narrator, who added fantastic detail to set the scene and characters amongst the otherwise plain physical backdrop and clarify details that cleared up the story – I rather liked “and they all lived happy ever” on her jacket at the end!

Our Red-limited audience side could easily feel the commitment of the entire cast and crew to deliver such a full production to a less than full audience due to COVID restrictions. If only that commitment could have been put into the more serious elements of the show – considering the dated language and sexual assault content that is breezed over, as are the majority of the women in the story – unwritten, and cliched. What wasn’t fine in 2011 definitely isn’t now and if you address an issue, follow it through. This aspect is addressed in the show programme, stating the views in the show are not those expressed by Footlights, and instead directs attention to the queer support group InsideOut who had partnered with this season.

It takes a lot to put on a show under Red, and it’s really hard to adhere to all COVID restrictions when creating a work with this many layers, so kudos to all involved. You really deserve to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished.

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Review: Illegally Blind

by Emma Maguire on December 7, 2021

Now, I’m literally in this show so I figured probably not the best for me to review it. This week we’ve got the lovely Cordy Black writing some kind words!

The experience starts in the foyer, after a ritual of scanning and phone-waving – the default programme for Illegally Blind is presented to the visitor in spacious, pleasantly bumpy Braille. With a token ‘accessibility’ programme for the sighties, of course. The show’s vibe carries its sweet-and-sour mix of sarcasm and charm through the rest of the entertainment.

The person of the hour, Susan Williams, welcomes the audience like guests to a messy home, sharing a snippet of insight (heh, a vision joke) into their day to day. The production is fully designed around Susan’s own character – undeniably charming, a little wonky and cluttered, with dashes of belly-shaking humour. For example, the script never loses the feel of being slightly off-the-cuff and alive, despite being planned with captions.

A play about the senses needs great design. Special shout-out to the lighting design by Brynne Tasker-Poland, which really gives life to the space at crucial moments and includes captions in fun as well as practical ways. Voiceover work by audio describers Eddie Kerr and Anastasia Matteini-Roberts (also the show’s director) lets the production crew bring some extra comic moments to the piece. Sound design (Emma Maguire) is delicate enough to let Susan do their thing, stepping forward where it needs to flesh out a scene or set a stronger mood.

Susan themself brings a delightful physicality and poetic verve to their performance – they’re an adept narrator, making bits of set transform, flinging props around and bringing joyful make-believe to the Stage’s black box. BATS regulars may know them as an improvisor, and they’re also prone to bouts of spoken word poetry – those influences come through in the show. But it’s their physical presence, in a large stage that could intimidate any solo performer, that really draws you into their world. I’d come visit again.

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Review: The Little Mermaid

by Emma Maguire on November 22, 2021

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 November 21, 2021

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 […]

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Review: Poprox Improv

by Emma Maguire November 18, 2021

  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 […]

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The Weight of a Thousand Oceans – review & giveaway

by noizyboy November 9, 2021

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, […]

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Review: Medea

by Emma Maguire October 7, 2021

The Victoria University Ancient Theatre Society’s adaptation of Medea is an unique combination of both the Euripides and the Seneca play – and I must say, I like where it goes. It’s a fresh take on two classical scripts, and they meld together well, adapted by VATS’ Rebecca Drummond and Rebecca Scholtz. The show itself […]

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Review: Best on Tap’s Community Noticeboard

by Emma Maguire September 15, 2021

This is the only theatre show currently running in Wellington, we’re told, as Community Noticeboard begins. It’s a little surreal to be back in a theatre – I’ve personally not been in one since like… June? – and it is especially surreal to be wearing masks and spaced out across a traverse in BATS Theatre’s Dome stage. […]

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Review: Maximum Benefit

by Emma Maguire July 11, 2021

I’m out of commission at the moment brain-wise, and couldn’t get to this show, but the work got lovely comments from those there in my steed. The show season is completely sold out, but I’m certain these two will be about town performing at a later date – they’re a talented pair and deserve your […]

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