December 4, 2018

Santa Claus

Santa Claus isn't just for children. This show is not recommended for children, but it is recommended for everyone else.

Four "French" performers invite you into their Christmas. Expect family fights, board games, presents, singing and a man in heels. No member of the audience is safe from participation. Though scripted, parts of the performance are improvised to include audience members; it's done so well that even the improv seems scripted. I had to tip my hat at their ability to remember audience members names. It really did feel like everyone was acknowledged and involved - anxiety inducing for some of us.

Favourite parts were the music, which had me dancing in my seat and the cute guy with the eyeliner and heels (call me).

The first performance each evening is early enough to head to straight from work, or after work drinks - what a great impromptu work Christmas outing!

Performances: 4 -15 December, 6pm & 8:45pm
Tickets: $25

November 28, 2018

PSA: The Ghosts of Christmas Parties

It's the night of the staff Christmas party at the beehive. Every member of parliament that's been in the headlines this year is there. The man we love to hate, Winston Peters, will have extra guests - the ghosts of Christmas parties.

Christmas Carols are sung with political lyrics, devious plots are plotted - kidnappings and bombs and last minute Christmas shopping.

Lightening fast changes in costumes and wigs allows a small cast to be a large cast of characters - easily distinguishable by the excellent acting alone.

Of the two Christmas offerings at Circa if you can only see one I'd recommend the pantomime over this unless you're really into politics.

Performances: 24 Nov – 23 Dec (times vary)
Tickets: $35

November 21, 2018

Puss in Boots the Pantomime

After being disappointed last year I didn't have high hopes for Circa's annual pantomime but it was delightful, one might even say "o-o-oh it's magic!"

There were jokes for the adults as well as the kids, nods to current events and almost every popular meme of 2018. Interactions with the audience, adlibbing when things didn't go quite to plan really added to the performance. Of special interest was "shouty kid", the Dame admitted "well, I encouraged them" and a noise competition between two visiting school groups.

Puss in Boots had such a stage presence; singing, dancing, sassing. Though to be fair all the performers could sing and dance. It was a high energy show with twists and turns and the necessary happy ending.

The show pulled myself and my companion out of the stresses of our lives for two hours and we were very grateful. To the man who turned around every time we squealed: we may be adults but we're allowed to have fun.

Performances:17 Nov-23 Dec, Tues-Sat 6.30pm, Sun 4pm

Tickets: $18 (child), $52 (adult)

November 3, 2018


The start of the show is boring and unhygienic as the performers share a lollipop. The weird modern theatre drags throughout the piece but once they are allowed to do their circus acts things get better. You'd think you're safe from audience participation but no, like a comedy or improv show, someone is dragged on stage for what is a pretty pointless runway walk. This show seems to miss the real joy of circus, which was evident on the performers faces when they were allowed to do what they trained so hard for. Admittedly the eye makeup was cool but the rest of the extra stuff could be left behind.

Venue: The Circus Hub, Te Whaea, 11 Hutchison road, Newtown, Wellington
Dates: 3-4 November 2018, 8pm
Tickets: $10

October 27, 2018

Austen Found

It wasn't till Penny (Ashton) introduced the show that I realised Austen Found sounds like "lost and found." An appropriate title for a newly discovered (secretly improvised) musical by Jane Austen - all the actors are lost as they perform this "found" piece.

The theatre was packed and there was even a waitlist to get in. It was one of the most popular items at the 2018 Improv Festival with good reason. The actors were seasoned professionals with excellent voices. There were a couple of hiccups when they forgot character names but they built it into the "script."

We were treated for a performance of Greed and Gullibility.  A couples greed for pineapples, a mans greed for women and woman's greed for admiration were posed against the gullibility of two young women. One women's brother constantly reminded her how stupid she was while the other only realised her gullibility when the guilt of her intended was revealed.

It was very impressive that the cast were able to pull a mostly comprehensible storyline out of thin air and have the audience cheering for the happy ending.

October 25, 2018

(The Return of) The Unicorn's Story Cabaret

This show was unexpected. The opening banter with the audience was perhaps the funniest and went on so long I thought it would be the entire show. Good use was made of the improvisors in the audience for parts that required participation. It might be cheating but it makes for a much better show.

It was a little mystical with the fates, ghosts, a mermaid and a spell caster. I'd never thought I'd see an improvised live action game of Dungeons and Dragons but as soon as they said Dungeon Master I knew it was coming. It was a weird mix.

The act with the most amount of prepared material fell the most flat - they were a little slapstick but kept missing the mark and the lack of audience participation was felt.

All in all a bit of a mixed bag which could have benefited from tighter control.

October 23, 2018

Space Patrol 5: The Next Generation

With warm memories of the epic (10 hour long) SciFi Improv show DeepSpace Naenae (directed by Jennifer O'Sullivan with Matt Powell and Brendon Bennetts) from the NZ Fringe 2017, I had high hopes for Space Patrol 5: The Next Generation at the New Zealand Improv Festival 2018 (directed by Matt Powell and Brendon Bennetts).

And to be frank, they had me with the set, the lighting, the smoke machine and the music. Everything else was a bonus. And there was a lot of bonus.

It had everything you would want in a SciFi soap opera - the stock dramatic one-liners, "Captain, its a trap!", the corny hand-made props (made by members of the audience - you don't get any more audience participation than that!), it had the running around and the fight sequence and the moment of slick evasion of the plot problem at the last moment "Ah, we did it!" It didn't do the "red shirts" joke, but that's probably a good thing.

And it had everything you would want in a Improv comedy show - it had the running gags that very quickly drew the audience in, the juxtaposition of contradictory memes (the planet of the Kardashians), the moments of self reference "I just did that for dramatic tension", the big man rolling out of the scene and hiding behind the prop because he wasn't supposed to be visible, and the cast forgetting the name of the weird and dangerous plant - teasing the audience with the possibility of falling out of character.. but catching us before we fell.

And because we gave of ourselves to be amused, the audience gave it a warm and enthusiastic reception. A joyful and quirky experience indeed.

October 16, 2018

Under Milk Wood

Projections play on sheets hung across the stage, depicting a seascape, a small town, as a voice drones...and continues to drone. The pictures are still beautiful but it drags, as do the dreams of the town people. The images become different bedspreads. Then, a sunrise through projector and light coming from behind, lovely.

Set in the small town of Llareggub (Bugger-All) there are quirky characters and nothing ever really happens. Narrators become townspeople and townspeople swap personalities. It's all small town life. The acting is wonderful, each person manages to distinguish between characters as they continue the rolling verse.

Is it a poem? Is it a play? No, it's just boring.

Unfortunately this show failed to capture my interest. It's supposed to be a comedy but there were mostly titters throughout the audience instead of the expected raucous laughter. A shame as it was a very good performance showcasing some of the best actors at Circa.

Performances: 13 October - 10 November, times vary
Tickets: $52

October 13, 2018

Toilet (Show Me Shorts Film Festival 2018)

The short film winners this year were primarily dark, with the exception of the very strange music video Laugh it Off. Which is worth watching for a laugh.

My favourite of the pick, which I would recommend to anyone (without fear of them being traumatised), has a bit of a dark underbelly but on the surface is amusing. Toilet won the Special Jury Prize for Production Design.

Set in an alley and a public toilet this is a complete story in itself with a message or PSA rounding it to be something greater. It stays in your mind once you leave but keeps a smile on your face rather than a shiver in your body. 

September 13, 2018

The Addams Family, A New Musical

The performance starts with an overly long light play as if they've realised they need to give students some experience in managing the lights. Overly long is a good descriptor for the show; it's two and a half hours. I'm surprised that they didn't trim the script. There are unnecessary scenes and an entirely unnecessary chorus, though they do provide an interesting array of costumes and death makeup.

On to my last complaint then I'll tell you how much I loved it. This is a pre-existing script with a giant, glaring problem; the Wednesday Addams I know and love would never compromise herself for some boy. The boy in question isn't anything special, neither is the father but who could stand up next to the other amazing characters on stage?

Some consideration was given to looks but I couldn't understand why Wednesday didn't have black hair. Morticia didn't have quite the right look but her attitude was everything, making me realise that perhaps I no longer wish to be Wednesday Addams, I'd rather be the mother. She and Gomez were very strong actors, carrying everyone else along with them though they only lagged a step behind.

Everyone sung and everyone had amazing voices, some hitting notes I'm sure would crack but it was only when you barely noticed that there were a couple of wobbles. The songs were great too, I made a mental note to look up a cast recording as there's sure to be one somewhere.

It made me a little philosophical. In these days it is almost a comfort that "death is just around the corner."

Performances: 7-15 September (times vary)
Tickets: $30

September 6, 2018

Modern Girls in Bed

This is the second time I've seen a play with Georgina Beyer and she's been mentioned. I'd like to say that we attended together, that we're friends, but we just happened to have attended two performances at Circa at the same time. It was amazing watching this play about famous, legendary, New Zealand women when there was one in the theatre with us. And then she was acknowledged, not that they knew she was there. It was a beautiful moment.

The two parts of the play felt like they were talking to different people. The first half was for those in their 20's and 30's, though they were sparse in the audience [tell them to go see it!], the second half was for those in their 40's and older. Perhaps being staged at Circa this may miss the younger audience, which is a huge shame because it talks to them -there are references that frankly most people didn't get, because of this, often I was the only one laughing.

If it could be called a complaint or a criticism, that's my only one.

The script was perfect, the casting, the costumes, the scenery, everything. It was funny, it was emotional, it was political (without being preachy). It was about family and sisters and mothers and friends and women and our place in the world. It was very, very topical. Although the script was developed in 2016 and 2017 they'd added to make it more relevant. The conversations could be going on in any home right now.

Actually, you should go see it.

Performances: 1-22 September, various times
Tickets: $52

August 26, 2018

Cabaret de Paris

If you've ever seen burlesque you'll be disappointed at how quickly you see a woman in a g-string and topless (no pasties), you'd almost feel cheated. The breasts should come at the end with fanfare. Anyway, there are a lot of Vegas girls which I'm guessing Vegas stole from Paris. It feels cheap either way.

The magician is predictable but still good. The best is the "amateur" magician or the showman who entertains when merely adjusting the microphone. He was the highlight of the show, we could have disposed of all the rest.

It looked like the male dancers would strip but instead ladies in can-can dresses danced to techno music, when they finally get to the can-can itself, it's underwhelming.

The second half was much better than the first; there's burlesque and singing and the showman has an excellent set. Finally a man strips, it isn't the one you want but it's followed by shirtless men. Sadly their shirts were back next time they appear. 

Unfortunately they got the message that breasts are the show stoppers and used them again in the final act, cheapening the whole thing.

My advice? Skip the first half and pay for the cheap seats.

Next show: Christchurch, 28 August

July 24, 2018

Sweet As Hutt Chocolate Challenge

The winter school holidays are a perfect time to throw a hot chocolate challenge. Who doesn't love sugared up children? This year there are added events in hopes that in future years it might become a festival.

There are 16 cafes participating this year from small Chai to more established chains like Muffin Break (incidentally the only one in Queensgate).

If you'd like to taste some you'd better get in quick as the last day is Sunday (29th).

Here's a brief review of each of the offerings:

Fellow on the Green: Melted Snowman
The Hutt War Memorial Library has a new café! The hot chocolate is excellent but the snowman is more for show than eating.

Fix Federation: Salted Caramel Fix
The highlight of the challenge. Actual salted caramel sauce throughout the hot chocolate. The drink and the accompanying cookie are divine. Not to be missed.

Roadhouse Bar and Grill: Cookies and Dreams
They rebranded just in time for the challenge. A bar rather than a café which means there's an alcoholic option! Presentation is nice but the hot chocolate is average.

Bellbird Eatery: Lovely Little Lavender
The new café at The Dowse. Surprisingly pleasant and beautifully presented. The kids will love the purple sparkles and making their white chocolate melt.

Buzz: Creamy Peanut Butter
The cream cheese on top was lovely but I didn't manage to get any peanut butter somehow.

Hot Gossip Café: Spiced Maple Hot Chocolate
The maple is lovely but sadly the hot chocolate is too spicy to drink. Points for cinnamon shortbread dipped in chocolate.

Fellow on the Drive: Fellow Hot Cocoa
Simple, traditional with a lovely hint of cardamom.

Chai Coffee: Red Velvet
The colour of this is beautiful but be careful the kids don't get it on their hands. The cream cheese topping was also a big winner.

Colab Café: Flowering Blossoms
It was fun to watch the marshmallow blossom but the drink was too rich and bitter for even the adults to finish.

Gotham: Hazelnut Hot Chocolate
Nice, not terribly different from a regular hot chocolate. The brownie is good.

Muffin Break Queensgate: Hot Choc Ginger Ninja
I'm not sure why you'd put ginger in a hot chocolate but the gingerbread man was great.

Shine Café: Vegan Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate
If you pick the right options this is great! Go for the coconut milk and vegan chocolate. Hits of coconut, chocolate and peanut butter.

Beforetime Express: The Time Machine
Why would you put coffee in a hot chocolate? Normally people drink hot chocolate because they don't drink coffee...also kids...having said that, you can't taste the coffee and the presentation is better than the picture.

Cuffs Café: S'morelicious
Standard hot chocolate but excellent side pieces - melted marshmallow between biscuits.

Giuseppes: Mid Winter Christmas at Giuseppes
They only opened on Saturday (21st) and I'm not sure what the big changes were. Another white hot chocolate but reasonably good.

Small Batch: Four Hot Singles
Easy to drive past, not many food options. The hot chocolates are presented well but taste like raw cocoa. One to miss.

You can find out more on the Facebook page or at your favourite participating Lower Hutt café

July 12, 2018

The Vicar of Dibley

Why sit in a cold theatre when you could be home in bed? You might need to keep your jacket on or even take a blanket and make sure you had a good sleep the night before (the show doesn't finish till 10:30) but watching The Vicar of Dibley at Hutt Repertory Theatre is worth it.

If it weren't for the frequent changing of scenes, which cause a lull, you wouldn't notice the length of the show at all. The actors are excellent, you could almost believe you were watching the TV programme. The stage is, well, obviously a stage but they've worked out how to use the limited space well for two separate sets.

You should go see it - but you can't - the whole season is sold out.

July 11, 2018

The Don

The subject matter of The Don is troubling in the time of #metoo. Not only does the guy rape women but somehow he makes them love him! (Can you tell the original was written by a guy?) That is really the only problem with this production. With all the other modern touches it would have been nice to have the performer mention the ludicrousness of the rape-turning-to-love and maybe assure the audience that the "bad guy" will get his comeuppance.

That aside this one man show is hilarious. Try to count how many different song lyrics he slides into the dialogue, marvel at how he dashes about the stage (and into the audience) distinguishable as five separate characters. At times it feels like a pantomime and there are certainly elements of that - singing, talking to the audience, oohs and aahs, but sadly we don't get to sing along at any point. It's also as ridiculous as a panto, the content was there in the original but it takes a modern hand to point it out so obviously.

Performances: 7-14 July, 6:30pm
Tickets: $27.50

July 8, 2018

Songs for Nobodies

If you've seen her other shows you know she's a great singer, Songs for Nobodies will reveal that Ali Harper is also an excellent character actress. She's graduated to the main theatre, Circa One, a move that's well deserved.

All the characters, both the singers and the nobodies they sing to, seem to lead tragic lives. It's an interesting concept, no one notices the usher, than nanny, or the bathroom attendant, no one knows their stories. The show asks, who would I be if I were someone else?

Whether it was because it has set heavily in the 1940's, with World War Two as a backdrop, or if it was just because it was someone else's script, this lacked the lightness, the joy, that usually emanates from Ali's shows. You'll still get goosebumps, you'll still cry, but you'll feel heavier.

Performances: 7 July-4 August; Tues-Thurs 6.30pm, Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm
Tickets: $52

June 10, 2018

The Atom Room

Last night's world premier of The Atom Room by Philip Braithwaite at Circa Theatre presented a long distance love story with a twist.

It's set in Wellington, 150 years in the future where the city is dealing with the consequences of climate change, distant nuclear accidents and a magnitude 9 earthquake. The opportunity to enjoy a pre-show VR experience by Polytronik Studios is not to be missed. Swooping through the flooded and devastated city before arriving at a virtual Circa theatre was a blast and set the scene for the show.

Sarah, an engineer, and Danny, an environmentalist, meet and fall in love in this now dying Earth where wearing a cyclops-inspired helmet is 'de rigour' for those wishing to avoid radiation poisoning. After Sarah takes the opportunity to go to Mars their relationship is tested and stretched to the limit. For the rest of the play, Sarah and Danny are separated by 225 million km, the machinations of Sarah's boss Margaret and 'the corporations'.

The minimalist set was reminiscent of an early Star Trek holo deck, all black cubes and purple lines with electronic music from NZ musicians Minuit in the background. Full screen images show the devastation on earth until more pleasant images were bought to play when the Atom Room was in use. Large screen images and delayed voices were effective in portraying the challenges of radio communication over long distances.

Eventually, we watched Sarah and Danny meet seemingly in person in 'The Atom Room' where they loved, laughed and fought like most married couples until Margaret's manipulations and the inevitable conflicting priorities took their toll. What seemed to be a boon to the relationship, brought mixed blessings from the initial freezing of Danny's hologram during his proposal, to the unwelcome intrusion of Ad breaks before the eventual shut down because of costs.

The Atom Room is about the challenges and difficulties of a long-distance relationship, and the toll it can take on individuals wherever they are located. This was leavened by regular doses of humour, particularly from Danny with his dressing gown and his 'stand-up comedy' routine. The twist is the futuristic and dystopian setting and its unforgiving environment. Did 'The Atom Room' help the relationship or was it all just an illusion?

May 27, 2018

The Breaker Upperers

What a quaint idea! A service to help you end your relationship. It isn't too hard to believe, what is hard to believe is that it took them 15 years to start having problems doing it. Best friends Mel and Jen share a home and a business...and at one point shared a boyfriend.

Flashbacks depict the start of the friendship which became a business. They appear to be set in the 80's even though it would have happened in the early 2000's. This was probably done for more laughs but just felt confusing.

The cast boasts almost every NZ actor who's worked in the last 5 years popping in for a cameo. You'll spend the first ten minutes squealing "Oh my God, it's...!"

The storyline is surprisingly well rounded though loaded with hideously awkward scenes that are meant to be funny but are mostly cringe-worthy. I had trouble staying in my seat but I'm glad I did.

The movie does have a heart alongside the ridiculousness. Mel is lovely and under her hard exterior Jen is hurt. It's refreshing to see a storyline that's based around a friendship rather than a romance though it felt like the lack of a man had to be replaced with (to remain spoiler free I'll call it) something else.

Playing in all theatres

May 10, 2018

Still Life with Chickens

It won the Adam Award for Best New Zealand Play last year so you can be pretty confident that Still Life with Chickens will be good. But how is such a simple set up - a lady in her garden, talking to a chicken good? I don't know what to tell you, it just is.

It's short but it packs a punch. The real grit is hidden in the middle amongst phone calls to granddaughters and feeding the chicken, that really happened. Goretti Chadwick plays Mama who uses her passive aggressiveness to hide her loneliness and the skeletons in her closet. It's quite a talent to play to a puppet and a recorded voice.

I wouldn't have believed that a puppet could emote, but it did. The chicken is a character in itself, so much so that, even though the puppeteer is on stage you ignore him.

The play is sweet and well worth a watch but I wish it had more grit, that it explored the dark sides a bit more. Be warned that is only 45 minutes long - just a little over $1 a minute.

Performances: 8 May-2 June, 7:30pm (Tues-Sat), 4:30pm (Sun)
Tickets: $46

March 31, 2018

Raw Comedy 2018: Heat 5

Neil Thornton reminds the audience, while the judges deliberate, that the performers are amateurs. We are to be nice to them, tell them they've done a good job and don't point out the comedian that was better than them. Well, hell, how am I meant to write a review after that?

Let's start by acknowledging that it takes guts to stand up in front of a room of strangers and do, well, stand up. It also takes preparation which unfortunately not all performers had done. Despite this there were only two performers who were actively boring. The female comedians seemed to be stronger, or perhaps there were just more of them, this was reflected in the final outcome; of the four moving forward three were female.

Knowing the criteria for judging may have made some sense of the judges final decisions. If it was based purely on laughs (and not the pity kind) then two of the four really deserved to be there and another performer was robbed of their place.

It's difficult to write a review with your hands tied behind your back. The night was more enjoyable, and longer, than expected. There was more laughs, more talent and more audience than anticipated. It was a good night and I saw at least one performer (ok, I'm going to name them), Jessica, who's career I'll be watching.

The final heat (6) is April 5th at the Fringe Bar.

February 25, 2018


The newly renovated Circa is covered in paper, the walls at least, it's dressed up like a haunted house. The set up would have been better for a house of horrors. It had a slightly voyeuristic feel, encountering dancers trapped in their own thoughts, peering through doorways and peepholes. Even in the hallways, obstructing traffic, there are lithe young things gyrating. Some of it is beautiful but it doesn't seem to have a point or tell any story. Performers moved from room to room, it was disconcerting not to know if people were members or the audience or dancers. There were small moments of delight, of calm amongst the chaos, a quiet figure moving elegantly behind a peephole. The grand finale was a dance floor surrounded by plastic sheets, if it had been a haunted house that would have made an amazing party at the end of it - just add punch.

I would have preferred an actual tour backstage at Circa with stories about what had happened there, maybe a few vignette scattered around. I wouldn't recommend if you are at all Claustrophobic as it didn't seem like you could get out of there easily and the crowds and thumping music and confusion made it seem close.

Performances: 23 Feb-5 March (times vary)
Tickets: $42 

February 8, 2018

Tierra y Mar: A Flamenco Guitar Project

This is not your usual Circa Theatre fare; we've grown to expect at least a little context to accompany music. Paul Bosauder, the guitarist, is award winning and exceptionally talented but he is also quiet spoken and was somewhat overshadowed by the dramatic personality of the vocalist. She stole the show with her voice and personality, even though we couldn't understand her as she only spoke Spanish.

The style of music feels unpredictable with a mix of beats and improvisational style. You could see the performers checking what each other was doing, at times they seemed to be on different beats yet somehow it appeared intentional. But the music was too loud for the small space; it would have been better without amplification, the end of the night proved it wasn't necessary.

The first half was stifling hot and meant the instruments had to be tuned constantly. During the second half the air conditioning was on but it unfortunately caused a stream of cold air to be directed at the vocalist. The performers became more comfortable as the night progressed culminating in two encores which were the best part of the show. Not only were they relaxed but the vocalist had room to move, which she did beautifully, and without microphones the strange echo effect was gone.

If you like this style of music you'll love this show, if you're not familiar with it you may find yourself wondering why they didn't give the vocalist free rein and put her as the centre piece.

Note: bring cash to purchase a CD

: 8-10 February, 8:30pm
Tickets: $52