July 29, 2021

The Yellow Wallpaper

In a "three course feast" the Yellow Cat Collective brings three performances a night over three nights to the Katherine Mansfield House and Garden of The Yellow Wallpaper. There are a lot of threes going on here; three parts to the night with three performers.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a severely creepy short story written in the late 1800s about a woman going mad trapped in a room with yellow wallpaper, it's been hailed as a feminist text. This isn't the first time the Yellow Cat Collective have tackled this story. They produced a piece in this years Fringe festival focusing on the experiences of the woman. But this time they've chosen to focus instead on the wallpaper itself, how it feels to be observed.

The evening starts with time to explore the house, you may not have been since the upgrades in 2019 so have a good look around, music pulses from behind a closed door. Then the audience collects in the "timeline room" where there are a handful of seats around the detailed walls for a reading of an extract from The Yellow Wallpaper. The reader is good but I'm distracted by her orange shoes and the quotes from Katherine Mansfield plastered on the wall behind her. Then the main event, we are led across the hall to what was once the grandmothers room, now an exhibition space, stripped of all furniture save another line of chairs along the wall. This is where the music has been coming from.

Dance is one of those difficult mediums where if you aren't told the story beforehand almost anything could be going on in front of you. This holds true here, but once you know you see the dancers emerging from the walls, writhing against them as you wonder if they're allowed to touch the highly decorated paper. You realise that dancers must necessarily be actors too, their faces impassive. I'm distracted again by odd things; how the calf muscles bulk as once dancer moves, the rib cage of the other as she arches, tattoos revealed on the first as her shirt lifts in movement, chipped nail polish on a hand as it sweeps through the air. There is beauty here and trust too - they rely on each other to hold the space and at one point to hold each other up as they both lean in. Modern dance becomes ballroom as the dancers circle each other then it disintegrates as they twist on the floor. 

In this intimate space there is no getting away from the performers, close enough you could reach out to touch them. The music is light, unintrusive, so much so that you wonder how the dancers know their place. But they do, it is perfectly timed. It ends and the dancers faces and movements change, they seem a little embarrassed by the praise and the thanks of the audience. The evening comes to a close, we are ushered out as the next group is arriving soon.

At just $10 a ticket it's very affordable but get in quick as spaces are limited.

Tickets: $10

Performances: 29-31 July, 6pm, 6:50pm 7:40pm

July 23, 2021

Maximum Benefit

Two comedians; Max and Ben - do you see what they did there? Maximum Benefit - combine their powers to create an entirely improvised show. Now, I've seen improvised shows in the past that follow a pattern but here there was no pattern, everything was entirely original. Unique to every performance.

The closing show of their July season at Bats Theatre tonight was hilarious. And as there is never going to be another performance like it, I can spoil to my hearts content.

To open they asked the audience for a hobby. The first suggestion of interspecies erotica (that's a reference to Clerks 2) was rejected for not being a genuine hobby but went on to be referenced several times throughout the show. The second suggestion of Adventure Racing; a sport consisting of teams with up to 4 participants running, biking and kayaking over hours varying from 3-9; was accepted.

We open on a scene in Wellington with Bruce, a recently separated man, meeting Margaret his team mate who has a not-so-secret crush on him. They both have hygiene problems - Margaret never washes her clothes, and Bruce's clothes are starting to grow mould because his ex wife took the dryer. In succession we are introduced to Sophie, Bruce's ex wife and team mate who is the only one who takes the racing part of Adventure Racing seriously, Carl, Bruce's German best friend who has just returned from a two week rave and was previously involved with Bruce and Sophie together, and Pierre, Sophie's new French-Canadian lover who is there to film the whole race on his go-pro. Then there's also two men watching the race, who eventually decide to participate, Gil and Stu, who are sharing margaritas but didn't know each others names despite being neighbours for 52 years, their daughters being married to each other and them sharing grandchildren.

Do you have that all straight? It was a lot. And it's even more impressive when you take into account that these 6 characters were played by two actors - sometimes this involved them jumping from one side of the stage to the other to play another character. The night ended with 5 of the 6 characters kayaking across the Cook Strait, drinking margaritas and trying to sort out their tangle of relationships. 

There was never a dull moment and quite a lot of laughs - from the situations, the hilarious characters, the jumping between characters and the bits where you could see them setting each other up. I don't think I've even been at a show with a more engaged audience.

July 4, 2021


Elling is billed as "a life affirming comedy", I did not find it such. The staging and performances were great but I struggled with the content. Firstly I'm not sure why it's called Elling when this is as much Kjell's story.

This is the story of two mentally impaired men trying to reintegrate into the "real world" after being released from an institution. The first half was so supremely uncomfortable I almost didn't stay for the second, though I'm glad I did as it improved somewhat. The men instead of being supported are abused and ignored by those who are meant to care for them and I was constantly on the edge of my seat worried about what would befall them - would they be taken advantage of? Would they do something stupid?

The play is a series of very short and slightly longer scenes which was a bit hard to digest. I was worried before seeing it that the comedy would come from laughing at the expense of the characters and often it did feel that way. Sure, there were laughs, but should we really be laughing at people who can't help the way they act? In one sense it is successful as I did genuinely care for the characters wellbeing.

My companion felt that there was at least a message to the play that came in the second act as Elling and Kjell integrated better into society. But we both left unsure if we'd enjoyed ourselves.

July 2, 2021

Sweeny Todd

You may recognise the name from the 2007 film starring problematic actor/potential abuser Johnny Depp but you may not realise before that it was a musical by legendary Stephen Sondheim (and before that a play and before that a book and possibly before that an urban legend). So, the musical came first, at least before the movie. You have the privilege to see it staged in all its glory, in Wellington, by Witch Music Theatre.

Fair warning, this show is dark. There are content warnings posted on the website and outside the theatre. It was much darker than I remembered from the movie and that thing was made by Tim Burton who specialises in dark (and also casts Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in everything). 

Many productions these days forgo stage blood for ease of cleaning the set and costumes and to avoid upsetting the audience. I'm happy to report there is a little blood in this show, its used sparingly but to excellent effect. There is one bit...but I can't spoil it. You'll know it when you see it. I gasped.

The stage is small, made smaller by the need to accommodate an orchestra. Interestingly the conductor was also a performer, managing to conduct mostly with his head. The music was very well choreographed with the action on stage with a little hiccup when people were banging out of synch...and once reminding a performer which verse to sing. 

All around there was talent, singing, acting, sadly no dancing. The actor who played the little boy perhaps being the best. The sound of the combined voices was something beautiful. I did recognise one of the actors from Circa (always lovely to see a familiar face), I look forward to following his career as it progresses.

I recommend taking someone who doesn't know the story at all and watching as they realise what is unfolding on stage. A certain amount of impact is lost when you know what's going to happen, but still I found this more horrifying than I remembered.