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Issue 10, 2017

Issue 10

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  • Euthanasia Case Before the Courts

  • Pressured Lecturers, Cheating Students

  • Free West Papua

  • National Sexual Health Helpline Underway

  • Students Belittled When Seeking Sexual Health Services

  • Increased Funding for DOC Not Enough

  • Survey Confirms that Students are Overworked and Underfunded

  • Education Amendment Bill Passes First Reading

  • ‘Kaupapa Māori Prisons’ Met With Backlash

  • Features


    We Can’t Take It for Granted: Academic Freedom in Hungary

    Academic freedom is under attack in Hungary, where a new law could see the closure of a prominent independent institution, the Central European University (CEU). On April 4, the Hungarian parliament passed a motion to regulate the country’s 28 foreign universities by requiring them to have a campus or offer courses in their country of […]


  • DAN

    Going Bush: Journeys Beyond Scene

    “Their hobnail boots clattered and struck up sparks from the pavement, while their waterproof ‘slickers’ stank of linseed oil and stale woodsmoke… Tramping men were disdained as members of the ‘The Great Unwashed’, while females were viewed with open suspicion, snubbed, and given a wide berth on public transport.” — Tony Nolan, Tararua Tramping Club […]


  • ANON

    Into the Borderlands

    SOUTH COAST, Wellington — Hot as all hell. A 4WD roars by and the plume of dust stings in the light wind. We’ve been dropped just short of the Devil’s Gate, a kilometre or so from the Red Rocks carpark, and our packs are lined up at the base of the cliffs that were quarried […]



    We Can’t Take It for Granted: Academic Freedom in Hungary

    Academic freedom is under attack in Hungary, where a new law could see the closure of a prominent independent institution, the Central European University (CEU). On April 4, the Hungarian parliament passed a motion to regulate the country’s 28 foreign universities by requiring them to have a campus or offer courses in their country of […]


  • DAN

    Going Bush: Journeys Beyond Scene

    “Their hobnail boots clattered and struck up sparks from the pavement, while their waterproof ‘slickers’ stank of linseed oil and stale woodsmoke… Tramping men were disdained as members of the ‘The Great Unwashed’, while females were viewed with open suspicion, snubbed, and given a wide berth on public transport.” — Tony Nolan, Tararua Tramping Club […]


  • ANON

    Into the Borderlands

    SOUTH COAST, Wellington — Hot as all hell. A 4WD roars by and the plume of dust stings in the light wind. We’ve been dropped just short of the Devil’s Gate, a kilometre or so from the Red Rocks carpark, and our packs are lined up at the base of the cliffs that were quarried […]


  • Arts and Science

  • Raw Collective, Jinz Moss, and Makeshift Movements

    I was not in a good mood when Pauly Lowe of Raw Collective asked me to review his band/collective’s upcoming gig/fundraiser, billed as their “last show for a while.” Stress of assignments and bouts of homesickness, coupled with the everyday hell of living at 222 Willis Street, had taken their toll on a usually positive individual, and I had come into Midnight Espresso only to get my standard affogato (don’t judge me, amateur baristas) then get back to work. The pitch Pauly gave was intriguing enough, however: a live ten person hip-hop experience, supported by the best and brightest of the Wellington hip-hop/reggae scene. Still, the proverbial coffee cup was half empty, and I felt worried about what I’d got myself into when I rocked up to Rogue and Vagabond on Saturday.

    After having to convince the door staff that yes, I was supposed to be there to review the show and yes, although I wasn’t on the guestlist I had been invited by the band, I picked my vantage point from which to watch the support. Makeshift Movements moved past the initial muddy mixing of their vocals and instruments to deliver a set brimming with confidence. Post-rocky guitar leads were offset by reggae rhythms, breakbeat drums battled with ’80s synths. The sound was uncategorisable and incomparable, and better for it. While the rapping members gave it their all, the two female vocalists stole the show whenever they rode the mic, the band sounding much more comfortable delving into reggae-esque instrumentals than their faster, funkier cuts. Still, it was a confident set that had my friend convinced they were the headliners; high praise for any supporting act in my opinion.

    Jinz Moss bridged the gap between the unusually excellent support and Raw Collective (who he also performed with), riding old school beats with aplomb and bags of confidence. As a temporary British expat of sorts, hearing an East London/Wellingtonian MC use Grime slang as part of his arsenal without sounding goofy provided a heady remedy to memories of Drake warbling about “chit-chat tings” on More Life. Moss only performed for about ten minutes, but knew exactly his job in the scheme of the night, getting people to the front, forcing hands in the air, and setting the tone for the main event. Shouts out to whoever added A Tribe Called Quest’s “Black Spasmodic” to the playlist, too.

    The best way that I can describe Raw Collective’s sound to anyone who has yet to hear them live is to imagine an alternate universe in which Dr Dre, riding high off the success of 1992’s The Chronic, had courted, seduced, and committed to a faithful and steady relationship with various members of The Cat Empire and Fat Freddy’s Drop, and that their offspring migrated to Wellington to start a band. The meticulous brass arrangements added an extra crispness to their sound; the crowd greeted singles like “Smash The Grips” as if they had been local anthems for years, and whenever a member had a chance to show off their individual talents they took it with ease. “I want to see the new age…” Raw Deezy gasped during one of the set’s brief quieter moments. He took a second. Then, with a grin: “I want to see Donald Trump assassinated, too.” At another gig it might have felt unnecessary, attention-grabbing. But in the context of the night’s entertainment, it put a grin on my face too. In the artificial lights of the stage, my pint glass looked half full again.


  • Podcast: Interview with Get Your Hands Off My Dogcast

    This week I interviewed Jamie Owers, Alisdair Armstrong, and Oliver Pol, the hosts of Get Your Hands Off My Dogcast.


    How would you describe your podcast?

    Jamie: We review… well, review is a strong word. We talk about dog movies.

    Alisdair: Movies that prominently feature a dog. We do a different film each week, semi-review it. Sometimes we just talk nonsense.


    What made you decide to start the podcast?

    Jamie: We were just kind of wanting to do a podcast. We’re fans of this New Zealand podcast called The Worst Idea Of All Time. So we were like, “we should do a podcast, that would be a fun thing,” just to do something. Then I think Alisdair came up with the idea of doing dog movies.

    Oliver: It was just something to structure our hangouts, really. We used to write scripts with each other when we met up, but then we thought maybe a podcast because we all liked The Worst Idea Of All Time. We weren’t sure about the topic, just the format of talking about something each week that forces us to meet up fairly regularly.


    If you had to recommend a dog related movie, which would it be?

    Jamie: I’m a big fan of a movie called Turner & Hooch. It’s got Tom Hanks in it, I’m a big Tom Hanks fan. It’s probably the most adult of the dog movies — we’ve found that most are family films but this one’s kind of like a straight comedy.

    Oliver: But there is also genuine emotion, you know, like the relationship being formed between Tom Hanks and this dog. I won’t spoil the end but there’s some pretty traumatic stuff that happens and it’s genuinely dramatic. In most of the films the final act is pretty disappointing because we don’t care about the characters, but this dog, it’s got a real big heart… but he makes a lot of mess!

    Alisdair: That’s definitely the best one we’ve seen. If I was going to recommend a dog movie I’d probably recommend Foodfight! because I want people to suffer.

    Jamie: To be honest, if I had to recommend one it’d probably be Marley & Me because it’s the most general, audience-pleasing one.

    Alisdair: I don’t like that one.

    Jamie: I mean, I think we all have problems with it…


    How do you go about making the podcast?

    Jamie: So I just have a USB microphone that I bought off the internet and we gather around in Alisdair’s flat and watch the movie together, then just chuck in the microphone.

    Oliver: And immediately record after watching the film because we forget it pretty much immediately.


    What do you like about podcasts as a medium?

    Jamie: I like the fact that you can do other things while you’re listening. When I’m working on a project or something, because I’m a design student, I like to have a podcast going as I do it.

    Alisdair: I think it’s definitely a convenient way to get information or humour or entertainment without having to sit down.

    Oliver: And it gives people from other countries the opportunity to hear our nonsense that was previously confined mostly to us, but now people from America and the UK are downloading. I don’t know what their doing with their lives, but yeah.

    Jamie: We have one constant listener in Ashburn, Virginia.


    Are there any future plans for Get Your Hands Off My Dogcast?

    Alisdair: Eventually, of course, we’d like to sell out and just make it a cash cow. How realistic that is, I don’t know.

    Jamie: It’s really just fun to do.

    Alisdair: Yeah, we’ll probably just continue until we get bored of it, or until we run out of dog movies, whichever comes first.


    Anything else you want to say to Salient readers?

    Jamie: Check us out! If you like dog movies.

    Alisdair: Or if you don’t.

    Oliver: Or if you like dogs.

    Alisdair: Or again, if you don’t.


    Get Your Hands Off My Dogcast is available on iTunes or through their Facebook page:


  • A Discussion on the Alien Franchise

    The two editors of this section agree on many things, film related and otherwise. The Alien Films, however, do not fall into this category. We agree the first two are great, and the third and fourth are terrible, but things get tricky after that. If anything, the following exchange will illuminate how subjective film can be.


    Why I love Prometheus — Finn Holland

    I cannot see what justifies the hate for this film. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but how many perfect films are there? Admittedly, one of the perfect films in the history of cinema is in fact Ridley Scott’s Alien. However. Prometheus is far different film and thrives on its own merits: Prometheus aims to tackle the beginning of life itself, as well as the philosophy and morality of said creation.

    The film starts with the glorious landscape of an Earth that has not yet formed life, and introduces the Engineers, a species whose scientists have developed a method of creating life. Picking up in the near future, a group of scientists now seek the Engineers in hopes of answering where humans truly come from. In addition is the thematic depth of having an android named David on board, who is faced with the reality of meeting his creator face-to-face every day. These ideas gave Alien fans far more science fiction than they might have been expecting.

    Technically everything is amazing, from the cinematography and score to the practical effects and performances. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender shine as Elizabeth Shaw and the aforementioned android. Rapace is as tough as Ripley, and scientifically savvy; her sheer will sees her through one of the entire series’ most white knuckle scenes. Fassbender plays the other end of the spectrum, with his seemingly perfect logic (and haircut) often unnerving other characters. It becomes increasingly obvious he has ulterior motives.

    All things considered, Prometheus is not a film that deserves the rap it gets, and I think it’s a case of audiences wanting one thing, and though what they get is good, they dislike it because it’s different. It certainly is different, and is a wholesome piece of science fiction.


    Why I (mildly) hate Prometheus — Mathew Watkins

    Visually stunning with a great cast and sci-fi theological elements, Prometheus by all rights should have been fantastic. Instead, it only left us with a ton of unanswered questions and disappointingly fell to the same tropes as most extraterrestrial B-grade horrors. This isn’t to say I didn’t initially enjoy the film; I just find it very flawed.

    Easily the biggest problems with the film are the high number of nonsensical routes the film drags you down, only to abandon you to pursue another dead-end. Though it had some interesting elements to introduce, it followed through on hardly any of them, and with the inclusion of Covenant, it seems like there was no payoff at all for this film.There were a couple twists, but neither really made much sense or came across as important to the story arc. Weyland turns out to be alive! (Why did he pretend to be dead?) Charlize’s character is Weylands daughter! (Why does that matter?)

    Not only that, but I found myself frustrated with the sheer number of characters introduced to the story, only to die pitifully with no benefit to the momentum of the story. With the exception of David, whose motivations are still pretty unknown even now after a second film, the characters were one dimensional and uninteresting.  

    At the end of the day, this film is okay. That’s it. It’s okay to watch when you’re bored for a bit of entertainment and to say to yourself “hey I wonder what all that was about?” But don’t bother hoping for any answers in the sequel which, if anything, only made Prometheus worse.


    Why I love Alien: Covenant — Finn Holland

    Evidently of the two of us I was far more excited for this film. Anyway, this very year Scott has graced us with another instalment in the Alien franchise, and given us a film that once again expands the mythos and takes the franchise in new directions.

    When the colonisation ship Covenant finds an extremely habitable world millions of light years from our own, the majority of the crew are enthralled, while a minority are justifiably dubious. Shit happens. Alien-esque things ensue. Certain chests do not remain unruptured.

    The universe building of Prometheus is expanded in droves, with the complex genealogy of its creatures never getting too out of hand, and the rich ideas and themes never playing second fiddle to the straight up thrill and horror of it all. What has always been a strength of the good Alien films at least is the interaction between its crew members, and this crew is no exception. Once again there are divisions among the ranks, as well as divisions of faiths, and given that the crew is made entirely of couples there are some intense conflicts of interest.

    What people don’t realise is that sci-fi is more than guns and ship; it’s about the themes and the philosophies. Prometheus and Alien: Covenant have gone this route with the question of life. The films are critical of those who play God, as seen with people’s greed and recklessness in the search for knowledge and power.

    Alien: Covenant is an ambitious film with far more on its mind than murdering a bunch of side characters creatively. The film still does not give all the answers fans may want, but what’s on show here is plentiful by itself. There must be something to say for the fact after seeing this film for the first time I simultaneously wanted to see the next film immediately, the current film again, and the old films for the 20th time.


    Why I hate Alien: Covenant — Mathew Watkins

    Ahh, the low hanging fruit of a Ridley Scott movie post-2000. Other than the Fassbender on Fassbender fingering and James Franco getting burned alive, this movie sucked. Scott once again lowers the collective intelligence of his cast in order to move the plot forward, fulfilling all the stupid horror movie tropes we’ve seen a thousand times before and can see coming a mile away.

    Alien made you care about the characters because they were blue-collar space workers; the way they talked to one another about their lives back home, not having enough money, felt human and real. Also, obviously being essentially “truckers”, it’s forgiven that they have no idea how to handle the presence of alien life on their ship. However, when characters almost willingly walk into trouble like campers in Friday the 13th, it’s hard to have sympathy for their hardships.

    Fuck you, of course you’re dead, guy who stuck his face directly in front of a toxic space mushroom. You too, asshole who put your face over a big slimy egg in the basement of an otherworldly temple lured by an AI you have no trust for.

    Although the film itself fell short, the interesting ideas and mysteries that were raised in Prometheus were completely done away with in Covenant. It was almost like Scott was half-assedly apologising for making his audience think too much.

    The script was dull and uninteresting, the set design was boring, and the special effects used to animate the creatures were laughable. All in all, it was a total waste of an opportunity to reinvigorate the franchise. Easily the best part about watching it was eating the pineapple I brought with me in an ice cream container.



  • Counterfutures 3: Incarceration

    New Zealand society does not just have a tolerance for a high incarceration rate but an enthusiasm for it. This quote from Tracey McIntosh sets the tone of Counterfutures 3: a collection of critical essays, creative non-fiction, interviews, and reviews exploring leftist thought and practice regarding incarceration in Aotearoa.

    As described by John W. Buttle in “Imagining an Aotearoa/New Zealand Without Prisons”: “Mass incarceration is not just about prisons, but includes the whole criminal justice system and the web of laws, regulations, and policies that constrain those who have been convicted, in and out of prisons.” As a collection, Counterfutures goes further than linking mass incarceration with vague theories, weaving together reflections on race, gender, politics, and power, and the way these concepts interrelate with incarceration and punitiveness. In doing this, Counterfutures asks not only why does incarceration look the way it does, but attempts to address how we contextualise and characterise “criminals” and “crime”.

    Some pieces are informative, and historical. Mark Derby and Warwick Tie’s “Feculent Hovel” paints a graphic opening image of the systemic discrimination in Aotearoa’s penal culture. Pip Adams’ “In the Car” explores a personal, reflective snapshot which humanises the experiences of those she has encountered within the penal system — their codes, practices, and patterns. Each piece is carefully selected, critically analysing a different facet of our understanding of incarceration. Ever-present in the text is an awareness of the powerful cultural hegemonies governing the political and social economies of both Aotearoa and wider frameworks of Western thought.

    Perhaps most telling of the narrative that Counterfutures seeks to establish — and the centre/right narrative it wishes to disrupt — is “Demanding Explanations”, Ronald Kramer’s review of Greg Newbold’s Crime, Law and Justice in New Zealand, and Newbold’s response to this review. Newbold’s book charts “major crime related events from New Zealand’s history,” and seeks to place these within broader social contexts. Kramer’s critique questions the ideologically-loaded approach with which Newbold undertakes this exercise.

    It is pertinent, I think, to begin with Newbold’s conclusion — “In retrospect, if I had been able to read Kramer’s review prior to publication, I would have changed nothing.” His rhetoric encapsulates the defensiveness and ignorance with which leftist discourse is often met.

    Crime, Law and Justice, according to Kramer, fails to contextualise much of its empirical evidence, making reference to an indigenous “culture of poverty,” the women’s movement, and popular culture, without critically assessing correlative and causative links. For example, according to Newbold, while “there is absolutely no way of determining what percentage of rape complaints are actually true or false,” he has over a period of time “collected a large dossier containing hundreds of proven cases of false and malicious rape complaints.”

    Newbold’s response to Kramer’s review, predictably, misses the point — confusing a series of smug pats-on-the-back from those in positions of power in the criminal justice system for a critical reflection on the robustness of his arguments. After all, “students at UC [University of Canterbury] love it.” This narrative weaves wider concerns about the way feminist, socialist, and Marxist discourses are marginalised as “radical” in the face of mainstream academic literature, and brings with it a level of intertextual awareness.

    Counterfutures real strength lies within this degree of reflection. As posited in the interview with No Pride in Prisons, “we can’t separate the prison from the social system and the historical conditions that brought it into existence.” An awareness of this brings with it a sense of enlightenment — incarceration, while systemic in our society, does not have to be so. Decarceration, or prison abolition, may not be our present reality, but that does not mean it can’t ever be. To borrow a phrase from Moana Jackson, every change is but a shift in reality.


  • Swing Time — Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith was one of those authors who I’d heard of and completely dismissed because she sounded like another postmodern, over-praised, elitist circler of the prize-winning circuit. This was based on mainly the fact that she was a contemporary writer, and the design of her book covers. I’m a fickle, snobbish reader. Books are where I feel at ease, and therefore most comfortably judgemental. And I can’t stand narratives about contemporary adults making dumb decisions in their hollow suburban lives and then waxing clichés about it. So gross.

    But then, as happens shamefully often, I opened one of her books one day at the library and read a page, and I thought to myself, oh. Darn it. I like her.

    She’s smart. She’s self-aware. And she has arguments to make, which I can respect.

    Swing Time is the interwoven story of two mixed-race women who meet as children in a dance class in London in the early ’80s. Their respective contexts are at a stark contrast; one intellectual and upper class, the other looked down on as low rent. But their mutual love of dance and their shared identity as children from two cultures ties their lives together. The narrative jumps back and forth over the following decades as their paths diverge and converge, as one travels across continents and the other is stuck at home with a growing family, as one touches the edges of fame and the other digs into bitterness and self-destruction.

    Smith seems to be searching for something concrete. For answers to questions she’s had bubbling inside for years. Through her writing she is working out her demons, and while she’s not her characters, she can’t help but speak through them. If you feel this search too, you might find yourself echoed in her words.


  • Watching Stranger Things as a Horror-Hater who has No Nostalgia for the ’80s

    Recently I bestowed my sister with my Netflix password. Slightly idiotic, I know, but if it’s getting paid for out of my course related costs, I might as well spread the love around. The beauty of giving your younger sister access to your Netflix account is that she tries things I’m too afraid to.

    Like Stranger Things.

    I know, I know, how can this b!tch proclaim to be a TV buff if she hasn’t seen Stranger Things? It’s a seminal piece of television. I hear you. You are right. But to be fair, I did everything except actually watch the show. I read all the critique, engaged with my various timelines on the matter, watched the Emmys as those kids handed out sandwiches.

    Alas, Stranger Things was just not made for me as a TV viewer. I was not alive in the ’80s and therefore have little to no appreciation for the style and effects of the time, let alone nostalgia for them. I cannot stand horror — I’m not entirely sure why, I’m just not big on scaring myself for no particular reason. I’m also, and I apologise profusely for this, not that into kids, in real life or on screen; I always skipped every time Ross’s kid showed up on Friends. Sorry, but I just don’t like them that much.

    That’s literally a trifecta of things that put me off Stranger Things. Sure, the poster and the theme music was cool, but I had no real desire to put time into it, especially with OJ: Made In America taking up so much of my attention at the time.

    So when I woke up on Sunday morning and saw my sister watching the first episode, I couldn’t help but join her. Then, when she left for work, I couldn’t help but keep watching. Then, as the expert TV watcher I am, I couldn’t help but binge the whole show and finish it that day.

    It’s an interesting experience, watching a show for the first time that you already sort of know everything about, and getting the chance to properly form your own opinions about what you are watching — almost a year after everyone else has. For example, I really enjoyed the character of Nancy, and despite what that Saturday Night Live sketch might have you believe, we do see Lucas’s parents. Plus, the horror of this show can be avoided if you watch it in the daytime and can anticipate the jump scares. Also yes, I am going to beat this drum too: Millie Bobby Brown is incredible.

    There’s a lot of love out there for this show, and I get it, but I don’t necessarily share it. The whole “government lab conspiracy” thing kind of grinds my gears, and I could do without seeing yet another down-on-his-luck male law enforcement officer who tries to drink his problems away but just ends up waking up on the couch with the sun streaming into his face, whereupon he picks up his next cigarette.

    Maybe I’m a little more critical of the flaws of such a show given that I am not swept up in the nostalgic beauty of it (I have also, sorry, never read a Stephen King book), but that’s okay. It’s important to remember that not all TV is for everyone, and you are bound to like some shows a lot more than I am!

    It’s alright; I’ll just watch the second season ten months too late as well.

    — @LauraLives


  • How to Learn?

    A week ago now I went to How to Learn? A Discussion on Emerging Curatorial Education in Aotearoa at Enjoy Public Art Gallery. The panel, chaired by Sophie Davis, was made up of four emerging/mid-career curators: Andrea Bell, Curator of Art at Hocken Collections; Tendai John Mutambu, Assistant Curator at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery; Melanie Oliver, Senior Curator at The Dowse; and Balamohan Shingade, Assistant Director at ST PAUL St Gallery. They talked about how they got to where they are and what options are out there for emerging curators.

    A meme stayed projected on the wall for most of the talk, leftover from Mutambu’s presentation. I don’t know where the image originally comes from, but it’s a 21st century mise-en-scène with the Instagram tags visible:

    “Artist”, wearing trackpants and a crop top — her face is out of frame — twerks on “Gallerist”, also in trackpants and crop, her pierced belly button exposed, who is bent backwards in a bridge. “Gallerist” is being propped up by “Unpaid Intern”, who is using her entire body to keep the other woman from falling. “Collector”, wearing pink and grey pajamas and a cute pink sleep mask on her forehead, has got her hand on “Artist’s” ass, her mouth agape in what looks like excitement. “Curator” sits away from the action, clad in all black, taking photos on a huge iPhone.

    It’s funny, in that meme-y way of being an exaggeration of real life, drawing on associations that aren’t obvious until they are. Really, the most unlikely aspect of the image is that all the characters are black, and all are women. Everything else is possible after a few too many drinks. Mostly, I like the image in the same way I love reality TV: never guiltily, always totally immersively. How much fun! To imagine yourself in each and every role. How would you live if you lived a script? Would you be Kylie or Kim? Paris or Nicole? Surely no one would pick “Unpaid Intern”.

    There’s a scene in the 2012 Bravo series Gallery Girls where Maggie Schaffer confronts her employer, the gallerist Eli Klein. It goes something like this:

    Maggie: I just can’t keep doing these internships for you…

    Eli: I don’t want you to intern forever, and we only ever ask for a 30 day commitment from our interns. Do you think it’s been more than 30 total?

    Maggie: [whispering and crying] I’ve done this since college. [She left university three years ago]. That’s all I wanted to say.

    Eli: Okay, well I appreciate your hard work and dedication. I will see you on Monday.

    The unpaid intern propping up the rest of the ridiculous scene is often praised for hard work and dedication, which is their contribution in a deal with an employer that usually promises to return experience, maybe a reference, and rarely — but ideally — a paying job. In a society like ours, where Pākehā women earn 13% less than the average male, Māori women 13% less than that, and Pasifika women 7% less again, to be able to accept a position which pays only in cultural capital is a luxury. An industry in which some kind of volunteer-work-as-experience is necessary to get a foot in the door leads inevitably to an industry that is lacking in diversity. That’s not to say that unpaid work is the only means of entering the sector, just that it seems one of the most common. It’s also not to say that unpaid work is necessarily exploitative, although it can be, but that it’s often hard to say no to any opportunities — unpaid or paid — for fear of missing out on the experience. The problem is not that the system doesn’t work — it does, whatever its pitfalls — but that by its very nature it excludes people who can’t afford to risk working for nothing in the hopes that it will lead to something more.


  • Olive Copperbottom — Penny Ashton

    As a general, unspoken rule of reviewing theatre, it is customary and even expected to commend one-person shows that don’t end in utter disaster. The sheer scale of planning, the gruelling rehearsal period, the necessary charisma and repertoire required with different audiences each night, and the added anxiety of being unable to see how others might deride your creative genius is awful enough when spread out, and can be near excruciating when piled upon one person.

    Not content with one layer of stress, Penny Ashton, the titular Olive Copperbottom, is credited as writer, publicist, producer, designer, concepter, and researcher in addition to performer. The fact that Ashton manages to get through one hour and ten minutes, portray about 20 different characters, and reach a resolution that makes sense deserves commendation in of itself. Yet her eye for satire, the consistently high level of laughs throughout, her marvelous physicality, and her sheer likability even when dealing with hecklers and slip-ups raises the bar for one-person shows everywhere. Oh, and it’s a musical, too.

    In brief, Olive Copperbottom is a satire of Dickensian tropes and narratives from A Tale of Two Cities to Little Dorrit, with a wickedly dark edge (the piece is bookended by a sung ode to orphanages). We follow Olive from her tragic beginnings as a povertous child, to her occupation as a much maligned carer at her orphanage, to her runaway success as a star ukulele (or “midget guitar”) player, all the while trying to find out the identity of her mysterious benefactor. If that sounds all over the place, that’s because in a sense it is, just like much of Charles Dickens’ back catalogue (come at me, English course directors). But even with the addition of songs arranged by Robbie Ellis, Ashton’s performance carries us through on waves of laughter, exploiting with glee the number of outright stupid words in the English language and anachronistic references to Ticketmaster, Russian interference in the American elections, and New Zealand’s 100% green policy.

    Even though the musical element of Olive Copperbottom was the most stressed in its marketing, I found this the least compelling aspect of the performance. Ashton sings with conviction when not trying to cram in her usual 20 jokes a minute, but they only served to slow the breakneck pace Ashton seemed most comfortable with. The real delight came through her characters, each one with a different stance, accent, moral compass, and ability to draw laughs. In comparison to Hand to God, which I reviewed last week, Olive Copperbottom hit its stride early on and maintained its energy and mischievous attitude all the way into what Ashton herself admits, as an aside, is a ridiculous finale. Her asides throughout indicate that even with the pressure of repeating the success of Pride and Promiscuity, she is not afraid to laugh at herself and the potential plot holes she gleefully creates.

    Through Olive Copperbottom, Circa Two was turned from a Bleak House into… a not-as-bleak house. See, parody can be hard, but if Ashton can keep up her streak of delivering satire with a refreshingly non-serious edge, I have Great Expectations for what she and her team can do next.


  • Glass Vaults — The New Happy

    Glass Vaults released their second album The New Happy last week, following their first full length Sojourn in 2015. The new album was recorded over the last two years in Blue Barn Recording Studios out in Mount Cook. The band is originally from Wellington with members now spread out to Christchurch and Auckland.

    Frontman Richard Larsen talked to Salient about the new record, and explained some of the band’s influences and intentions with this new collection of songs. “The vibe came from the music me and Rowan were getting into at the time which was a lot of ’80s New York Vibe music. Listening to a lot of Talking Heads, Grace Jones, I think that really influenced the sound and production of the record.”

    While Sojourn felt a little more wide and washed out. The New Happy is defined by its tight grooves and carefully selected sound set, showing the influence of those New York acts of the ’80s. The song “Brooklyn” (written after spending a while in New York playing shows) features particularly Talking Heads-y guitar stabs and a pulsing rhythm section. Larsen’s vocals are airy and washed out, jumping around interesting melodies in a way that reminded me a bit of Arthur Russell. I asked Richard about this: “That’s interesting, I’m not a massive fan, I’ve listened to a little bit, but Bevan who plays Bass synth and does all our production and mixing and stuff, he’s a big Arthur Russell fan. He has talked to me about being influenced by him for this record too.”

    Glass Vaults are about to head out on a New Zealand tour with dates in Dunedin, Christchurch, and Auckland. The Wellington show is on the June 1 at Caroline with Terror of the Deep and Womb. “We hand selected the bands we are playing with.” Richard says Charlotte from Womb is a really good friend of ours and I’ve always really liked her music and we’ve been talking about doing some shows together for ages.”

    Check out The New Happy on all the regular streaming services or at


  • Cameron (Finally) Gets His Hands on a Nintendo Switch

    Back in Issue 00, I wrote a piece about the then-upcoming Nintendo Switch; you might recall how I was cautiously optimistic about the hybrid console’s prospects. Now that I have a cool job that lets me play games in the office, it was just a matter of time before I spent nearly my entire first pay packet on a brand new Switch; now, after a few days with it, I feel ready to share my thoughts.

    Taking the unit out of the box for the first time, I was quite surprised at how small it was: about the size of a small tablet. I shouldn’t be so shocked given the nature of the system, designed for both portable use and to be connected to a TV, but still. The inbuilt capacitive touchscreen displays at 720p, comparable to a mid-range smartphone, though it’s still a decent resolution for a portable system. I haven’t found any ways that the system takes advantage of the touchscreen though. The transition from portable to TV with the included dock is seamless and intuitive, not to mention that it will boost graphical fidelity.

    The Joy-Con controllers are something of a revelation. I’ve written previously about how accessible they are, and having tried all sorts of ways of using them I feel confident calling them my favourite controller system ever. When used in tandem, it feels equally comfortable using them attached to the main console (giving it a form factor not unlike the Wii U Gamepad), completely detached, or in a controller grip. The haptic feedback, which Nintendo calls “HD Rumble,” feels amazing and is a vast improvement over even that of the Dualshock 4s, though I have a feeling it will be used the same as every other rumble feature.

    Since I’m not made of money, I was only able to get one full-priced game with my Switch. I chose to buy Mario Kart 8 Deluxe because it shows off a feature that could prove vital to the system’s success: instant multiplayer. Simply hand one of the Joy-Cons to a friend, push out the attached kickstand, and away you go, racing one-on-one for the Mushroom Cup. Is there a better way to share your games with your friends? Also, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is fantastic, an absolute must-own for the system.

    I do, however, have some gripes which could hold the system back. Its Wi-Fi connectivity seems to be rather weak, a real handicap for any mobile device. Perhaps that’s why there aren’t any other apps for the system besides games — not even a proper web browser — even though these have been standard issue for every other console since the original Xbox. I would have loved to watch YouTube or Netflix on my Switch, and I certainly hope these will be coming soon.

    It is still very much early days for the Switch, and this is reflected in the offerings on the Nintendo eShop, with only 44 games available at the time of writing, of which only Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can really be considered system sellers. Consoles live and die by their software line-up, and while Nintendo have promised extensive third-party support, it remains to be seen whether this will follow through.

    Having said all of that, I am incredibly happy with my investment in a Switch. It still has massive promise, and with it being the fastest selling console in Nintendo’s history, I hope it can live up to it in the years to come.


  • Two Belles in Love: A Romance — Preview

    Performed by students of THEA 323, directed by Intercultural Theatre Practices expert Dr. Megan Evans, and written originally by Chinese playwright Li Yu, Two Belles in Love: A Romance deals with societal stigma towards the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals to love openly. Despite this, it promises to be “sweet, funny, and compellingly relevant for a contemporary audience.” I spoke to director Megan Evans and performer Finnian Nacey to see how they intend to hit that sweet spot.


    Two Belles in Love looks at same-sex relationships through the historical framework of Imperial China, written some 350 years ago by Yi Lu. In what ways has its content retained relevance to our modern experiences?

    Megan: While some of the characters object to the belles’ relationship, many support it; in particular, there are “Fragrance Gods” who oversee and help the belles toward a happy ending. With ongoing prejudice and stigma in New Zealand and much fiercer forms of discrimination and persecution against the LGBTQIA+ community in other parts of the world, the play provides valuable practice to imagine a world in which the balance of power tips so strongly in favour of acceptance.

    Finnian: Like its title says, Two Belles is about love. There’s the romantic love between the two belles, but there’s also exploration of familial love and the love between friends as well. It’s a universal theme that we can all relate to. The same-sex relationships within the show just go to showcase that love knows no gender, and that love between two women or men has been deeply entrenched within society and art for over hundreds of years


    Finnian, you describe the “honesty” with which the production depicts LGBTQIA+ issues in the press notes — can you elaborate on that?

    Finnian: A lot of media depicting same-sex relationships focuses on negative reactions towards them. While this is a major and pressing issue, there’s also a lot of love and acceptance out there in the world, so it’s nice to see a show that focuses on positivity without ignoring the objections that some have.


    Two Belles sticks out as a play that deals with a lot of potentially sensitive issues but also takes the form of a comedy. Considering this bipolarity, what form did the original rehearsals take? Were you more focused on getting a historical context or nailing the comedic elements of the piece?

    Megan: Our performance style is not realism. In Xìqǔ (Chinese opera), as in Shakespeare, a kind of historical “every time” and geographical “every where” is the setting of the play. The Imperial China setting is important because polygamy was legal and commonplace, and so Li Yu exploits it for comic effect. But historical accuracy is not a goal. Our early rehearsals have focused on the action and the theatrical potential of the story. We have been monitoring the possible political implications of our choices, but mostly we have been looking for the best way this company of actors can tell this story.


    What challenges/opportunities has the dual casting of THEA 323 students had for the production? Do you feel the two performances are different as a result?

    Megan: I experienced many productions with a dual cast at University of Hawaii, where we had resident Asian performance teachers. I really enjoyed the opportunity to build a role together with someone else. And it isn’t just the actors; the musicians are also contributing to each character’s portrayal. While sometimes it feels as though we are having to solve every problem twice, I more often find that when the second group takes the stage they have learned heaps from watching the first group.


    Can you tell me about the set design — how did you go about recreating Imperial China in Kelburn?

    Finnian: Our set designers, Emma Katene and Nicole Topp-Annan, have done a flat-out fantastic job. They’ve gone for a more impressionistic version of Imperial China. The conversation about replicating the work has been at the forefront of our minds for this play, as there’s the possibility of appropriation and disrespect that we must be mindful of. As we can’t respectfully replicate any of the traditional Chinese styles, choosing a more simple, symbolic design for the set was helpful in realising the world of the play. So the set is quite minimalist, but it’s punctuated with vibrant colours and intricate backdrops; everything on stage is used to its full potential.


    Which characters are your favourite in the play?

    Megan: I don’t have a favourite character; what I love about the production is the contrasts and surprises. We are integrating many tones and qualities of performance, another characteristic that was inspired by Xìqǔ.

    Finnian: I have a soft spot for all the characters, but I love the Fragrance Gods; it’s awesome to see a same-sex relationship get the support of deities, which isn’t a narrative often shown. I think their cheeky interactions are a comedic highlight of the play, and their choreography also demonstrates a lot of Chinese influences as well. They’re a treat!


    Do you think the inclusion of modern music with Chinese influences, as composed by Ailise Beales, impacted the original meaning of the play?

    Megan: Definitely, Ailise’s songs have brought a contemporary edge to the production. She writes lovely melodies, but also is a gifted lyricist — they’re sweet and clever, with many very funny moments.

    Finnian: Ailise’s lyrics also allow the audience and performers to see into the characters’ heads a lot more. It’s great to get a look at the inner workings of the supporting characters, as well as the two belles. The songs are also really catchy! We spend a lot of time just singing them together outside of rehearsal. I think the audience is going to have quite a few numbers stuck in their heads for days afterwards.


    For a person who may have never seen theatre at VUW, what is ONE thing about the production that they need to see in person and not just through Salient previews/reviews?

    Megan: Early in the show, just after the belles have met for the first time, one of them sings the song “Your Perfume”. I have found it very moving each time I see it. Maybe it is something about letting this relationship between two women be taken both easily and seriously onstage, as normal and inspiring and worthy of a beautiful song.

    Finnian: It’s tough to pick just one! I also love “Your Perfume”, but I think “Liuchun”, the maid’s cheeky little number about the two belles which is laden with double entendres and innuendo, is absolutely hilarious. Both Katherine Wisnewski and Cassidy Cruz (Liuchun’s actors) do a stellar job of it, and it has to be seen to be believed.


    Two Belles In Love: A Romance opens 7.30PM on May 24, in Studio 77, Fairlie Terrace. You can find tickets at, or you can buy at the door ($8 student, $16 standard).


  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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