Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

02/02/2016 - 06/02/2016

Production Details

Meet Addy. A butterfly-tamer, in a treehouse, living in a magical world of her own creation. But what happens when Addy begins to lose herself to the fantasy?

Beanie-Maryse Ridler’s fantastical new work, Defending the J.J. MAC, is a story about mental health, acceptance, reconciliation and grief … with a little bit of magic thrown in the mix.

Last Tapes Theatre Company are proud to be bringing the premiere of this New Zealand play to the Basement to open the 2016 season.

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland CBD
Tues 2 – Sat 6 February 2016, 8:30pm
Matinee Saturday 6 Feb, 3pm 
60 min
Latecomers cannot be admitted

Ella Hope-Higginson
Shane Murphy
Bruce Phillips
Cameron Rhodes
Ana Corbett

Andrew Foster
Rachel Marlow
Fraser Mildon
Rowen Pierce 

Theatre ,

1 hr

Addy in Wonderland

Review by Nathan Joe 03rd Feb 2016

Addy has lost someone close to her, someone she calls her sunshine-maker, and she doesn’t know how to cope, except to withdraw into the safe haven of her imagination. The fantasy world setup is something you’ve probably seen before, from classics such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz to Where the Wild Things Are and even The Book of Everything. What distinguishes debut playwright Beanie-Maryse Ridler’s fantasy world of Defending the J. J. Mac is that it’s a product of the protagonist’s mental illness. It is a dark and bold choice, though the tone and style of the play is whimsical rather than miserable. 

The action of the play takes place in three realities: the real world, Addy’s treehouse of the mind and a story set on a boat. Rather than drawing a clear line between each one, Ridler overlaps them to give us a sense of Addy’s collapsing lucidity. While each reality is important, it’s the last that holds the most significance. Framed as a story that Addy herself is writing, the boat story shows us the trials of two old men defending their boat from the ‘Jerries’ of WW2, all while stuck in a tree. That the story parallels elements of Addy’s own past makes it an effective narrative device, helping us understand her without relying on direct exposition. [More


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Intriguingly obscure; equally frustrating and liberating

Review by Nik Smythe 03rd Feb 2016

This play marks many firsts.  It’s the professional debut for playwright Beanie-Maryse Ridler and (I believe) a few of the cast.  It is also the first production in the inaugural ‘First Steps’ season of new mentoring initiative Last Tapes, comprising five works between February and November. 

The programme combines qualified practitioners with industry newcomers to assist them with their burgeoning careers, thereby broadening the richness and scope of the local industry itself. This merging of proven experience and new-blood energy is quite apparent in the execution of Defending The J.J. Mac

Director Leon Wadham’s cast combines the accomplished talents of veteran actors Cameron Rhodes and Bruce Phillips with the studious application of youngsters Ella Hope-Higginson, Shane Murphy and Ana Corbett.  The result is a promisingly effective work, all the more impressive given Ridler’s nebulous, frequently abstract script which examines the blurry, uncertain reality of mental illness. 

Addison (Hope-Higginson) is firmly and, she claims, happily ensconced in her tree-house writing a fantastical story of heroic adventure.  Her best friend Cooper (Murphy) tries to bribe her to come down for an ice-cream, her tacit refusal being the first clue that all is not hunky-dory in this supposed paradise.  Every attempt at reason is rebutted with excuses ranging from needing to finish her story to “the butterflies need me”.

Meanwhile, in the same space crusty old sailors Jimmy (Phillips) and Jake (Rhodes) have been defending their gallant vessel from the alleged threat of the ‘Krauts’.  Primarily Jimmy’s obsession, Jake dutifully plays along despite his own physical ailments threatening to get the better of him.  Not even the efficacious remedy of Jimmy’s literal gumboot-tea seems to help; in fact one suspects it could be a contributing factor. 

The presence of nurse-figure Joan (Corbett) is doubly ambiguous in that, depending whom she tends, her function appears to be either psychiatric (Addy) or medical/palliative (Jake). Her extant status also seems to straddle both the reality and fantasy as they do battle in Addy’s mind.

Corbett and Hope-Higginson’s performances are confidently measured and consistent.  Murphy seems the most nervous at the outset, with echoes of pain in his attempts at humour, but he soon warms into his empathetic role.  Rhodes and Phillips bolster the collective drama with a standard of consummate acting prowess as natural and strong as we’ve come to expect from such living legends. 

Cooper is the character designed for the audience to identify with: the voice of reason and unconditional dedication in the face of every obstacle Addy throws between them, in defence of her obstinate unwillingness to confront the personal tragedy that was the catalyst for the spiral of depression we find her in.  The contagion of his self-appointed charge’s trenchant despair is familiar to anyone who has been in either position, and when he starts to converse with Jimmy one worries she may have effectively taken him down with her.

The design team provides a solid framework for the hour-long performance.  In particular the simple ambiguity of Andrew Foster’s set: the slightly askew traverse stage beneath a lush green-leafed canopy, simultaneously represents Addy’s tree-house and Jimmy and Jake’s ship, as well as the implied correlation of the characters’ varying states of mind.  The metaphor is further supported by the diffusive pink, mauve and purple hues that shine through the trees courtesy of Rachel Marlow’s lights.

Meanwhile sound designer Rowan Pierce penetrates the action with natural sylvan and maritime sounds combined with synthesised, intense melodic strains, once again analogous to the cognitive dissonance implicit in the story.

The company strikes a reasonable balance between humour and earnestness – equally essential components to everyone’s psychological welfare.  Collectively all the attitudes, questions, answers and declarations expressed throughout the overlapping stories of Addy and Jimmy can be made into some kind of sense with a bit of mental application.  A form of resolution is found within the narrative, while any potential long-term fix remains obscure and indistinct. 

In this way Ridler’s intended evocation of the necessary continued effort for both victims of mental illness and their supporters is a success, the only really clear directive being that it is for each of us to both choose and accept our own perception of reality.  The upshot of this understanding is equally frustrating, for not providing any clear-cut solutions we can easily employ, and liberating, as it empowers us to be the drivers of our own destiny.

Unfortunately I had to leave immediately afterwards so did not get to engage in the playwright’s post-show discussion, which follows each performance. 


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