Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

16/10/2012 - 27/10/2012

Production Details


Stephen Papps’ brand new work, the weird and wonderful relationship comedy Third Person, Tense!, makes its New Zealand premiere at the Basement Theatre Studio from October 16th

Riddled with self-referencing and even a hint of existentialism, Third Person, Tense! is a story shrouded in mystery and contradiction – where matters of the heart are mapped on stage in both a comedic and a sorrowful light. Told by one man, direct to the audience, fiction seems to weave itself into the story-tellers life… and like life; no story is ever fully known.

An actor wakes to find himself on the set of a theatre, confronted by an audience expecting a show. He has a hangover; a head-injury and a touch of amnesia. He’s also very disturbed to find the prone body of a girl on the stage.

He can’t remember her and can’t wake her. Then the phone rings…

It’s almost hard to believe that given the plaudits Stephen Papps has received throughout his career that Third Person marks his sophomore work as a playwright. Highly experienced and well regarded as a theatre practitioner and actor, Papps is probably best remembered to the public as Misha in the Stephen Sinclair hit Russian Snark and for his role in 1993’s End of the Golden Weather, which earned him the “Best Actor” gong at the NZ Film Awards.

In theatre circles though, Papps is most celebrated for his debut work, Blowing It, which saw him nominated for a Chapman Tripp “Best Actor” award in 2000. He then went on to tour the one man show to England, Ireland, Germany, Australia and Scotland in its five year lifespan and earned rave reviews from the NZ Listener, the Dominion Post and Scotland’s Metro.

Joining Papps on stage is Christchurch performer Lizzie Tollmache, who has previously worked with Stephen in 2010’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. The young prodigal actress has been making a name for herself in the past year with roles in Fortune Theatre’s Five Women Wearing The Same Dress, Court Theatre’s Scared Scriptless and in the Wellington and Dunedin seasons of The Visitor.

They are under the guidance of Mark Clare, as he assumes the director’s chair for the first time since the 2006-2007 tour of End of the Golden Weather, which played not only across the North Island but also in Edinburgh. The realm of surreal theatre isn’t something new for Clare – he has performed in the 2006 production of Theatre Beating’s The Magic Chicken, and appearing in Inside Out’s production of The Threepenny Opera in 2001.

Slightly absurdist, eccentric and a lucid bit of storytelling, Third Person, Tense! is one of the more curious (black) romantic comedies to emerge from New Zealand’s theatre world – and an oddity guaranteed to entertain Auckland audiences this October.

16th – 27th October 2012,
The Basement Studio, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland
Tuesday – Saturday, 7pm.
Tickets: $20.00 – $25.00
Bookings through iTicket – 09 361 1000 or  

Lost in a labyrinth of realities

Review by Janet McAllister 18th Oct 2012

An actor plays an actor telling us a story in the third person about himself in this slight but amusing hour that zig-zags between “fact” and fiction until the audience is clearer than the characters about which is which.

Adding another layer to the reality labyrinth, the actor, Stephen Papps, also wrote this “solo show with two people”.

He plays the self-deluding Jack, whose relationship with the truth is as loose as his relationship with his love, Rose (the couple share their names with Titanic‘s ill-fated lovers). [More


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First person pro

Review by Matt Baker 17th Oct 2012

It’s been eight years since Stephen Papps wrote and starred in his own solo show, and I can honestly say is it’s a pity that it’s taken this long for him to do so again. In saying that, Third Person, Tense! is not technically a solo show. It’s billed as ‘a solo show with two people,’ and it’s that type of surreal comedy, which Papps infuses in his writing, that drives the play. That is not to say that Papps places form over content, merely that its style is an equally integral element. 

The first 15-20 minutes of the show are nothing short of flawless. Papps is a brilliant narrator; personable, with clear thought processes and expert delivery. The story, which begins like a Wilson Dixon absurdist spoken-word song, introduces us to Jack and Rose and unfolds along the classic boy-meets-girl sequential scenario. It’s simple, and it doesn’t push the boundaries, but it is this simplicity that makes the story not only instantly recognisable, but endearing and accessible for the audience. The story of Jack and Rose exists as a play within a play, the reality of which begins to break-down with a classic theatre interruption. It could easily be confusing, if not for the fact that the fourth wall is broken as soon as the show starts, allowing Papps to guide us through. That is until our protagonist is challenged with the introduction of a second player in his one-man show. [More


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Avant-garde trans-dimensional self-referential dark romantic comedy

Review by Nik Smythe 17th Oct 2012

Two figures lie on a large grey rug, ostensibly dead to the world as the capacity-plus crowd crosses the stage to be seated.  One’s a fully clothed man, the other covered by a flannel under-blanket.  A stool and a guitar on a stand are the only set dressings in the black studio space.

Following a polite recorded housekeeping announcement requesting we switch off our cellphones, the man is awoken by the sound of someone’s mobile ringtone: the first of more than a hundred ironic rug-pulling twists over the next hour of avant-garde trans-dimensional self-referential dark romantic comedy.

Directing Stephen Papps in his own original script, Mark Clare must be commended for his part in realising the vision, although Papps’ patent mastery makes it difficult to distinguish where Clare’s influence begins and ends. 

Stephen Papps is Jack, actor.  Momentarily taken aback by the sight of us, he quickly composes himself and sits down, guitar in hand, to deliver the introductory ballad to his earnest tale: the story of Jack and Rose.  (I idly wonder if he purposefully chose the names of the romantic leads in James Cameron’s Titanic?)  The simplistic mode and hilarious wordplay of Jack’s song recalls the classic musical comedy stylings of Wilson Dixon, without the musical proficiency. 

Papps’ extraordinarily commanding performance has had us enthralled from lights up as he describes their love with clichés twisted by truism: “Together, they were one – only bigger.”  We’re still wondering who’s under the blanket when the cellphone rings again, and Jack locates it and answers…

That’s the first five minutes anyway.  Much as I yearn to up the readability of this review with numerous favourite lines, any further description seems like unnecessary spoilage. I may have already said too much though, since so much of the experience seems to hinge on the uncertainty of just what might be going to happen next.

I will reveal that it’s the solo show’s billed co-star Lizzie Tollemache under the blanket, and that she does eventually emerge as ‘Sally’ to re-create a nightclub scene as Jack recollects from the night before.  Tollemache’s appealing down-to-earth countenance seems as natural as anyone’s who’ve woken up on stage in the middle of a play, and her character’s very presence increases the play’s already diverse dimensional layers to fractal proportions.

The ultimate point is something about existentialism and relative truth or something, I suppose.  The opening night audience evidently included a number of actors, responding with merry recognition to industry-prompted dilemmas like Jack’s ultimatum to choose “the long journey or the short list.”

Anyway, you really won’t get it unless you see it, or unless someone writes a thesis about it that you get the opportunity to read, which probably wouldn’t be as enjoyable.  The definitively lo-fi format makes for an ideal touring proposition, and I would be curious to see how the performers respond to a more vocally responsive, less ‘Auckland’ audience. 


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