Defending the J.J. MAC

By Jarred Tito

Date / Venue: Tuesday February 2nd, 2016 - Basement Theatre, Auckland

A suitably entertaining and thoughtful debut play by Beanie-Maryse Ridler, which endears the audience to some wonderfully constructed and thoughtful characters. Director Leon Wadham obviously had some fun not only working with these characters but also with the dynamic mix of the cast which were able to deliver a promising and comical play of an often melancholic subject. The play is thoughtful and empathetic and will certainly keep you entertained for the hour of its duration.

As the lights come up, in the very personal and intimate space of the Basement theatre, the cast of five; Ella Hope-Higginson, Shane Murphy, Bruce Phillips, Ana Corbett and Cameron Rhodes take their positions on and around the stage in silhouettes. They are pensive in expression and remain motionless for the first few moments as the melancholic music score sets the mood for which, if I'm honest, had a similar effect, as would a musical quartet taking the stage in quiet triumph only to tune their instruments. Not exactly a riveting start but it did build certain anticipation amongst the audience as well as set the tone for the play, which was also pensive and at times melancholic.

The story consisted of three people who must come to terms with their somewhat confused lives who have chosen, to date, to find refuge in the safety and sanctuary of the fantasy world of their minds rather than face life itself. The forth and fifth character's are a friend and a nurse. I was at first a little unsure as to whether the characters were all figments of 'Addy's' imagination but am now satisfied that they too were patients of a mental health hospital. Each with their own fantasy.

The play is slow paced at the beginning taking perhaps a little too long to establish the setting. Abby (Hope - Higgins) and Coutes (Shane Murphy), two newcomers to the acting world break into an in depth conversation about her state of mind and her fantasy tree house. They seemed a little nervous, as you would expect from what was possibly their first live and very intimate audience. A little jittery with props and perhaps too focused on line delivery and not their character's plight. A common trap for new actors. However, they both warmed into their roles once they were playing against the experienced and talented Cameron Rhodes and Bruce Phillips who were both very easy to watch as well as very true to their characters. Murphy's believability certainly went up a notch or two when he was acting against Phillips.

Phillips plays a loveable old rogue (minus the rogue bit) who is locked deeply in his fantasy of defending his country from the invading German army. Rhodes plays his cohort strengthening Phillips fantasy. The two are situated on an imaginary boat and add a lot of humour and depth to the play which for me kept the story a float. That being said, it was a very good idea mixing the young with the experienced. It brought out the best in both which became apparent as the play went on. Having said that, newcomer Ana Corbett who plays the role of a nurse or care giver, put me at ease within her role. She was confident and unafraid to take time with her character both in dialogue and action. She had a great presence on stage and complimented the cast beautifully. 

A short and enjoyable play which bares its heart. Although not quite perfect it still had its moments when you were glued to the story. If I'm honest, again, I am not completely convinced that my interpretation of the story is correct. It may actually be, as another audience member suggested, that only Addy is real and the others were in her imagination? Well as a paying audience member you probably have license to interpret it whichever way you want but I'm sure you'll enjoy it either way and I would encourage a viewing.

Defending the J.J. MAC runs from 2-6 February at the Basement Theatre
Tickets on sale now from