First person pro [by Matt Baker]
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.
As Sally, Lizzie Tollemache helps to fill in the gaps of the show that one man himself cannot in a practical sense, but, in doing so, there is a jarring that consequently occurs. With a career spanning two decades, Papps has honed his craft with great finesse, whereas at under three years in the industry and no formal training, Tollemache tends to push her performance and show things externally as opposed to allowing the audience to witness the internal changes. This results in a supporting actress who is incongruous with as opposed to complementary to her leading man. However, textually, this ‘jarring’ brings rise to the necessary conflict of the script, allowing Papps to be taken off course and forced to explore the deeper aspects of his character.
Mark Clare alludes to the extent of his direction in the programme notes, and, had there ever been any rough corners along the path, has smoothed them out with a delicacy that avoids interrupting both the actors and the story. The simple set and basic prop list is nicely supported by lighting operator Keira Howat, with one or two stylistic moments used in good measure.
It feels as though there is a kernel of truth in this (semi-auto?) biographical tale of an actor and his lover, and perhaps that is why Papps writing, through all its winks and nudges, ultimately, has heart. There are a myriad of industry jokes, but the humour is not so self-absorbed as to be inaccessible to the general public. Papps’ wit is as sharp as his physicality is loose, and based on the capacity-plus crowd and audience-induced second curtain call on opening night this show has the hallmarks of a commercial and critical success. Not to be missed.
Third Person,Tense! plays at The Basement Studio until 27 October. Details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe.