The Basement (8.30pm) until Saturday 6th February
This debut play by Beanie-Maryse Ridler about a suicidal girl is both intriguing and intelligent. The odd behaviour of the characters is at first alienating: Addy writes compulsively about reconciliation and acceptance, refusing to leave her treehouse because the butterflies need her; Jimmy refuses to leave his ship unprotected from the Germans; Cooper refuses to give up on Addy and talks to her via paper cup telephone. Who any of these people are at first is unclear, but as the stories unfold and it all starts to make sense, the audience becomes increasingly gripped. There are levels upon levels of narratives through which Addy places, and judges herself, and it becomes clear that if Addy is going to move on from a disaster that has essentially caused her to lose her mind with guilt, then she has to find a way to save Jimmy too.
Ridler has created a play about mental health issues that is set in the heart of the action, inside her lead protagonist’s head. It is magical, often happy, with butterflies and plants and people, but also terribly fragile – more Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind than An Angel at My Table. Addy – Ella Hope-Higginson – is in turn charming and churlish, selfish and suffering, and unable to articulate her state without metaphor and storytelling. She is at times shockingly cruel, goading a nurse to let a man die, though she is ultimately more cruel to herself than anyone else. It is only through her make-believe characters that she is able to exercise kindness and compassion. Jimmy is played with relish by the terrific Bruce Phillips who is never more charming than when he is gleefully making cups of tea – by jigging teabags up and down his flooded gumboots – for his kind and weary friend Jake, an excellent and measured performance from Cameron Rhodes.
Throughout, Cooper and the nurse carry on, being supportive, without a clue to the struggle going on, trying gentleness, humour, bribery and ultimatum to jolt Addy out of her funk. It is a love that is both credible and incredible. Only Addy can save herself: only she can decide that she has the strength and courage to return to the world, but whether she could get there if she was entirely alone is another matter. This is a play about redemption, reconciliation and acceptance, but love too, and kindness, and patience. The danger in embodying in different actors the different voices within Addy’s head makes them all a bit one-dimensional with nowhere to go, and existing (even Cooper) as a means to understand Addy, who is not easy to like. It makes it hard to become truly invested in what happens to any of them, as well as also taking a little while to get going. Nevertheless, Ridler and director Leon Wadham seem to understand the issues and deal with them with compassion, and Andrew Foster’s hanging garden set is beautiful.