Jun 8, 2016 Theatre
Andrew Gunn’s play Potato Stamp Megalomaniac is a solo exploration of what he calls a “(hypo)manic episode” he had as a student. It’s not riven with anxiety, and never particularly hyper, either, which means it’s not a harrowing experience. Gunn doesn’t mine the emotional depths inherent in a story like this and doesn’t ask us to share his pain; instead, he is intent on connecting us with the precarious mechanisms by which he builds himself a life. He wants us to share his hope.
His survival mechanisms are profoundly rooted in his imagination and his likeability. And his strange confidence: he starts the show in underpants and pieces of cardboard armour, sandalled feet strapped to beer crates, a creature of the most fantastic stupidity, intent on “revolution”. He’s not afraid of bold metaphors, either: the set features a large box of soil, sitting right in the middle of the stage, in which he variously digs, lies, crawls around and throws himself into. He’s troubled, for sure, awkward when he wants to be awesome, and yet through it all he remains appealing: you keep wanting to know more.
Gunn wants to explain and knows he can’t; he’s rational and ridiculous, and he’s also subtly adept at sharing the awkwardness with the audience. As a gloss on mental illness, it’s engaging and very sophisticated.
There are potatoes buried in the soil, and he creates potato stamps, which he presents with feckless use of an overhead projector. The potatoes are always changing, you see: more metaphors. And there’s marvellous original music, played by Tom Dennison on a potato synthesiser, whatever that is.
Gunn has terrific stage presence, wonderful timing, lovely diction. He’s the loveable idiot, the wittiest guy in the room, but then he goes mental on his flatmates and neither the wit nor the loveability can save him from his quietly desperate dislocation from the norm. He wants to explain and knows he can’t; he’s rational and ridiculous, and he’s also subtly adept at sharing the awkwardness with the audience. As a gloss on mental illness, it’s engaging and very sophisticated.
I won’t tell you what happens at the end, because discovering it is a big part of the wonderfulness. But I will say it’s transformative, not as something you watch but as something you participate in. Gunn took me somewhere I did not know I wanted to go, literally and figuratively, and I’m so glad he did, and it was very clear the rest of the audience felt the same. What a good show.
Potato Stamp Megalomaniac, Basement Studio until June 18. basementtheatre.co.nz
Watch the trailer: