At first glance Chandrahasen has managed to effortlessly be the perfect writer. The show swerves wonderfully through genuinely wholesome comedy and eye-hollowing social/emotional commentary. The manic depressive dichotomy is ingrained in the structure of the play, as the story hopped between the extroverted stand-up comedy set ‘mania’, and the more introspective theatrical ‘depression’. Nothing ever feels contrived; each narrative beat hits naturally, because they are real-life events that are being recalled.
Here’s where my expectations were positively subverted. From the publicity and some social media, as well as prior personal experience, I’d expected a one-woman show with heavily-stylized physicality and theatrics. In the space, gears start turning. The performance feels mighty like a recollection, or a campfire storytelling with tales about the dank interiors of psych wards, police cells, and public restrooms (assisted by the lighting casting accentuated shadows across the ceiling and walls.) It’s here the theatre’s regular suspension of disbelief crumpled in the oddest, emotionally-punching way. This is no character. A real nuanced person is truthfully sharing her experience, presented with a clever set and soundscape, in front of an incredibly accepting and supportive audience.
I’m a wee bit conflicted here, though. I partially wish there had been emphasis put on developing a more stylised, theatrical character akin to a character comedy set that builds on the illusion of theatre with a touch more energy and engagement, right up until key moments that shatter more than the fourth wall and confirm that these things happened to the actor and not the character. There were portions of the piece that felt as though they could be better dramatised, or jokes that could’ve landed stronger given different direction. On the other hand, knowing that this was a performance of self made the “I wake up thinking about dying” sentiments become even more guttering than they would be if they were being uttered by a caricature, and the continuous excited waiting to inexplicably meet Barack Obama in Lower Hutt of all places reached that parallel high.
We laughed. We cried. Whether they knew her personally during the events or had only just met her that night, we gave her our support from the opening quips to the post-show mental health discussions. Committed skilfully accomplished its goals: entertain, enlighten, inform, and spark/continue discussion.