Entering a show with a certain set of expectations is never ideal. Those who saw Pressure Point Collective’s Potato Stamp Megalomaniac last year were treated to a playful retelling of a manic episode that was both honest and theatrically inventive. While plenty of innovative and unexpected devices were used to tell the story, they always adhered to a sense of theatrical logic.
Taking a behind-the-scenes approach, co-founder of the company Andrew Gunn doesn’t star in his latest work, but is still heavily involved as the writer, producer and director. The spiritual undercurrent present in his work takes on a far more literal shape in Flesh of the Gods, but from a far less personal perspective, dealing with archetypal Gods as characters instead of people from his own life.
Perhaps borrowing cues from Sartre’s No Exit, the play revolves around a bunch of Gods who find themselves trapped in a mysterious room together, the drama of the play built on mystery and suspense rather than any actual plot. Thrown into the mix is a modern soundtrack, some electric guitar, stylised movement and fight scenes.
It’s a premise full of promise, but it never really goes anywhere. Without a strong story or characters to engage us, all we’re left with is a strange blend of absurdist theatre and contemporary dance that rarely clicks.
The main issue is that the show feels unrehearsed and unfocused. The actors never seem to inhabit the same spaces and the styles jump all over the place. Fight scenes, in particular, are just plain messy. This isn’t aided by the in-the-round staging at the Samoa House venue, which has a tendency to swallow up the dialogue. Points of focus are also often lost amidst the low lighting.
It’s not a play without interesting ideas and insights though. The dialogue may be more millennial than mythological most of the time, but philosophical discussions and problems are raised aplenty. A particular conversation, discussing the idea of freedom, is one of the more notable moments in the play. The problem is, like with most of the script, it gets lost amongst the chaos.
What does manage to stand out are the occasionally startling images the show creates amongst all the action. These moments, ranging from a God tied like a dog on a leash and a woman spinning hypnotically at her desk, capture the otherworldly quality of the play the best.
Taken on its own terms, Flesh of the Gods has too many disparate elements, clashing rather than complementing each other. As a follow-up to Potato Stamp, it continues to develop the company’s fascination with the spiritual, existential and metaphysical, but it’s not always easy to engage with the chosen form. In the spirit of Fringe, this might be a show with all the markings of a work in progress, but it’s also a showcase of artists unafraid to try something new.
Flesh of the Gods plays at Samoa House until 11 March. Details see Auckland Fringe.