Poorly Drawn Shark review

Theatre
3 out of 5 stars
Poorly Drawn Shark Theatre Works 2020 supplied
Photograph: Marshall Stay

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

It’s only taken a few hundred years for white, middle class people to wake up to the cultural imperialism, exoticism and blatant racism underpinning the idea of the “travel memoir”. Notions of East and West, of first world and third world, carry with them sly and self-serving presumptions; they are designed, even unconsciously, to maintain a certain power dynamic, a retention of the status quo. So it feels like a refreshing blast of self-awareness to experience Andrew Sutherland and Vidya Rajan’s Poorly Drawn Shark.

A kind of dark travel memoir of the soul, the play refracts Sutherland’s experiences as a gay white man living in Singapore through the nightmarish lens of meaningless sex, humiliating acting gigs and general subjugation. He moves to the island nation to pursue a career in modelling and acting, blatantly intending to exploit his skin colour for money. But he soon finds that white is a relative concept, and that his charms will only take him so far.

Contrasting this is the story of fellow performer Ming Yang Lim, born in Singapore but raised largely in Perth. When his family return to the homeland, he stays in Australia, incapable of living as an openly gay man in his country of birth and determined to avoid military service. The two tales of displacement entwine and illuminate each other, in ways that make you wish for a better structure and a clearer dramatic vocabulary.

Because, for all its wacky humour and shifting perspectives, Poorly Drawn Shark is poorly drawn. The main problems are a scattergun approach to the material and some subpar direction from Joe Paradise Lui. Late in the piece, Ming calls for assistance to rescue the flailing play, and Lui comes up on the large screen that hovers over the stage. Andrew asks if this is a very good play, and the director hums and haws. It’s a funny moment, but it’s also sadly exposing.

Given the staccato rhythms and constant flat spots in the pacing, it’s tempting to think Lui directed the whole play via Skype. Sutherland and Lim aren’t particularly strong actors, so the deliberately jokey vibe doesn't always make the show as witty and self deprecating as you'd like. An early dance routine to the Baby Shark Dance (please don’t Google it, for your own sake) is a bit undergrad, and an over-reliance on silly costumes points to a lack of ambition.

It’s a shame, because the content is fascinating, and the questions it raises worth asking. What is the meaning of skin colour, and can it mean different things in different contexts? What role exactly does your country of origin play in your sense of identity? And what’s wrong with fucked up power dynamics if they improve your sex life? A stronger director and a rigorous approach to dramaturgy would improve this play no end, but given how long it’s taken whiteys to get here, maybe we shouldn’t ask for too much so soon.

By: Tim Byrne

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