This meta-theatrical, fourth-wall-smashing interrogation of race in Australia is an essential part of Griffin Theatre's Batch Festival
Shan (Shannan Lim) and Yaya (Vidya Rajan) are tired of the tragedy porn formula of typical Australian migrant stories. They find the structure limiting and built on stereotypes, and that the stories tend to sell a false, happy take on Australian multiculturalism that ignores structural racism, ethnic disparity and white supremacy. You know, that old SBS doco storyline. You don’t know? They’ll re-enact it for you right now.
But are these the only stories they’re allowed to tell? Should they lean into it (and maybe get some funding to finally get a show up and running) or lean completely away from it, and make something that doesn’t talk about race at all?
After all, these two actors have always wanted to shake things up; in their uni days they were all about Capital-A-Art with high concept ideas from Yaya and inevitable nudity from Shan, and improv and comedy are their shared loves.
We know the impetus behind Asian Ghost-ery Store clearly because Lim and Rajan show it to us, staging their initial conversations about, and their reactions to, their own scenes in the show. This meta-theatrical, fourth-wall-smashing comic structure encourages us to evaluate, assess and contextualise the scenes alongside the actors. No idea goes un-interrogated.
Lim and Rajan thrive in the space of discomfort – throwing challenging ideas into the air and letting them sit there to reckon with them before another joke lands. The performative, quickfire humour and shifting personas Lim and Rajan adopt are an attempt to look at the way we tell stories, and how those stories influence the shape of our societies.
They are also masters of sketch, and their connecting narrative structure – their constant self-evaluation and commentary – helps give the piece cohesion, structure, and a sense of the personal. This pays off greatly later in the piece, when the the actors drop the jokes in exchange for what feels like painful honesty. A glimpse at the coming Asian Century – the way that geopolitical, economic, and social powers are shifting in favour of the nations, and people, Australia frequently dismisses – is provocative and, considering it’s a sketch, disarmingly complex.
Spending time with Lim and Rajan is a pleasure – their humour is frenetic and often silly, but it’s also driven by intellectual rigour – and their conspiratorial double-act is charming, with just enough friction to keep things interesting. This isn’t traditional theatre or sketch; it sits somewhere between the two, and that’s a hard sell for seasons outside of experimental festivals like Griffin’s new Batch Festival, where it has currently found a home. We’re lucky that it has.