Spyduck – A Chinese Spy Comedy
SKYDUCK & CO AND SQUARESUMS&CO.’S
Parramatta Riverside Theatres
“Spyduck” is a bi-lingual, one-man show featuring four characters, three cultures and a whole lot of laughs. Sam Wang (playwright and performer) is a total charm offensive. His versatility and skill have him acting, dancing, and entertaining us with this crazy story capped off with some mad 1990s nostalgia. I saw the original production 5 years ago downstairs at Belvoir St and it is a treat I cannot recommend highly enough – GO!
It’s 1993 and Australia has succeeded in its bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games. China is not happy. Enter Agent Chang and Captain Yan. Sam flips effortlessly between the characters: Chinese agents Chang and Yan have stolen a flight simulator from the Americans. They are turning Skyhawk into Skyduck to achieve military supremacy. Enter the square jawed Westerners: American Commander Kendrick is from the USA, and (slightly less square jawed) Australian Aerobatic Squadron leader Hugh Tucker. Prepare to meet love interest Little Swallow and pop sensation Xiao Peng who makes a short but memorable appearance. Maybe a little baffling to being with but this is part of the infectious appeal.
“Skyduck” references the imagery and style of blockbuster movies “The Matrix”, “Top Gun”, and “Inception” for example. At first it feels like it’s a spoof with a send up of reality TV and a dinky instant noodle making invention. Audiences can certainly lean into any cultural critique the work implies or sit back and marvel at the audacious storytelling, fine use of technology ranging from simple objects coming in and out on strings to live video and inventive original and found projections. The incredible props (maker Lap Nguyen) feel like overgrown Lego constructions and add to an atmosphere of play this production engenders.
Aileen Huynh’s direction is smart and snappy. The technology is finely integrated and offers many visual delights – the computer graphics from the past are particularly delightful. I also loved the dream space of the sci fi movies and how easy it was to be transported even though we can see that the actor is on a simple rolling chair against a backdrop. I would have loved the musical and dancing set pieces to have more punch – like, really go there and reject the edge of dagginess the show has which can feel like an apology; to make sure the text could be fully understood through the amplification; and then use these techniques to further support the cultural differences of all the characters.
A strange nostalgia haunts the piece as we are shown adverts for Streets paddle pops. The most hilarious footage from the late 1990s of a strangely young John Farnham and Human Nature duet – something about how fabulous the Olympics will be and the fireworks. I’d like to think, culturally, we have come a long way in 25 years…… but this is all part of the subversive genius that is “Spyduck.
Since its premiere the show has been presented in NZ and sat out the pandemic. This is the sort of nimble high-quality small-scale work that could and should be seen everywhere. Don’t just read about it, go see it! Playing at Parramatta Riverside Theatres until Saturday.