Between 2010 and 2015, Andrew Sutherland, an Australian, lived in Singapore where he worked as a model and actor. Ming Yang Lim moved from Singapore to Australia in 2002 to complete his schooling. In Poorly Drawn Shark, the two men open up about their lives and relationship with Singapore through some provocative and surprising storytelling.
In true colonial spirit, Sutherland's years in Singapore dominate the show as he discusses his modelling career, being gay in a country where prosecutions for consenting sex between men still occur, and his relationship with an older Singaporean man. It's fast paced, a bit of a blur and seemingly one (mis)adventure after the other, and as someone who has also lived in Asia, it's an accurate depiction of what life as a white person in an Asian country can feel like.
The limited time we spend with Lim is spent recalling his trip to Singapore as an adult and the risk of being forced to complete national service despite having given up his citizenship. The problem that arises is that when Lim closes the show with these memories - and has the final word - its impact is not as strong as it should be because we've barely gotten to know who he is. If this is how Poorly Drawn Shark, is going to end, then it needs to show us who Lim is rather than having him playing all the supporting characters of Sutherlands's story.
The show is bold and experimental with how it presents issues of fetishisation and objectification, including its portrayal of the Merlion, a mythical creature with a lion's head and a fish's body that just happens to be considered the personification
of Singapore. The projections also tie in well with these themes, providing visual aids of Singaporean landmarks and people while highlighting the predatory nature of these experiences from both sides of the coin. However, other approaches are not as successful, such as the skype call with director Joe Paradise Lui, which is awkward in purpose and execution, and takes us away from the Singapore tales.
This is an enthusiastic work with two extremely dedicated performers who have strong intentions on what they wish to impart to their audience, but unfortunately a well-oiled machine this is not. The slapstick and absurdity keep it afloat, but the creators spread themselves too thin with what they cover that results in confusion on what this story is and who it is about. There is great potential for Poorly Drawn Shark to really leave its mark with its exploration of Otherness and connection, but first it needs to pull in the reins a little.
Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Season: Until 26 January | Wed - Sun 9pm
Bookings: Midsumma Festival