A Chinese Navy surveillance ship shadows Australian-American war games.
US arms sales to Taiwan provoke threats of sanctions and a warning to Washington that it should “not play with fire”.
And that’s just this week’s news.
What better time to inject some levity into the geopolitical situation?
Writer-performer Sam Wang provides it in the form of Skyduck, a spoofy espionage thriller combining homemade Top Gun-style action sequences and Inception-inspired reality warping into an hour-long show made on a budget of less than $1500.
Goes like this: Chinese operatives Captain Yan and Agent Chang (played by Wang, as is everyone else) are on a mission to steal an American flight simulator being demoed at a Tokyo tech expo. Disguised as Chinese inventors spruiking a noodle cooker with built-in karaoke capability, they make off with the gizmo.
But the plot has been rumbled by the dashing NSA counterspy Commander Kendrick, who embarks on a twisty-turny pursuit that involves Australia’s pre-eminent aerobatic squadron, the Sydney Olympic bid and Captain Yan’s yearning for his teenaged love.
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Performed in surtitled Mandarin and English, Skyduck is theatre at its most idiosyncratic. Its reference points are almost entirely from the world of film and vintage computer gaming (a playful parallel to China’s appropriation and adaptation of Western culture and technology, perhaps?). There’s singing, boy band choreography and – brace yourself – puppetry.
And it’s delightfully funny. Wang flips between Chinese and American agents and a testy Aussie squadron leader in a hilarious blink, and while interest in the unfolding events drifts sometimes, watching Wang’s unselfconscious-seeming immersion in the mechanics of storytelling is a pleasure to behold. It can feel like watching a child deep in play.
Director Aileen Huynh keeps the story flowing and the interplay between stage action and projected animations tight. Prop maker Lap Nguyen’s fold-out set elements – a flight simulator, a jet fighter – are terrific.
I can guarantee you won’t have seen anything else quite like it.