SKYDUCK: A CHINESE SPY COMEDY
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland LIVE, Auckland
14/03/2023 - 18/03/2023
Auckland Arts Festival-Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki 2023
Written & Performed by Sam Wang
Directed by Aileen Huynh
Top Gun meets 007 with a J-Pop backing track!
1993. China launches Operation Skyduck. Captain Yan and Agent Chang are sent to steal America’s most prized flight simulation software, when they find themselves trapped by hotshot NSA agent, Commander Kendrick. His plan? To destroy China’s military ambition once and for all… by infiltrating their dreams!
Skyduck is a bilingual solo show written by and starring Sam Wang, who plays seven hilarious characters in a rollicking tale of international espionage – and half the story is in Mandarin (with English surtitles).
Blending lo-fi with high-tech and utilising projection, puppets, musical numbers, and handmade gadgets, Skyduck deploys all the charm of rough theatre alongside a truly impressive use of technology. Prepare for lift-off.
Suitable for ages 13+
Contains occasional strong language, strobe lighting and smoke/haze effects
★★★★1/2 “A hilarious and nostalgic thrill ride through time and pop culture.” — ArtsHub
★★★★1/2 “A multimedia marvel.” — State of the Arts
“Delightfully funny… I can guarantee you won’t have seen anything else quite like it.” — Audrey Journal
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre
Tue 14 – Sun 18 March 2023
Tue – Sat, 7:30pm
Sat & Sun, 2pm
$34 – $49
Skyduck has received development support from Crack Festival, National Theatre of Parramatta, 25A at Belvoir St Theatre and Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School
Theatre , Comedy , Solo ,
A fun chance to watch a talented performer challenge himself to hit every mark at top speed
Review by Renee Liang 15th Mar 2023
Real-life Chinese spy stories don’t tend to be very funny these days, but Sam Wang’s utterly bonkers one-hander spoof of Chinese and Western action movies gives welcome release to the stress of the news cycle and has the audience rolling in their seats on opening night.
In Skyduck, Sam Wang brings not only his impressive physical comedy skills, but a mad professor-like energy as he unveils an increasingly complex series of machines, hand-built and home-designed. This is combined with digital projection, soft toy surprises and a soundtrack crammed with 90s pop references, as Wang cycles through seven hilariously stereotyped characters that most of us will recognise from blockbuster movies. The script is half performed in Mandarin (Wang is bilingual) but subtitles help the audience keep up.
The plot is simple: two Chinese spies steal a US air force simulation game after posing as noodle karaoke machine salesmen, sparking a Cold war-esque battle between US and Chinese agents. Along the way they are interrupted and/or abetted by a particularly potty-mouthed Australian air commander, a J-Pop star (the first of many instances where Wang unabashedly reveals that he can’t sing) and a love interest mainly played by a cushion.
Throughout, Wang pays affectionate homage to iconic movie moments such as the barrel roll from the Top Gun dogfight, or Neo’s backwards lean in the Matrix movies. Did I say the plot was simple? Wang seems to challenge himself to rip larger and larger plot holes in his script, patching them with increasingly ludicrous devices including the well-worn ‘it’s all a dream’ from Inception and ‘we are all data’ from the Matrix. Every now and then he drops in a bit of meta, acknowledging he’s asking the audience to accept crazy plot twists – but charmingly, assuming we’ll go with them. It’s all part of the fun and maybe some sleight-of-hand from Wang as a writer.
Some time must be devoted to the theatrical machines. These are original set pieces designed and built by Wang, and they are not at all makeshift. Incorporating sophisticated tech elements such as rotating cameras and screens and large pieces that move with the performer, they function (almost) flawlessly on opening night. This is paired with an equally wacky, out-there, innovative and deliberately badly cut digital background – think 90s retro memes.
If I have one criticism it would be that Wang’s character transitions could be tighter, but that may be opening night nerves. Wang has opted for minimalistic costume changes – a wise choice given the complexity of everything else he has to pull off. Anyway, these characters are not meant to be three dimensional: they’re spoofs of archetypes, so even the odd malfunctioning line (smoothly handled by Wang) is comedy gold.
Wang developed the original concept for the show as his graduation solo from Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School, but since then the show has developed through many iterations, working with a talented team including Australian director Aileen Huynh. Skyduck garnered critical praise on its debut in Sydney in 2019. Wang has been waiting a long time (through the pandemic) to bring the show ‘home’ – the show was programmed for last year’s Auckland Arts Festival but fell victim to travel restrictions and then lockdown. Wang, Huynh and lighting designer Kelsey Lee are joined by the local team, production manager Andrew Potvin, tech operator Sam Mence and subtitle operator Amanda Grace Hsu Hsien Leo for the NZ season.Skyduck is a fun night out and a chance to watch a talented performer sweat and challenge himself to hit every mark at top speed. If you grew up in the 90’s, it’s a sweet bit of nostalgia, too. Take a friend and don’t think too hard – enjoy the ride.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer