Watch Out Gay Panda
BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
07/03/2023 - 11/03/2023
Written, Produced and Performed by Dennis Eir Lim
Dennis Eir Lim
Dennis Eir Lim (co-devisor of ‘ELEVATOR!’ and ‘Table’ by STEW Productions) is on a mission to save the vulnerable panda species, and miraculously he finds a panda in the far hidden land of Wellington in Aotearoa. The only problem is he’s gay! Will Dennis be able to save Panda-kind or will the family-tree be put on paws!?
Watch Out Gay Panda is a solo show devised and produced by Dennis Eir Lim which blends his skills as a song writer and theatre performer. It’ll be a night of camp fun but also moments of stillness and emotion. One performer, one piano and one panda are all you’ll see on the stage, but don’t let that simplicity fool you – you’re in for a wild ride!
Theatre , Solo ,
Sweet, peaceful, relaxing, charming, funny and clever story of self discovery
Review by Wesley Hollis 08th Mar 2023
You may have seen pandas in the zoo before, but have you ever seen a panda in the middle of the city? How about a panda putting on a Fringe show? If you’re keen to check out something a little bit different, come and see Watch Out Gay Panda at BATS Theatre. This show, written and performed by Dennis Eir Lim, proves to be a wonderful night of music, comedy and storytelling.
The Dome space is set up with a keyboard, a looper pedal and a microphone – nothing else. Throughout the show, Dennis manages to use this simple set up to great effect. The lighting is nothing flash, just enough to highlight the performer on the stage. In the background, the sound of traffic on a quiet road plays, setting the scene for somewhere urban yet calm.
When Dennis arrives on stage, the background noise fades as he introduces himself as the Panda. Aside from two buns in his hair that look like panda ears, he is not dressed or made up as a panda. Dennis is nevertheless convincing in his portrayal of this unusual character: a Panda with hopes and dreams beyond the confines of the zoo.
Immediately we are captivated and there are a few laughs as he tells us about his life. The mood varies through the show – often funny, at times hopeful and even sad. The audience is on board and reactive, sympathetic to the Panda’s struggles as he tries to navigate life in a human world.
Music and sound effects are the most captivating features of this show, helping to tell the story just as much as the dialogue does. Performed and recorded live on stage, Dennis uses keyboard, voice, percussive sounds and even at one point the audience. It’s a treat getting to watch him play with the looper pedal and create all sorts of fun and unusual melodies. The music helps to set the mood for the show – gentle and ethereal, with a couple of dramatic or upbeat moments thrown in. The sound effects help to paint a vivid picture of each scene in the minds of the audience.
The story in itself is well written and interesting, with a character that is easy to love and invest in emotionally. There are a few times where the story feels aimless, but in a way that speaks to how the Panda, and perhaps ourselves, feel lost in everyday life. The show involves some trial and error and I think that with a little bit of polishing it could be even more incredible than it already is.
This performance has a semi-improvisational feel, especially the music, sound effects and moments where the audience are encouraged (voluntarily) to make suggestions and contribute to the telling of the story. While there is an LGBT aspect to the show, this does not play as big a part in the narrative as I was expecting and certainly isn’t the only defining feature of the main character. Gay Panda is a determined and delightful character, and it is wonderful to watch his journey from a young individual finding his way in the world to one who is confident and self-assured.
Watch Out Gay Panda is a sweet and peaceful show that is easy to enjoy. If you want to watch something relaxing, charming, funny and clever, this is the show to come and see. It is a story with self discovery, freedom, love, heartbreak, betrayal, and coming to accept yourself for who you really are.
There are times where Dennis seems to be speaking about his own life, or the life of the audience members, as much as the Panda’s life. Maybe this is because the Panda is such a wonderful and relatable character. You’ll see when you come to watch the show – there’s a little Gay Panda in all of us.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Dennis Lim March 9th, 2023Kia ora Conan, thank you for sharing your thoughts on my show. I believe that all feedback, both positive and negative can help an artist grow. I wanted to address the blackface joke, which as you may have seen was my awkward attempt at connecting the still-occuring precedent of asian actors being cast interchangeably in productions. (Ie Chinese as Japanese, Korean as Filipino, etc) and how someone who could be "close enough" to that depiction may feel being cast in that role that they don't necessarily connect with. The theatre and film world is a community that primarily casts POC for roles that require it, and usually the default is white in the western world. Obviously this section didn't hit the mark and caused offence which I apologise for but I do want to say the intentions were good, and I'll work on this to improve it for my future shows this week. This production was a deeply personal one for myself, I was coming off of severe artistic burnout and wanted a way to reclaim the space and power of my identity which has truthfully held me back in various ways, without necessarily burdening others with this project which was frankly a very egotistical one. A big part of my artistic practice is making others feel like they could easily do what I can do or better on the stage - because that is what I would have wanted for myself in a world with middling representation in entertainment. I am of Chinese Cambodian heritage, born in Australia and now call New Zealand, I am gay and Teochew Chinese was my first language, followed by English and Khmer (which I can only understand), my home is now Wellington and these ideas of identity and changing the world for underrepresented and poorly treated peoples swirl inside of me eternally. I was glad to be able to share some of it on the stage. I wish you all the best and thank your review for your comment. Nga mihi, Dennis
Conan McKegg March 8th, 2023I feel that this review is doing the artist a disservice by glossing over what was for most of the audience a bit of an awkward performance. It may have been first night jitters, but this was not a well crafted production. There were large periods of time where the audience uncomfortably sat while Dennis tried to get his loop pedal to loop the sounds he wanted; multiple times Dennis struggled to get audience participation; and the songs were mostly sung off key and lacked structure. By the end it felt as though Dennis had lost the story thread and it petered out. He sounded exhausted by the end and I, for one, felt it too. The show felt more like an endurance test than a calm and pleasant show. There were moments of levity and true raw self reflection that got me connecting with the character. But it felt as though the panda character was trying to be a metaphor without being able to land on any concrete idea of what that metaphor was. It came across as poorly conceived. Add to this an inappropriate blackface joke near the end that I suspect arose from nerves - it made for a show that was often a case of the audience being at turns awkward, bemused, and occasionally laughing at Dennis' struggles at keeping the pace going. I think the overall show has potential if Dennis can gain confidence in the technology, has some prewritten songs, a clearer idea of how he wants to finish, and focuses on keeping the jokes and story tighter. There was just too much time where the audience sat in awkward silence waiting while he struggled with his technology for me to believe it was deliberate. The entire play felt aimless and meandering, and not in an intentional way.