Review: Asian Ghost-ery Store

ASIANGHOSTERYSTORE

Asian Ghost-ery Store | Blue Room Theatre | Until Feb 20 | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Last year I had the pleasure of travelling over east to present a new work at Australia’s leading experimental theatre festival, Crack Theatre Festival. It was an enlightening, electric experience, a hotbed of upcoming talent all bristling and being and shining bright. While I was there, the one show everybody was talking about was Asian Ghost-ery Store, a show – regrettably – I missed out on seeing. However, co-creator Vidya Rajan cast me at the last minute in Friendquest (which debuted at Fringe World 2014) and the experience was thrilling and humbling…which made me think ‘hmmm, this girl knows how to do theatre!’.

And after having the opportunity to finally see Asian Ghost-ery Store last night as part of Fringe World 2015 all I can say is ‘holy shit…this girl KNOWS how to do theatre!!!’.

The show is a terribly sophisticated commentary on contemporary Asian-Australian identity politics. It has a hefty punch of LGBTIQA thrown in and tackled to the ground, grinding and kicking, by Rajan’s co-creator Shannan Lim. The result is a dark seething mass of biting comedy and candid, confrontational confessions, all wrapped up in a pleasant bow of having the presence of being present. The laughs are thick and fast, the seat-squirming delicious to behold and the manner in which you’ll be made to confront your own inner racism is ingenious.

It begins as a ramshackle awkward overshare of two friends trying to figure out what to do as a piece of theatre. The conversation here is crucial: pay attention, because like any good theatre, they reveal the plot in the first few minutes, but with such subtlety that if you blink, you’ll miss it. But that doesn’t matter because within moments you’re in the actual show and suddenly that fourth wall between the actors and the audience is erected yet dissolved and what begins is a seemingly organic exploration of the Asian experience of being Australian and in Australia.

Terribly meta, I know, but marvelously so.

From this point the narratives tumble and spill and get constructed only to be deconstructed. The traditional representation of Asian-Australian identities – y’know, the kind you would have seen on pre-millennial TV, but only if you bothered to stay up to watch ABC or SBS – are brought to life but quickly, and graciously, killed off. Then the show surges forth and tackles all the stereotypes of how contemporary culture and society has created a stereotype out of being Asian. Yet Rajan and Lim tackle it with such outrageous grace and a firmly erected middle finger of thoughtful elegance that it becomes a raucous cavalcade of sketches that are brilliant because, well, every white Australian in the audience reacts with laughter, not realizing what’s in store.

The turning point is an intense moment of confessions. This climax sees our dynamic duo throw gender issues, domestic abuse and exposure therapy through watching overt amounts of Asian gay porn into the mix. Again, it’s all delivered with such an awkward, candid grace – with humour being the most important element throughout – that you don’t realise that they are just loosening you up more, if not exposing their aching childhood experiences that are at times horrific yet incredibly amazing to hear.

And then the punch comes! And my word, it hits hard. It was funny, because just as they commenced it, my brain thought ‘hmmmm, this would be so much more convincing if they did it this way…but that’d be really offensive’. Then, to my shock and the audiences delight, they took that offensive route. And damn it was funny. From there, it grows to a fever pitch that is just amazing to behold.

It’s been a while since I’ve left a theatre bewildered, my legs pulsing with the shock and thrill of being shocked and thrilled. My inner racist came jostling to the fore (I know I know…I was shocked I had one too) screaming out at me ‘aren’t you offended…wasn’t that offensive?!?!’ and yeah, I was: offended to realise that such a horrible horrible creature actually taken up residence inside of me after all these years of casual jokes and snarky cultural observations.

I realized then that the greatest gift this younger generation of theatre makers has to offer is the notion of deprogramming. They know that there is a whole section of society who has unwittingly fallen into mind-traps that ultimately have been created by the control of those who are in control. If you make people afraid of something, you can control them. But if you have the tool to make people realise that that fear is irrational and unnecessary and unwarranted and inhibiting…well, get out there and make theatre like this. Please! More cages need to be rattled, especially now in the final season of the great racist generating debacle that is the TV show America, Home of The Slave. And Rajan and Lim have created a work that rattles, but rattles with laughter and so much elegance.

Asian Ghost-ery Store is the final shining must-see jewel in the amazing crown of contemporary theatre and cabaret that has been Fringe World 2015. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket: it WILL sell out. And rightfully so, because it’s a haunting headfuck of how theatre should be and will leave you, literally, with your mind blown. Put it another way: five stars of absolute f*****g brilliance!

Scott-Patrick Mitchell

Asian Ghost-ery Store will be at the Blue Room Theatre until Saturday February 20th. Tickets available from Fringeworld.com.au.

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