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  • Joanna Fan

SKYDUCK: A Chinese Spy Comedy

Words by Joanna Fan (she/her)

The following review is unfortunately not about ducks.

Written by multi-hyphenate actor-writer- producer (and former lawyer?!) Sam Wang, Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy is the best kind of organised chaos. It's a tightly produced piece of pure adrenaline that drags you through a dizzying rollercoaster of highs and lows, leaving you thinking, ‘Wow, I want Sam Wang to organise my life.’

One man shows are a bit of a hit or miss for me—they’re known for being notoriously difficult to pull off. But Wang creates another challenge for himself: playing seven characters, showcasing four cultures, using three accents, and speaking two languages (three if you count an extra Wuhanese dialect for good measure), all in under 70 minutes. Even still, Wang commands the stage.

Through all the chaos, the story is (thankfully) straightforward. Set in the 90s, two Chinese spiespose as cute-panda-shaped-noodle-making-karaoke- machine salesmen on a Japanese reality show. Their plan: to steal American top-secret fighter jet software. Along the way, we are introduced to a wealth ofeccentric caricatures, from a bogan Australian air force commander to an overconfident, Paddlepop-obsessed American secret agent. The most outlandish character is Little Swallow, Agent Yan’s sensual love interest, played by a cushion and a plush toy doll. They both give the performance of a lifetime. Wang’s overt and eye-catching quick costume changes are just part of what makes these characterscome to life. His use of different accents, dialects, and body movements are exceptional—they’re simple but distinct, repeated and always consistent. The seven character line-up is no easy feat, but Wang pulls it off with ease.

When I meet up with Wang for an interview, I’m pleasantly surprised by his calm aura and gentle nature. After all, Skyduck has been a 10-year work in progress. I guess you’ve got to maintain composure somehow. But this show hasn’t always been the spectacle I witnessed.

Wang tells me that Skyduck had humble beginnings, originating from his solo performance at drama school. Whilst the show has broadened, visually and spatially, he says that the content has largely remained constant. I ask him how he even came up with this idea in the first place. Wang says that he was inspired by a love for reading spy books from authors of different backgrounds, ranging from non-fiction memoirs to investigative journalism.

As for the Chinese characters, he was largely influenced by 爱情公寓 (iPartment), a sitcom introduced to Wang by a cousin. He described iPartment to me as a Chinese version of Friends, and I’m going to trust him on that one. I can attest, Wang’s own characters, Agent Yan and Chang, truly did allude to many of the personalities seen on Mainland Chinese sitcoms. For many of the other characters, Wang credits his childhood love of watching Jim Carrey, Mr Bean, and many other Rowan Atkinson characters on screen.

If you didn’t think performing seven characters was impressive enough, let me reiterate that Skyduck is a bilingual show. As a fluent(ish) Mandarin speaker myself, I can’t help but admire how seamlessly he switches between both languages. Wang surprises me further by admitting that he left China at age 6, and never learnt to read or write in Chinese. Luckily, his cousins often came to stay in Sydney, where Wang would practice his mother tongue and watch movies in Mandarin with them. He would also like to thank Google Translate. But performing in Mandarin hasn’t come without challenges—when there’s a quiet crowd, Wang can’t help but think to himself, ‘Oh my God I’m dying here!’

Go watch Sam Wang showcase his many talents next time Skyduck comes to town (or if you’re in Sydney soon). And make some noise.


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