Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
EDIT: All instances where I referred to the language as "Mandarin" has been corrected to "Teochew". Thank you to Eir Lim for correcting us!
The cultural displacement narrative is an important one to a lot of people in this country as we live in a multicultural nation with a bicultural focus on English and Te Ao Māori. Eir Lim does well to frame his experience of displacement as a panda in human spaces. “Having to walk on two legs” is a good summary of how immigrants, children of immigrants and other displaced peoples feel pressure to behave a certain way and to adhere to a dominant culture that isn’t their own. Eir Lim’s panda eventually goes back to China and discovers that they have forgotten how to behave like a panda or speak like a panda, which is an effect that I’ve seen referred to as “Third Culture Kids” which don’t completely belong to the culture of their parents or heritage, yet aren’t made to feel totally embraced in the culture that they exist in day-to-day.
You can imagine that there are many people in this country that could use this messaging, and I implore Eir Lim to use this Fringe season as proof that the concept is there and also as an excuse to roll sleeves up and really put in the hours to make the show worthwhile. The show felt unrehearsed. There were times where Eir Lim wrestled with his equipment until he finally settled on a loop that could work as well as long, silent pauses between stories, jokes or songs.
I can’t help but feel as though Eir Lim really needed someone to crack the whip at him. There was only one person working on this show and it felt like it. More hands on deck could mean that every element of the show could have some real thought and effort put into them, because it seems like some areas were sacrificed to prioritise others. The set was the Panda-Translation-Device on top of some large cuts of astroturf and nothing else. I would love to see a version of this show with a larger crew to hold each other up and hold each other accountable.
I encourage Eir Lim to think aggressively about the show and its themes. Consider a reality where sections of the show are all in Teochew, emulating our displacement by making the theatre completely theirs. Eir Lim touches on this, adding Teochew to one of the songs, but only for a handful of lines total.
This can become an impactful, slick show that people would really appreciate seeing because in its current state it is an important idea running on the fumes of good intentions.
WATCH OUT GAY PANDA is on in BATS Dome Stage until the 11th March, more info here.