Review by Cicely Binford
Performer Shannan Lim returns to Perth and The Blue Room’s Summer Nights at Fringe World 2017. He’s brought along with him some creepy ghost stories from his native Singapore (and some support from collaborators Jayde Harding and Tye Norman) for an oddball bundle of joy called SALTY.
And when I say ‘bundle of joy,’ I do mean it: Lim begins his performance perched on a stool centre stage, wearing only a pair of pink baby bloomers. He’s floating in amniotic fluid, legs and arms waving at people entering, and getting a really fantastic ab workout in the process.
This adorable overgrown baby is as expert as an actual baby at capturing our attention and affections – and there is a genuine reaction of sadness when we learn his tragic fate, which serves as an introduction to the first of this trilogy of Singaporean-Malay folk tales that Lim and company deconstruct for us.
Toyol is a stillborn baby that does his ‘father’s’ bidding upon the promise of becoming a real family. He has to steal a Rolex from one man and a string of pearls from a neighbor, for instance. To do this, he hunts through the audience for pre-planted props, and like a Pied Piper of giggles, he leads us to a bit of a disturbing end.
Orang Minyak is an ‘oily man’ who is too slippery to catch, and in Lim’s version, he’s an office worker on a train who keeps trying to pick up the same woman after work each night. He takes cues on how to treat women from a disembodied chauvinist coworker’s voice, and his character’s false bravado channeled through a filter of social awkwardness results in some really weird and creepy advances towards this unseen woman.
Pontianak sees Lim succumb to his own fears about a vampiric ghost who is trying to get him to impregnate her. Here Jayde Harding plays his new girlfriend who suggests out of the blue they try to make a baby. This sets off alarm bells for Lim, and he extricates himself from the conversation with the excuse that he has to call his mum. Here Lim pulls out an impersonation of his mother, which may be familiar to audiences from Lim’s previous Summer Nights offering with co-creator Vidya Rajan, Asian Ghost-ery Store.
SALTY is really one of those happy treasures of Fringe where artists pull from everything in their toolbox and bring something unique and personal to the stage. Lim refers to his ‘French clown school’ debt with irreverence, and pokes fun at the realities of being in a Fringe show (‘it’s not a Fringe show if you don’t talk about Tinder’ and ‘we’re only at three-quarters capacity and half of those are artist passes’), but he has a healthy attitude towards it all.
His eyes are full of mischief, his small frame belies an impressive gift to command the whole room easily, and his insights on culture and self are thoughtful and often playfully absurdist. He’s completely comfortable approaching his audience, going off the rails physically and emotionally if the story requires, and has the confidence to let spontaneous moments happen naturally, without forcing them. Even when sound or light cues don’t come as planned, he lets it roll off his back and lets us all laugh with him. In the end, the audience wasn’t ready to leave his world.
Catch SALTY for 2 more nights at the Studio Underground: