REVIEW: PoC Revue — A Not-So-Hard Sell

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PoC Revue — A Not-So-Hard Sell

by Esther Seo

The lights dimmed as we were ushered into our seats, the copper bulbs creating a glowing halo around the set title: The Hard Sell. My eyes quickly skimmed the synopsis behind this year’s theme - illuminating the subtle and subversive tactics used by corporations to not only shape the human experience but co-create culture through the power of subliminal messaging. It seemed that where these marketing tactics influence our perceptions of race, identity and representation is what the show hoped to expose… and I was intrigued. 

A brief moment of silence, then the stage exploded, a burst of colour and energy, all cast members bedazzled and shining, singing the catchy opening number, ‘You’re Welcome.’ This strong charismatic energy with an undercurrent of irony was retained throughout the show. This can be attributed to the robust characterization and polished writing crafted by a seasoned cast, pulled together by directors Emilie Hong Ning and Tazrian Khan and producers Geneve Bullo and Simone Zhao. 

The versatility of the cast was reflected in the diversity of the sketches. Some sketches were reminiscent of my own past experiences as a person of colour, such as the scene battling for the bill (and quite possibly their life) in a hostage scenario. This was played passionately by Ping-hui Ho and Georgia Brooks, exposing the raw emotions tied into traditions and cultural values like pride and ‘saving face’. It’s always a special experience when you resonate with what is portrayed on stage. The iconic advertising jingles from childhood that soundtracked the scene transitions created a sense of unity and intimacy between audience members, transporting us to a different time. 

But the true strength of the show was in its surprising twists and turns which took the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions. Throughout the 2-hour show, I was surrounded by gasps of anticipation, relieved sighs, “aww”’s and raucous laughter as the sketches evolved. From The Cancel Hotline- a captivating performance by Esther Shim where she finds out her own daughter has #cancelled her - to PoC Rapunzel starreing Adam Torres, touching upon the western-centric beauty standards of hair, which PoC people aspire to but sometimes can’t quite reach. The show often holds up a mirror to society, questioning the influence messaging has on us as individuals and the flow on effects for our culture.

Similarly to last year, the show teased out PoC stereotypes, the most prominent being Rhian Mordaunt’s hilarious performance about being mistaken for Dev Patel, Aladdin, an Uber driver and a dude from 7/11 by various people - including his ‘woke’ Yoga instructor.  

Some scenes were designed to shock and had us teetering at the edge of our seats, like The Last Avatar, Jonathan Taneja, who played the final Blood-bender (Warning: Suggestive content), and Esther Shim literally gouging her eyes out in order to not ‘see race’.

Others prodded wider social commentary - notable characters included Moon Juice Lady (Shani Patel) vs. a conniving Measles (Lena Wang). The reference to recent Macquarie outbreaks triggered peals of laughter and pointed ridicule towards the anti-vaccination stance, evident in the line: ‘Damn you, preventable measles!’

Probo Alexa was also curiously insightful - between the laughs, it made me pause and think about the concept of racist AI and reflect on where society could be headed.

However, the show always brought back the audience from these deeper introspective moments with persistent, optimistic lightness, emphasizing that some moments in life are inconsequential and ultimately, comically trivial. Relegating huge life decisions like having children, and how many, to the power of the Magic 8 Ball, Chatterbox and the Yes/No eraser made us giggle with mirth. Similarly, the talent of the cast was clear in Millie Roberts’ rendition of Snack City B*tch, the only instance I can think of where a load of French fries, slice of pizza and choc chip cookie (the holy trio) can be found twerking in unison to a spin-off to Tyga’s catchy tune.

The show also catered towards darker humour - which elicited a strong audience response. I particularly enjoyed psychological hostage Pinocchio, played by Jack Rawling. Pinocchio’s relationship with his father Giuseppe, who ‘always pulled the strings’, proved a tension-filled performance, ending in a cruel twist. The Quack of Dawn showed how a harmless joke can quickly turn into a foul ending. ‘Mr Broderick’ was a gruesome spectacle of a balloon receiving massage and acupuncture treatments, showcasing Adam Torres’ command of comical tension and leaving the audience positively squirming in their seats.

Ultimately, amidst the jumble of emotions, there was an overarching sense of resolution and a deeper message. Angie Mao’s troubled Confucius humanized an undisputed ideological maven showing that even they can have moments of self-consciousness and doubt. The audience also loved the post-intermission return of Adam Torres’ Rapunzel: with messages of ‘No hair, don’t care!’, emphasizing an overall genuine message of acceptance and self-love, a wholesome resolution to crises in identity.

 In the end, PoC Revue 2019 gave so much. It was empowering, gutsy, captivating, endearing and outrageously funny. Most of all, it was curiously introspective, and made me reflect on the subliminal cultural prejudices we hold, even as people of colour, and as society as a whole. In a production time of only 6 weeks, the show managed to transport the audience into a world of pure creation and incredibly rich storylines underlined by thoughtful characterization and energetic performance. But this show isn’t just for PoC – it’s relevancy shines in its accessibility and connects the wider audience to ethnic experiences, through shining a light on how cultural schisms and the channels we engage in everyday have influenced the way we think and act.

Tickets sold out for the season and credit must be given to the PoC Revue Society’s hard work in creating such hype for the unforgettable production. Good news though if you missed it: a teaser of cast chemistry can be seen in the ‘7 Rings’ Parody video covered by Junkee, which means that PoC Revue has gone viral!