Melbourne Fringe 2016

Salty, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 04 October 2016

Words by Eliza Janssen

Toyol. Orang Minyak. Pontianak. None of these names were familiar to me before Salty, a horror-comedy in three acts which seeks to familiarise Australian audiences with these Singaporean ghouls, and to equate them to such relevant social phobias as parenting and male entitlement. Terrifying stuff, I know.

But creator and performer Shannan Lim inspires only laughter in his audience, regardless of the play’s icky situations. The through-line for his range of characters is an affable apathy as to how convincing the horror of each scene is; whether drinking blood out of a baby bottle or preparing to drive a nail into his girlfriend’s neck, Lim will often shrug, or look out at the audience from under lowered eyelids, as if to say, ‘you get the gist, right?’

The real scares come from moments of unadulterated awkwardness, which manifests through audience participation in Salty’s first act. Wearing a skin-coloured nappy, Lim portrays the servile, Smeagol-esque ‘Toyol’, a reanimated stillborn baby who does its master’s bidding in exchange for human blood. The infant Golem is first introduced solely through grabby physical comedy, but as Toyol is given his commands to head into the audience and steal their stuff, he becomes more conversational. Lim’s easy dialogue with strangers lets us know that if things should get weirder than this, which they miraculously do, we’re in safe hands.

Despite the assistance of co-stars-and-writers Jayde Harding and Tye Norman, the transitions from scene to scene are a little clunky, especially as some of Salty’s props aren’t quick to clean up. After the second act’s introduction of the sinister ‘Orang Minyak’, or ‘oily man’, there’s an interruption of some compelling momentum, since a lot of black goop has to be cleaned off Lim after his comparison of a slimy demon to Men’s Rights Activists and believers of the ‘friend zone’. In this slightly sterner second act, the ‘oily man’ directly quotes Santa Barbara school shooter Elliot Rodgers, whose vengeful Youtube manifesto promising the deaths of ‘stuck-up sluts’ at his university’s sorority houses isn’t much more horrific than the Orang Minyak’s mythological sexual terrorism.

The third story is slightly longer than the first two, and clearly benefits from it; Lim has more room for quickly-sketched narrative and characterisation, playing a squeamish guy and his superstitious mother, who warns her son that his white girlfriend could be a baby-hungry succubus. It’s impressive that Lim can be as commanding in these more realistic roles as he is when playing a bloodthirsty undead baby, and the script’s attention to the cadence of trans-generational interaction is impeccable (the mum sighs ‘I’m at Highpoint buying pants for your father’ when her son calls in a blind panic).

Salty confidently treads the line between mocking these traditional nightmares and recognising them as acutely relevant. We’re coming up on Halloween, and I for one would be stoked to see some Toyol trick-or-treaters alongside the Draculas and Minions and Elsas. Lim’s characters are that full of flavour, be they salty or oily or something indescribable.

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