With COVID having robbed us of PoC Revue in 2020, and coming off the back of an outstanding show in 2019, my expectations were high for this year’s production. Opening the season this year, excitement has built for almost two years without student revues with the crowds to sustain the Seymour Centre. COVID-19 challenges have had wide-ranging impacts on PoC Revue that will likely be replicated across this year’s season; programs weren’t distributed, promotion of this year’s show was altogether more muted compared to previous years, and the enforced break has resulted in a significant exodus of experienced talent. An almost entirely new cast and production team have stepped into new roles this year, with Madhullika Singh and Areebah Mirza directing, and only Ping-Hui Ho returning from the planned 2020 Executive team as choreographer.
2020’s compressed cultural space has resulted in a dire lack of new content in this year’s PoC Revue. Over the course of two hours, a packed Reginald Theatre bore witness to musical numbers taken straight from TikTok’s trending songs, cheaply ripped off skits from our collective For You Pages, and recycling of the same jokes about “diverse” casting that we’ve heard for years. At times, the show didn’t trust its audience, having to take a moment to babysit them by explaining jokes or social critiques it made, many of which weren’t all that novel. One particular skit about Scarlett Johansson playing a black trans man grated despite its relevance, and a reference at the beginning of the show to Ariana Grande’s capacity as a social chameleon served only to remind me of how brilliantly produced the musical numbers were in previous productions.
The performance was often in stark contrast to the theme of the production. A skit with Captain America seemed at odds with the supposed anti-colonial position of the show; being upset that the United States President isn’t a decolonial king didn’t exactly demonstrate an extraordinary understanding of modern imperialism. Other skits involving a confusing and painfully long collective skateboarder climax, or a strangely framed scene parodying the online game Among Us, were as absurd as they were gratifying to see the back of.
This is not to say that the show was bereft of quality — there were bright sparks that served as the highlight of the show and demonstrated the potential in this new guard of creatives. Niranjanan Sriganeshwaran’s confidence shone through along with Alina Haque in their whitewashed caricature of a Bollywood lover’s fight. Haque herself is a highlight, returning periodically through the show as ‘Kupi Raur,’ running with the now-popular parodies of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, and personifying them. A skit riffing off the cutesy and absurd player characters in Animal Crossing was particularly well-written as well, and Marie-Jo Orbase’s commitment to the bit was a breath of fresh air in a production that for the most part, was present but not all there.
The challenges of having to cast, write, produce and rehearse a show within the span of just over a month shouldn’t be lost on anyone, and that the PoC Revue team have managed to put together a show that almost sold out through its run should be commended. That said, I wish they had more time together — PoC Revue is one of the highlights of the creative calendar, and it deserves more than it got in 2021.