‘Pickle King’ Sure To Tickle And Make You Think

By Ian Render (Hawke’s Bay Today)

He’s not from Barcelona, but he is a comic hotel porter and she’s an odd but sensible girl behind the counter. Out the back there’s a bossy old shrew, peculiar guests check in every so often and…

Is this Fawlty Goes To Bollywood? It’s tempting to make the connection, but this must always be the fate of a comic play set largely in a hotel lobby.

The Pickle King deserves comparison in terms of its originality and wit. Otherwise it has an altogether different and whimsical, fairy-tale quality shaped by Rajan and Lewis’s shame-less magpie creativity, which collects useful bits and pieces from international theatrical traditions.

The play satisfies perhaps because the audience is challenged to piece together a very strange tale which catapults us from what we know well in New Zealand life back into a semi-mythological past. At the same time, we must suspend belief and plunge into a tale spun with everything from masked mimes to absurdist involvement of the accompanist.

In less expert hands this could collapse entirely into self-indulgence, but ever-increasing audiences demonstrate that people are hungry for stories which penetrate the depths of ordinary lives and have a crack at meaning-making while providing a load of laughs. It is indeed brave to create such an assemblage and place, and to pose questions about death in our “death-is-a-dirty-word” world.

Certainly none of this would not work without Lewis’s experienced direction, which holds the diverse theatrical elements together so elegantly.

All the performances are a delight, especially Rajan’s dual roles as Jojo the porter and Ammachy the widow who owns the hotel.

There are magical moments from Ansuya Nathan (especially her dancing) and Nick Blake, the unsettling Mr Reaper. Ben Wilcock expertly performed Conrad Wedde’s atmospheric music and enigmatically participated in the action. Who would ever have thought that the music you listen to while you were on hold, could provide a memorable moment?

It’s almost worth going just to see the way that John Verryt’s set and Jo Kilgour’s lighting work so elegantly — a model of form suiting function. The audience’s appreci-ation of this was audible.

Once the quality of the Indian Ink Theatre Company’s work was passed along by word of mouth. Now we know there is great home-grown entertainment to be savoured.