Rajan Had Proved Again His Winning Formula – Listener

By NZ ListenerJacob Rajan wears a papier mache half mask with a white shawl draped around him and his head, playing the character Kalyani. He holds a vase and points it at the camera with a shy smile. There is a duck puppet beside Kalyani.

Out of the dairy, into the cosmos. White dwarfs, black holes and the LONELY PLANET are the inspiration for the latest collaboration from the team that gave us Krishnan’s Dairy.

The Candlesitckmaker, currently touring the North Island, premiered at Festival 2000 in Wellington earlier this year and has since then been finetuned. Set in India using the tried-and-true recipe that made Krishnan’s Dairy such a success – masks , larger-than-life loveable characters ,cheesy ,cheeky  dialogue, shadow puppets – this is another comic folktale full of charm , but lacking Krishnan’s pathos.

Here astrophysics rules. Tiny wicker baskets containing candles containing props are suspended from poles, which are lowered on pulleys when needed. This lovely, airy set by John Verryt beautifully evokes a sense of cosmos, gravity and Indian bazaar. Nineteen –year-old Indian –Kiwi science student Sunil, armed with the Lonely Planet India, is visiting his uncle Rohan, a one-eyed astrophysicist and a rather deluded, tragic character. Sunil’s visit coincides with that of another rellie, Nobel-winning scientist Subramanya Chandrasekhar (nickname “the Candlestickmaker” for lazy linguists), an octogenarian who at 19 discovered cosmic mysteries such as black holes and white dwarfs. Rohan wants to dazzle Chandrasekhar with his own theories, but havoc ensues when Sunil loses the first page of Rohan’s thesis, and an unruly Hungarian duck sabotages events.

In another virtuoso performance, Jacob Rajan plays three scientists, each a buffoon, plus a crazy 300-year-old servant who’s as hot and fiery as her famous fish curry. Occasionally, Rajan’s dexterity in switching characters by swapping masks hidden in a pouch on his sari, or slipped to him by grave-faced assistant Kate Parker , is so impressive that you lose narrative clarity. And by the climax of the madcap swirl of events of this one day – as absurd as any old day in India – it is the performer you remember, not the play.

Rajan is ably supported by Parker as duck-puppeteer and singer, and a live slide-guitar by Craig Lee (would Indian music be more fitting?). And just as duck threatens to steal the show, it ends up on a platter, providing the excuse for many excruciating, and predictable, puns. Krishnan’s Dairy is a hard to follow, but as the audience jauntily excited to the strains of “fly me to the Moon”, it was clear that the charming Rajan had proved again his winning formula.