Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre and Indian Ink Theatre Company
Reviewed 25 October 2018
An Indian tale of epic proportions is told through the enthusiasm and brilliance of a single actor, leaving the audience in hysterics of laughter one minute and colossal heartache the next.
In a bustling railway station in the busy city of Bangalore, India, a poor chai-wallah (tea-seller) finds himself unwillingly drawn into the life of a brave homeless girl who brings the crowded communal area to a complete standstill with the beauty of her singing. This is a moment that will forever change the poor man’s life as he, the young girl and her abandoned sisters face the horrific corruption which is rife throughout the country, only to be saved by a brave and honest policeman.
As the policeman keeps a protective eye over the girl and her sisters as they grow up, he finds himself falling hopelessly in love with the beautiful woman she matures into. Though, after summoning the bravery to finally propose, he is heartbreakingly rejected. She instead finds herself madly in love with a disreputable poet leading to a marriage and a pregnancy, though her world, and that of the chai-wallah’s, is turned upside-down when one day her husband goes missing.
Written by the talented Justin Lewis and the show’s only actor, Jacob Rajan, Guru of Chai is a mesmerising tale suitable of a Hollywood (or Bollywood) sized production, yet is neatly compacted into a powerful, one-man show. As much as Rajan tells the dramatic story, he also mixes in humorous interactions with the audience and deviates sporadically from the plot to communicate a passing comment or witty joke directly to those observing, breaking down the fourth wall and drawing the audience in closer.
Our show-stopping storyteller and only actor, the confidently buck-toothed Jacob Rajan, is the definition of a chameleon, leaping in and out of 17 characters faster than you can blink while still maintaining distinct differences between them so as to prevent any confusion. Rajan is faultless as he proudly demonstrates his mastery of every single aspect of the show, from perfect comedic timing to masterful storytelling, and even a touch of mesmerising shadow-puppetry – Rajan can do it all.
Complementing Rajan’s masterful acting on stage is guitar player and singer, Dave, who is almost like a silent partner in crime, only ever opening his mouth to sing hauntingly beautiful Indian songs and create a live acoustic soundtrack. Although the show still could have been done well with the single actor on stage, the use of another person, and one with which Rajan can humorously interact, brings Guru of Chai to another level of production value and is a clever move.
The production utilises a simpler set, allowing Rajan’s enthusiastic performance to be the real centrepiece of the show. Patterned rugs and colourful designs contrast with tall screens whose designs appear to be inspired by the traditional Indian architecture to provide an aesthetically pleasing backdrop that helps transport the audience to the distant land of India.
Guru of Chai provides a hilarious and heartbreaking story of epic proportions that is brought to life through the single brilliance of one gloriously talented man and is a must-see at this year’s Oz Asia Festival.