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Hilarious, Touching and Rewarding

By: Nik Smythe - Theatreview, 7 December 2017

Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis have been creating outstanding works of rich, original theatre with an eclectic cornucopia of collaborative artists for twenty years now. Each work is imbued with unmistakably Indian flavour, at the same time accessible to anyone who cares to engage; exploring and celebrating traditional culture even while gleefully creating something unique in its own right.

Mrs Krishnan’s Party continues this established tradition of fresh innovation, beginning with its being a sequel to the first Indian Ink production Krishnan’s Dairy, a mask-based comic tragedy, devised in an entirely different style and setting, with the theatre transformed into the surprisingly spacious back room and kitchen area of the old shop.

Mrs Krishnan’s young varsity student lodger James (Justin Rogers) – cosplayed up as King Maveli, the protagonist in the legend central to the auspicious Hindu festival of Onam – shows us to our seats as we enter. The auditorium is divided into five sections, respectively the Top Table, Kitchen Club, Cheeky Seats, Party Animals and Wallflowers, providing punters with unreliable clues about what kind of action they may be recruited to participate in.

Rogers’ ‘DJ Jimmy’ James is young, bright-eyed, compassionate and eager to show his friend and landlady the greatest Onam celebration she’s seen since Mr Krishnan died suddenly at the hands of an armed burglar twenty three years ago. The place is festooned with hanging floral decorations and those of us who ‘missed the email about coming in costume’ are provided with colourful garlands, scarves and bindis as we prepare to surprise the titular Mrs Krishnan upon her entrance.

Kalyani Nagarajan delightfully conveys a wholly classic personification of Zina Krishnan (originally portrayed by Rajan in mask in Krishnan’s Dairy). At something of a crossroads in her life, she dreams of selling up and returning to India, yet contrarily cannot conceive of leaving the place so rich with memories of her beloved husband Gobi. She normally has a quietly reflective Onam with her son Apu but now, thanks to James, she suddenly has a couple of hundred guests to entertain.

The original script, by Rajan and Lewis assisted by dramaturge Murray Edmond, leaves plentiful space for improvisation and interaction with the crowd, as facilitated by Lewis’s erudite direction. The immersive element is comparable to September’s Aunty, on a larger scale with more heartfelt, less satirical, overtones.

At various times – in between the comical discussions and moments of drama, as well as intermittent narration of the aforementioned legend of King Maveli – certain audience members are called upon to answer phones, help in the kitchen and/or proffer white lies to protect sensitive feelings, ultimately creating a fully integrated spontaneous community which will inevitably take on a different overall character with each performance.

While it is typically well-conceived and functional, a little suspension of disbelief is required, and easily provided, to accept John Verryt’s somewhat expansive set that includes all of us as the rear space of a corner dairy. In conjunction with Jane Hakaraia’s perfectly perfunctory lighting, Fiona Nichols’s appositely appealing costumes and Liam Kelly’s party-centric sound design, the entire experience is hilarious, touching and altogether most rewarding.