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Left feeling warm but not coddled, thoughtful but not rattled

By: Gin Mabey, Theatreview. 2 June 2017

Tauranga’s Baycourt Theatre was full of warmth and laughter last night, as Indian Ink graced the stage with their re-mounted show, The Pickle King.

Written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, this tale is set in our very own Wellington, wind included. The quick-witted and easily-exasperated Sasha runs reception, with the help of porter Jeena. Sasha’s aunt (who owns the hotel) is dead-set on setting Sasha up with a husband … but we soon discover this is just not Sasha’s path.

Enter George Reaper, the ‘Pickle King’, a fabulously-rotund, flamboyant mystery man with a few secrets up his sleeve. The story unfolds with love, past tragedy and revealed secrets. There are some great observations regarding immigration and the lives of skilled workers in New Zealand – it will certainly make you think.  But I won’t give the rest away!

In true Indian Ink style, the characters are masked, some simply, and some more elaborately. As usual, the masks are perfectly fused with the characters and mindfully incorporated into the acting.

The show is accompanied by the musical talents of Ayrton Foote. He is inconspicuous and still, but his presence definitely adds to the magic of the show, as do his jazzy tunes and lovely singing. He doesn’t seem to mind when his piano doubles as all kinds of other settings.

The set is brightly-painted and very functional. It’s clear that each aspect of the set has been meticulously thought-out and there is nothing superfluous or jarring to the story. The actors use and manipulate the set into many different uses for their respective characters and it is done with grace.

The acting style is interesting and refreshing to watch, I might call it Commedia dell’arte, or inspired-by at least. Kalyani Nagarajan’s portrayal of Sasha is crisp and deliberate, like a bird. The sweeping, rounded-arms of Andrew Ford as the ‘Pickle King’ reminds me of the old villains in story books I read as a child.

Vanessa Kumar is particularly impressive as both Jeena and Aunty. I like her warmth and humanity as Jeena, and spot-on physicality and vocals as Aunty.

I would describe this show as very tidy and tight, a very neat production. This makes for a lovely viewing experience because there are no nervous moments or wondering why a particular choice had been made. Everything there is there for a reason. There are a couple of times where I think the narrative bursts forward at an uneven speed, but apart from that, the story unfolds nicely.

I love how the writers aren’t afraid to use such strong symbolism and metaphor. Death, love, the role of the heart in our lives, and the strength of our senses are all symbolised beautifully and boldly throughout.

Although I thoroughly enjoy the whole show, I have to say, my favourite part is at the very beginning. The show opens with a scene of unidentified characters coming in and out of the hotel in the most incredible, simple white masks. The scene is scored with a gentle, slightly melancholy song which makes me nostalgic for something, I’m not sure what. My favourite is the man we see again at the end: the long face with two dots and a tiny curve for a mouth. Such minute details, but still, I know exactly who that man is. I could watch an entire show just with these white-masked people. For some reason, they just appeal to me and I really love them.

I leave this show feeling warm but not coddled, thoughtful but not rattled. Well done to the cast and team.

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