Many parts played by one gifted actor
By: The Dominion Post
Storytelling is as old as mankind and its art and techniques are on display in three very different theatrical productions at the moment. At Circa there are short anecdotal stories in My First Time and a very tall story told with bravura in Shipwrecked!, and now at Downstage we have The Guru of Chai, an updated version ofa traditional Indian folk/fairy story, Punchkin, that now starts at a busy railway station.
With an atmospheric and raggle-taggle Indian setting by John Verryt of tatty, paint-spattered screens, a platform and a table bearing a primus and a large kettle the story is told by Kutisar, the tea-seller or chaiwallah, of six abandoned young girls whom he takes under his wing. They survive by singing and when they are robbed of their earnings they catch the ear and eye of a police officer, a fat “thin blue line” of protection.
The girls grow up and get married except for Balna, the one with the most beautiful voice. She eventually falls in love with a young, handsome Muslim poet. They have a son. The poet falls foul of the evil master criminal, Fakir. The son is cared for by his aunts and when he grows up he goes in search of his long lost mother.
There’s a happy ending of sorts but not before many twists and turns have occurred including episodes of comedy mixed with pathos, the chaiwallah’s business problems with Starbucks, audience participation in avian flight and lighting the performer, and moments of unexpected magical tricks.
However, the real magic is in the performance of Jacob Rajan who plays all the parts. At one point the chaiwallah says ‘Truthfully, I lie.’ All good acting and storytelling is lying truthfully and Jacob Rajan does so beautifully, delicately delineating each character with a quick change of his body, face, and voice to create real, compelling characters. He is supported with great discretion by David Ward who plays the music, sings the songs and provides the sound effects.
The Guru of Chai has all the ingredients of marvelous theatre: first rate acting and an imaginative production, an entertaining story that contains eternal truths wrapped up in a cloak of comedy and pathos and presented with a confidence and an appeal that makes an audience one.
You would be foolish to miss this and take any 10 year-olds and up as well, I’m sure they’d love it too.