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Modern tale truthfully painted in ancient Indian ink

By: The New Zealand Herald

The most recent offering from Indian Ink is a stripped-back exploration of story-telling that revels in the enchantments of an art form that is as ancient as humanity and as current as a Facebook profile.

Using the simplest of means Jacob Rajan spins a vast, multi-generational epic that delivers a sharp warning about the deceptiveness of appearances and poignantly evokes a sorrowful cycle of attachment and loss.

The production conjures up the democratic vitality of a modern street market where spiritual wisdom has hustle for space and Hindu deities rub shoulders with rampant consumerism, desperate poverty and the casual brutality of a police force that is barely distinguishable from a protection racket.

Underlying the story is the potent enigma of a truthful lie and the complex, multi-layered script throws up some provocative reflections on the tangled relationship between truth and fiction.

Rajan’s performance is a mesmerising blend of dazzling showmanship and pure charisma. With a few well chosen words he paints a rich visual tableaux full of arresting detail and displays a remarkable ability to dive into the emotional heart of an ever-changing parade of characters.

All the while he delves in the traditional story-teller’s grab bag of techniques and effortlessly pulls off conjuring tricks along with exquisite moments of song, dance, slapstick and puppetry.

But perhaps most impressive is the show’s bitter-sweet humour. The pathos of the mythical story is constantly undercut by the street-smart wisdom of a world weary chai-wallah who delivers brilliantly pithy aphorism like ‘it’s difficult to laugh when your throat is cut’ or ‘just when your cup begins to fill some-one will piss in it.’

Indian Ink seems to be a genuinely cooperative enterprise and it would be difficult to unpick the individual contributions of Justin Lewis as co-writer and director, Murray Edmond’s as dramaturge, John Verryt as designer and the substantial list of the contributors acknowledged in programme.

But for this production special mention would have to go to David Ward’s musical accompaniment which has a banjo sounding like a sitar and produces a wonderful array of sound effects using everything from a scrunched up plastic bag to an electronic drum machine.

What: Guru of Chai
Where: Maidment Theatre until 16 July

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