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Nelson Mail – Pickle King a Fine Slice of Immigrant Life

By: Andrew Rose

The cast of The Pickle King at the Theatre Royal last night had to take several bows before the appreciative, capacity audience would let them go.

The play, written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, who also directed, is the last of a trilogy by Auckland-based Indian Ink Theatre Company, and follows the success of Krishnan’s Dairy and The Candlestickmaker.

While on the surface Pickle King presents the experience of immigrant families of Indian descent in New Zealand with a humour that is sometimes too shrill and lacking in pathos – like pickle made with too much vinegar and not enough spice; the play also draws on more ancient devices to work its magic at deeper levels.

It is both morality play and folk tale but firmly set in the 21st century.

The use of masks by the actors to help the audience recognise and know the characters, dates back to the dawn of theatre and may well represent one of the oldest known forms of theurgy.

The play takes place in Wellington’s Empire Hotel. The hotel has seen better days, as has Graham the piano player who haunts the lobby. Ben Wilcox who plays Gra-ham, and the piano, provides a continuous counterpoint to the action reminiscent of a silent movie accompanist of long ago.
The ingenious set, by John Verryt, with all its levels, doors and panels perfectly complements the play’s various layers.

Ammachy, the matriarch who runs the Empire with a rod of iron is played with comic zest by co-author Jacob Rajan.

She despairs that her niece Sasha, played with great passion by Artsuya Nathan, will ever many.

Sasha is almost blind, but this is not the real problem. Sasha believes she is cursed and that everything she loves dies.

Despite this she is not a victim but a real woman who forcibly rejects all her aunt’s efforts to find her a husband.

Also played by Jacob Rajan is Jojo, the overqualified night porter who cannot get work in his real career as a cardio-thoracic surgeon.

Of course Jojo and Sasha begin to fall in love but then Death checks into the hotel in the guise of Mr G Reaper.

The play goes on to explore some familiar themes of life and death. The acting is excellent and the script is genuinely funny and thought provoking.

What a pity it is only in Nelson for such a short run.

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