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Rich commentary underlines storyline

By: Barbara Frame, Otago Daily Times. 23 June 2017.

Everyone loves Indian Ink, the visionary theatre company established 20 years ago by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis.

The Pickle King

Fortune Theatre

Wednesday, June 21

The Pickle King, in Dunedin for a season that ends tomorrow, is its most awarded play.

On Oriental Parade, the once-glamorous Empire Hotel creaks along. Porter Jeena, a cardiothoracic surgeon deceived by Immigration New Zealand’s promises, sleeps in a cleaning closet. Receptionist Sasha, traumatised by her early life, fears and distrusts any prospect of intimacy. The hotel’s formidable but imperceptive proprietor, Ammachy, somehow keeps everything moving. Then, on a stormy Wellington night, the unctuously creepy Mr G. Reaper checks in.

Highly talented actors Vanessa Kumar, Kalyani Nagarajan and Andrew Ford, with the aid of an almost magical set, clever masks (an Indian Ink trademark) and splendidly low-tech stage wizardry, seamlessly perform more parts than I could count. Pianist Ayrton Foote provides musical accompaniment with shades of wallpaper music, on-hold phone tunes and silent movie melodramas.

Everything about the production, from the colourful, resourceful set to the costumes and masks, the actors’ tiniest movements and the lyrical, witty piano score, is superbly crafted.

Audience members can enjoy the story at face value, or they can mine its rich symbolic value and social commentary — there is strong focus on the way immigrants are treated, and on the heartlessness of multinational corporations.

Either way, this endlessly imaginative play works brilliantly to make its point about the importance of having the temerity to love, even in forbidding circumstances.

Opportunities to see Indian Ink productions in Dunedin are all too rare. Wednesday night’s near-capacity audience was clearly charmed and delighted, and many accepted the cast’s invitation to stay behind after the show for a question-and-answer session.

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