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The Guru of Chai delights and enchants

By: Kate Herbert, Herald Sun. 23/8/17

What: The Guru of Chai, written by Jacob Rajan & Justin Lewis, Indian ink (NZ)

Where & When: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Aug. 27, 2017

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: 4

Jacob Rajan weaves a spell over the audience with his masterful storytelling, impeccable comic timing and charismatic performance in the funny and moving production, The Guru of Chai.

In this one-man performance inspired by the Indian fairytale, Punchkin, Rajan plays narrator, Kutisar, an impoverished, cheerfully philosophical chai-seller, but he also populates the stage with a parade of 16 other beautifully and simply wrought characters.

When the bucktoothed Kutisar encounters seven, parentless sisters in the bustling Bangalore railway station, he encourages them to sing for their keep and enlists Punchkin, the rotund and benevolent policeman, to protect the girls.

With consummate skill and minimal props, Rajan transforms himself with the flick of a scarf, the tilt of his head or a lilt in his voice, and transports us to Bangalore station and the lanes of New Delhi, conjuring the colours of India and the aroma of chai and fumes.

Rajan balances broad comedy with poignant, romantic storytelling and pathos tinged with Kutisar’s gentle cynicism and yearning for a better life.

By addressing the audience directly, Rajan flirts, teases and gently draws individual audience members into Kutisar’s vivid world and responds with lightning speed to surprises and interruptions, including a rogue, ringing mobile phone.

The production, directed and co-written by Julian Lewis, blends Western and Indian theatrical traditions, and the live music, played by Adam Ogle and composed by David Ward, echoes Indian sitar and chants.

Kutisar assures us at the start that he will improve our sad, little lives with his tale of romantic heroes and dangerous villains, but his story has the same mix of romance and tragedy that is evident in Western fairy tales.

It is a delight to witness the theatrical enchantment and accomplished performance of Rajan as The Guru of Chai.

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