Theatre review: The Pickle King
By: Dionne Christian, 4 August 2017
Fifteen years after its debut and minus stalwart performer Jacob Rajan, Indian Ink’s The Pickle King has lost none of its potency or poignancy.
The show opens with a pianist walking on to the jewel-coloured set, settling down to play the type of lilting and mildly-reassuring music heard in hotel lobbies around the world. Characters wearing “basel masks” (silent white ones) draw us gently into the otherworldly world of The Empire Hotel before we’re introduced to the main protagonists and the play really crackles into life.
There’s spiky Sasha (Kalyani Nagarajan), blinded as a child because of a chemical accident in India that killed her parents; her formidable Aunt Ammachy and skittish porter Jeena. Vanessa Kumar shows an impressive range, playing both Ammachy and Jeena with aplomb. She’s a worthy successor to Rajan who, for so many years, took on multiple roles in Indian Ink’s productions.
The trio’s uneasy relationships are turned on their head when the enigmatic and slightly pantominesque Mr G Reaper, the pickle king, arrives. Andrew Ford plays the character with a delicious blend of malevolence and mystery teasing out the story and adding a menacing air to its slow unfolding.
It’s all rather magical, particularly the use of the set and a range of props which appear unexpectedly throughout the story. But Indian Ink hasn’t garnered international success for novel entertainments alone; they’re experts at what they call the “serious laugh” where comedy, much of it physical, is combined with gritty and highly relevant storylines.
So it is with The Pickle King. We might chuckle over a line about the differences between organs and organisations but it’s delivered by a cardiothoracic surgeon character who, through immigration bungling, is working as a hotel porter and sleeping in a cleaning cupboard. It means its themes of migration dreams gone wrong and corporate malfeasance, especially in the developing world, are as relevant – possibly more so – than they were 15 years ago.
Back then, The Pickle King became Indian Ink’s most successful and highly-awarded play. It’s easy to see why; this is sublime theatre made by masters of the game.