Sophistication, Subtlety And Profundity Amid Colour, Light And Fun

By Stuart Devenie (Theatreview)

Whangarei’s newly painted OneOneSix theatre venue, resplendent in her new livery of black, yellow and purple, seems, we discover, to have been decorated especially for Mrs Krishnan’s Party. The audience is queuing, either for exceptional coffee from the resident barista, Ant, or to move into the late Mr Krishnan’s dairy for delicious shots of Kombucha (provided by the venue).

Our tickets have already determined our social status prior to the presentation and I feel some slight surprise that I am not at the ‘Top Table’ but relegated to the position of ‘Wallflower’. Not a role I would have cast myself in.

We are greeted by James, as resplendent as the building in his costume as an Indian demi-God, for the celebration of the South Indian Festival of Onam. We come to realise that his self-elevation to this exalted position is an inflection of his quixotic delusion about the truth of his life. But because of his youth and engaging impudence as the host of the ‘surprise’ party for his aunt, Mrs Krishnan, we forgive him. It is also an opportunity for the young man to show off his extensive repertoire of dance moves.

His aunt, the hard-working widow of Mr Krishnan, who supports her nephew, is less forgiving. For her, the discovery of 100 complete strangers lounging around the back room of her dairy is less a surprise than a shock.

Over the course of less than 90 minutes, we come to know and love these characters as they come to know and love us. Mrs Krishnan, now accepting the inevitability of our presence and driven by deep cultural imperatives of hospitality, begins preparing a meal for all 100 of her unexpected guests, some of whom are pressed into service as her soux-chefs, while she is called away to serve in the shop.

The plot is as delicious as the smells which begin to pervade the space as Mrs Krishnan’s curry is cooking in front of us.

The writers, Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan, have, together with dramaturge Murray Edmond, crafted a script of simplicity, sophistication, subtlety and profundity all wrapped up in a surface of colour, light and fun.

John Verryt’s simple set is accurate, evocative and nostalgic, complemented by Jane Hakaraia’s skilful lighting design. The sound design by Liam Kelly, clever and witty, ranges from Bollywood to disco and Fiona Nichols’ costumes are perfectly pitched. Mention must also be made of Aaron Paaps’ deft control of the technicals.

Finally, the actors. Kalyani Nagarajah and Justin Rogers fulfil the demands of the script and more. They are courageous, truthful and completely committed to their roles in guiding and supporting the audience through the story.

Indian Ink has crafted a presentation which could only be done here, in this country. It reminds us to remember where we came from as individuals, where we are as a community and, as the entire audience rises to its feet at the conclusion of the play, where we might be.

If this production is coming to your community, I would urge you to book now. The rice and dhal are delicious!