The Text Is An Engaging Love Story

By Francis Till (New Zealand Herald)

The Pickle King is billed as the third component of a “loose trilogy”, but audiences unfamiliar with the earlier works shouldn’t be put off by the prospect of starting at the end: this light-hearted play stands alone quite nicely on substantial, well-formed legs.

What is familiar from the past is production company Indian Ink’s again successful desire to pursue the “serious laugh” in vehicles that mix Indian culture, New Zealand life and a welter of devices from Western commedia dell’arte.

In the commedia tradition, The Pickle King plays at metaphorical and plot levels with equal dexterity: neither is sacrificed to the other and each completes its own comic cycle without strain.

This difficult achievement probably reflects the two-year development cycle for the play, which is still in transformation as much as the inspired work of the cast and crew.

Jacob Rajan’s complete mastery of two beautifully counter-posed characters is the linchpin of the play, but he is superbly supported by Ansuya Nathan as Sasha, the stroppy, nearly blind, deeply appealing love-interest, and Carl Bland as the sleepless, enigmatic trickster, Reaper.

The text is an engaging love story filled with conflict and wrong turns that relies on magical realism without forcing the issue.
Because the plot draws heavily from folkloric sources, audiences might realise early that the servant figures will defeat an oppressive master (here, nothing less than death), but that foreknowledge takes nothing away as the performance unfolds.

There are a few lapses into tiresomely conventional sentiment, such as when we are told that the way to preserve love is to make it fresh daily, but overall, the lang-uage of the play is as captivating as the performances.
John Verryt’s ingenious set is a multifaceted marvel that gets full performer marks. Props deserve special praise, especially when unlikely objects — pages from a book, an umbrella, an indomitable white mouse — are treated as puppets.

Stunning, story-advancing masques are worn by all characters except Graham (Mark Lipman), the ubiquitous pianist, who renders an original score from composer Conrad Wedde to terrific effect.