Theatre review: Krishnan’s Dairy and Mrs Krishnan’s Party

By Ethan Sills (NZ Herald) Jacob Rajan as Gobi in Krishnan’s Dairy holding 3 buckets of flowers

How many theatre companies in New Zealand can boast about the fact their debut show was so successful, that it’s still touring the country 25 years later? Or that it generated a sequel after two decades that has already toured the world as well as selling out shows across the country?

That’s the legacy of Indian Ink, the company founded by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis that is this year celebrating a quarter of a century of entertaining audiences here and around the world. Krishnan’s Dairy, first performed in 1997 by Rajan, must have some sort of New Zealand record for number of performances by one actor, while its sequel, Mrs Krishnan’s Dairy, is coming up on five years with no signs of stopping yet.

Audiences at Q Theatre the last few weeks have had a rare chance to experience the two plays together in a double bill celebrating Indian Ink’s anniversary, and that chance is about to become even rarer, with Krishnan’s Dairy about to tour New Zealand for the last time with Rajan in the title roles.

If you haven’t had the chance to explore either play yet, it is time to make that a priority. Both are truly magical in their own ways, each play celebrating the possibilities theatre presents, and telling stories that no other company in New Zealand is delivering – and certainly not with the humour and power that Rajan and Lewis’ plays have.

The two plays tell the story of one Auckland dairy 20 years apart. In Krishnan’s Dairy, Gobi has dragged his wife Zina to New Zealand to live out his dream. One particularly quiet day suddenly exposes the tensions in their relationship, with Zina revealing she dislikes her new life and wishes to return home to India.

All characters here are portrayed by Indian Ink co-founder Jacob Rajan. Armed with a series of masks, Rajan deftly switches between the characters, each voice, mannerism and movement distinct from each other in a masterclass of performance and character work.

The play is a celebration of minimalism, the stage consisting entirely of a counter and a flower stand, yet Rajan and the creatives are able to build a whole world around them that also takes the audience back to the birth of the Taj Mahal.

Actors Justin Rogers and Kalyani Nagarajan stand behind a curtain looking out towards the cameraHaving only seen The Impermanence of Ice Cream from the company previously, there was a niggling sense that the group may only have one trick in the bag. That was dispelled the moment I walked into Mrs Krishnan’s Dairy – literally, you are less audience member here and more background actor, dragged into the loft above the dairy as Zina’s boarder James ropes you into his celebration Onam.

As someone who detests audience interaction, the nerves set in quickly, but this is the most wholesome and creative usage of the trope I’ve experienced. Justin Rogers and Kalyani Nagarajan guide the audience through the story, blending improv and the scripted story they’ve acted out countlessly over the last few years, their performances heightened by the audience feedback.

The interaction also draws the whole audience into the story in a way no other play could replicate. The fact we become so immersed in the world and experience something fresh with the actors lets you fully immerse in the fictional world, making the steady climb towards the climax all the more affecting.

What is astounding about the two works is how completely different they are in staging, tone and acting, existing firmly as two separate entities with their clear styles and unique quirks, yet linked by Zina and their shared world.

The consequences of Krishnan’s Dairy are felt throughout Mrs Krishnan’s Party, but there’s no prior knowledge needed to enjoy it, while Krishnan’s Dairy is such an entertaining, concise experience that you can leave satisfied with no need of a sequel.

Yet both works are powerful and among the most affecting plays I’ve seen on a New Zealand stage. You may enter either play having never heard of the company before, but you’ll leave a convert to Indian Ink’s magic, having witnessed some of the finest performances and the most seamless staging you are ever likely to see in this country.