By Jacob Rajan
Directed by Justin Lewis
Presented by Indian Ink
Q Theatre, Auckland | June 16-20
It almost seems redundant to review Indian Ink’s revival of Krishnan’s Dairy. Every bit of gushing praise that I could lavish on it has already been lavished. It’s a recent classic of New Zealand theatre that seems to have lost none of its charm since its 1997 debut. On the surface it’s a pretty ordinary slice-of-life story about Indian couple Gobi and Zina, immigrants to New Zealand and owners of a corner shop dairy. But it’s elevated from cliché by a willingness to observe the quiet moments with an unhurried gaze, presenting us with the daily trials and tribulations of owning a small business. There’s the racism, there’s the bickering one endures when working with their partner, and there’s the struggle to compete with large corporations. The characters might not be traditionally realistic, but they are presented with emotional authenticity. We may laugh at the cartoonish behaviour, but we’re never laughing at who they are as people.
While Krishnan’s Dairy can’t compare in scope or ambition to their latest work Kiss the Fish, it achieves a more focused showcase of Rajan’s talents as a consummate performer. Whereas Kiss the Fish was a fantastical ensemble piece, Krishnan’s Dairy is the Jacob Rajan show. Watching him switch between characters seamlessly is awe-inspiring. His physicality and voice becomes unrecognisable but never over the top. And, despite the fact that the show demands a lot of heavy lifting on his part, he never breaks a sweat. He’s performed it countless number of times and it shows.
That’s not to dismiss the talents of the rest of the crew in any way at all, though. The music by David Ward immediately thrusts us into this domestic fairy tale, giving us a love story not of epic but of everyday proportions, not to mention his unbelievably in sync sound effects. And the masks by director Justin Lewis are gobsmackingly beautiful. The differences between Gobi and Zina’s faces are subtle but allow for Rajan to fill in the gaps with his physicality. Not to mention the mask for the Shah Jahan which is a thing of majesty.
John Verryt’s minimal set of little more than a shop counter against a cloth backdrop is simple yet effective. It gives Rajan just enough to work with in creating a basic outline of a world, but it never intrudes on his ability to convey with his understated miming. With the assistance of Cathy Kowsley’s lighting the magical story of the Taj Mahal is also easily brought to life.
There’s very little reason to miss the return of Krishnan’s Dairy if you haven’t seen it before. And if you’re not familiar with the profoundly hilarious and moving talents of Indian Ink, this is a great place to start. It’s not a perfect story, but it’s one presented expertly, so much so that any minor niggles I have with the rushed—but nonetheless moving—ending are easily ignored. It’s a reminder of a talented company’s modest beginnings, and will undoubtedly warm the hearts of even the most jaded and cynical theatregoer.
* * *
By Ben Wilson
Directed by Ryan Knighton
Basement Theatre, Auckland | June 16-20
In I’ll Be Fine, best mates Jude (James Russell) and Brian (Ben Wilson) are in a post-high school slump. They’re stuck between teenagedom and the rest of their lives. Since they’re not up to much, Jude decides to drag Brian on a road trip to find his birth father (or sperm donor). It’s a rather low-key adventure as they bump into old friends, reminisce, and make casual banter. The general premise immediately recalls—and openly acknowledges its debt to—Eli Kent’s The Intricate Art of Actually Caring. And while there’s a superficial similarity, it doesn’t quite reach the poetic heights of its predecessor, though it has an admirably dorky charm.
Set simply on and around a foldable couch, the theatrical conventions propelling the story aren’t exactly riveting but they’re watchable, leaving the text and performances to do most of the work. And extra colour is added to the background by an assortment of posters from films any young film buff will recognise.
As a writer, Wilson writes fast-paced dialogue that is most effective when concerned with everyday observations and pop culture references, displaying a clear ear for youthful idiom. Jude and Brian are also immediately recognisable archetypes. The former is sensitive and introspective, the latter talks too much and loves movies. So, while they’re not highly original creations, they’re easy to relate to, and embodied smoothly by Russell and Wilson respectively. The writing for the older characters, on the other hand, is a bit clunky to say the least. Both actors do an admirable job trying to sell these extra roles, but suspension of disbelief never proves entirely successful.
However, the serious lack of subtext in the script is what prevents the story from achieving any real intimacy with the audience . The characters are too self-aware of their own deficiencies and flaws. There’s also no real dramatic tension until a late confrontation where Jude and Brian butt heads, and it unfortunately feels a bit forced. Angst-ridden back-stories involving a sibling and an ex-girlfriend are also inadequate in fleshing out the emotional backbone of the play. Too much of it relies on explicitly telling rather than showing. It doesn’t help that director Ryan Knighton trades any possible subtlety for melodrama. The play is most successful in capturing the small key moments between two friends and how they see the world through their limited lens than attempting to explain or explore their angst.
The quest ends with an appropriate lack of resolution, with neither Jude nor Brian any surer of who they are or where they are going, but at least with the perseverance to go on. While the sentiment is bittersweet, and has the potential to be truly affecting, it doesn’t quite feel fully earned. If I’ll Be Fine doesn’t bring anything new to the genre of road trip plays—despite a few bumps in the road—it still makes for an endearing journey.