Formerly known as ‘Monkeys & Men’
Directed by Justin Lewis
Presented by Indian Ink Company
Q Theatre, Auckland | September 14-October 5
Everyone seems to have their own Indian Ink story. I remember sitting in a rehearsal room (or closer to a kitchen, really) a few months ago and listening to four people from vastly different backgrounds talking about Indian Ink and the show they’d enjoyed last year, or the show that their parents had enjoyed years ago. I have a very good friend whose mother saw the first incarnation of Guru of Chai and drove all the way up from Tauranga to see Indian Ink present work at Q last year.
I’ve never had that Indian Ink story, until now. Which is not to say that I haven’t loved what I’ve seen—I enjoyed The Guru of Chai when I saw it last year and it was one of my highlights of the theatre season. The magic that everyone had told me about was there, as if it was being performed for the first time and for an audience that included only me, and not three hundred other theatregoers. Despite how much I liked The Guru of Chai, it never felt like it was my own personal Indian Ink show or story, which all these other people seemed to have.
Kiss the Fish is my Indian Ink story. It’s a play that feels like it was made for me. It has all the trademarks of a great Indian Ink show: brilliant character work, stunning visuals, a perfect balance between hilarious comedy and touching drama, and David Ward as the endearing onstage musician. But for this show specifically, there’s something about seeing it on its second Auckland performance that makes it so special to me personally.
Having said that, this is a show that plays well to every audience. The kids behind me were loving it, as were the upper middle-class middle-aged white women in front of me, as were the many old people dotted around the theatre. There is a charm, earnestnessm and mastery of the craft that makes Kiss the Fish a play that anyone can and will enjoy.
I could leave a review there, but I won’t. Kiss the Fish is the result of some clearly very talented people working at the height of their ability. First and foremost, Indian Ink have assembled a tremendous cast. Each actor is able to move through characters, and even through species, without missing a beat, making a distinct impression with each while still staying in tune with each other and in the register of the show. That they do so while working with masks—something that I’ve shamefully never seen in theatre up until this point—is remarkable and worthy of high praise.
James Roque as the well-meaning, simplistic farmer Sidu is charismatic and offbeat, and his background as a comedian lets him nail some of the funniest jokes in the play with real style and agility. He also provides a solid anchor for the rest of the show, and the many characters within, to revolve around and grounds things even when they get ridiculous (like with many of Rajan’s hilarious characters).
Nisha Madhan is no less impressive as Sidu’s sister Lakshmi and Sidu’s love-interest Daisy; a dual casting which Mashan makes work despite some potential awkwardness. She conveys Lakshmi’s quick-temperedness as well as her intelligence and drive very well, while also making a touching impression as the somewhat naïve, marriage-crazy Daisy.
Julia Croft has an even more difficult time. She operates a puppet to perform the role of Grace, Sidu’s mute daughter, and she brings a gravitas to this character that a lesser performer might not have. Croft also makes a delightfully crotchety grandmother as Kochima, watching over Daisy and Sidu’s odd little courtship. And then there’s a third role in which she is physically and vocally unrecognisable, so much so that I looked at my programme afterwards for a fifth performer. In this role, she’s one of the comic highlights of the play, but to reveal the role would spoil it. Just wait for it, and be surprised by Croft’s ability to play three characters who are different in every single way.
To praise Jacob Rajan at this point in his career seems a little silly. Everybody who has been to an Indian Ink show or seen him perform knows that the man is a genius who can move from character to character as natural as moving from point A to point B, and hit the comic beats harder than any other performer in the country. I’m not damning him with faint praise saying that he does this again, but he also allows the rest of this cast to shine. And they definitely do shine.
The design elements of the show are equally masterful. John Verryt’s set is an array of gorgeous patchwork quilts that move for some elegant scene changes, and Cathy Knowsley’s lighting design plays off the set beautifully. The combination of the two makes it seem as though they’re on a beach or in a rundown little village, with only a few subtle changes.
Everyone has an Indian Ink story, and with Kiss the Fish, I think I’ve found mine. It’s undoubtedly one of the theatrical highlights of my year; I fell entirely under its spell. It’s a magical, endearingly earnest piece of theatre, and you won’t find this mix of comedy and visual mastery anywhere else in Auckland right now, or for the rest of the year for that matter. If you’ve seen an Indian Ink show, chances are you already have tickets to this one and you can’t wait to see it, but if you haven’t, then you need to book tickets immediately, as you’ll be in for one of the most memorable experiences in a theatre of your life. And you’ll have an Indian Ink story of your very own.