WARM AND ENGAGING WITH SIMPLE MOMENTS OF THEATRE MAGIC
The Guru of Chai
Jacob Rajan – Performer, writer
Justin Lewis – Director, writer
at Downstage Theatre, Wellington
From 15 Sep 2010 to 3 Oct 2010
Reviewed by Hannah Smith, 16 Sep 2010
The Guru of Chai proffers spiritual enlightenment in a cup of sweet and spicy deliciousness. The story weaves the Indian folktale of Punchkin into a contemporary fable that follows Kutisar, a chai seller from the streets of Bangalore, who meets seven orphaned sisters singing for their supper at a train station and embarks on a tale that covers all the traditional bases: love, loss, longing for children, heroism, deception and betrayal – and some less classic but no less enjoyable touches, including a couple of vicious cock fights and a very tricksy parrot.
Jacob Rajan embodies Kutisar and the raft of other individuals the story involves with a cheerful vigour. His characterisations, his comic timing, and his charisma and energy have the audience in the palm of his hand from the first to the last. The effort leaves him sweating and one can't help but be impressed – he is a theatrical athlete.
The enigmatic musician David Ward is sitting on stage throughout, allowing opportunities for comedic interplay between him and the guru. He supports the action by providing sound effects and original composition, as well as through his intense presence; seriously, this man has the most astonishing profile and his skin actually seems to glow.
John Verryt's set design uses rusty coloured fabrics and cut out flats to evoke India with a simplicity that allows us to be transported everywhere and anywhere the story takes us. The lighting design (Jeremy Fern and Cathy Knowsley) is a mish-mash of torches, desk lamps and standing lamps which add to the homely aesthetic and are incorporated as a supporting part of the action.
Directed by Justin Lewis, the production gets back to the roots of storytelling in the simple style with which Indian Ink are so successful, using basic items to create a lively and bustling world. The whole is heart-warming and homely.
This is a real feat in a huge concrete venue like Downstage, and it definitely succeeds, though I think a more intimate venue would be ideal for the piece. In his program note Lewis states that the play was developed with the idea of touring community venues and homes, and if you had the opportunity to experience the play that way I think it would be phenomenal.
I do not think my life is any less hollow and meaningless than it was this time yesterday, but I am certainly pleased that I experienced the guru. This warm and engaging production is full of simple moments of theatre magic – the flight of the parrot, the sleight of hand – that will make you gasp and smile like a child.
You can relax, Hilary, the guru has everything under control.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
See also reviews by:
Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);
Moreen Eason & John Jefferies