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PHENOMENAL CRAFTSMANSHIP

Print Version

Krishnan’s Dairy
Written & performed by Jacob Rajan
Directed by Justin Lewis
INDIAN INK

at Downstage Theatre, Wellington
From 5 Apr 2013 to 19 Apr 2013
[In repertory with The Guru of Chai]

Reviewed by Phoebe Smith, 6 Apr 2013


Krishnan's Dairy is the drama-school-exercise turned full-length play that launched the Indian Ink theatre company in 1997. It has since played to full houses nationally and internationally, won a Fringe First award in Edinburgh, been published by VUP, become a text that is studied at both high school and tertiary level, and is now in the process of being translated into a feature film.

So 15 years on from its debut (closer to 19 years from its original 20 minute outing), does Krishnan's Dairy still have the impact and the ability to please a crowd? Judging by the laughter and applause from the full house at Downstage on opening night, the answer would seem to be yes. 

According to the programme notes this is ‘a love story set in a corner shop.' Gobi and Zena, as the opening song/prologue tells us, are Indian and have a corner dairy in New Zealand, met on their wedding day (but please withhold your judgment) and have, reading between the lines of the chorus, an enviable love. I am not certain that this is what I see so much as what I am told in the prologue and (almost) epilogue songs. 

This production is certainly slick. Directed by Justin Lewis, Jacob Rajan plays every character with a mastery of physicality and voice. While caricature at times overshadows subtleties of character, the masks that are employed are beautifully crafted and beautifully handled. As each mask is applied, so Rajan's physique shifts to match the character that his body is now medium to. 

So it is that we can suspend our disbelief and watch a sharp-shooting dialogue between a husband and wife or a husband mourning over the body of his wife played by one man and his masks.

This is enhanced by David Ward's live music and the extraordinarily – let me use the word again – slick sound effects. Never in live theatre have I seen mime backed up so perfectly by the timing of its partner sound.

John Verryt's set is effective in its simplicity. The dairy's static flower-display shelving and the lift-top service counter are all that is required, while Rajan's mime defines the topography of the space. Several colourful saris hang as drop curtains and wings, allowing some lovely light effects that create Gobi and Zena's barely seen bedroom upstage. 

While all of the performances – the actor's, the designer's, the musician's et al – are honed, crafted and highly impressive, the story itself leaves me wanting more. The programme notes and the prologue song insist that we are to see an unexpected love, a love that perhaps doesn't have the passion or turbulence of the back-story of the Taj Mahal, but nevertheless is real: a love to make a person a lucky one.

Instead I see a day-in-the-life of two normal people and their son, immigrants to New Zealand, trying to make a ‘better life', bickering, friendly, sad, angry, laughing occasionally. Then, finally, a tragedy befalls them. The audience gasps. The lights go down. Again we are told in song (this time the almost epilogue) of how deeply the feelings run. But again we aren't shown this; we are being told it exists, narrated to at the beginning and at the end. 

Krishnan's Dairy is an extremely impressive show. It had the audience laughing consistently and its craftsmanship is phenomenal. I held my breath for a poignancy that never quite appeared.  
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