Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

09/07/2014 - 12/07/2014

Municipal Theatre, Napier

18/07/2014 - 19/07/2014

Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

09/06/2015 - 14/06/2015

Gisborne War Memorial Theatre, Gisborne

26/06/2015 - 27/06/2015

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

08/07/2015 - 10/07/2015

Forum North, Whangarei

25/07/2014 - 26/07/2014

Opera House, Wellington

26/06/2014 - 05/07/2014

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

20/06/2014 - 21/06/2014

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

04/06/2015 - 06/06/2015

Clarence Street Theatre, Hamilton

10/08/2013 - 17/08/2013

Turner Centre, 43 Cobham Road, Kerikeri

23/07/2014 - 23/07/2014

Mayfair Theatre, 100 King Edward Street, Kensington, Dunedin

16/07/2015 - 18/07/2015

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

22/07/2015 - 26/07/2015

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

09/07/2014 - 12/07/2014

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

29/07/2014 - 30/07/2014

Production Details

Script by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis
Directed by Justin Lewis

Presented by Indian Ink

Having thrilled audiences worldwide with their artful storytelling blended with theatrical magic, Indian Ink’s highly anticipated new work, Kiss The Fish, premieres this 2013.

Magic formula.. clever theatrical touches…sheer brilliance..a joy to beholdNZ Listener

Karukam Island is the tropical paradise of everyone’s dreams but Sidu can’t wait to escape. Trapped in a life that is too slow, he yearns to be the next Freddie Mercury. But when an eco resort being built on the Island threatens his family’s traditional way of life, it’s up to Sidu to decide the fate of Karukam Island. Will he sacrifice his own dreams for the future of his people or will he kiss tradition goodbye?

Kiss The Fish sees Jacob Rajan, Arts Foundation Laureate and Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (for services to theatre), joined on stage by an ensemble of accomplished actors; Nisha Madhan (Show Pony, Shortland Street), Julia Croft (Paper Sky, The Arrival) and actor/comedian James Roque (AotearoHA Next Big Things, Titus) and award winning musician David Ward. Under the skillful direction of Justin Lewis, they give puppetry and Balinese comic mask a riotous Indian Ink reinvention.

Combining pathos and humour that is key to Indian Ink’s unique style of theatre, Rajan and Lewis take inspiration from their international experiences, (South-east Asia, tropical paradises, tourism developments in India, Rabindranath Tagore’s writings) to craft a work about dreams; our dreams of happiness, our dreams for the future and what we leave behind for our children.

Rajan is a masterful storyteller and a gifted comic actor” – Sydney Morning Herald 

One of New Zealand’s leading theatre companies, Indian Ink’s use of ‘The Serious Laugh’ (using laughter to open the audience to serious themes), is central to the company’s approach along with a love of mask and of story.

New Zealand audiences have hungered for a new work from Indian Ink since the 2010 premiere of Guru of Chai. It was this very show that helped the company realise one of their long term ambitions earlier this year, when they toured the United States, performing the popular showin New York as part of APAP – the largest performing arts market in the world.

“Kiss the fish you have, not the one that got away.”– Old Indian Proverb


10th – 17th August 2013
Clarence Street Theatre, 59 Clarence Street, Hamilton
Mon-Tues at 7pm | Weds-Sat at 8pm
no performance on Sunday 11 August
Preview performance on Friday 9 August
Bookings: or 0800 842 538

14th September – 5th October 2013
Q Theatre, 305 Queen Street, Auckland
Mon-Tues at 7pm | Weds-Sat at 8pm
no performances on Sundays
The performance on Friday 4 October will be filmed in front of a live audience.
Bookings: Q Theatre – or 09 309 9771

Tickets: $25 – $55 (service fees may apply)

2014 tour


With an incredible debut season in Auckland during 2013, the magical storytelling of Indian Ink returns in 2014, as their most recent hit Kiss The Fish tours the North Island throughout June and July.

Indian Ink’s magical new show embodies qualities that make us proud to be Kiwis” – NZ Herald, 2013

“… the best theatre I have seen all yearTheatreview, 2013 

One of New Zealand’s leading theatre companies, Indian Ink’s use of ‘The Serious Laugh’ (using laughter to open the audience to serious themes), is central to the company’s approach along with a love of mask and of story.

Audiences across the world have fallen in love with Indian Ink’s work and the company caught the eye of one of America’s most respected theatrical agents, David Lieberman. The result has been extensive touring in the U.S. and the realisation of a long term ambition in early 2013 – performing to rapturous applause in the performance capital of the world – New York City.

For more information about the company visit the Indian Ink website


New Plymouth: TSB Theatre Royal, 20 & 21 June.
Book at or 0800 111 999

Wellington: Opera House, 26 June – 5 July.
Book at or 0800 842 538

Nelson: Theatre Royal, 9 – 12 July.
Book at or 0800 224 224

Napier: Municipal Theatre, 18 and 19 July.
Book at or 0800 224 224

Kerikeri: Turner Centre, 23 July.
Book at or 09 407 0260

Whangarei: Forum North, 25th and 26th July.
Book at or 0800224 224

Q Theatre Fri 29 and Sat 30 August
Book here


Returning from a hugely successful tour of the USA, and ready to launch into Singapore next year, Kiss the Fish is once again weaving together its Balinese masked magic, ancient theatrics and modern pop culture – Freddy Mercury no less –  to captivate audiences on its home tour. Last year it sold out Q Theatre and cleaned up the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards, taking out “Best New NZ Play”, “Best Composer” and “Best Supporting Actress” of the year.

“Magical, funny, ironic, sad and beautiful, Kiss the Fish brought to the stage everything and more that we have come to expect from the Indian Ink Theatre Company” – Nelson Mail 2014

The winds of change are sweeping the sleepy island of Karukam. A new resort promises a brighter future for all until fate puts the hopes of the community in the hands of Sidu – the village idiot!   

Well known to audiences abroad and at home, Jacob Rajan (MNZM) heads an exceptional cast including accomplished actors; Nisha Madhan (Show Pony, Shortland Street, Blue Rose), Julia Croft (The Arrival, The Kick, Agent Anna) actor/comedian James Roque (AotearoHA Next Big Things, Titus) and award winning musician David Ward, under the direction of talented director Justin Lewis.

Indian Ink are currently working on an exciting new show that will be premiering in December of this year, and will undoubtedly follow its past hits to sell out success.

Kiss the Fish New Zealand Tour 2015:

Tauranga, Baycourt Theatre:  June 4 – June 6
Auckland, Q Theatre:  June 9 – June 14
Gisborne, War Memorial Theatre:  June 26 & June 27
Christchurch, Isaac Theatre Royal:  July 8 – July 10
Dunedin, Mayfair Theatre:  July 16 – July 18
Wellington, Hannah Playhouse:  July 22 – July 26


Q Theatre, Queen Street, Auckland CBD
Tuesday 9 June – Saturday 13 June
Evenings: Tuesday 9 June, 6.30pm &
Wednesday 10 June – Saturday 13 June, 8pm
Matinee: Saturday 13 June, 2pm
Tickets: $25 – $55 (Booking fees may apply)
Bookings through Q Theatre: or 09 309 9771

Hannah Playhouse, Cambridge Terrace, Wellington
Wednesday 22 July – Sunday 26 July
Evenings: Wednesday 22 July, 6.30pm &
Thursday 23 July – Saturday 25 July, 8pm
Matinee: Sunday 26 July, 4pm
Tickets: $25 – $55 (Booking fees may apply)
Bookings through Ticketek: or 0800 842 538

Jacob Rajan
Nisha Madhan
Julia Croft
James Roque

David Ward

Theatre , Physical , Mask , Comedy ,

Resounding applause

Review by Lena Fransham 23rd Jul 2015

Writer Jacob Rajan and writer/director Justin Lewis combine silliness, pathos and pressing discourse in this very human story, rendered with consummate team collaboration.

Those Balinese masks, crafted by Wayan Tanguuh, are just transfixing. John Verryt’s set innovation is notable: drapes of Indian fabric suggest cultural context, reveal and conceal, smoothly easing scene shifts. Cathy Knowsley’s lighting is effectively understated. Composer David Ward applies a rich live soundtrack from an array of instruments both modern and ancient, with cast members joining him from time to time in musical interludes.

Single father – of mute Grace (a puppet operated by Julia Croft) –

Sidu (James Roque) is a young man returned to his island home with his mute daughter Grace (a child-sized puppet operated by Julia Croft), abandoned by her mother. Sidu still dreams of the wide world and of being like Freddy Mercury but his father, or Bapa (Jacob Rajan), a rice farmer, expects him to help in the fields now that he is home. And Sidu’s sister Lakshmi (Nisha Madhan) complains of having to do lazy Sidu’s work.

Then along comes a wealthy Western capitalist, Kingsley (Rajan), intending to build a luxury resort. He offers to buy Bapa’s rice fields in order to supply the resort with water. Sidu and Lakshmi see glamorous possibilities open up in their futures. A hundred thousand US dollars! But Bapa, the old stick in the mud, won’t sell.

Although Sidu longs for a less provincial life, romance begins to blossom between him and local girl Daisy (Madhan) in an series of gorgeously gauche exchanges. But Daisy’s mother Kochima (Julia Croft) forbids them to marry. What if Sidu were made wealthy by Kingsley’s offer? Then perhaps he could marry Daisy.

Lakshmi continually dismisses the overtures of the lovelorn Fisherman (Rajan), who is so smitten with her that he has carved her face on his chest: not a gesture to charm every girl. In her opinion, he’s a dirty fisherman and she can’t understand a word he says. She goes and gets a job working for Kingsley, and gets to wear a flash uniform.

The allure of Kingsley’s American dollars is strong. But what is at stake? Slithering amongst the action is the manipulative Mr Govind), a creepy, grasping type whose mask recalls certain Dr Seuss characters and is fabulously exploited to comic effect by the astoundingly versatile Rajan.

Meanwhile, mute Grace observes her family’s antics. Her moments onstage have an uncanny, mesmeric quality; something magical happens in the projection of human qualities onto something not-quite human. I expect kids who play with dolls experience it all the time. This magic is present, too, in the way the cast inhabit their masks. While the masks are exquisitely expressive themselves, it takes some strong physical theatre skills to give these characters such humanity.

The only character it is impossible to empathise with is Grace’s American mother, Jasmine (Croft), a scathingly-rendered character who seems to consider everything, including motherhood, from the perspective of a tourist. She certainly evokes an ugly principle of colonialism and first world attitudes, although in contrast to the others in the story, there’s a savagery in her characterisation that is unredeemed.  

There is a pantomime feel to all this, with the caricatures and the toilet humour and the clever dialogic riffing off lyrics from Queen songs. But the story conveys a gravity and contemporary relevance in its evocations of some of the modes of modern colonialism, the threat of erosion of traditional cultures in the march of global capitalism, and the challenges of maintaining a meaningful way of life while navigating these realities.

The applause resounds for about five minutes. ‘Excellent show eh,’ says someone behind me, as the seats begin to empty. ‘First class,’ someone replies.


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The joke of human progress revealed

Review by Lindsay Clark 09th Jul 2015

It is far too long since we enjoyed the unpretentious charm of this brilliant company in Christchurch. Acclaimed for the freshness of their ideas and the polished assurance of their work with mask, the quotation on the front of the programme says it all and is therefore worth recording here: “We aim to make theatre that is beautiful, funny, sad and true. We go to the theatre to be transported by a great story and to enjoy characters who live large in our imaginations.” Kiss the Fish delivers on all counts. 

Four actors and a musician create a whole community of characters and their tangled tales. Small enough in themselves, woven together they make up a story about human life. This time, the masks, from Wayan Tanguuh, are in the Balinese comic tradition and the play is set on imaginary Blue Monkey Island, against fluid silk panels stitched together from a rich palette of sea and land. John Verryt’s set and costume design is at once subtle and striking.

Our self-proclaimed guide for the night is a fisherman, who bursts on to the stage to shoo away the group of monkeys which has suddenly appeared amongst us in the aisles, slipping across our seats and drawing us willingly into a strange new world. It is an island where old ways are threatened by change, where a luxury resort is already in place and tourism could provide the security fishing and crops barely sustain. 

The fisherman is poor but he has a gift, the fish, for the girl he loves. She is Lakshmi, daughter of Bapa, an aging rice farmer whose land has an enviable supply of fresh water. There is also a son, Sidu, reluctant to stay on the land, smitten in his turn by local girl Daisy. His wife has abandoned him and their small daughter, Grace (initially a wonderful puppet).

We understand more and more as rich land developer Kingsley, creepy resort owner Govind, Daisy’s stern mother Kochima, pompous priest Father John and Grace’s flighty American mommy Jasmine add their threads to the fabric of the play. All is motion and enchantment. The silk hangings billow as actors bring this or that piece of the world to view, enhanced by the musician (David Ward) at the side of the stage. His music and songs are at one with character and action.

Only afterwards is there time to register the accomplishment of four actors who can bring to such vivid life eleven characters, each so clearly defined, as well as playing scampering monkeys throughout the play.

Julia Croft plays Kochima, Jasmine and is the puppeteer for the child Grace, later a student headed away. In the other female roles, Daisy and Lakshmi, Nisha Madhan creates characters of much appeal and humour. 

Jacob Rajan is everywhere, and everywhere a delight. He contrasts the simple fisherman with charming entrepreneur rogue Kingsley, stubborn old Bapa, priestly Father John and seriously weird Govind. 

As Sidu, James Roque covers wide ground. He is the face of restless youth who comes in his time to face the truth of being in charge of the land and being a parent. In doing so, he brings a sense of completeness to the play. 

Along with its trademark humour, there are broad themes here of power, authority and the inevitability as well as the sadness of change, though the monkeys who finally claim the luxury resort (it is said to be haunted by Govind’s spirit), suggest that human ‘progress’ remains a bit of a joke when all is said and done.


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Delightfully entertaining team success

Review by Bronwyn Elsmore 10th Jun 2015

For me it’s the monkeys. I’ve always had this thing for monkeys – despite the fact that the first one I tried to cuddle, on an offshore Sumatran island, bit me; and the last time I encountered one, in Malaysia, it stole my glasses. The ones onstage in Kiss the Fish inhabit Karukam Island in a similar part of the world, so they’re related to my remembered macaques. And they’re just as fascinating, and menacing. In case they get out of hand, we’re warned at the beginning, the best policy when threatened is to run. I’m not far from an exit, but those creatures are mighty agile!

If monkeys don’t do it for you, there’s plenty more that might appeal. How about, Indian culture, Balinese art forms, tales of expectations of different generations or of tradition versus ‘progress’, music, even Freddie Mercury. The odd buffalo comes into the mixture too. Even pandas get a mention: watch out for them. Almost everything except fish. No, wait on, there’s a slippery tiddler near the beginning – hardly enough to deserve title billing, so that mystery’s still got me beat. That’s okay, though, because this is a comic tale that’s pantomime-like in both its extravagant vitality and accent on fun.

The storyline’s both simple and complex. Bapa, who loves his life on the padi field which barely supplies enough rice to keep food on the table (“if we had a table”), hates the Portuguese, the French, Chinese, and the Dutch. His son, Sidu, hates ploughing the field but loves Daisy who wears a dress that is “so last monsoon”. Bapa and his sister Lakshmi love Sidu’s daughter Grace.

Enter Mr Kingsley who loves money and needs Bapu’s water supply for his tourist development. Fisherman has his eye on Lakshmi. Govind, who is afflicted with every embarrassing medical complaint going, looks back with fondness on the time when he had a healthy sphincter. Somewhere along the way, throw in an American, Jasmine, who sings Que Sera Sera. A puppet child is resuscitated, and Daisy returns Sidu’s love with a passion, until…  Well, it’s sort of complicated!

They are all marvellous characters, but the real hit is Father John. Heaven only knows how a Catholic priest comes into the story (and a Indian called Daisy, for that matter) – but he does fit right in with the theme of love, hate and prejudice.

All parts are taken by only four actors – Julia Croft, Nisha Madhan, Jacob Rajan, and James Roque – and the acting of each is flawless throughout. Sometimes only seconds separates their switches between characters, and though a quick change of mask and costume alters the physical appearance, it is their adoption of different mannerisms and movement that sets each apart.

Of course, given the Indian component, there has to be song and dance, and each one of these is a treat. Julia Croft’s lovely voice does full justice to the lyrics, and the whole performance is underscored by musical commentary provided by award-winning musician David Ward.

If the storyline is a medley of traditions, so too is the theatrical vision. The set, by designer John Verryt, adapts the traditional stage-behind-curtains for a topless tent-like area of coloured silks, some of which are drawn across to facilitate movement from one scene to another. The side spaces are open so we see the comings and goings of characters, just as the music-maker is always on view at the side of the stage and is a full part of the action. Yet at the same time that much is revealed, the tradition of masks is retained.   

As a whole, the work challenges one’s expectations and often laughs at them as it does so.

Delightfully entertaining from start to finish, Kiss the Fish is a team success for the Indian Ink Theatre Company. Especially all those monkeys.


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Well worth the punt

Review by Emily Mowbray-Marks 06th Jun 2015

The husband and I have wrangled a friend from the neighbourhood babysitting co-op for a date night with a difference. We are driving through the black to Tauranga’s Baycourt Addison Theatre to experience Indian Ink’s Kiss The Fish.

What a warm feast for the senses and season this show is! 

Walking into the auditorium with what predominantly feels like a mix of tertiary, perhaps arts, students and a more ‘mature’ audience, I am struck by the patchwork of saris in turquoise, rust and saffron standing on the stage. A ‘homemade’ backdrop and wings, tied down with rough fishing ropes, within Baycourt’s more conservative black ones. 

A cluster of Asian instruments lies low on stage left. The Pakeha musician sitting in turban and organic pseudo meditation waits for the actors to begin. They enter with the house lights still up, and tertiary and mature chatter still bubbling. 

Masked monkeys karanga from the balcony, tumble down the stairs and send the audience into nervous and delighted laughter. Slowly the lights fade and Jacob Rajan’s first character, The Fisherman, begins our tale. 

Without reading the programme the story feels set on an Indian island, maybe somewhere near Goa, but a quality (perhaps the characters, perhaps their accents very occasionally droppings from Indian to Kiwi) makes me feel like it could be closer to home – maybe Fiji or Bali. Or possibly this is because these are the Polynesian and Asian islands I have visited so I’m imprinting this sunny theatre experience atop of those sensual times. 

It’s a love story with simple recognisable characters: the lovers; the miser; the fool turned hero; the fortune teller; the beauty; the wise one … Those archetypes found in soap operas and commedia dell’arte shows. 

There are four actors – two women (Nisha Madhan and Julia Croft) and two men (Jacob Rajan and James Roque) – who play 10 characters. They all wear (and I go to the programme now) Balinese (not Italian as with Krishnan’s Dairy) masks. Aha – perhaps this is where my location becomes oriented further south.

Then there is Grace. The puppet full of grace, a child who has lost her words with her mother’s departure, who tends to the rice paddies with her grandfather Bapa. The actors bend down to her gestures. I’m softened by the scenes when her father carries her small fine frame off stage, her gentle arms draped over manly shoulders. 

And the musician. The stand out features for me are the music, the colours, and the comedy the a-lot-of-the time toothy, sometimes grotesque, masked characters provide. 

What a collaboration between Justin Lewis (Director), Jacob Rajan (Writer/Actor) and David Ward (Composer, Musician)! I don’t know whose idea it was to use the music so holistically – but it is genius. Theatre meets film. The music works like a film soundtrack, sometimes foley artist (when David wraps and massages cloth around the microphone to produce ocean waves), and a band. The sounding gongs & gamelan seated on the floor transport me to exotic lands with warmer weather than my scarf on the seat next to me connotes. 

Whilst we are talking of seats we are sharing a very sociable row with an ex-farmer turned Dick Smith salesman, turned teacher with his walking stick – who proceeds to confess he has a lactose intolerance as I go for my almond magnum at half time. Is he the fellow responsible for the scent of flatulence wafting in hot bursts throughout the first half, adding to the experience of somewhere near Delhi?

He asks if I’ve seen any of Jacob’s shows before, as he came to Waikato University’s Kiss the Arts and loved it last year.  I confess I saw the first of the Indian Ink Collection – Krishnan’s Dairy – in 1999 and fell in love with the (then) musician. Stories within stories…

But back to the theatre in front rather than to the side of me…

The actors all do a very very fine job indeed. It’s a must for those secondary students studying Drama and probably Music. That buffalo song and that gong and that wobbling Rajan torso and Balinese arm movements. Wow. It’s difficult taking a risk, paying the equivalent of a dinner out, braving the rain and wind, finding a park and choosing an evening at the theatre. But my oh my, when we get to see skilled actors tell a well-crafted story, amidst beautiful fabrics such as a silk floor lit with the emerald green of rice fields, and curious music, it’s well worth the punt. 

There are two actors who stand out for me: Julia Croft and Jacob Rajan. I am transfixed with the fact Julia can be so invisible and ‘unwatchable’ when operating Grace the puppet and then command so much of my attention and be so breathtakingly beautiful when she plays Grace’s Mother – Jasmine.

And that Jacob. Magic. His foul character Govind: that white robe which shortens in the centre at the groin; those desperately uncomfortable (of the shadow) references to the tight sphincters of yesteryear, and testicular examinations. This villain plays moments after the Raymond Hawthorne-like gentleman Kingsley. To play (with) characters so convincingly, it reminds me of watching Madeline Sami. It’s like she channelled those characters in No. 2. Sigh.

I go on Facebook and give Tauranga friends a rark up to – GO SEE ‘KISS THE FISH’ TONIGHT. The more we ‘provinces’ go to these internationally acclaimed events and works of art, the more they return to grace us. GO SEE.


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Warmed by Indian sun, vitality and imagination

Review by David Stevens 26th Jul 2014

It is cold and dank outside the Forum North – what The Dutch call “water cold” – and I wonder, not for the first time, why the entrance has to be so unappealing; a few lights outside might brighten the place up before the wind tunnel that is the way to the Capitane Bougainville Theatre.

If my mood is somewhat winter grumpy, that changes within minutes of Kiss the Fish starting. Happily, the theatre is full and I soon have a great big smile on my face (initially charmed by a group of chattering monkeys), and I do not stop smiling for one second of the next two and a half hours. 

I have not read the program so I am not prepared in any way for the considerable trick that is to unfold before me. I am glad am unprepared because Kiss the Fish is the essence of what theatre is – or, at its best, what theatre can be – and the surprise of it is joyous and almost overwhelming.

All theatre is a deception and we are the willingly deceived (Coleridge once described it as “the willing suspension of disbelief”.) My brain – my conscious mind – might be fully aware that there aren’t really people suffering up there on the stage, that they are just actors, acting, but my heart keeps telling my brain that it is lying. 

This deception is the triumph of Kiss the Fish and at the curtain call I am genuinely shocked. For more than two hours I have watched the antics of a fully peopled Indian cast, and while my brain – my conscious mind – knew that there must have been doubling-up of parts, I am unready for the extent of it or the success of it. Four actors and a musician appear at the curtain call and I turn to my companion in shock. “There must be more,” I say, and immediately feel foolish because my brain reasserted itself.

I had been magnificently – and willingly – conned. 

Just four actors, a musician and a puppet have created this vibrant, engaging world that I have experienced. I don’t even tried to work out how they’ve done it, mostly because I don’t want to know. I am content they achieved it with such signal success.  

The evening was filled with pleasures for me and it still retains an air of mystery – the delight in the conjuror’s trick. I don’t want to engage my brain – I want to retain the joy that the con was, because at one point I was zoomed back decades in time when I was still a boy and theatre first worked its magic spell on me. I have been searching for that moment ever since, and finding it – or feeling it – again was like coming home.

Of course, I’m aware that it’s all a trick, my brain told me the company could not really be a dozen (at least) actors – they couldn’t afford ’em – but again, my heart tells my brain to shut up, because I don’t care. 

Along the way, extraordinary felicities occur and the puppet – the daughter, Grace, and her relationship with her animator – is one of them. I quickly become used to the idea that Julia Croft is ‘life’ for the puppet (and the bond seems absolute) and this pays off in the play’s most brutal moment, when Grace seems to die. The grief of Grace’s family is silently real (and I am moved) but when the animator comes to the doll, to Grace, and revives her to life, it seems like the natural order restored.

Almost like an Indian version of ‘commedia dell’arte’, the classical devices are lavishly on display: songs (including one I’d love to hear again), the masks (essential, I guess, to the lightning-fast character changes), the bawdy raucousness and the interplay with the audience (led by those beguiling monkeys). The fourth wall does not exist; the characters all express their innermost thoughts to each other and to the audience, and we are both the willingly deceived and the co-conspirators.

I do not try to separate the play from the performance, it would be like trying to tie down a rainbow, and perhaps that’s no bad thing, some plays ‘belong’ to their originating ensemble. The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage have never been so happy as at their home in Berlin. I don’t know how Indian Ink (the company here) functions, but I get from them not just a deep sense of the collective but of possessive ownership of the work. 

But a few aspects of the script deserve recognition. When Bapa dies, for example, the writer brilliantly throws some wild curve balls that save the play from sentimentality, Jasmine being not the least of them. Structurally, the play is on solid ground, and is even more secure with the characters, some dazzling pen portraits brought to vibrant life by the actors. 

All the actors merit praise. I love James Roque as Sidu, an unlikely hero and the only ‘solo’ characterisation in the piece, while Jacob Rajan’s quintet of beautifully (and individually) delineated characters are each a triumph. I shall not soon forget his intestinally challenged Govind and the laughs he gives me, or Bapa’s riotous rendition of ‘Buffalo Bell’. 

And it takes nothing away from those fine performances to say that the women almost – almost – steal the honours. Nisha Madham tip-toes deliciously but dangerously on the very precipice of caricature and never falls over, and Julia Croft (away from Grace) is a constant and delightful surprise, with a singing voice to raise the rafters. 

So it is that on a cold, dank Whangarei night I pass a couple hours warmed by Indian sun, by Indian vitality, by Indian imagination. I spend the evening with a bunch of silly, extravagant, recognisably human people (and a few monkeys) whom I shall never know but whom I count as an extraordinary pleasure to have met.


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Review by Karen Beaumont 19th Jul 2014

“Great fun,” “entertaining,” “clever” are just some of the comments to be heard on leaving the theatre.  The audience are abuzz, having thanked the performers with enthusiastic applause, foot stomping and a few standing ovations.  While I can agree with many of these sentiments, there are elements of the performance that, for me, are not quite so “cool.”  

The staging is beautiful in its simplicity.  The suspended silk curtains that allow for fluid scene changes are a rich vibrant quilt of colours that convey the warmth of the land we are about to be transported to.  The costumes are notable for their colourfulness and, at times clichéd character portrayal.  Balinese comic masks create these caricatures and give the actors free range to explore each character change. 

Four actors playing eleven roles between them calls for quick-fire entries, exits, and changes.  James Roque as Sidu aka Freddie Mercury sustains his character throughout, and wins the audience’s hearts with his at times sad and slightly naive story.  Nisha Madhan switches between Daisy and Lakshmi subtly and at times in such a way as to be unrecognisable.  Unfortunately, Lakshmi comes across too strongly at times and Madhan needs to tone down her volume to allow the words to carry.  

Julia Croft and Jacob Rajan both carry their numerous transitions with ease and give polished performances. 

David Ward’s music is a subtle blend of traditional and modern and unique sound effects; listen for the sounds of the sea to see what I mean.  The lyrical moments are cleverly balanced by the homage to Freddie Mercury, which consists of musical motifs and lyrics woven throughout the script.   

This is a fun, humorous play and the writers have worked hard to draw the serious threads through the comedy.  The jokes are sometimes familiar, sometimes risqué and full of innuendo but at times the slapstick becomes too much and the underlying messages lose their impact. 

Equally so, when Sidu’s wife arrives on the scene the main themes become bogged down and there are places where a little more paring would help sustain the pace and key elements of the story.

Having said that, the audience around me are obviously enjoying themselves.  They become a part of the story through their interactions with the actors and Dave, the enigmatic musician, which adds to the communal feeling and sense of involvement that is typical of the commedia conventions – also utilised in street theatre and pantomime – Kiss the Fish plays with so vividly.


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And yet we keep on laughing

Review by Gail Tresidder 10th Jul 2014

Is it the flapping fish that no-one seems to get a handle on, or perhaps the realistic monkeys, the endless chronicle of strange symptoms from hypochondriac Govind or just the whole crazy thing? Whatever, from the start a near-capacity audience is convulsed with laughter.

This marvellous nonsensical creation of Jacob Rajan, Justin Lewis and maestro musician David Ward, joined by the talented James Roque, Nisha Madhan and Julia Croft and the wooden puppet child Grace (skilfully handled by Croft) is pure Indian Ink magic. 

The carved wooden masks from Bali are not exactly pretty but do their job well, dramatically defining each of the characters.  Nelson people love masks – we have our own annual mask parade – and appreciate creativity.  This is clear in the way Jacob Rajan is venerated here.  We would like to claim him!

Perhaps we could just have him in the role of Father John (move over Rowan Atkinson) or if that would be too much to ask, as the impossible to understand, crazy with love, Fisherman.  In all his roles he excels. 

Sidu, on stage throughout, is touchingly portrayed by James Roque.  A little bit slow, a little bit dozy, a little bit confused, he still manages to dance in both Eastern and Western mode and give a fine interpretation of his hero Freddie Mercury [although it’s Croft who embodies the Mercury mask].  We care about him as he muddles through life, trying to please everyone, especially his love goddess, the alarmingly clothed Daisy who in one classic line describes her wildly floral dress as “so last monsoon”.    Madhan as Daisy and also as the shrill, mad as a snake, sister of Sidu, Lakshmi, is simply wonderful.

Croft has a sweet clear singing voice and her songs add another dimension to this play.  Her Jasmine, a vaguely mid-Atlantic accent sustained each time she changes roles from Indian Kochima to new arrival, is at first delighted with island life then comes face to face with that old dilemma – simple life vs city life, rice fields vs views of apartments and all the options this brings with them. The basic plot has wider implications: keep it simple and life-sustaining or go for the pot of gold and never mind the consequences.  And yet we keep on laughing. 

Cathy Knowsleys’ Lighting is sympathetic and apt but first prize in the Creative and Production department must go to John Verryt.  What a lot of fun he must have had, designing the quick-change costumes and the beautiful colourful set of floating silk curtains in luscious colours from turquoise through blue-grey, saffron, cream, coffee, amber and green.

In the end, though, it is the comic timing, the quick-fire deliveries, the even quicker role changes, which make this Kiss the Fish the wonder it is.


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Satisfying tale with beguiling simplicity

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 30th Jun 2014

The Opera House stage hasn’t been dressed in such wonderful colours in a long time. Multihued sari material has been made into a backdrop of curtains, a patchwork of Indian vibrancy. 

It is the backdrop for Blue Monkey Island. “So National Geographic,” says the one non-Indian character, an American, who doesn’t have to put up with the poverty and the grind of getting enough food to eat. She has other ideas, however, about the pesky monkeys.

Indian Ink, Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan’s theatre company, has made its reputation for excellence with its productions that are performed using puppetry (remember the duck?), masks, dance, slapstick, mime, and song to tell simple stories, in this case a modern folk tale, with wide appeal. They have many elements of an English pantomime.

The basic story of Kiss the Fish takes the familiar themes of progress versus tradition, the complications of love, and the ties of family life. It is a story told with a beguiling simplicity, at times comic, at times touching, always surprising.

A poor rice farmer is offered a large amount of money for some land and water rights by Kingsley, a rich Dutch entrepreneur, who wants to build a luxury holiday resort. The rice farmer refuses the offer because he hates the Dutch and in fact all foreigners.

There are four actors who play the eleven characters with great verve as two (?) of them do as monkeys. The masks make it hard to tell who plays the monkeys but they are really quite scary when they simply stand and stare menacingly at the audience.

The fifth member of the cast is the musician (David Ward) who sits at the side of the stage throughout surrounded by a collection of instruments which he plays with consummate skill. He also reacts with sly comic skill to the events of the story, particularly when he is photographed as “local colour”.

So hats off to Julia Croft, Nisha Madhan, James Roque and Jacob Rajan (whose Catholic priest, Father John, is a marvellous characterisation) for providing yet another piece of technology-free theatrical magic.


#boomerview July 2nd, 2014

Perception of theatre technology is subjective.

- Stuff you grew up with is part of the craft of modern storytelling.

- Stuff employed by younger generations is gimmicky, obtrusive and inauthentic.

- Stuff that harks back to before your own era is charming, magical and refreshingly pure. 

helen varley jamieson July 1st, 2014

It may have appeared "technology-free", but if it really was nobody would have seen very much, & perhaps not heard so well either. To light mask well takes skill and quite a lot of technology, as does getting a balanced sound mix. Please don't forget the invisible technicians, without whom Indian Ink would not be able to produce their technologically-seamless theatrical magic!

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Timeless yet topical tale told through richly exquisite ‘fusion theatre’

Review by John Smythe 27th Jun 2014

All living things develop, grow, progress … and die. That is a fact of life. The peasant farmer dances within the cycles of nature and struggles to maintain equilibrium in order to survive. The commercial developer exploits available resources to achieve maximum profit within the shortest possible time, although the astute operator does work towards long term sustainability.

But the forces of nature and financial markets can be ruthless and are beyond the control of any individual. It is amid these eternal quandaries tossed in the tides of fortune that tiny Karukam Island bobs, trying to have a bob both ways, with its farmers and fishermen eking out a living alongside The Resort.

Lithely embodied by Jacob Rajan, Nisha Madhan, Julia Croft and James Roque, the ruthlessly self-interested forces of nature are exemplified in the Monkeys, which roam free (albeit within their own restrictive hierarchies, we assume) and about which there are rules to keep us safe, according to our Fisherman host (Rajan). Their arrival via the auditorium proves a delightful warm-up for the fun to come with Indian Ink’s Kiss the Fish, and their reappearance throughout adds a portentous tone.  

The aging rice farmer, Bapa (Rajan), needs his son to plough the last field to ensure the next crop is sufficient but buck-toothed Sidu (Roque) hates his job, is given to quoting Freddie Mercury songs ( “I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me”… etc) and dreams of escaping, getting a band together and living the high life.

Sidu is also the solo father of Grace (a puppet made by Annie Forbes and Tim Denton, and operated by Croft) whose muteness is attributed to the departure of her globe-trotting American mother, Jasmine.

Sidu’s sister Lakshimi (Madhan) seems more resigned to her lot in life until the Dutch developer Henry Kingsley (Rajan) – who is keen to acquire Bapa’s water rights in order to develop Karukam Island as an ecologically sustainable tourism paradise – butters her up by declaring she has just the sort of entrepreneurial vision his enterprise needs. But Bapa won’t sell: “I hate the Dutch!”  

Buck-toothed Daisy (Madhan) is full of brightness and aspires to marrying Sidu but her mother Kochima (Croft) is not at all keen on the match, thinking she can do better. Which brings us to the Resort owner, Govind (Rajan), who is rather alarmingly preoccupied with nether regions and the increasing infirmities of his internal organs.

The ubiquitous presence of the Roman Catholic Church in remote climes appears in the person of Father John (Rajan) and the attitude of New Age Amercians to exotic cultures is brilliantly satirised in the surprise return of Jasmine (Croft).

It is, of course, the commedia masks, beautifully hand-carved from wood in the Balinese style by Wayan Tanguuh that (along with the puppet) allow the highly skilled quartet of actors to bring the 11 characters and their stories to life with a delightful simplicity that belies the many hours undoubtedly spent discovering their essential qualities and quirks, abetted by director and theatrical alchemist Justin Lewis. (Just contemplating the logistics of who can be on stage with whom in any given scene, let alone how, when, and where an actor will be able to change from one to another, is mind-bending in itself.)

Designer John Verryt’s festive arrangement of Indian silk curtains and array of definitive costumes enable the seamless transitions and let us in on just enough of the technology to enhance the theatrical magic of the evolving action. Cathy Knowsley’s lighting unobtrusively illuminates and draws our attention in just the right way.

As ever, Dave Ward’s musical compositions and on stage musicianship are an essential ingredient, and the interplay between him and the actors adds to the meta-theatrical fun.   

James Roque claims the central role of Sidu with alacrity, enhancing it with the skills he has developed as a comedian by fearlessly interacting with the audience and playing off their responses. Nisha Madhan contrasts the stolid Lakshimi with the flighty Daisy so well it’s hard to credit the same actor has brought them both to life.  

Julia Croft’s extraordinary physical skills are apparent from the moment her Monkey clambers down the seat backs of the Opera House’s stalls without ruffling a hair of any patron. Her Kochima is as severe as her Jasmine is air-headed. Rooted as she is in perceptions and values all of us will recognise, sometimes with embarrassment, I find the round-cheeked, flouncy-haired and sublimely opinionated Jasmine the most surprising, satirically powerful and memorable character. What’s more, Croft – as Jasmine – has a superb singing voice. And in a ‘some years later’ coda (similar to the end of Krishnan’s Dairy) she appears unmasked as the grown-up Grace, effectively bridging the exotically theatrical with the ‘real world’.

Holding it all together in a quintet of roles is the master mask-artist Jacob Rajan. His Fisherman is classically roguish and Father John is an imposing presence as he dispenses his authoritarian brand of patriarchal compassion. But it is the subtle nuances he finds in his three elderly characters that leave the most lasting impression: the lifetime of toil that burdens Bapa; the strutting arrogance of Kinsley undercut with an ineffable loneliness; the compulsive sleaze of Govind infused with a growing awareness of his own mortality. Rajan also adds spice to the mix with a naughty vaudeville song. 

While the well-wrought script by Rajan and Lewis ensures the two hours (plus interval) delivers much more than a display of performance skills, it is the performances that shine. Seasoned with mime, shadow-play and song along with the brilliant mask work, Kiss the Fish offers a treasure-trove of comedy, near tragedy, satire and pathos to enriching this timeless yet topical tale.  

The resolution is not simplistic, given “how complex the issues of development are,” as Lewis notes in the programme. In the process of research, he “saw a lot of people making a better life and a lot of people left behind.” As such it stands as a mature meditation on a very real world.

Indian Ink plans to take Kiss the Fish to the USA (along with The Guru of Chai). As a New Zealand-made play set on a fictional island that blends elements of south-west India with Malaysia and uses contemporary Balinese masks in the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition, Kiss the Fish is exquisite ‘fusion theatre’ that should please the palate of any theatre-goer anywhere.


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Safety with monkeys

Review by Simon Wilson 17th Sep 2013

Monkeys appear in the back of the auditorium, watching us, reaching up tentatively to the balcony, loping down towards the stage. In those monkeys, in those first moments, you get everything that’s wonderful about this show, and also one of the things that’s disappointing.

What’s wonderful? The beautiful, expressive craftwork in the masks, made by Wayan Tanguuh. The languid, precise movement of bodies behind the masks. The ability of those things, and the lovely music of David Ward, to transform us to another place and another way of thinking, and to open our minds and hearts to the marvel of a story well told. The monkeys take the stage, they join the musician, there’s a song, and away we go.

It’s utterly charming, and as this long show continues there will be many more moments to reinforce that charm. [More]


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Head and heart clash in sweet, wise love story

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 16th Sep 2013

Indian Ink’s magical new show embodies qualities that make us proud to be Kiwis.

The magic of Indian Ink returns after a period of international touring with a new work that has the shrewdness of fable combined with the sweetness of a pop song. 

Kiss the Fish is a comic love story of epic proportions set in a battlefield where the preservation of traditional culture comes up against the ravenous demands of economic development.

The show pays homage to Balinese comic mask traditions with a bizarre menagerie of exotic characters peering out at us from beneath exquisitely carved wooden masks. [More]


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A fish worth kissing

Review by Sharu Delilkan 15th Sep 2013

The foyer of Q Theatre was like a Who’s Who of Auckland’s theatre industry last night – alive with anticipation of Indian Ink Theatre Company’s opening night of Kiss the Fish.

Just like the masks that are used in the majority of Indian Ink’s shows, where no two are alike, we knew we were about to witness a show with the elements of Indian Ink trademark such as humour, puppetry, and an emotional journey but we also knew it would be unlike anything we’ve seen from them before. And it definitely was.

With not an empty seat in the house, the fun started with a Planet of the Apes-like beginning, with Dave Ward’s signature percussive music drawing us gently into the imaginative world of Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan’s new creation. [More]


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The fusion and cohesion of a good curry

Review by Nik Smythe 15th Sep 2013

Indian Ink’s newest play incorporates many elements with which their work has become synonymous: mask, puppetry, shadow play, dance, physical comedy and, of course, music.  All is contained within a convoluted story simply told by a humble yet cheeky fisherman known to all as ‘Fisherman’, one of co-writer Jacob Rajan’s five roles (six if you include the monkey). 

Joined by a small but powerful cast to flesh out the other numerous characters, the script by Rajan and director Justin Lewis is essentially a classic folk tale about life on a small Indian island, where humble rice farmers struggle to proudly maintain their simple lifestyle in the face of their affluent, powerful neighbours’ fiscally driven push for progress. 

The pidgin vernacular of the island folk, along with their simple, clear movements and exquisite character-defining facial masks, make for a wholly playful, child-like form of presentation. 

The only performer in a singular role (other than his monkey), James Roque is Sidu, a well-meaning but lazy would-be farm labourer whose upbringing in westernised society clearly has not prepared him for the rigours of the land on which their very survival depends.  He’s more drawn to spending time with his mute daughter Grace (a charming wooden puppet, controlled predominantly by Julia Croft), who has not spoken since her mother abandoned her and Sidu, and they came to live on the island to work for his father, Bapa (Rajan), in his rice field.

Nisha Madhan adroitly represents two roles (plus a monkey) pivotal to Sidu’s tale: Lakshmi, the practical, unsentimental sister, and Daisy, the romantic would-be sweetheart.  Besides Grace, Croft also plays Kochima, Bapa’s family’s neighbour and Daisy’s embittered mother, and Grace’s insufferably self-centred American mother, Jasmine, whose sudden arrival, just as the story looks about to tie up neatly, causes a whole second act. 

The main narrative concerns Dutch entrepreneur Henry Kingsley, whose ambitious project to build a luxury tourist resort on the island requires the acquisition of all the surrounding neighbours’ water supplies.  At first, Sidu and Lakshmi are excited and keen to sell up but the poverty-curing plan is foiled by the stubborn pride of the land’s owner, Bapa, whose refusal to accept Kingsley’s generous offer is wholly based on his racist contempt for the Dutch (also Portuguese, Chinese, et al).  

Proceeding from there, the story deftly interweaves a number of convoluted subplots with many a twist, some predictable, some surprising.  The ostensibly traditional mask-theatre style is seasoned throughout with Western elements, notably multiple lyrical excerpts from the extensive canon of Freddie Mercury (who spent his childhood and formative years in India, did you know?). 

The ‘fourth wall’ is routinely broken to acknowledge the presence of the audience, as well as consummate resident composer and chief musician David Ward, seated unobtrusively down stage left among his collection of drums, gongs, keyboards and string instruments. 

The quintessential qualities of Ward’s appealing songs and punctuating soundscape cannot be understated.  Nor can John Verryt’s ingeniously simple set (movable patchwork curtains before a larger patchwork backdrop) and post-trad costume design, which in turn are exponentially glorified in the unassumingly spectacular lighting design by Cathy Knowsley.

The most remarked-upon visual production element – besides the Grace puppet, constructed by Annie Forbes and Tim Denton – is, of course, the gorgeous array of masks fashioned by Wayan Tanguuh.  Impressively striking in their own right, the respective caricatures inform the actors to the point where, again forsaking deeper inspection, one could be forgiven for thinking the cast is three times bigger than in actuality. 

The many potentially disparate stylistic elements fuse together so that, all analysis aside, the narrative flows with a natural cohesion, both amusing and poignant. The multiple tasty ingredients and seasonings come together just so, like a good curry.

The elements of pathos fall short of reducing me to tears as previous Indian Ink productions have done.  However, given this is the company’s first premiere I’ve been privileged to witness, I fully expect the cathartic impact to emerge in the ensuing performances, which one hopes will be many and widespread. 

Meanwhile, the two-and-a-half-our epic is affecting enough, and altogether most satisfying entertainment.


Michael Smythe September 21st, 2013

Just caught up with this tasty red herring ...

One's view of whether a curry metaphor might suggest assimilation would depend upon one's ability to distinguish ingredient flavours and textures. As Rajen Prasad said when explaining the value of diverstity over assimilation. "We need a salad, not a soup!"

John Smythe September 21st, 2013

Delicious repast? Quite possibly. Delicious riposte? Most definitely!

Moody Hikmet September 21st, 2013

I have returned only to once again point out that Mr John Smythe is not giving curry its due credit.

While it's true that some curries are great, there is also an abbundance of bad curries. Seeing as Nisha's comment was left at 12:00am (a time most people go to sleep), and Mr Smythe responded at 8:34am (a time most people have breakfast), I highly doubt that Mr Smythe would have had the time to not only gather these ingredients, but also cook them and eat them sometime between the hours of midnight and 8:30am (assuming it took him about 4 minutes to write his four worded reply).

Now, my issue is that Mr Smythe has called Nisha's curry "delicious". On what basis is it exactly delicious, Mr Smythe? Is it because you actually made it and tried it (highly doubtful as explained above), or is it because you have a keen sense for understanding how curries come together (also highly unlikely, otherwise you would be a redeemed curry chef), or could it be that it was because the curry recipe (an Indian dish) was given to you by Nisha (an Indian person), so you just naturally assumed that it was delicious because you live under the misconception that Indian people must just be good at making curries?

Again, Mr Smythe. I think you are oversimplifying not just the curry dish, but also the Indian people on the whole. Please check your privelige. It's 2013, maybe it's time you put your 20th century ideals behind you.

-Moody Hikmet

John Smythe September 17th, 2013

Thank you Nisha - delicious!

Nisha Madhan September 17th, 2013

Here's a good curry:

(serves 6-8)

1 whole chicken, carved (use the carcass for the chicken stock)

1 tbsp tumeric powder

5 cloves finley chopped garlic

5 cm piece of ginger, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 1/2  tbsp toasted cumin seeds

Chilli flakes (to your liking)

4-5 potatoes, chopped in the 3cm chunks

400g can of crushed tomatoes

1 1/2 cups fresh chicken stock (I make mine with the carcass while resting the chicken pieces in tumeric before cooking)

1 tsp salt

Fresh chopped coriander to garnish

- Toss chicken pieces in tumeric to coat and rest.

- Heat oil over moderate heat. Add garlic, ginger, onion, cumin seeds and chilli flakes.  Brown gently for 10 mintues until soft.

- Add chicken and friy till coloured all over.

- Add potatoes, tomatoes, stock and salt.  Mix well and bring to a boil.

- Cover and simmer for 20 mintues or until potatoes are just cooked.

- Uncover and simmer for about 5-8 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.

- Stand for 5 minutes. Chuck a bunch of fresh chopped coriander on top and serve with rice, plain, unsweetened yoghurt amd a cold Kingfisher.

We're on until October 5th. Hope to see you there.

John Smythe September 16th, 2013

Jacob Rajan has emailed the following message and texted permission for me to publish it:

Hi John,

Just caught up with this. It's hilarious! No, I'm not offended. I'll be offended if we don't sell tickets off such a great review.


John Smythe September 16th, 2013

Of course I'm familiar with 'curry muncher' as an insulting term, Adam, but it only gives the ignoramuses that use such terms more power than they deserve for us to outlaw all references to curry as a result. We have explained over and over its clear contextual meaning in the review and I stand by its validity absolutely.

nik smythe September 16th, 2013

Works of art are often described as having a certain 'flavour'.  That's all I meant.

I'm comfortable enough with my own ethos to have the confidence to assume what I say is 'alright', as you put it.  I am always willing to consider any challenger's point to see whether I need to reassess my values.  In this instance, I'm not convinced.

Adam Goodall September 16th, 2013

John, thanks for your response. I'm incredulous that you've never encountered the slur 'curry muncher' or its variants in your time and I'm confused that you assume there is no historical baggage whatsoever in equating Indian art and cultural perspectives with 'curry', especially when you do it because it's the first Indian thing readers think of. However, I note that you've contacted Indian Ink, and as I said, it is not my place to challenge their perspective on this. I will wait for them to weigh in and leave them as the final word (if they wish to respond; if not, I leave this here).

John Smythe September 16th, 2013

Excuse me for being thick but can someone please explain to me when and why the term 'good curry' became pejorative? Adam, I think your charges against Nik are unfounded. He is simply explaining where he was coming from, in good faith. It is you who seems to be demanding everyone should see things as you do.

I happily admit to being old enough to have participated first-hand in the social revolutions that raised our consciousness of racism, sexism, et al, and I think I am reasonably well attuned to what is and is not racist – although we must, of course, be ever vigilant. I also well recall an age where I was hypersensitive, on behalf of 'minorities', to imagined insults – which was, in itself, a form of cultural arrogance.

Once more I take responsibility to elevating the curry metaphor beyond the status Nik had given it. As to its relevance to the play, thanks for clarifying that, Matt. Nevertheless, I might well have accepted a ‘good gumbo’ metaphor in a review about New Orleans jazz whether or not gumbo was on its menu. Or ‘good stew’ for a thematically complex Irish play. In this case ‘good curry’, in the context in which it is used, points to a rich complexity of content brought into exquisite balance and I cannot, therefore, see what is ‘lazy’ about that.

Anyway, I have emailed Indian Ink for a response and hope there will be one.

Matt Baker September 16th, 2013

First of all, John, thanks for addressing the points I raised. I really appreciate the consideration you take in responding to your readers’ comments as opposed to reacting to what you condone as their ad hominem opinions. Just a great attitude for an editor. Secondly, I’m not offended. Offensive is taken, not given. I simply believe that the metaphor was pointless in regards to the actual work because the show had NOTHING to do with curry. And no, of course I wouldn’t be offended if it had been likened to other ‘whatever’. But why the fuck would you compare it to a good gumbo, stew, etc? It would be completely nonsensical to do so. Unless of course the metaphor you use is directly related to the production. In this case, it wasn’t. It was a stereotypical relation to the ethnicity of the company. Also, it’s not up to someone to prove the offense of the metaphor to you. Offense is personal. And no one is asking you to remove it. They’re simply addressing the, as Adam pointed out, lazy comparison.

Adam Goodall September 16th, 2013

Nik - with all due respect, as a New Zealand European man reviewing theatre, you don't get to make the call about those boundaries because they're not yours to set. They're not mine either, and if Indian Ink feel that the metaphor fits their work, then it's not my position to argue with that and it's not my position to challenge that. I think generally, though, you're presuming that because you think it's fine, that means it's fine, end of discussion. That's not how it works; as New Zealand Europeans, we don't get to say 'this is how I speak about other cultures and if you don't like it you can rack off'. That's discussing other cultural perspectives from a position of privilege, it puts the onus on the people who are affected by your language to directly challenge you (not a cool thing to do in any situation) and it dismisses their own views of what's sensitive and appropriate by saying "well I think this is appropriate and you'll have to deal with that". 

And I will note that despite all of this, it still hasn't actually been shown that the metaphor has any thematic or narrative connection to Kiss The Fish other than the story being an Indian one. If that is the case (and Nik, your edit suggests that), that's directly admitting that you chose that metaphor because it was the easiest way to connect the audience with the story being an Indian one. That is lazy, and that is directly engaging the historical baggage of equating Indian culture and cultural perspectives with 'curry', whether you intended it or not.

Difficult Lemon September 16th, 2013

Adam's comment is great, totally agree with it.  Its important to hold people accountable for when their choice of casually racist language undermines an otherwise really good review.

nik smythe September 16th, 2013

I rather like curry, as the adjective 'good' confirms.  I had intended the metaphor as a compliment.    I recognise the debate regarding the danger of 'positive stereotypes', but we must have our own boundaries for where a cultural reference ends and a belittling stereotype begins.  On my own scale I don't believe my reference to be the latter.  I will certainly apologise to any member of the Indian Ink company if they feel in any way derided by my analogy.

Regarding the assertion that it's a 'lazy' metaphor, I see it more as an 'easy' one.  Whilst Indian curry is well known to be of Indian origin, it's readily available in our own community so I expect most people who read it would be able to relate to it.

Adam Goodall September 16th, 2013

John, there's a difference between Jacob Rajan making a play about an Indian dairy owner and, say, Hank Azaria playing the same. It comes down to the cultural history behind the representations and the people creating the representations, the political and social context in which the representations are made. It's disappointing that you don't get that.

Adam Goodall September 16th, 2013

John, acknowledging that it's more sensitive and generally better to engage with a work on terms that don't stereotype its cultural perspective isn't 'assimilationist' or 'separatist', and it's pretty ludicrous to assume that being mindful of your position as a New Zealand European man reviewing theatre that tells an Indian story constitutes separatism. It's also generally better to avoid comparing Indian theatre to a curry when New Zealand and other Western countries have a storied history of negatively stereotyping Indian people by referencing that very food and negatively linking it with their cultural identity. The metaphor isn't 'playing with cultural diversity' - it's using a lazy touchstone of Indian stereotyping to make a point, as Moody's pretty great post satirises. Would you make this metaphor when reviewing a Thai or Japanese co-production?

John Smythe September 16th, 2013

I was assuming, Matt, you wouldn’t have been offended if the blendings in Kiss the Fish had been likened to a good gumbo, stew, boil up, fruit cake, muesli, cocktail … whatever. And now I see it is the stereotyping implicit in the reference to curry that upsets you. Right. I see. Yes. That would be about as bad as making a play about an Indian dairy owner. Oh, wait …   

If someone can prove to me that the curry similie-cum-metaphor is offensive, I will remove it. Meanwhile I feel as though I am trapped in a sequel to the Monty Python v ABC Network court case in No Naughty Bits, for which I am attempting to complete a review …

Matt Baker September 16th, 2013

Also, you say that we are “denying us all the right to celebrate and play with cultural diversity”. So, if I was to use a negative cultural referencing metaphor, and for arguments sake let's say it directly reflects the plot, in regards to, for example, a German theatre company with a comment such as, “Unfortunately, the play’s absence of heart in relation to its protagonists demise is to be expected from a culture that came up with the final solution," I would not be associated with any stereotyping or racism because I was celebrating cultural diversity? If not, does that mean that Nik’s comment is free of stereotyping or racism only because it’s positive?

Matt Baker September 16th, 2013

Sorry, John, I don't undersand the "either is much more offensive to [you]" comment. Isn't the integration of the curry metaphor an assimilationist perspective?

John Smythe September 16th, 2013

OK, so here’s how it happened. Nik did not mention the curry metaphor in his review but offered the headline, “Many tasty ingredients, seasoned just so like a good curry.” I, as editor, thought that was a good way of summing up how all the disparate components came together as a coherent and satisfying whole.

But I am loath to use headlines that do not reflect the substance of the review. So after his “The many potentially disparate stylistic elements fuse together so that, all analysis aside, the narrative flows with a natural cohesion, both amusing and poignant,” I added: “The multiple tasty ingredients and seasonings come together just so, like a good curry.”

I therefore accept full responsibility for ‘over-egging the pudding’, if that culinary metaphor does not offend someone else’s cultural sensibilities.

And I say to anyone who thinks it is not appropriate to use the ‘good curry’ metaphor to honour the skill with which an essentially Indian play with multiple ingredients is crafted that you are denying us all the right to celebrate and play with cultural diversity. I can’t quite work out whether you come from a separatist or assimilationist perspective but either is much more offensive to me.

Adam Goodall September 16th, 2013

Echoing the general confusion and frustration at the simile and the metaphor comparing an Indian Ink show about life on a small Indian island to a 'good curry'. As Matt says, nothing in the review suggests this is on point or relevant to the actual show and it really gives the impression that the (lazy) comparison was made because, well, Jacob Rajan is Indian and is telling an Indian story. If that's not racist, then at the very least it's culturally insensitive, lazily trading on stereotypes to make a point that could've been expressed in so many other ways.

Matt Baker September 16th, 2013

I have to agree with Eli. Metaphors are great. I use them frequently in my review titles to try to reflect my overall opinion of a show, however, I don’t understand the reference to curry in regards to this production. Was curry a theme, or motif, or integral plot point to the narrative? Apparently not. So why mention curry? Because it’s an Indian company?

Jamaine Ross September 16th, 2013


I'm going to have to very strongly disagree with your insinuation that people who haven't experienced racism are unable to identify and comment on it. In fact, I think it's important that people in the majority ARE identifying and commenting on racism.

Imagine if during the Civil Rights movement in the USA, every single white person who didn't think African-Americans were inferior went, "Well I'm not qualified to understand this so I better stay out."

Laszlo Kovacs September 16th, 2013

It is good that, as a white man, you are so qualified to discuss what is and isn't racism, seeing as it is such a continuing presence in your life.

Moody Hikmet September 16th, 2013

Hey Eli,

I'll just have you know that there are more curries than just Indian ones. For example, there are many great Japanese curries, and Thai curries which you have rudely ignored. Ironically, while calling out someone on making a somewhat generalised and racist comment, you too have made a racist comment. By not listing a decent representation of different countries that all boast their own curries, you have given a somewhat of a monopoly of attention to India. Have you had a Japanese curry before? They're great! I don't care much for Thai, but I totally give them the respect of acknowledgement (see? that's how you disagree with cuisine based on race in a non-racist manner).

I hope you check your curry privelige, and Korma to terms with the fact that Naan of what you said was very PC or nice.


John Smythe September 16th, 2013

In what way to you construe the curry metaphor to be racist, Eli? I am bemused.

Eli Matthewson September 16th, 2013

Hi there,

When you say the show comes together like a good curry - do you mean like a good vindaloo, or a good korma? Just could use a bit more specificity in your racist metaphor.



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Includes “the best theatre I have seen all year”

Review by Mark Houlahan 14th Aug 2013

For years Indian Ink have graced Hamilton with their works-in-progress, trialling shows in late rehearsal phases, effectively, before performing say in Auckland or Wellington and then touring overseas. The show I saw will likely change, though not completely. In this phase, Indian Ink are very open to commentary. A friend of mine emailed some strong comments, for example, and received a very gracious reply.

The Tuesday night show then played to an almost full house, with a large contingent of High School drama students relishing a special blend of music and costume, of fantasy and overt playing to and with the audience. In the second half these young theatre goers began to fidget a little in their seats (we were seated just behind them), but the last sections of the show held them spellbound, and rightly so. This struck me as an unusual example of a newly devised piece which gathers strength, rather than losing invention towards its end. Perhaps there we see the true heart of the story Kiss the Fish wants to tell.

The story is hard to summarise. In essence a contemporary development story entwines with a love and marriage story. Should Bapa sell the water source to a tourist development, and give up farming rice forever? But what would he then do? Eventually his children must decide, but to sell or not to sell divides them.

His no good son, Sidu, ably played by James Roque, develops strength in the rice fields and certainly has his moments. What will happen to him? Will he live with his American wife and the mother of his child, Grace? Or will he marry Daisy, the village sweetheart?

We think we know this story, but Kiss the Fish will surprise you. Daisy is also courted by the grotesquely rich, high caste old man, Govind. He will keep Daisy in wealth, but his prostate and his sweaty palms may be too much for her. Govind is one of the best of Jacob Rajan’s own impersonations. The masks used here come from the Balinese Tapeng tradition, but European theatre knows this character as Dottore, the ridiculous aged suitor from commedia.

I cannot tell you what the choice is, but the moment of choosing made me hold my breath and lean forward intensely to see how it would unfold. The ecology of modernisation versus the values of the old merge with the ecology of the heart. Here Indian Ink amply fulfil their ambition to “make theatre that is beautiful, funny, sad and true.”

In this show you see not just Rajan in several masks, but three other actors as well. Rajan’s skill at brining life through the grotesque mask is remarkable, but here Nisha Madhan is his equal. She plays Daisy the bride to be, Lakshmi the put upon sister and, most brilliantly, one of the monkeys on the island. When she plays music in the monkey mask, when she lollops to the forestage and just looks at you, she really is a monkey. The school group in front were freaked by this uncanniness; Madhan must have been doing something right.

A striking addition to the cast is a puppet of the daughter, life size, and wielded mostly by Julia Croft, with some assistance. This is done with such skill that you truly believe Grace is alive. She does not speak but you know what she is thinking. At the climax of the play Grace is in peril at sea; your heart stops and the show shifts to another dimension. At that point I felt that what will emerge from this evolving process is a powerful, engaging entertainment, brilliantly combining masks and puppets, as always with David Ward as the supreme musician, but one who is in complete empathy with what is happening on stage. 

In its current form the show takes perhaps a little long to reach this emotional payoff. Perhaps the story needs that much space to breathe along the way. Perhaps director Justin Lewis and his co-writer Rajan will choose to trim and taper it more finely towards that point. The last half hour though, is the best theatre I have seen all year.


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