A fish worth kissing [by Sharu Delilkan]
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.
Set on ‘Karukam Island’ a mythical tropical paradise of everyone’s dreams, the story centres around Sidu (James Roque) who yearns to escape his slow paced life. Sidu only realises his family’s fate lies in his hands when their traditions are threatened by the imminent development of an eco resort on the island.
Alongside performer extraordinaire Rajan it was refreshing to see the addition of Nisha Madhan (Show Pony, Shortland Street), Julia Croft (Paper Sky, The Arrival) and James Roque (F.O.B., Titus) on stage – all of whom put in deft performances with fine comic timing and movement around the stage and audience. Madhan’s portrayal of Lakshmi and the simple country girl Daisy were standouts as were all of Rajan’s characters – Fisherman, Kingsley, Bapa, Father John and Govind. Croft’s skilled puppetry of Sidu’s daughter Grace and her amazing depiction of Sidu’s estranged wife Jasmine can only be described as vilely condescendingly accurate. However, I must admit I was not as convinced by her portrayal of Daisy’s mother Kochima, particularly with regards to her accent. Something I assume will fix itself given the long season at Q.
And in true Indian Ink tradition award winning musician Ward formed the backbone of the entire show, giving it added texture. And I particularly liked the breaking of the ‘third-and-a-half-th wall’ by the characters when acknowledging the always-deadpan Ward with lines such as “Take it away Dave”.
It is important to note the diverse cross-section of ethnicities that the show represented including India, Malaysia, The Philippines and of course New Zealand – making it a great slice of Auckland’s melting pot.
The chemistry between Rajan and Madhan was magical and both of them seemed very at home in the chaos of Karukam Island – something I’d like to see more of in future Indian Ink productions.
Roque’s larger than life character of Sidu as the lead anchored the show nicely and the mixed phrasing of old and new, Indian and Western, urban and rural, had the audience in stitches. And Sidu’s Freddie Mercury-isms and Queen references had the crowd in Bohemian Rhapsody throughout.
Justin Lewis’ direction was spot on as always. His ability to breathe new life into the worlds of puppetry and Balinese comic mask is a sight to behold.
Indian Ink’s uncanny ability to combine pathos and humour definitely shines through in Kiss the Fish. All the signature elements of an Indian Ink production were evident with fabulous original music, silly songs, masks, drama, sadness, nods to the crowd, love, loss and clashes of cultures. However in terms of the storyline, I feel a little bit more work to tighten and clarify the long and winding plot lines in the first half would have elevated the show from the winning 9 to a perfect 10. I found the second half more enjoyable because I finally had a handle on rich tapestry of storytelling drama and song that are the hallmark of Indian Ink’s original shows. At first I thought, “It must be because I’m a little daft” but talking to a range of people at the after party I realised that I was not alone in this sentiment.
That being said I thoroughly enjoyed the show. John Verryt’s colourful effective set comprising fabrics/sarees draped in a curtain-like fashion in the background worked really well to set the stage and to give the performers a great way to enter and exit the stage. I was particularly intrigued by Lewis’ decision to remove the stage wings, which added an interesting element.
Opening a new show must be terrifying for Lewis and Rajan as every production pushes the bar a little bit higher and every audience member expects the same and more each time.
Bringing in more performers certainly takes some of the pressure off the multi-talented Rajan but could potentially risk ‘diluting the Ink’ as a result. But this couldn’t be further from the truth in Kiss the Fish with all the performers clearly demonstrating that they had been indoctrinated into the quirkiness and genius of Indian Ink’s signature style.
Kiss the Fish is an awesome play that certainly lives up to expectations and we can only hope that the creativity continues and the Ink keeps flowing from the pens of Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan.
Kiss the Fish is presented by Indian Ink Theatre Company and plays at Q until 5 October. More information at Q.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe