The Pickle King is a witty modern fairy tale

Indian Ink served up their most awarded play last night to an appreciative Q Theatre audience. The Pickle King is currently touring the country, and it’s now Auckland’s turn to be delighted and amused by this sweet love story. The vintage script, written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, has now been updated to focus on a same sex couple.

The story unfolds within the run down Empire Hotel located in Windy Welly; a reference to which is given regularly as whistling wind accompanies each character’s entrance. Sasha, a blind hotel receptionist, just wants to go about her everyday business but her aunt, the hotel owner, is set on getting her wed. However, Sasha knows she is cursed and has no desire to get married as all those she loves dies. Therefore, her emerging feelings for hard working immigrant porter/heart surgeon Jeena are difficult for her to accept. Just as their sexual tension builds, there’s an ominous arrival of a new hotel guest, a Mr. G Reaper, the self-proclaimed ‘Pickle King’. He too has a curse to bear that could put a stop to the blossoming love story: It’s just a case of who will RIP????

First performed 15 years ago, the themes of immigration, globalisation and diversity are still relevant today. These topics are all touched on with a big dollop of humour, with witty quips and cheeky nods complementing what is simply a good ol’ love story.

If you’ve seen any other Indian Ink productions you’ll be aware of their clever use of masks. They use fake noses, Commedia masks and large Basel masks with great effect, although it can take you a few moments to adjust to seeing these figures and exaggerated features on stage. It means that the performances can be larger and in some cases clown like allowing the actors a playful rein with their characterisation.

The set is creatively designed to transport us to the hotel lobby and rooms. The sliding elevator doors are used with great comedic effect throughout, and a piano actually becomes a stage for some scenes – as well as a vessel for storing props.

As expected for an Indian Ink production, the actors are superb. Venessa Kumar is wonderfully funny as well as earnest in her portrayal of Jeena and Kalyani Nagarajan plays the somewhat tormented Sasha brilliantly, creating some great chemistry with Kumar as well as excellent physicality in her interactions with Mr. Reaper. The Pickle King himself, George Reaper, is played with boisterous abandon by Andrew Ford to create a wonderfully large and hilarious character; a bombastic man who’s playful sinister undertones are wonderfully teased. On stage alongside the actors is Ayrton Foote, the pianist who perfectly accents the tone of the play throughout with his musical accompaniment.

The Pickle King is a well preserved, slickly directed, modern fairy tale that’s quick witted, tongue in cheek and really rather endearing all while lifting the lid on love, loss and diversity.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.

The Pickle King is on at Q Theatre until 19 August.

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