With only one shop to stand in for our own Krishnan’s Dairy, Te Puna is a long, long way from the Victoria and Albert Museum and an even longer way from the nearly incomprehensible beauty of Emperor Shah Jahan’s drinking cup [Google it for several variously unsatisfactory renderings]. Indian Ink Theatre brought us much closer to home with a play that invited us to kiss the fish, a well-known Te Puna pastime, and reminded us that it takes a child to raise a village, something that has deep resonance for those of us who have lived here for a long, long time.
Introduced to the village by an unreliable narrator – a qualified guide whose mannerisms prompted the TPC to reflect on her selective memories of the spirit of place – we were provided with a large-character cast, via the magic of some highly realised masks, and one puppet, that enabled this ensemble of four players – Julia Croft, Nisha Madhan, Jacob Rajan, and James Roque, plus a musician, the lovely Dave Ward, to create a world that went well outside the bounds of Baycourt. A near-silent, compelling cast of monkeys offered a choric commentary on the havoc they could wreak in the chaotic world of development finance, climate change and improved education, to say nothing of the antics of Freddie Mercury. Descriptions of the tenuous existence of the characters, and how they resolved their hopes and dreams in the course of the play, would be banal. The theatre that created them, however, is far from that.
Indian Ink – it’s important to acknowledge the work of Justin Lewis here – has always taken us past the place where theatre is spectacle and, fundamentally, fun, to what you might call the gentle shock of realising that you too could be the person behind the mask and the accent (and the monkey-gait). This latest production does not employ the drama of glamorous transformation that made Gobi and Zina into Shah Jahal and Mumtaz . Instead, it works on a harder, less romantic plane (or padi-field). The humour is brisker, sharper, more satirical: it works well with the, at first challenging in their comicality, caricatures of the masks that prove to give us true lovers.
The audience learns the importance of the title as we move towards definitely wondering (look at those masks!) what it might be like to be involved in Daisy and Sidu’s, and the Fisherman and Lakshmi’s, first kiss. (Or – bring on David Attenborough – how those monkeys might actually populate that resort.) It’s easy to transfer our attention to Grace’s yearning for higher education, and we all feel warm and wonderful as she overcomes her truly traumatic early childhood and sets off for the university, but it is the others, left behind with a failed development project, and a living to make alongside their newly realised love for each other, who deserve, and have earned, our real affection.
The TPC, who loved Krishnan’s Dairy back in 1997, and who has watched Indian Ink make its way through candlemaking, pickles, dentistry and chai, likes to see the way things grow. Shah Jahan’s alabaster cup will now never change (although it once, scholars think maybe, had two ram’s-head handles. Spot the ancient repairs – best of luck!). Indian Ink continues to grow new handles, some of them prickly to the touch, as shown in Kiss The Fish. I hope they go on with it, but I also hope never to confront one of those monkeys. If ever that should happen, I will take our unreliable narrator’s advice, and run.
The Te Puna Correspondent