It Gives a Lovely Light
The Candlestickmaker is the story of a young New Zealander who returns to his family home in India. The tone of the production is set right from the very beginning, thanks to the colourful mask and headgear (adorned with peacock feathers) and the traditional sandy-brown collarless shirt which lead actor Jacob Rajan wears in the promotion stills. I went into the theatre expecting a production simmering in a homebrewed stock of folklore and culture and flavoured strongly with an array of spicy ethnic arts. I was not surprised therefore to see the stage simply laid out with ropes and rattan and pulleys and wheels. Neither was I surprised when Rajan, puppeteer Kate Parker and musician David Ward began with a song (backed only by handclaps and a simple string instrument) which was in a tongue I did not recognise but which resonated with the rich taste of history and heritage.
I settled in and got comfortable as Rajan began his journey as a young Indian science student travelling to India where he is reunited with his simple-minded uncle who dreams of publishing his thesis and achieving fame at last and the 300 year-old cook who pines for the lost love kept from her by a cruel curse and encounters - why not? - a magic duck. The story (and its theme about the search for happiness) was simple enough but as it progressed I found myself as engrossed in its twists and turns as in the many visual treats that Rajan, Parker and director Justin Lewis (who wrote the script with Rajan) employed to actualise the magic always inherent in such stories steeped in ethnic tradition onto the stage itself.
I appreciated Parker's skilful manipulations to bring the puppet of the magic duck to life and also Lewis' texturing of the drama with rich visual gags (I will not be able to look at the slow-motion fight sequences in The Matrix in the same way again) and corny one-liners but it was Rajan's central performance as the student, the uncle and the cook which truly lifted The Candlestickmaker from good to great. Heck, he could probably have played the duck as well!
One could only sit back and be in awe of Rajan's incredible performance which showcased the actor's craft and also his heart. Not only was he able to transform his voice and body to take on the different characters (with the help of deft mask changes) in a seemingly unending series of quick changes, but he was also able to invest each with so much personality that you were able to engage emotionally with all of them. I surprised myself by how much I cared for the disappointed uncle and lonely cook whose hopes were cruelly dashed by fate at the end of the play. When watching productions in a similar vein, I had previously often only been able to savour the visual feast without necessarily being drawn into the drama of the characters' lives. Rajan, however, did not allow anything to overshadow the heart at the core of his funny yet sad characters. He gave them a weight to counterbalance the lightness of the comedy and the visual theatricality around him. This is no easy task when one is set, for example, against the imaginative use of the aforementioned ropes and pulleys such that props and sets would swing on and off stage as if conjured by a great God of Dreams. Still, Rajan himself never swayed or wavered.
The production was by no means perfect. The Candlestickmaker did go round in circles at some points, as many such stories do. I felt that the script dragged a little in places and wondered why the makers had not opted to go for a tighter script rather than stretch the simple narrative across two hours. The fact remains, however, that this was easily one of the better productions I have seen compared to what I would consider similar fare such as Dancing With Dragons, Wayang Tempest, or even Furthest North, Deepest South.
This was a show suitable for children but which never bored adults
either. The peals of laughter from the audience members (all adult)
around me throughout the performance serve as testimony to this. It
would take a hard man not to respond to the inspired imagination and
sheer playfulness at work here, Rajan and Lewis present Krishnan's
Dairy from the 9th to the 14th of May and, if The Candlestickmaker
is anything to go by, then I strongly encourage you to bring your
friends, family, children and magic duck to catch Krishnan's
Dairy as well.
Ratings out of 5, based on
Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent /