Last time we were at Hannah Playhouse (for The Marriage Of Figaro) I noticed that they were advertising a forthcoming production called The Pickle King. It is a comedy about love, death, and preserves. That’s enough to get me hooked, so I bought some tickets, and off we went to watch it on a rainy Tuesday night (even though lyin’ Renée had promised sunshine).
We’d originally planned to have dinner at Rockyard, but their booking system seems to have let them down so we went next door to Papa Satay House and had a dinner of satay, prawns and curry. At the end of the dinner they were unable to satisfy my request for a short black, so instead we tried their special Malaysian tea, teh tarik, which is a hot, sweet milky beverage which I won’t be ordering again. Other than that the food was fine.
We hurried around the corner in time to take our seats, and then the play began. The Pickle King was first performed 15 years ago, as what was supposed to be the final collaboration (of three) between Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan. 15 years on, they’re still working together as Indian Ink, and bringing new stuff to the stage. The play opens with a pianist playing in a hotel lobby, as various guests, dressed in white masks and having no dialogue, come and go for about five minutes. The sound effects indicate that there is a strong wind blowing as each comes through the door, one with an umbrella clearly shredded by the Wellington wind. Eventually one of the guests is successful in summoning the receptionist, Sasha, and the play begins properly. The play revolves around almost-blind Sasha, who is fiercely resisting the attempts of her aunt Ammachy to marry her off to anyone who will take her; Jeena, the hotel porter who is a qualified doctor in India, and studying to get recognition from the New Zealand medical council; and a hotel guest, who signs in as Mr. Reaper (initial G. “G for George!” he laughs) and calls himself The Pickle King. Three actors play all the parts, doubling up as Ammachy, hotel guests, the cook Raoul, and the priest; whilst Graham the pianist, who has no lines, is the only one who stays the same throughout. He provides background music, but is often addressed throughout the play – not least to provide “hold music” when Sasha is dealing with customers on the phone.
All of the characters except Graham wear masks of some description throughout; from the full face masks of the hotel guests, Raoul, and Father Matthews, to the partial masks of the Pickle King and Ammachy; down to the noses worn by Jeena and Sasha. Along the way they deal with immigration issues, love, death, and industrial disasters. But it ends well, so I guess all’s well.