When the lights rise at the start of Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream, the latest output from local company Indian Ink, Kutistar – a Harvey Norman salesman – is sprawled atop a rock, seemingly in limbo, unsure where he is and how he got there. When he tries to move away, he encounters a sensory overload, and discovers himself trapped in the small area surrounding his new abode.
Struggling to grasp his new circumstances, Kutistar is then confronted by a vulture eager to pick apart his flesh. It sparks a series of memories that take him back to 1980s Mumbai and a chance encounter with Meera, a Parsi woman who has just inherited an ice cream store and a mountain of debt.
What begins as a night of strange adventures blossoms into a friendship linked by mystery as the pair become embroiled in a scheme to revive the city's suddenly vanished vulture population.
It is a sprawling plot with a wider scope than many local plays, featuring a large cast of characters and locations that takes the audience on a journey through Mumbai and the many cultural and religious differences within the city.
Yet the miracle of Paradise is how it achieves this scope with only one actor. Asides from the vulture, Rajan portrays all seven characters featured in the play – including Kutistar's present and younger selves – all while remaining trapped within his character's personal purgatory space.
Paradise also gives him little to work with in a physical sense. John Verryt's set consists solely of the rock, which serves as bed, staircase, mortuary table and storage, set against a beautiful series of kaleidoscopic projected backgrounds that shift with every scene.
Yet Rajan rises to the occasion, taking the blank slate of the staging and creating a vibrant world largely on his own in what is one of the most extraordinary performances I have seen on an Auckland stage.
His subtly choreographed movements and ease with switching through characters brings to life Mumbai and the world of the play in a way few ensemble casts or heavily decorated sets could achieve.
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Rajan fully realises every character he portrays, and seamlessly shifts between each one – posture shrinking when he inhibits Meera's elderly aunt Dr Rao, gestures changing between the older and younger Kutistar. It is a one-man play that never feels lonely, and Rajan deserves every gong New Zealand could possibly send his way.
Other aspects help add to the world – notably David Waird's sound design that helps with some great jokes that separate the characters – but none moreso than Jon Coddington, the puppeteer behind the vulture that brings together life and afterlife. Sitting near the front, the vulture puppet was a marvel to look at and makes for an extraordinary supporting character, and Coddington channels a convincing avian performance through the puppet.
As technically impressive as Paradise is staged, its power comes in its strong story co-written by Rajan and Justin Lewis, that beautifully explores missed opportunities, regret, and ultimately happiness. There's something relatable for everyone in Kutistar and Meera's stories, and it builds towards a beautiful final moment – somewhat undercut by an unnecessary final joke – that draws life and afterlife together.
To label this a must-see is an understatement – Paradise is a joyous and heartbreaking event that realises the magic of live theatre and storytelling in a truly unique way.
What: Paradise, or the Impermanence of Ice Cream
Where: Q Theatre, until June 26