Internationally recognised Kiwi actor Jacob Rajan is back in New Plymouth this week with a play that brings culture and a vulture to life on stage.
While Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream touches upon a pandemic impacting an entire population, it was not written with Covid-19 in mind, says writer and actor Jacob.
The idea for the story actually came about after he and director Justin Lewis were in India in 2019. While there, the duo, who founded their theatre company Indian Ink over two decades ago, were taken on a tour of the city of Mumbai. During the tour their driver mentioned Malabar Hill, where the Towers of Silence were.
"We immediately asked about them, we hadn't heard about them and the name got us curious - what were these towers," says Jacob.
The answer, that they were where the Parsi community placed their dead to be disposed of by vultures, made them even more curious, he says.
"The more I learned, the more I read about it, the more interesting it became. I then came across the fact that the vulture population in India had dramatically decreased in the 1990s, and for a while no one had known why, it had been a mystery of missing vultures."
The answer to the missing vultures turned out to be due to a drug consumed by livestock and then consumed by the vultures when they ate the dead livestock.
"It was the fastest mass near extinction of all time," says Jacob, "and I felt it was a story we needed to explore."
While vultures themselves are new territory for the theatre company which has previously produced critically acclaimed shows including Krishnan's Dairy and The Guru of Chai, Jacob says it isn't the first time the Parsi community has been featured.
"Technically, we have featured a Parsi character before, because in Kiss the Fish Freddie Mercury makes a guest appearance, and of course, he was Parsi himself."
Vultures don't normally tend to be mentioned in the same sentence, or even paragraph as icecream, but Jacob says the two are connected.
"The vultures make us confront our mortality, that nothing is permanent, and of course, an icecream doesn't last forever either."
Humans struggle with the idea of their mortality, says Jacob,
"There is a real human terror of death. We go to huge lengths to avoid facing it.
A kulfi shop is also the setting for some of the play, and kulfi is, Jacob says "the Indian version or maybe ancestor of icecream".
In the play, the audience meet, or rather, for fans of previous Indian Ink productions, are re-introduced to, buck-toothed Kutisar from The Guru of Chai. Here, however, he is not a young man, but rather a man trying desperately to avoid death, flung between limbo and his past where a rebellious young woman from Mumbai's enigmatic Parsi community holds the key that may deliver him to paradise.
While Jacob plays all the human characters on the stage, he won't be the centre of attention in this show, he says.
"Puppet designer and puppeteer Jon Coddington has created this amazing vulture. It's quite unusual, to have the same person make the puppet as the person to be the puppeteer and it really makes for something incredible to watch.
"Whenever the vulture is on stage, no one is going to be looking at me, all eyes will be on the vulture."
Vultures might not be appealing creatures generally, says Jacob, but he is sure by the end of the play, there will be plenty of people leaving with a new respect and admiration for them.
As well as all the usual cleverness Indian Ink are known for when it comes to multiple characters, masks, and storytelling, audiences will also be taken on a journey to Mumbai with an incredibly realistic sound design, says Jacob.
"There are over 400 sound cues in the play, which will really help ground the audience in the setting."
Just as icecream doesn't last forever, so too there is a kind of impermanence to the play itself in a way, he says.
"For me, the real magic of this, the real beauty is the death of the author. Once written, it has left my hands, and it is up to the audience, each individual present, to come away with their own message or takeaway from it. So while I didn't write it about the current pandemic, for example, some people might take away something to do with that from it. It is up to the audience what they see in the play."
What: Indian Ink presents Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream.
When: July 29-30, 7.30pm
Where: TSB Showplace,
More info: Tickets available from Ticketek