OzAsia Festival Review: Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream

Rajan always leaves the audience pondering challenging themes while also feeling a warm glow in their heart

Rajan always leaves the audience pondering challenging themes while also feeling a warm glow in their heart

Presented by: Indian Ink Theatre Company
Reviewed: 20 October, 2023

A unique connection between vultures and ice cream is found in this one-man (plus vulture) show that engages its audience in a comforting story-time nostalgia with actor Jacob Rajan pondering challenging themes in a safe space that he has created for his audience.

Following the resounding success of The Guru of Chai at the 2018 OzAsia Festival, it’s a true delight to have performer Jacob Rajan return to the Adelaide stage in another thought-provoking and heart-warming show that looks at common life themes, such as loss and death, through a different cultural lens. Rajan once again delivers a delightfully engaging performance to the pure delight of the Adelaide audience.

Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream takes its audience on a journey that traverses music-filled clubs in Mumbai, the dangerous streets of the city where money is priority over life, and the local Natural History Museum, while discovering devastating familial betrayal alongside virtuous loyalty along the way. The show was inspired by Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer prize-winning Denial of Death, in which Becker focuses on human’s creating strategies to fend off our awareness of mortality and the resonating vulnerability, resulting in a much more relieving feeling of immortality.

The show begins with a lightly echoing and drawn-out yell filling the theatre. It gets louder until it ends in a bright spotlight upon a seemingly unconscious body splayed out upon a plinth-like prop. As the body awakens in confusion and begins to explore the space around them we learn that this is Kutisar and it becomes clear that he is in some after-life space that (as is explained later) is where, in Parsi belief, the soul of a person remains on earth for three days after they have died. Depending on the life lived by the individual, their soul either then experiences three days of good memories or the emotional torture of all of the bad in their life. Following the Parsi’s tradition of “burial” the corpse of the deceased person currently in the after-life limbo is placed on high exposed tours to be eaten by birds of prey, mainly vultures. But if there are no vultures around, the tradition cannot be fulfilled which pushes much of the storyline in Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream.

The production then takes the audience back in time to when Chai wallah (a person who sells tea) Kutisar’s life changed as he met Meera, a young woman who after losing her beloved grandfather,  is forced into taking over his beloved ice cream or Kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream) shop. She is torn between the pressure of her duty to continue the shop and her true goal of attending university and studying science. This scientific curiosity of hers drives the storyline as she desperately seeks to discover why the vultures in the area are disappearing, but in the end, the vultures’ disappearance turns out to be the least dramatic surprise compared to others discovered along the way.

Similarly to The Guru of Chai, Rajan succinctly differentiates between a variety of characters through individually identifying voices, postures, attitudes and gestures. His ability to fluidly move from one bold personality to the next is a true skill that not many can pull off consistently over the course of an hour and a half. There is a comforting element of nostalgia ignited by Rajan’s enrapturing performance that’s a reminder of youthful times of energetic storytelling from family members and teachers and the joy they brought. This storytelling, though, is engagingly taken to another level with Rajan being a world-travelling professional, immersing his audience in a story that deals with more mature themes.

Rajan always makes you feel safe within the space, even when challenging you with tough themes, such as loss, mortality and betrayal. He is a true master of his craft and these themes help to create a show that spices up your week and provokes thoughts about topics normally avoided. As one of his characters powerfully wisely states, “variety is what makes life worth living, no?”.

A simple set with limited props allows for Rajan’s performing majesty to have no competition to detract from it. The small set included a two-levelled plinth in the middle of the stage and a background of changing projected colours combined with a complementing soundtrack. An eye-catching, and truly unique prop utilised is a highly-detailed, and impressively created life-size puppet of a large Indian vulture, conducted by a puppeteer throughout the night.

It is almost impossible not to be mesmerised and filled with a youthful joy when performer Rajan is on stage in front of you, commanding all of your attention with his various entertaining characters in unusual situations that can be culturally foreign to many Australians. He educates his audience on the way different common life themes, such as death, can be seen through different cultural lenses while also creating an enjoyably engaging theatrical experience and Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream is another great example of this. If Jacob Rajan is performing in anything, just go – you are guaranteed a magical time.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd

Image: Supplied

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Ended

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