Review by Bella Wellstead
When a person dies, their soul stays on earth for three days. If they have been good, an angel guides them to relive their best moments. However, if they have been bad, they are tortured with their worst.
Just this morning, Kutisar woke up in his Parramatta home. He had on his Harvey Norman shirt and tie and was preparing himself for work. Now, he finds himself sprawled across a rock in the centre of an abyss and stalked by a sinister old vulture. He is forced to reckon with the transgressions of his youth. Compelled to remember who he has hurt and reflect on how he – in his own little way – impacted the world, for better or for worse.
Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream is a rumination on the many mysteries of death. Written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, and directed by Lewis, this play draws its audience into a dark, expansive limbo. It summons a jury of unwitting peers to decide on what it means to be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. It exposes the instability of that which we consider virtuous, contending that sometimes, selfish actions can have good intentions. Paradise – and indeed, Paradise… – is complex and bittersweet. Unlike ice cream, life is not consistent, and its beauty may well lie in its inconsistencies.
Set design by John Verryt is simple and brimming with possibility. A sharply angular rock lies centre stage, stationary in front of a large, black backdrop. When Kutisar (played by Rajan) first appears, he is draped over the rock, mouth agape, and with a vulture sitting gently on his chest. Not only does this tableau recall Parsi death rituals whereby corpses are exposed to the elements and eaten by vultures. It also conjures the myth of Prometheus, who – for providing the divine gift of fire to humankind – is bound to a rock for eternity. Condemned to have his liver repeatedly devoured by an eagle. From these first moments, there is no mistaking Kutisar’s position – he is being punished.
Lighting by Andrew Potvin furthers the confessional atmosphere of the stark stage. The design is, for the most part, bright and revealing. The audience remains dimly lit for much of the show, and two beams blaze onto the staircases on either side of them. The lighting draws the audience into Kutisar’s afterlife and memories, effectively making us complicit in the sins of his young adulthood.
However, one must not be led to believe that Kutisar’s young life is all wrongdoing. Sound design by composer David Ward is vibrant and full of energy. One moment, Ward expertly plunges us into the nightclubs of Mumbai and the next, immerses us in the rippling absurdities of the afterlife. He gives Kutisar’s memories a vivacious charm.
Also magnificent is Jacob Rajan’s performance – or, more accurately, performances. Rajan plays a cast of seven characters, deftly navigating their quirks in a manner that brings them to life and distinguishes them from one another. There is the young Kutisar, with his shrill nasality and ambitious certitude. The older Kutisar, in whom the spark of youth still glints but softer now – more gravelly. The self-conscious and hardworking Meera, whose soft-spoken rationality is accompanied by anxious fingers that twirl strands of her hair.
The rest of the cast is comprised of Meera’s gruff, commanding cousin, an eccentric old auntie, a chain-smoking vulture expert, and a wily loan shark. Rajan’s physical command of the stage is astounding, and his dialogue is infused with dark comedy and clever asides. Through his performance, he artfully conjures settings from thin air. Rajan builds a full, detailed, and compelling world.
Also impressive are the contributions of puppet maker and puppeteer Jon Coddington. Coddington’s vulture commands the stage, lifting its long, greying wings and rocking menacingly on its claws. Its eyes stare, stationary, out of the creature’s fleshy bald head – the threat of predation ever present. As such, it is a fitting judge – or perhaps executioner – to guide Kutisar through his personal limbo.
Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream is a deeply reflective piece of theatre. While its meditations are set in Mumbai in decades past, they are no less relevant to the audience that has gathered in Riverside’s Lennox Theatre. Paradise… suggests that good and evil cannot be measured in a vacuum. It leaves us with a bleak but honest truth. What happens after death can be no more than a mystery to those of us who remain alive.
Image Credit: Yana Stempler