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Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream

  • Theatre
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  1. Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream
    Photograph: Sydney Festival/Yaya Stempler
  2. Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream
    Photograph: Sydney Festival/Yaya Stempler
  3. Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream
    Photograph: Sydney Festival/Yaya Stempler

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

One man, and one larger-than-life vulture puppet, are caught somewhere between life and death in this funny and somewhat profound show

The Parsi community, who practices the Zoroastrian  faith, upholds a rather distinctive funeral tradition. When the body dies, it is returned to nature – traditionally, it would be left to decompose in the sun and be eaten by vultures and other birds. The soul on the other hand, remains, guided to the spiritual world where it faces judgement before finding its place in the afterlife. 

But what happens if there are no vultures? Can your soul leave while the body is still intact?

This is the basis of Indian Ink Theatre Company’s Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream (Paradise), inspired by Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning, non-fiction The Denial of Death. We meet Kutisar, a chaiwalla (a street tea vendor) caught in the spiritual world indefinitely, awaiting his judgement. 

As Kutisar is being assessed by the invisible gatekeeper to the afterlife, we are taken back to various moments in his life. What makes this so complex is that the protagonist and all of the people in his life are played by one actor. Jacob Rajan (The Jungle and The Sea), flits effortlessly between Kutisar, Meera (a smart young girl running a kulfi , or ice cream, shop), Farooq (a leader within the Parsi community), Dr Rao (Meera’s aunt), Vibhu (a scientist studying vultures) and an underground mobster who Kutisar owes money. Amidst it all they are trying to solve the mystery of the missing vultures so that the Zoroastrian ritual can be upheld.

It is an extremely complex premise, and a task that shouldn’t work. However, with Rajan’s enigmatic and distinct personification of all seven characters, he really pulls it off. He gives each of them a unique physicality, voice and even a resting face that is fascinating to watch – and he has fabulous comedic timing to boot. As part of the story, Kutisar jumps between different countries (Australia and India) and different accents, which helps with characterisation, but can sometimes make the location of the scene unclear. 

Puppeteer Jon Coddington commands a life-like vulture, who is sure to win you over by the end of the show. Rajan also works in perfect synergy with sound operator Adam Ogle to deliver David Ward’s sound design, which brings each of Rajan’s mimed moments – churning milk for ice cream, opening draws, knocking on doors – wonderfully to life. 

The text itself (written by Rajan and director Justin Lewis) starts really strong, but does become difficult to follow as the sub-plots become intertwined. It is, however, filled with biting interrogations of capitalism and religion (“that’s the thing with religion, it’s transcended by money”) and other ruminations on life that are profound and funny in their truthfulness.

The text needs some refinement, but it is one of the best one-man performances you will see. For something new, funny and delightfully interrogative of the human condition, see Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream at Sydney Festival 2023.

Vaanie Krishnan
Written by
Vaanie Krishnan


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