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Counting and Cracking - Carriageworks (NSW)

Presented by Belvoir St Theatre. By S.Shakthidharan with Eamon Flack. Directed by Eamon Flack with S.Shakthidharan


This is storytelling on a grand scale; a privilege and a pleasure to enjoy Australian theatre in such a powerful production


Reviewed by Kate Gaul

Carriageworks, Eveleigh

Until 21st July, 2024


Inside a custom-built theatre structure in Carriageworks, this epic play, written by S.Shakthidharan and directed by Eamon Flack, Counting and Cracking tells a seering multigenerational and multicultural story of war and diaspora, family and politics. It splits its focus between several time periods and across continents – from the first stirrings of civil unrest in Sri Lanka around 1956 to the hardening  of the damning Migration Act in Australia in 2004. A cast of 19 performers from six different countries play a total of 50 characters over three hours. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to enjoy Australian theatre made on this scale.


Having premiered five years ago as part of Sydney Festival it has played as part of this year’s Melbourne’s Rising festival and now to Sydney for a second run. The show has toured to Adelaide and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, and in September this year will feature at New York’s Public theatre. Just the sheer scale of this undertaking is breathtaking.


Counting and Cracking, Carriageworks (2024). Images by Brett Boardman


The story begins as 21-year-old Siddhartha (Shiv Palenkar), stripped to the waist and dressed in a white veshti, symbolically submerges his head in the Georges River to complete the last rights for his Amama (Grandmother). He doesn’t understand what’s going on – because even though he’s a Tamil Sri Lankan man with a Singhalese name, he doesn’t speak either language. He prefers the luxuriant salty breeze that surrounds his place in Coogee to the smell of curry leaves at his mother’s house in Pendle Hill. 


His mother Radha (the outstanding Nadie Kammallaweeram) fled Sri Lanka in 1983 when her husband, Thirru (a moving performance by Antonythasan Jesuthasan) was presumed dead during the devastating events of an anti-Tamil pogrom that occurred in Sri Lanka during July 1983 (known as Black July). Radha has never revealed to Siddhartha what happened at that time or that the events coincided with the loss of her beloved grandfather, Apah (the brilliant Prakash Belwadi). We learn that she keeps Apah’s ashes in a tupperware container under her bed, unable to reconcile with the conflict that forced her to abandon their family home in Colombo. She lives an ordinary, everyday Australian life: drinking wine after work, nagging her son, and enlisting his neighbour (a stunning Rodney Afif) to install her new air-conditioner.


...creates a vibrant world whether it’s Sri Lanka or the beach at Coogee

Their world is turned upside down when Radha receives a call from an old friend Hasaanga (Sukhbir Singh Walia), a journalist from Colombo. The call recalls the dark world of the past and she has to share with Siddhartha what she has kept secret. 


There’s a lot of political plot as well as heart felt human interaction, kept in balance by an incredible ensemble of actors who are literally sprinting between scenes, changing props and furnishings and often costumes. Shout out to Aussie actor Abbie-Lee Lewis who plays Siddhartha’s girlfriend Lily as well as being part of the ensemble. As an outside, she delivers an important counterpoint to the story. 


Director Flack has said that this production is an example of rough theatre – “a playful poor theatre”– where the actors create the world of the play using their bodies and the paltry props at hand. It creates a vibrant world whether it’s Sri Lanka or the beach at Coogee.


...resonates loudly with contemporary political events. 

One nice touch of the production is the way in which any of the five non-English languages are translated for the audience by the cast who are often onstage as an ensemble.  A much better idea than subtitles.


Up high, three musicians provide a live soundtrack that is joyous and supportive of the action, with instruments including violin, flute, tabla percussion and a long traditional drum.


This is a sobering view of Australia and although largely big hearted in its storytelling there are at least two moments of sheer horror that have the audience reeling in their seats. We must never forget the hardships faced by refugees and what it is to leave one’s homeland under the cloud of war. Counting and Cracking may be set in the past but if resonates loudly with contemporary political events. 


 

CAST

RODNEY AFIF

ISMET & ENSEMBLE


PRAKASH BELAWADI

APAH & ENSEMBLE


SENURI CHANDRANI

SWATHI & ENSEMBLE


ANTONYTHASAN JESUTHASAN

THIRRU & ENSEMBLE


NADIE KAMMALLAWEERA

RADHA & ENSEMBLE


AHILAN KARUNAHARAN

SUNIL & ENSEMBLE


ABBIE-LEE LEWIS

LILY & ENSEMBLE


GANDHI MACINTYRE

PRIEST & ENSEMBLE


RADHIKA MUDALIYAR

YOUNG RADHA & ENSEMBLE


SHIV PALEKAR

SIDDHARTHA & ENSEMBLE


DUSHAN PHILIPS

VINSANDA & ENSEMBLE


NIPUNI SHARADA

NAHINSA & ENSEMBLE


KAIVALYA SUVARNA

YOUNG THIRRU & ENSEMBLE


RAJAN VELU

BALA & ENSEMBLE


SUKANIA VENUGOPAL

AACHA & ENSEMBLE


SUKHBIR SINGH WALIA (SUNNY)

HASAANGA & ENSEMBLE


MUSICIANS

KRANTHI KIRAN MUDIGONDA

JANAKAN SUTHANTHIRARAJ

VENKHATESH SRITHARAN


CREATIVES S. SHAKTHIDHARAN

WRITER AND ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR


EAMON FLACK

DIRECTOR AND ASSOCIATE WRITER


ANANDAVALLI

CHOREOGRAPHER, COSTUME AND CULTURAL ADVISOR


DALE FERGUSON

SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER


DAMIEN COOPER

LIGHTING DESIGNER


STEFAN GREGORY

COMPOSER AND SOUND DESIGNER


STEVE FRANCIS

ASSOCIATE SOUND DESIGNER


NIGEL POULTON

FIGHT AND MOVEMENT DIRECTOR


LAURA FARRELL

VOCAL COACH


THINESH THILLAINADARAJAH

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR


AARON BEACH

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER


SIMONE PARROTT

TOUR PRODUCER


BARRY SEARLE

PRODUCTION MANAGER


EMILY OADES

STAGE MANAGER


SHERYL TALMAGE

STAGE MANAGER


AYAH TAYEH

DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER


MIA KANZAKI

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER


THOMAS HOUGHTON

HEAD MECHANIST


STEPHEN HENDY

HEAD OF LIGHTING


GAYDA DE MESA

HEAD OF AUDIO/ FRONT OF HOUSE ENGINEER


CHLOE GREAVES

WARDROBE SUPERVISOR


RICHARD WHITEHOUSE

HEAD OF PRODUCTION


BELINDA CRAWFORD

HEAD OF WARDROBE


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