Counting and Cracking.
Written by S. Shakthidharan. Directed by Eamon Flack. Belvoir and Co-Curious Ridley Theatre. Adelaide Showgrounds. Adelaide Festival 2019. March 2-9.
Set and Costume designer Dale Ferguson. Cultural and costume advisor. Anandavalli. Lighting designer Damien Cooper. Composer and sound designer. Stefan Gregory. Adelaide Musical Director. Alan John. Adelaide Sound Designer David Bergman. Associate Sound Designer. Jessica Dunn. Movement and fight director. Nigel Poulton. Accent coach. Linda Nicholls-Gidley.Assistant Director. Carissa Licciardello. Associate Artist Suzanne Pereira. Stage Manager Luke McGettigan Deputy Stage Manager Jennifer Parsonage. Assistant Stage Manager. Julia Orlando. Musicians Shenzo Gregorio, Arjunan Puvendran, Vinod Prasanna.
Cast: Prakash Belawadi –Apah and others; Nicholas Brown-Hasanga and others; Jay Emmanuel – Young Thirru and others; Rarriwuy Hick –Lily and others; Antonythasan Jesuthasan- Older Thirru and others; Ahilan Karunahan-Sunil and others; Monica Kumar-Young Dhamayanthi, Swathi and others; Ghandi MacIntyre- Priest, Hoppercart Man and others; Arky Michael-Ismet, Mr Levy and others; Shiv Palekar-Siddharta and Others; Monroe Reimers-Jailor, Vinsanda and others; Nipuni Sharada-Young Nihinsa; Kalieaswari Srinivasan- Older Rhada; Vaishnavi Suryaprakash- Young Rhada; Rajan Velu-Fundraise, Bala, Maithri and others;Sukania Venugopal- Older Nihinsa, Aacha, Older Dhamayanthi and others.
Photos by Brett Boardman
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
For almost sixty years, the Adelaide Festival has showcased the very best of performing, visual and literary arts from around the world. This year it is again one of Australia’s own that is the jewel in the theatrical crown of Rachel Healey and Neil Armfield’s third festival. Belvoir’s Counting and Cracking is a stunning three hour epic narrative in the finest tradition of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. It also mirrors the intention to present distinctly Australian stories such as Secret River and When The Rain Stops Falling. Set against a backdrop of Sri Lanka’s bloody and bitter civil war, Counting and Cracking recounts the lives of four generations , spanning half a century from 1953 in Colombo, shortly after Independence to Pendle Hill on Sydney’s Georges River in 2004.
From the very moment that the cast sweep onto the thrust stage to the distinctive sounds of Sri Lankan music from the musicians above the stage at the Adelaide Showgrounds’ Ridley Theatre, one is swept up by the sense of the epic, of drama events and of lives caught up in overwhelming circumstances and their cultural, historical and personal consequences. Over five years, writer S. Shakthidaran has created a vast and powerful and moving work, inspired by a desire to learn more of his family’s history .Partly autobiographical, partly fictional, Counting and Cracking is an account of the family of central character, Siddharta, named by his mother, Rhada, after the Sinhalese name for Buddha. Siddharta, like Shakthidaran, yearns to learn more of his family’s history, his origins and the cultural and ethnic influences that have shaped his character and destiny. He meets and falls in love with Lily, an aboriginal woman, who also shares his questioning concern to know more about her people, her country and herself through a greater understanding of her place and her purpose.
Siddharta’s quest for information begins with the ritual of dispersing his grandmother’s ashes into the Georges River. His curiosity is further aroused by the knowledge that his mother holds on to his grandfather’s ashes. And then a phone call comes to Rhada from Sri Lanka. The journalist, Hasanga, reveals that her husband, Thirru, thought to have been killed during the 1983 beginnings of the Sri Lankan Civil War, is still alive and seeking help to come to Australia.
Shakthidaran’s curiosity about his own family’s heritage inspires the unravelling of three hours of gripping, compelling and thought provoking theatre. It is a saga of love, of conflict, of ethnic prejudice and violence and political turbulence and confrontation. The action moves back and forth between the peaceful events of 1953 with their accustomed rivalries and expectations, to the meeting and evolving love of Siddharta and his girlfriend, back to the deadly events of 1983 and the story of Thirru’s escape and eventual detention in Villawood before his release. Two intervals allow audiences to absorb the scale of the drama as old traditions are torn apart, lives are destroyed by the willful acts of man’s quest for power and ideological and political supremacy. The counting of heads leads to head cracking in a nation brought to its knees by man’s inhumanity to man. Counting and Cracking is much more than a story of one nation’s strife. It is a parable for all lands and for all displaced migrants and refugees. It is a lesson for all the sons and daughters of those who have fled persecution to find a better life and for those in power to recognize and support the rights of all to receive refuge and humane treatment. Shakthidaran’s superbly crafted epic with its ebb and flow of thrilling drama, ironic humour, moving nostalgia, and thought provoking issues is much more than an exciting night at the theatre. It is a glorious celebration of the cultural diversity that makes up the Australian nation and the invaluable contribution it makes to its indigenous and adopted land.
Eamon Flack’s direction is faultless. The drama sweeps us along under his sensitive and thrilling theatrical vision. Every actor performs with committed authenticity and one suspects the conviction that in some cases is born of actual experience of the horrible events of the long period of civil war.
Producers Co Curious are committed to presenting another important Australian story. It is also the story of many migrant families who for one reason or another have been forced to flee their country and seek refuge in Australia, where they can raise a family in peace and prosperity.
Counting and Cracking is not only an outstanding theatrical event at this year’s Adelaide Festival. It is a brilliant production that speaks with resounding relevance to all Australians.