Review: Counting and Cracking
Posted on: Fri 15 Mar 2019
Adelaide Festival, ‘Counting and Cracking’, Ridley Centre, 6 March 2019
Ten years in the making, this is a timely, magnificent play presented magnificently. Written by S. Shakthidharan, known as Shakthi, who came to Australia as a three-year-old with his parents, it moves back and forth between Australia and Sri Lanka with a time span from 1977 to 2004. The play uses six languages: English, Sinhalese, Tamil, Sanskrit, Arabic and Yolngu and when needed are translated by other cast at the side of the stage. But it’s mainly in English
It begins with 21-year-old student Sid (short for Siddartha) pouring his grandmother’s ashes into the George’s River, south of Sydney, at his mother Radha’s behest and helped by a Hindu priest. He grumbles about this to him alien ritual – he’d rather be surfing.
Radha came to Australia when she was pregnant and believing her husband Thirru has been murdered in the Tamil-Sri Lankan conflict. He had in fact been gaoled, but freed through efforts of newspaper editor, who enables him to phone Radha – who initially refuses to speak with him as she has begun seeing Ismet, a cheerful Lebanese airconditioning installer. So it is Sid who speaks with his father, very excited because his mother had refused to say anything about him.
When the riots begin in 1983 the action moves to the young Radha’s grandfather’s house, her refusal to have an arranged marriage because she is in love with Thirru, and aa fierece, emotional argument between the grandfather, Apah, and his friend, who leads the government. Apah’s slogan is ‘Two Languages, one country’ but the government brings in a law that there is to be one language – Sinhalese. The violence that erupts leads to Radha’s escape to Australia. At 21 her son has problems working out his relationships with his Australianness and his Sri Lankan heritage. His Yolgnu girlfriend Lily from Arnhem Land cheerfully tells him that she has similar difficulties.
Eamon Flack directs the play with a sure hand and many delightful touches, among them Sid surfing along a blue plastic strip with water poured over it, and the confession of love between Sid and Lily. At one point he brings three generations on stage at once. Brilliant stuff! The play’s designer, Dale Ferguson, has created as three-sided oblong stage with gates at one end and on either side above two rooms, one for musicians, the other for actors. The amphitheatre seating has three entrances for both audience and actors, and the movement is smooth and flowing. Damien Cooper ‘s sensitive lighting is integral to the production, as is Stefan Gregory’s sound design and music.
The cast is wonderfully natural and totally convincing. Prakash Belawadi has a wide rage, from the impassioned to the tender, Sukania Venugopal is both funny and forceful as Aacha, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash and Kalieaswari Srinivasan as the younger and older Radha are marvellous in bringing out the warmth and strength of the characters. Arky Michael has a field day as Ismet. Rarriwuy Hick is an intelligent, lovable Lily, and Shiv Palekar is a vigorous, lively and charming Siddartha. They are supported by and excellent group of actors.
Reviewed by Alan Brissenden