Counting and Cracking: A brown breaking story

By Neeru Saluja

Sydney’s landmark Town Hall has been transformed into the land of serendipity. Within the four walls, you get to taste a slice of Sri Lanka. Starting from a flavoursome curry to whet the appetite, a stage set up to transport you to the homeland and ultimately unravelling a story about the post-colonial history of Sri Lanka.

As part of the Sydney Festival, Belvoir and Co-Curious brings the play ”˜Counting and Cracking’ written by S.Shakthidharan and directed by Eamon Flack. An epic new Australian story about love, refuge and reconciliation, the play moves it’s audience between Colombo and Sydney in the 1970s and 2004 where the past and present of the characters are intermingled.

The plot revolves around the central character Radha (played by Nadie Kammallaweera) who has left Colombo and lived in Sydney since 21 years with her son Siddhartha (played by Shiv Palekar). Sid is Tamil with a Sinhalese name but doesn’t know much about his family past and has moved out of his home in Pendle Hill. But one day Radha receives a phone call from Colombo that changes the world of her family.

We are transported to Sri Lanka and Radha’s life as a young woman. We get to meet her parents, grandparents and experience the atmosphere where she grew up before the Sri Lankan civil war. Her grandfather is a respected Tamil politician (played by Prakash Belawadi) who has different views to the Sinhala Only Act passed in 1956 mandating that Sinhalese replaces English as the official language of Sri Lanka. We also meet Radha’s husband Thirru (played by Jay Emmanuel as a younger man and later Antonythasan Jesuthasan) who goes missing during the violent riots and is suspected to be dead. We also have Hasanga (played by Nicholas Brown) who is a journalist, Radha’s close family friend, suitor and plays a pivotal role in shaping her future.

As the play runs for three and half hours with two intervals and three acts, we slowly move through the stages where we flow from dialogues capturing the Aussie-Sri Lankan humour, to the political situation in Sri Lanka leading to the civil war. There are themes of love, fear, family ties, opposition and political divisions all woven together to reveal the history of Sri Lanka and the arrival of refugees in Australia. A simple yet aesthetic stage set up has been used with minimum props, where actors play various roles and also act as interpreters. The dialogues and emotions of the characters are well balanced, and every actor stands out in his or her own right. The play also boasts of a live music score and an interval where you can buy cocktails and love cakes from a cart on the stage.

The writer and director has gathered an excellent cast of 16 experienced actors to come together from Australia, Sri Lanka, India, France and Malaysia using six languages ”“ English, Tamil, Sinhalese, Arabic, Sanskrit and Yolngu. All the actors deserve an applaud, with outstanding performances by the central characters mentioned above.

As his debut play, the writer Shakti has done a brilliant job in narrating a story that comes directly from the heart of his homeland. Counting and Cracking is a landmark Australian play about Sri Lanka. The play runs at Sydney Town Hall for Sydney Festival until 2 February. It’s a sold out play but there is a waiting list for people who are keen to watch this theatrical production.

Counting And Cracking now at the Adelaide Festival:

Mar 2-Mar 9. Ridley Centre, Adelaide Showgrounds, Goodwood Road, Wayville, Adelaide. $45-$89+b.f.

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