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Review - Counting and Cracking: grand in scale in all production criteria

Photograph: Brett Boardman

Counting And Cracking

By S Shakthidharan

Directed By Eamon Flack

Produced by Belvoir and Co-Curious

Sydney Town Hall

George Street


Season: 11 January – 2 February Box Office: +61 (2) 9699 3444 or

To call this magnificent production of Counting and Cracking anything other than an epic would be an understatement. It certainly is grand in scale in all production criteria: the script is real, emotional and humorous; the story is exciting and dramatic; the set is vast and versatile; the staging is creative and vivid; the acting is authentic, genuine and warm; the music is appropriate and cultural and the audience enjoyment level is…5/5.

Written by S Shakthidharan, Counting and Cracking has many storylines threaded together. The main fictional characters are Australian-born Siddhartha (Shiv Palekar) and his mother Radha (Older – Nadie Kammallaweera / Younger – Vaishnavi Suryaprakash).

Radha fled to Australia during civil unrest in Sri Lanka, thinking her husband Thirru (Older – Antonythasan Jesuthasan / Younger – Jay Emmanuel) was killed and gave birth to their son soon after arriving in Sydney.

Twenty-one years have passed, and mother and son have comfortably settled into their new Australian lifestyle in Pendle Hill in Sydney’s western suburbs. Siddhartha loves the beach culture and therefore spends a lot of time at coastal Coogee. We follow his developing relationship with local indigenous lass Lily (Rarriwuy Hick). They are a pair of young and proud Australians with youthful zeal. They have different heritage backgrounds but are commonly joined by similar dreamtime stories from the stars.

As their love develops, an unexpected event occurs in far-away Sri Lanka which will influence their lives forever. It turns out that Thirru has been a political prisoner all this time and now, through the efforts of journalist Hasanga (Nicholas Brown), he is finally freed. The sadistic jailor Vinsanda (Monroe Reimers) is not happy, but with the passing of time, has developed a new respect for Thirru. Everyone has a reason for what they think and do, as Hasanga explains: “in 2001, my parents were at a service commemorating our army war heroes. A Tamil Tiger blew himself up in the middle of it. I couldn’t properly identify my mother and father until a policeman helped me reconnect some of their body parts”.

And then Thirru makes the life-changing phone call to his wife Radha! A voice from the distant past, from a man she thought was dead, who now wants to reunite in Australia.

No synopsis of the show can do it justice. There are many characters, all crucial to the story. Director Eamon Flack transports the audience from place to place and time to time. To understand the present, we must see the past. Scenes are changed rapidly from settings like the banks of the Georges River to Columbo (2004, 1977, 1957) to Coogee and Pendle Hill. Creativity abounds throughout the show in scenes such as the spreading of ashes in Georges River and body surfing at Coogee. The solid gates at the rear of the set weave into the recurring themes of understanding (open) and repression (closed).

There is brilliant use of electronics, percussion instruments and natural elements to create sound effects. Compliments to the producers for creating a pop-up theatre inside the majestic Sydney Town Hall.

This is a show for all Australians. There is plenty of material (3 ½ hours with 2 intervals). Don’t expect bronzed stereotypes in the mould of Chips Rafferty, Jack Thompson or Barry Mackenzie. This is a modern Australia with a contemporary outlook.

Although centred around Australians of Sri Lankan background, Counting and Cracking is a superb gift to the ongoing story of Australia’s diversity in modern immigration and multi-cultural richness. It could be the story of anyone of us or of a descendant. Somewhere, somehow, someone in your family took a bold step to reach our shores. Give some time to see Counting and Cracking and our nation will be a better place.

Well done to all involved. I look forward to seeing a motion picture version one day! Counting and Cracking at the Adelaide Festival Mar 2 - Mar 9, Ridley Centre, Adelaide Showgrounds, Goodwood Road, Wayville, Adelaide.$45-$89+b.f.Tickets & Info:

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