I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
Storytelling at its best
Remarkable is not a word I use lightly when reviewing theatre, but in the case of Belvoir's Counting and Cracking, it is wholly applicable. S. Shakthidharan's three-act epic is a flowing work that exists on a mammoth scale but still manages to feel intimate, genuine and honest in every moment.
This collaboration between Belvoir and Co-Curious has taken over Sydney's Town Hall as part of the Sydney festival, complete with a free Sri Lankan meal pre-show. The playing space has transformed the Town Hall to a Sri Lankan amphitheatre wonderfully and is effectively used throughout to transport the audience to lands foreign and unfamiliar.
The story of Counting and Cracking takes place in Western Sydney and Colombo as we focus in on the story of Sri Lankan immigrant Radha and her Australian born son, Siddhartha. Jumping between the Australian present and the Sri Lankan past seamlessly, the play follows the family over four generations through marriages, deaths, revolution and persecution.
Director Eamon Flack has assembled a wonderful ensemble cast to bring to life this unique production and in his hands, the three-hour play never seems laboured or anything less than engaging. In a lesser director's hands, staging this work would likely be a seemingly insurmountable challenge, but Flack handles it with aplomb.
Dale Ferguson's spectacular set and costume design is incredibly impactful from the moment the blue gates swing open to start the play. Stefan Gregory's sound design and composition expertly executed by musicians Janakan Raj and Kiran Mudigonda (who themselves are features in the play) complements the staging perfectly and Damien Cooper's lighting design is simple and effective.
As an ensemble, it is hard to fault the diverse cast who tell the stories of Siddhartha and his family in five languages. Nadi Kammallaweera is a firecracker as the matriarch Radha, displaying a range that extends to comedic moments as well as glimpses of poignancy and vulnerability. As young Radha, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash displays similar qualities with a little more wide-eyed optimism and idealism. Her work in the second and third acts is beautiful to watch.
Shiv Palekar is inherently likeable as Siddhartha, the Australian-born son of Radha, and his inner struggle to reconcile his heritage with his desire to fit in is relatable and genuine. Rarriwuy Hick as Siddhartha's girlfriend, Lily, exudes exceptional warmth and honesty with a performance rich in empathy. Nipuni Sharada gives a subtle, but powerful performance as Young Nihinsa. Hazem Shammas puts in a hilarious turn as Ismet, the air conditioner installer neighbour of Siddhartha who can't work out how to use Skype. Nicholas Brown provides a gentle and thoughtful performance as Radha's lifelong friend Hassanga. The rest of the cast are similarly excellent and as an ensemble, they create three hours of magic on stage.
I believe Counting and Cracking is already sold out for the Sydney season (although you might get lucky and score a ticket by adding your name to the waitlist). Believe me, it's worth getting yourself down to Town Hall to see if you can score a ticket to this epic show. I've never seen anything like it. It is joyful, poignant, colourful, moving and utterly remarkable.