Review: Counting and Cracking

The ambitious Counting and Cracking is the Sri Lankan epic Australia needs to see.

This country’s cruel asylum seeker policy haunts this generation-spanning family epic that takes you from Sydney’s western suburbs in 2004 all the way back to 1957 Colombo. A collaboration between writer S. Shakthidharan’s Co-Curious Theatre and director Eamon flack’s Belvoir Street Theatre, Counting and Cracking is an epic piece of theatre for modern Australia about what people have left behind or given up to be part of modern Australia.

Beginning in Sydney’s western suburbs, a young Sri Lankan/Australian student Siddhartha (Shiv Palekar) and his strong-willed mother Radha (a brilliant Kalieaswari Srinivasan who along with cast member Antonythasan Jesuthasan starred in Jacques Audiard’s 2015 Palme d’Or-winning Dheepan) farewell his grandmother by throwing her ashes into the Georges River. Siddhartha is slightly embarrassed at having to carry out this ritual, he’s a terrible Sri Lankan, which he admits when courting Yolngu law student Lily (Rarriwuy Hick) with clumsy and pretentious pick-up lines that only an arts student could deliver.

The cast of Counting and Cracking (Photo: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
The cast of Counting and Cracking (Photo: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)

Counting and Cracking begins in hilarious fashion. You think it’s going to be a lighthearted examination of Sydney’s multicultural western suburbs before a phone call brings Radha’s past rushing back. Her grandfather Apah (a stately Prakash Belawadi) was a famed mathematician and lone Tamil politician in a centrist party dominated by Sinhalese members. Through him we see how populist politics fanned the flames of racism and division in 1957 Colombo before witnessing the consequences decades later when the country descends into civil war in 1983 and a young Radha (Vaishnavi Suryaprakash) has to make a heartbreaking decision.

From its custom-built theatre in the middle of Ridley Centre to its rapid-fire scene changes and translation of many languages, everything about Counting and Cracking seems fantastically inventive. Never outstaying its three-and-a-half-hour run-time, Counting and Cracking tackles all the big themes befitting an epic piece of theatre: family, war, home, democracy and new beginnings.

Ostensibly a story about the second-half of Sri Lanka’s 20th century, Counting and Cracking is also a story of Australia and the perilous decisions people have made to get to this country and what our insidious asylum seeker policies of the last 30 years have meant for those who have risked everything to experience a life we take for granted.

With a final 15 minutes that will take your breath away, Counting and Cracking is a true epic for these times.

Counting and Cracking
Saturday, March 2 – Saturday, March 9

Ridley Centre, Adelaide Showground

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