Counting and Cracking – Lyceum Theatre

Written and Associate Direction by S. Shakthidharan

Director and Associate Writing by Eamon Flack

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Without a steady foot on the ground, two young lovers’ cross paths one late night/early morning – neither with any roots within their place of study in New South Wales. Sat beneath the still warm night sky, under a blanket of stars after a midnight swim in the rain, Lily and Siddhartha find an instant connection with one another.            

But really, their story began decades ago. 

Counting and Cracking charters the course of a selection of characters, connected by blood and community across fifty years – from Colombo, Sri Lanka in the 50s, through to the civil war and unrest, before seeking refuge, and eventual citizenship and settlement in Sydney. Through generations of love, loss, and political uncertainty, this stage production of epic proportions is a rare sight – a three-act show which gradually unfolds itself, revealing loyalties and shaping our value of home.

But where precisely is ‘home’ for those displaced?

Is it the land in which they fled, or this new home, with his mother in the Sydney suburbs; A home Siddhartha (Shiv Palekar) wishes to return to – a home he feels connected. But this hasn’t always been home, and it’s something his mother struggles with, knowing that their and Siddhartha’s upbringing, her father’s passing, all mingle with the atrocities which befell their home – and knowing that despite this, she cannot ignore either her Sri Lankan origins or her sons missing culture, knowing little about his Tamil heritage and Sinhala name.

The lynchpin of it all is Siddhartha’s mother, Radha. Played in her contemporary age, and for most of the production, by Nadie Kammallaweera, Radha’s experiences, and gradual emergence in placing life and family before politics is the thunderous force amidst the unique colours and heat. Much of Dale Ferguson’s stage is largely barren, save for the continuous flow of Stefan Gregory’s traditional score and live instrumentals, though tucked to the side, evoking a constant stream of vibrancy and life– the persistently spinning signs to identify locales against the intense or setting sun of Damien Cooper’s lighting.

An epic of stage proportions, Counting and Cracking is broad in scope, Shakthidharan’s script carries over several story threads which span continents, generations, and nearly half a century. Most magnanimously, the conflict of the plot is extraordinarily human and accessible – embodying humanitarian values and breaking them down elements of vision and civil violence into a tale of hope and family.

Sharing directorial duties, Shakthidharan and Eamon Flack channel an earthen performance throughout the production, Prakash Belawadi’s Apah, patriarch and political figure an imposing presence, but a comforting performance.

So much natural beauty in weaving the familial elements with a day-to-day mundane nature. The investment placed within character is sumptuous, altering the lengthier runtime into just another family dinner, but this time the audience is entirely awake and eager for more of the stories.

And this tale, taken from Shakthidharan’s family history, attempts to unpack the relatively recent history of the country, and present the twenty-six-year civil war to audiences who, in truth, were perhaps unaware there even was a war. Without force or fervour, the result is riveting and zealous but carries an accessible softness that even under the guise of war and pain, conveys a beauty.

‘A riveting and zealous epic’

Counting and Cracking runs at the Lyceum until August 14th

Further information about it may be found here.

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