By Carly Fisher
Straight from a wildly successful run at Sydney Town Hall, Counting and Cracking, written by S. Shakthidharan and directed by Belvoir Street Theatre’s Artistic Director, Eamon Flack, is an important, epic and highly relevant inclusion in this year’s Adelaide Festival. In a festival that truly brings the best of performance from countries all around the world, it is refreshing to see a work of this size take shape by an Australian company, and all those involved in this massive work deserve great kudos for showing the true skill of Aussie creatives.
Counting and Cracking is the story of one family, across two countries – Australia and Sri Lanka - and four generations. It is a story that celebrates the traditions of Sri Lanka and its customs, challenges the troubled past of the island country but also represents the new Australian story as well. It is a migrant story, a refugee story of resettling, thriving and making a life in a new country. A story of strength and family and mostly of connections – to people, place and traditions.
We open as Rada and her son partake in the ritual of pouring the ashes of their mother/grandmother into the Georges River in 2004. From here we travel to Colombo, to Pennant Hills and then to Coogee, from 1956, to 1983, to 2004. The show’s magic lies in the success of the weaving of intergenerational stories. Told in a linear progression, this story’s impact would be severely reduced. As a team, Shakthidharan’s superb writing and Flack’s clear and detailed vision to bring these words to life, the pair have masterfully taken us on this journey, never losing or confusing the audience but guiding us through these jumps without a single set change – only props and the 19 performers. Rustic signage at the back of the stage indicate both place and time and make for a clever, silent narrator.
The show is not for the faint of heart – it runs 3 hours and 30 minutes with 2x 20 minute intervals. However, the movement of the piece makes the time pass so quickly, especially as the intensity and impact continues to build through the Acts. By Act 3 the show pulls that final heartstring that it had been calling on but not quite yet reaching through the first two Acts, leaving audiences stunned in thought and some in tears…but no spoilers from this reviewer – you need to see the show to know why.
I loved the simplicity of Dale Ferguson’s set and that only furniture marked the change between time and place. A busy set would have been such a distraction in this piece and Ferguson’s refine made the set perfection. I would have preferred to see less prop pieces at times to mirror this refine – particularly in the air conditioning scene and the park – as an audience member, I personally enjoyed making those connections and imagining what was not there – for example, the wedding where all we saw where the trees but we could still imagine the grandeur. Responsible also for costume, Ferguson again proved his talent.
The ensemble work of this cast is exceptional – you can see the support that they have for one another through this challenging story and also through the demands of a 3.5 hour show. With a live band on stage and a large cast, this group draws us in, holds our attention and both warms and breaks our hearts. They remind us both of the beauties of life, and simultaneously just how cruel life can be.
At a time when we are too quick to forget the struggles of migrants and our leaders encourage us to demonise those seeking refuge, this story could not be a better reminder of the humans behind these terms, of the stories behind the situations. I hope that this company continues to tour Australia and to share this story with more audiences across the country.
Congratulations to all involved in this production – you have created something truly beautiful.
Photo Credit: Brett Boardman
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.