COUNTING AND CRACKING

COMMUNITY RESPONSE

Counting and Cracking is a Belvoir and Co-Curious production. It premiered at Sydney and Adelaide Festivals in early 2019. 

All of the below responses are from people of Sri Lankan heritage, unless otherwise indicated. Click the ‘plus’ button to read each response in full.

Click here to go to the Counting and Cracking show page. 

Now I feel I have completely made peace with my motherland… I embrace the Australian and the Srilankan in me whole heartedly and so proudly with love.

This response was originally posted at the “In My Shoes” blog. Click here to read it. 

Australia Day, 26/01/19….we went to see a Theatre production called ” Counting and Cracking” at Town Hall in Sydney. This day weirdly became symbolic, as it allowed me to embrace my nationality as an Australian- Srilankan. It was a reunion of both aspects of me, while healing my origins. This play is the story of most displaced people, who left their homeland seeking refuge in countries like Australia. It told the story of The Sri Lanka that was, before the civil war and how politics and politicians divided a country which co-existed with different languages and religion before hand, celebrating life on a small island.

It presented the story and the facts in an unbiased light for Tamils and Sinhalese. Being a story about a Tamil person, will naturally lead to far more concentration on the tamil story.

I have not been to a production till now, where the whole theatre was converted to bring essense of a country within its small space. Even one step further in capturing the ambiance of a Srilankan home, the fragrances and aroma.

As the story travelled between Australia and Sri Lanka. The props and the actors moved flawlessly on and off the stage as one unit. The writer used words so powerfully and cleverly to capture audience attention. Speaking in Tamil and Sinhala, while translated at the same time in english not by a background voice, but by a character on the side of the stage, but part of the scene. The direction of the play in this and many aspects was amazing. Use of props so minimslistically, as it allowed the audience to be fully captured by the actors.

The story in a few lines is about 21 year old uni student called Siddartha. He is of Srilankan descent, living in Coogee and his reconnection with his roots. Through the story of how and why his pregnant mum, Radha, left Srilanka to settle in Australia in 1983. He is quite unaware of his past till his father, who he and his mum had assumed died in Sri Lanka, resurfaces in 2004.

For those who may not be aware of the Srilankan story, the 1983 riots was the beginning of a civil war that plagued the country for over 30 years. After this riot many began to leave Sri Lanka, including my family in 1985. Unlike the many unlucky souls in the years that followed, we were lucky to have come to this land by plane and to be sponsored by my Aunty avoiding the treacherous journey of seeking asylum as refugees.

Similar to the main character Radha, my parents left purely for our future and safety. The major scene of the play is the frontyard of her ancestral home in Sri Lanka, with typical wooden, thatch-worked furniture. This setting transported me back to our ancestral home built by my great grandfather. Leaving this place broke my mum’s heart, just as it did for Radha.

There is a line in the play where the Radha says “my country broke my heart”. That resonated so deeply within my heart and jolted the hidden pain, which I had not dealt with properly for over 20 years. The trauma so deep within, too complex to resolve, that shutting myself down to it was easier.

A few years ago, I began to realise the pain was linked to my grandfather to some extent. As I never got to see him again after we left Sri Lanka in 1985. He raised me for a few years while my parents were working overseas. He is my first parent, a man of great character who sacrificed much in his life for his family. In 1985, for the welfare of his family, he said goodbye and watched us board a bus to Colombo from Jaffna and sadly it became forever. I carried that guilt of abandoning him for years.

In 2003, we were finally able to visit Sri Lanka during the brief cease fire. I so longed to see my homeland that held so many sweet memories. By then my grandfather had passed away, but even still i felt like i was going home.

Our family home was precious… memories of my childhood, extended family and a link to my roots. Sadly in the interim for a period it was used as a prison by the Tigers movement, after they had kicked out my grandfather in the middle of the night. Being back in our house left me torn as it no longer felt like the home that was ours. It was as if our family’s memories of love were ripped out and replaced with pain and torture. A home no longer alive, but gutted.

Unknown to me this broke my heart …..the heart of the 11-year old child who left Sri Lanka. Along with my grandfather, this house was the other precious part of my childhood and it was also gone. As a 11-year old child I left Sri Lanka with sadness and excitment for the future. My head filled with notions of a life overseas seen in TV shows and movies.

Sadly Australia in 1985 was not embracing of multi-culturism and differences as it is now. So my hopes were marred and I knew I was different and didn’t belong in this new land.

So in 2003, as an adult I travelled to Sri Lanka carrying the hopes of that 11- year old child, wanting so deeply to belong again. Thus my heart broke, as I felt rejected by my motherland, which told me I do not belong there as well…. So where did I belong? I came back confused and sad.

This play after so many years let me cry for Sri Lanka. What it was before the civil war, for my grandfather, for that simple life. We were neither poor nor rich but as a child I don’t remember wanting more.

As I watched the play I was back in my childhood Sri Lanka. I saw the joys of the Radha’s family unfold just as mine did. I saw my grandfather in Radha’s grand-parents. At that moment the pain surfaced. Part of me wondered if I wanted to stay any longer as I knew the story will soon become sad. Tears flowed down my face. I stayed half knowingly the events which led to the civil war, which unveiled itself on stage before me. I walked the journey with them…the widely known story of Sri Lanka and its politics was told so refreshingly with minimum biasness as it could have been. Finally, a Srilankan story that told of a life that was led by people of different backgrounds and status but with the commonality that they loved being a Srilankan.

Radha’s character was central to this thinking and she voiced My views on the topic. Among the squabling and political greed, others forgot about the beautiful life that most Srilankans had the privillige to be part of before the war. Generations connected by their family home… sharing and partaking in a life where you were part of a community.

So I cried more, unleashing that pain deep within and unknowingly a healing began. I am no longer so angry and hurt about Sri Lanka. I now look at my birthland with gratefulness for the deep roots, identity and life it gave me. The person who visited Sri Lanka in 2003 returned more of an Australian partly for the wrong reasons. Now I feel I have completely made peace with my motherland… I embrace the Australian and the Srilankan in me whole heartedly and so proudly with love.

For this I am thankful that I went to see this play on Australia Day 2019. I really hope this play travels the world and heals the hidden wounds of many like me.

In the global debate about displaced humans, a little learning is indeed a dangerous thing, and drinking largely can sober us all.

by Milroy Berenger

It was fabulous in every sense of the word. We were lucky to have been able to purchase four tickets in a row and saw the play last afternoon. By the time we called to book most of the seats had already been sold out. It was with a bit of effort that we were able to get our tickets, in the same row.

Wow, what a multitude of emotions, thoughts, and ideas it ignited in our minds. We learned aspects of our history in more graphic terms than we had before. Not that we needed to wait this long to learn them. All we had to do when we read the news of the times we could have probed into a statistic or a line of text and easily found out. But we hardly ever did. We used to read in a rush and move on to the next article. Often the journalists would write of many people killed and we would never have time to probe into the effect of the displacements that occurred and what it means to single life. Here we were taken into the life of one family and travelling through a historical journey where their lives were torn apart once politics became more important than weddings. The cast of actors was flawless. Since we are not ‘sophisticated theatre types,’ flaws would be particularly hard to spot. In blissful ‘theatre ignorance,’ we got right into the story and were able to experience the many gambits of emotions. Parts of it shook us to the core as we saw how bliss and innocence were chipped away by a series of human-made decisions that resulted in the brutal death of trust and peaceful social harmony.

We were Lankan, so we had an advantage over the non-Lankans in the audience. But we were quite surprised when we briefly spoke to some of them what a profound effect the story of the play had had on them. It was a true story of nothing less than paradise lost.

The plots that were used to lead us into other scenarios, the subplots, the words combined with the body language, the stage settings, the colourful costumes, the grace, and charm of the actors all added up to make it a most remarkable story acted as a play. Done mostly by Sri Lankans for a global audience; the erosion of trust due to a single political discussion by a politician who ended up as the first and so far the only Prime Minister who was assassinated by a disgruntled Buddhist Monk. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was bound by one language English with Sinhalese and Tamil enjoying equal status, and harmony prevailed. Until Sinhalese and Buddhism (the language and religion of the Majority) were given prominence over others that lit the fuse for disruption and carnage. 

The debate about Refugees is most toxic. Do people on the ‘other’ side cloistered in comfort have the moral ‘right,’ to make judgments about human beings who have been dehumanised, their spirits are broken, many beyond repair, in purely academic terms as talking points. And were we all to take a journey back to where each one of them came from, I believe, our points of view would undoubtedly echo a set of realities based on a better knowledge of circumstances. In the global debate about displaced humans, a little learning is indeed a dangerous thing, and drinking largely can sober us all.

And as a final thought, the fire in a hungry refugees belly unleashed may well be able to light up an entire community and steer thinking in that community towards empowerment and a new set of nontoxic social values.

Thanks to your recommendations that steered us in a particular direction our sense of joy and our sense of understanding has a more informed grounding.

A story of survival and hope, of human connectedness, and our deep desire to understand three things – our history, our identity and what ‘home’ means to us.
Counting and Cracking Review by Tara Buddhipala

“A story of survival and hope, of human connectedness, and our deep desire to understand three things – our history, our identity and what ‘home’ means to us.”

Belvoir St Theatre, Co-produced with Co-Curious
Written by S. Shakthidharan, Directed by Eamon Flack
Sydney Town Hall, Until 2 February 2019

This may well be the first play that has brought the tragic truth of the origins of the Sri Lankan civil war to the Australian stage, told through brilliant and beautiful storytelling and innovative staging.

The story opens with the older Radha, played by Nadie Kammallaweera, who is floating in heart and mind between time and space. Her heart is in Sri Lanka, the homeland she was forced to flee due to the growing tension and violence perpetrated at the time by the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan Government against the Tamil minority. Her mind is in Australia, the land that gave her refuge from harm, and a home and future for her son. 21 years before, she left behind her husband, Thiru (played by Antonythasan Jesuthasan and Jay Emmanuel) and has not heard from him. One call changes everything, and so unfolds a generational story of epic proportions that is more than just about Radha – in some shape or form, it is a tale about all of us.

Nadie Kammallaweera plays a complex and psychologically layered character in Radha. Her every emotion, gesture and silent expression captures the depth of her story – not just the tragedy, but also her vibrant resilience and strength.

The play shifts in time between 1950s and 2004, unfolding not only the political and social events occurring in Sri Lanka, but also the generational impact of those events. We see and hear from Radha’s grandparents, played ever so wonderfully by Prakash Belawadi and Sukania Venugopal, who are navigating cultural, familial, political and mathematical journeys. Their values and passion for equality, justice and family has passed down and is shaping the personalities and love of young Radha (Vaishnavi Suryaprakash) and young Thiru (Jay Emmanuel). In this regard Prakash Belawadi is particularly spellbinding in his 2 expansive and multidimensional role, bringing sincerity and evoking audiences’ empathy.

Younger audiences will likely relate most to Siddhartha, played with a romantic vulnerability and innocence by Shiv Palekar. In particular, for Sri Lankan and Indian youth, they will find a home in Sid’s search for his identity forged across two lands, and the need to constantly learn who we are over and over again. His love interest in Lily (Rarriwuy Hick) is a beautiful touch, bringing in stories of home and identity from our indigenous brothers and sisters.

There is no weak link in this production. Every supporting cast member steps up to the plate. Notably, Hazem Shammas’ extreme fluidity in blending in and out of several diverse roles stole audience gazes in many scenes. Nipuni Sharada also draws us in with warmth and genuineness when representing the groups of Sinhalese poor who were unaware of hidden political agendas.

Playwright, S. Shakthidharan weaves a layered tale with multiple perspectives that are equally intimate as they are powerful. Though audiences are emotionally engaged, there is a very factual feel to this story. He is a magical storyteller who interlaces deeply personal tales of the human struggle into a canvas enriched by additional concepts from the Dreaming, mathematical principles, philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita, and the law.

Eamon Flack’s direction is flawless, with true vision and insight into what moves audiences and makes us laugh and cry. The most creative and innovative moments brought applause from the audience (such as the on-stage body surfing moment creating the effect of swimming in the ocean). Emotional moments hit hard. For example, as older Radha reminisces on her love, two school children (her younger self and younger Thiru) run through the set, giving us a deep insight into her mind, taking us back to that moment and drawing at our heartstrings. Flack and Shakthidharan respectfully never verge into the exaggerated or exploitative, and always treat the audience as intelligent.

The production is uplifted by haunting and moving live music floating down from the balcony. The built space engages the power of the amphitheatre, drawing us into an intimate experience. The rawness and intelligence of the set design allow us to move between the banks of the Georges River, the red earth of Northern Territory, the homes of Coogee and Pendle Hill, and the gravel streets of Colombo. Minimal props are used cleverly to simply represent an idea, permitting audiences to use their imagination and complete the picture.

This play makes you think and feel, but most of all, it makes you want to speak to those around you – it catalyses dialogue in all its forms. I am certain the play has made people want to share their own stories with each other, and in some small way, keep processing the awful things that have happened to them in the place they called ‘home’.

The power of this play is also in its ability to create empathy. We live in Australia where we celebrate and enjoy endless blessings, many of which we take for granted daily. For example, our ability to feel and be safe in public, freedom from war and the effects of war, access to education and health, even the freely flowing clean water in our taps. People come here fleeing such horrors that many of us cannot even imagine. Perhaps a little understanding and empathy can go a long way towards opening our doors again and recognising that seeking asylum is a legal right that we have agreed exists through our signing of the 1951 Refugee Convention. In that sense, it is the right time for this play even for the wider Australian community.

The motif of water flows through this play about family, identity and home – appropriate for a journey and story moving across seas. This is not just a tale about civil war, but a story of resistance and resilience. This is a story of survival and hope, of human connectedness, and our deep desire to understand three things – our history, our identity and what ‘home’ means to us.

The setting of the play ends in 2004, however, it is a timeless piece that is relevant to many contexts, particularly in present day Sri Lanka where reconciliation is still a work in progress.

This season deserves its sold-out run, as it fills the missing piece that Australian theatre has been longing for.

My friends came yesterday bringing their 3 kids (aged 13, 9 and 7). They wouldn’t stop asking questions on the train back home.

My friends came yesterday bringing their 3 kids (aged 13, 9 and 7). They all enjoyed the play. Especially the little ones. My friend said that the kids were just like Siddhartha, no idea about Sri Lanka, what families had been through and why their grandparents left. But after watching the play they got a better idea of what the conflict was all about. They wouldn’t stop asking questions on the train back home. Now they want to read up more about the land of their grandparents and the land where their mother was born.

The play highlights the consequences of the politics of division. It is a particularly timely reminder in an era which has seen leaders such as Donald Trump, and various others in Europe, Asia and South America come to power precisely on this theme.

Counting and Cracking: how division destroys wellbeing – blog post by Arun Abey

‘Counting and Cracking’ is a great play, which has finished a sold out season at the 2019 Sydney Festival and is being performed at the Adelaide Festival. Grab tickets before they sell out. You will not regret seeing it.

 ‘Counting and Cracking’ from the Belvoir Theatre, reflects playwright Shakthidharan Sivanathan’s journey to discover his Sri Lankan roots and the background to the murderous riots against the Tamils in 1983, which caused his family to migrate to Australia, when he was only 3 years old. In so doing, the play highlights the consequences of the politics of division. It is a particularly timely reminder in an era which has seen leaders such as Donald Trump, and various others in Europe, Asia and South America come to power precisely on this theme.

The universality of the central themes make it a play which everyone should be able to relate to. But it is more than a political drama. Bringing the story to life through personal stories and experience, gives the play depth in terms of humanity, creating emotional engagement and empathy. Remarkably, while the play deals with dark issues, it is interspersed with humour and the engagement with the audience is easy and just flows to a perfect rhythm…

Click here to read the full post.

The past is a different country — but the future is too, depending on what stories we share, how we share them, and who we share them with.

Untold? Or unseen and unheard? – blog post by Sunil Badami on Southerly Journal

“The past is a different country,” go the opening lines of L. P. Hartley’s classic The Go-Between, “they do things differently there.”

Go-betweens like me, born to visibly different immigrant parents, are always being asked where we’re “really” from, and often wondering where we really belong.

Growing up in Sydney’s outer Western Suburbs, India was further than Town, shimmering far away, veiled by the Great Western Highway’s yellow, oblivious heat. 

It often felt as if my mother and I were speaking different languages — not just Tamil and Konkani and English — but, forced to translate the culture of the land of my birth to my mother, just as she translated the culture of her birth land to me, I wondered — not seeing anything of us on screen or stage or even page for years — if our stories were worth telling.

But while marginalised stories often remain unheard, I’ve felt as if sharing my stories, especially to non-Indian audiences, rendered them a kind of anthropological specimen, offered up for education or entertainment, rather than allowing meaning or understanding; judged for their perceived “authenticity”, rather than accepted for their honesty.

It begs questions beyond whose story it is: why does any story need to be told? Who can tell it? Who gets to decide what stories get to be told?  And who, exactly are we telling them to, or more importantly, for?

Last month, I saw the Belvoir Street Theatre Sydney Festival production of Counting and Cracking, a three-hour long family saga, much like, say, the Sydney Theatre Company’s even longer Harp in the South. 

Telling the epic story of a family torn apart by political violence from the perspective of a young man, Sid, split by his Australian and Sri Lankan identities, it’s received, well, cracking reviews, with a sold-out season at the Sydney Festival, and headlining the Adelaide Festival later this month.

While I was thrilled to see a production with an entirely non-white cast playing such a big part in the Sydney Festival’s 2019 program, I was wary of well-meaning white people smiling indulgently at me as though whatever story was told on stage was my story too… 

Click here to read the full post.

Counting and Cracking has lessons for all of us on the importance of proactively creating environments for multiculturalism to thrive despite our human tribal instincts.

Counting and Cracking has lessons for all of us on the importance of proactively creating environments for multiculturalism to thrive despite our human tribal instincts. The play is an important milestone in highlighting this message for Australia and encouraging a response. It was a great tribute to Lasantha and others like him and I’m sure Lal and other remaining family members will be greatly appreciative of the way you beautifully articulated his boldness and inspiration to all of us.

Her response after seeing the show, for me, is exactly why I knew it would be a gamechanger for our community.

I would love to watch it again. Oh I really went back  to the day the riots were happening. I was in year eight. Went to school as usual in the morning not knowing what happened over night then saw burnt cars on the road. But by recess schools were closed and no way to  home and all. We didn’t have mobile phones back then went to my friends place near the school and rang my dad to pick me up. My friend was in Wellawattha where most of Tamils were living those days. On the way we saw everything  oh dear shops were broken into set on fire and things were thrown on the roads and all. It was real in the show, I was wiping tears  most of the last part. It was really really amazing job. Well done. Congratulations.

I wasn’t in tonight, but my whole class from North Parramatta Sinhala School was in and they were incredibly moved. This is the response from my teacher. I have been talking to her about Counting and Cracking for 3 years. As a Sinhalese Sri Lankan, she was skeptical of the story, of a Tamil family being the protagonists, of what ‘side’ the production may take. Her response after seeing the show, for me, is exactly why I wanted to be involved in this production, and why I knew it would be a gamechanger for our community. This is only the beginning, with many more conversations and connections to be made in order to move towards reconciliation and unity, but you have all moved us closer to that happening for the Sri Lankan’s that have seen our show. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The play so artistically and with so much class, portrayed that scene and I felt I could understand my mother's experience more.

Being a Australian Tamil, I’ve always had a bit of an identity crisis. Australia is my home, my land. Unlike other ethnics who had a “motherland” to go back to, I always felt I had none. I’ve always pushed for my parents to tell me their experiences and unlike a lot of Tamil parents, my mother has told me every detail. Everything from general discrimination to hiding under her bed while the looters were in her house during the 83′ riots. The play so artistically and with so much class, portrayed that scene and I felt I could understand my mother’s experience more. It felt so overwhelming and I’m so appreciative that you guys could provide that for me. My mum also watched the play and said it was so accurate. The chaos, the uncertainty, the fear and the lack of choice. I feel an immense amount of gratitude. Thank you for putting this on, and I humbly ask that you put on more shows so I can bring all my friends. Friend who will relate, and friend who will learn.

Thank you for taking us on a bittersweet journey into our past.
I’ve just returned home after seeing a performance of Counting & Cracking. Thank you for taking us on a bittersweet journey into our past. A tremendous amount of research has gone into your production touching the depths of the Lankan soul. The deep rooted historicism, nostalgia and attention to detail of many aspects presented in this production left me touched to the core. The respect for traditions and community evident in the production gave an alternative reading to a western narrative often steeped in individualism and rationalism. How elevating it was to see the humanism underpinning every character. Never did I think Baudrillard’s Simulacra would be referenced in anything Lankan! My mother who went through similar experiences in 1983 was moved to tears and wanted me to convey her thanks to you for bringing this story to the Australian audience. We both held hands and sobbed together re-living the past.  Every Lankan family has a similar story to tell – thanks for giving these stories a vehicle to reach the Australian public. Although our stories are filled with sorrow and pain my sincere thanks to you for transporting us back to our past with the scenes and sounds that aroused the whole spectrum of emotions. I could recognise many of your characters from my own life. Loved the strong female characters! Looking forward to what you’ll be doing next. Congratulations to you, your team and the fabulous cast. 
Counting & Cracking - எண்ணிக்கை இல்லையேல் கையோங்கு - -பராசக்தி சுந்தரலிங்கம்.

இன்றைய வரலாறு. நேற்றைய வரலாற்றின் தொடர்ச்சியே என்பது சரித்திரம் -சங்கிலித் தொடர்போல அது பிரிக்கமுடியாதபடி தொடர்வது– அதனை நாம்இந்த அரங்கத்தில் பார்க்கமுடிகிறது.

நான்கு தலைமுறையினரின் கதைமூலம் இலங்கையில் நடந்த உள்நாட்டுப்போர் அந்நாட்டின் அழகையும் அமைதியையும் குலைத்து ஓர் இனத்தின் இருப்பையே அழித்த வரலாற்றைக் கூறுகிறது இந்நாடகம்

இதன் கதை, நாடக வடிவத்தைப் படைத்தவர் ஒரு குடும்பத்தின் நான்காம் சந்ததியைச் சேர்ந்த சக்திதரன் சிவநாதன்
இதற்கு மேடைவடிவம் அமைத்தவர் Eamon Flack என்னும் அவுஸ்திரேலியர் .
வெவ்வேறு பின்னணியைச் சேர்ந்த பதினாறு நடிகர்கள் உலகின் பலபாகங்களிருந்தும் இதிலே பங்குபற்றியிருக்கிறார்கள் . இவர்கள் ஆங்கிலம் தமிழ் சிங்களம் அரபி அவுஸ்திரேலிய பூர்வீகமக்களின் மொழி என ஐந்து மொழிகளைப்பேசும் பாத்திரங்களில் வந்தாலும் அவை சமகாலத்திலேயே ஆங்கிலத்திலே மொழிபெயர்க்கப்படுவதால் பார்வையாளருக்கு மொழிச்சிக்கல் ஏற்படவில்லை -மூன்றரை மணிநேரக் காட்சிப்படுத்தலில் ஒரு தொய்வுமின்றி விறு விறுப்பாக நாடகம் நகர்வது இந்நாடகத்துக்குக் கிடைத்த வெற்றி. 

 Click here to read the full review. 

ஆனால், Counting & Cracking முற்றிலும் வித்தியாசமானது. I truely mean it.

By ப. தெய்வீகன். Click here to see original post.

Democracy means the counting of heads, within certain limits and the Cracking of heads beyonds those limits.

“Counting & Cracking”

ஆஸ்திரேலிய நாடக அரங்கொன்றில் இலங்கை இன முரண்பாடு குறித்து இயன்றளவு ஆழமாக படைப்பாய்வு செய்து முன்வைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் ஆங்கில நாடகம். கடந்த இரண்டு வாரங்களுக்கு மேலாக – ஒவ்வொரு நாளும் – அரங்கு நிறைந்த காட்சிகளாக சிட்னியில் நடைபெற்றுக்கொண்டிருக்கிறது. டிக்கெட்டுக்கள் அனைத்தும் விற்று முடிந்தாயிற்று. இருப்பினும், சிலர் காட்சி நாட்களின்போது மண்டபத்துக்கு வந்து காத்திருந்து, டிக்கெட்டுக்கள் கிடைத்தால் தமக்கான கடைசி நேர வாய்ப்பை பயன்படுத்திக்கொள்கிறார்கள். மூன்று வாரங்களுக்கு முன்னரே டிக்கெட் கிடைக்கப்பெற்றமையால், எந்தப்பிரச்சினையும் இல்லாது இன்று அரங்கின் மிகச்சௌகரியமான இடத்திலிருந்து பார்க்கக்கிடைத்தது. நாடகம் இரண்டு இடைவேளைகளுடன் மூன்றரை மணி நேரம் நடைபெறுகிறது.

பார்த்த அனுபவத்தை ஒரு வரியில் சொல்வதானால், மிரட்டி வைத்திருக்கிறார்கள். அவ்வளவுதான்.

என்ன ஒரு அசுரத்தனம்!

அரச பயங்கரவாதத்தினாலும் ஆயுத அடக்குமுறையினாலும் – இன அடையாளம் பறிக்கப்பட்டநிலையில் – வயிற்றில் குழுந்தையோடு – இலங்கையிலிருந்து தூக்கியெறியப்படும் பெண்ணொருத்தி ஆஸ்திரேலியாவில் அடைக்கலமாகிறாள். அவள் தனது மகனை வளர்த்து பல ஆண்டுகளாகிய நிலையில் – தனது கணவன் இறந்துவிட்டான் என்று முழுமையாக நம்பியிருந்த நிலையில் – கொழும்பில் தான் அனுபவித்த நீண்ட கால சிறைவாழ்விருந்து மீண்டு அவளது கணவன் தனது குடும்பத்தைத்தேடி – அவனும் அகதியாக – ஆஸ்திரேலியா வருகிறான். அவன் அவர்களோடு சேர்கிறார்களா?

நாடகத்தின் கடைசியில் இந்த முடிவு தெரியவருகின்றபோது ஒட்டுமொத்த அரங்கமும் எழுந்து நின்று கரகோஷம் செய்கிறது. எனக்கு அருகில் – முன்னால் – பின்னால் என்று எழுந்து நின்ற அனைத்து ஆஸ்திரேலியர்களும் தங்கள் கண்ணீரை துடைத்துக்கொள்கிறார்கள். எனக்கு பின்னாலிருந்த பெண் விக்கி விக்கி அழுகிறாள். எனக்கோ என்ன நடக்கிறது என்று புரியாமல் திகைத்துப்போயிருந்த கணத்தில்தான் என் கண்களும் நிறைந்துகிடைப்பதை உணர்கிறேன்.

அப்படியொரு நாடகம்.

காட்சிமொழிகளால் பேசப்படவேண்டிய அரங்காற்றுகை நிகழ்வுகளை வசனங்களால் நிரப்பியும் தங்களது வீர நடிப்புக்களை காண்பித்தும் சாகடித்துவிடுவதுதான் நாடகங்கள் என்ற பெயரில் எங்களை அழைப்பவர்கள் வழக்கமாக செய்பவை.

ஆனால், Counting & Cracking முற்றிலும் வித்தியாசமானது.I truely mean it.

அதாவது, பண்டா காலத்தில் கொண்டுவரப்பட்ட தனிச்சிங்கள சட்டத்திலிருந்து ஆரம்பித்து, இலங்கை அரசியல் இலங்கையை எவ்வாற துண்டாடத்தொடங்கியது என்பதை பேச விழைகிறது. அதன் தொடர்ச்சியாக தமிழர்கள் வேறு வழியில்லாமல் அரச பயங்கரவாதத்தை எதிர்கொள்வதற்கு ஆயுதங்களை ஏந்துவது போன்ற வரலாறுகளின்பால் அந்தக்கதை விரிகிறது. எல்லோருக்கும் தெரிந்த கதைதான்.

ஆனால், இந்த விடயத்தினை அற்புதமான தங்களின் நடிப்பின் வழியாக 16 நடிகர்களும் முன்வைத்ததற்கு அப்பால், இந்த நாடகம் present பண்ணப்பட்டிருக்கின்ற விதம் இங்கு எழுத்தில் கூறிவிடமுடியாதது. காட்சிகளை ஒரு கோர்வையாக நகர்த்தியிருக்கின்ற நேர்த்தியும் கதையை அரங்கிலிருக்கின்ற – இலங்கை குறித்த எதுவும் அறியாதவர்களுக்கும் கொண்டுசெல்வதற்கு – மேற்கொண்டிருக்கும் பல்வேறு உத்திகளும் நாடகத்தினை வேறு தளங்களுக்கு எடுத்துச்செல்கின்றன.

சில இயற்கை காட்சிகளை எப்படிப்பட்ட கமராக்களின் தொழில்நுட்பத்தினால்கூட அப்படியே படமெடுத்துவிடமுடியாது. அதனை வெற்றுக்கண்களால் ரசிப்பதுற்கு ஒத்த உணர்வினை அந்த படங்களில் கொண்டுவந்துவிடமுடியாது. என்னைப்பொறுத்தவரையில், Counting & Cracking என்ற நாடகத்தின் முழுமையான அனுபவத்தை அந்த அரங்கத்திலிருந்தால் மாத்திரமே பெற்றுக்கொள்ளமுடியும். தவிர, வேறெந்த எழுத்துக்களும் – அனுபவ பகிர்வுகளும் – ஊடுகடத்திவிடமுடியாது.

பத்து வருடங்களாக இந்த நாடகத்துக்கான கதையை மெருகூட்டி கூர்மைப்படுத்தி முழுமையான நாடக வடிவத்துக்குள் கொண்டுவந்திருக்கிறார் இதன் script writer சக்திதரன். இதற்காக அவர் செய்த பயணங்கள், அற்புதமாக அரங்க வடிவமாக்குவதற்கு போட்ட திட்டங்கள் என்று அனைத்துமே முழுக்க முழுக்க பிரம்மிப்பைக்கொடுக்கின்றன.

நாடகம் நடைபெறுகின்ற வேகத்தையும் அதன் லாவகத்தையும் வர்ணிப்பதாக இருந்தால், ஆறேழு வீதிகள் இணைகின்ற சந்தியொன்றில் சிக்னல் விளக்குகள் இல்லாவிட்டாலும் எந்த விபத்தும் இடம்பெறாமல் இடைவிடாது வாகனங்களும் பாதசாரிகளும் இடையிடையே ரயில்களும்கூட போய் வந்தால் அந்த காட்சி எப்படியொரு ஆச்சரியத்தை ஏற்படுத்துமோ அப்படி இருந்தது இந்த நாடகத்தின் ஓட்டம்.

நாடகத்தின் சில இடங்களில் விடுதலைப்புலிகள் தொடர்பான விமர்சனங்கள் காட்சிகளாகின்றன. அவை சிலருக்கு முகச்சுளிப்பை ஏற்படுத்தலாம். ஆனால், என்னைப்பொறுத்தவரை நாடகத்தின் அடிநாதம் பேசி நிற்பது அரச பயங்கரவாதம் என்ற பெரும் கதைப்புள்ளியைத்தான். அதன் வழியாக சில சமன்படுத்தல்களை செய்கின்றபோது எல்லாவற்றையும் பேச விழைந்திருக்கிறார் இயக்குனர்.

நாடகத்தில் எனக்கு இருக்கக்கூடிய விமர்சனம், தனிச்சிங்களச்சட்டத்தினால் ஏற்பட்ட அடக்குமுறையின் நீட்சி தமிழர்களை ஆயுதம் ஏந்த வைத்தது என்பதற்கு அப்பால், தமிழர்களுக்கு இழைக்கப்பட்ட ஏனைய அநீதிகளையும் கணிசமானளவு கதையில் உள் நுழைத்திருக்கலாமோ என்பதுதான். ஏனெனில், பெரும் அழிவுகளின் பின்னாலிருக்கின்ற வரலாற்று காரணிகளை படைப்புக்களில் சமரசம் செய்துவிடமுடியாது. கடந்துபோய்விடவும் முடியாது. அதற்கு ஏற்றவாறு நாடகத்தின் வேறு சில பகுதிகளை கத்தரித்திருக்கலாம்.

மற்றும்படி, சோபவை ஒரு நடிகனாக கண் முன்னே பார்த்து வியந்ததும் “அட, எங்கட ஆளுக்கு எல்லோரும் எழுந்து நின்று கை தட்டுகிறார்கள்” – என்று பெருமை கொண்டதும் அரங்கில் கிடைத்த எக்ஸ்ட்ரா பீலிங்க்ஸ்.

நாடகம் குறித்த விரிவான பார்வை “எதிரொலி” பெப்ரவரி பதிப்பில் வெளிவருவதால் இங்கு அதிகம் பேசவில்லை. அதேவேளை, ஆஸ்திரேலியாவில் உள்ளவர்கள் அனைவருக்கும் கூறக்கூடியது. தவறவிடக்கூடாத படைப்பு Counting & Cracking. சிட்னியில் நிறைவடைகின்ற காட்சிகள் அடுத்த மாதம் அடிலெய்ட்டில் ஒன்பது நாட்கள் நடைபெறுகின்றன.

Counting & Cracking – போர் தீண்டிய ஈழத்துச் சமூகத்தின் குரல்.

“நான் 1992 ஆம் ஆண்டில் பிறந்தவள், நான் பிறந்த நாள் தொட்டு தமிழர் என்றாலே புலிகள் அவர்கள் நமக்கு எதிரிகள் என்றே ஊட்டி வளர்க்கப்பட்டேன். ஆனால் இந்த நாடகத்தின் மேடைப் பிரதியைப் படித்ததும் என்னுள் இருந்த கருத்துருவாக்கம் மாறி விட்டது. வீணானதொரு அரசியல் கொள்கையால் இவ்வளவு அழிவுகளும், அனர்த்தங்களும் நிகழ்த்தப்பட்டுவிட்டனவே என்ற கவலை எழுகிறது, எனக்குப் பிறக்கப் போகும் மகனுக்கோ, மகளுக்கோ நாம் ஒரு சிங்களவர் என்பதை விட இலங்கையர் என்ற பொதுமை நோக்கிலேயே வளர்ப்பேன்”

Count & Cracking நாடகம் முடிந்து பார்வையாளர் கேள்வி நேரத்தில் மேற் கண்டதைச் சொல்லிக் கொண்டிருக்கும் போதே உடைந்து அழுது விட்டார் இலங்கையில் இருந்து இந்த நாடகத்தில் பங்கேற்ற நடிகை நிபுணி ஷாரதா என்ற பெண்.

Click here to read the full response. 

A story of the drive to not only survive, but to thrive, turning survival into rebirth and revival.
#feelingbleshed to have witnessed #countingandcracking – a Sri Lankan Australian story shown on a Sydney stage, spoken in not one, but five mother tongues. (Well six, if you count Sanskrit?).

A story of life and love amidst political strife and chaos so violent that it threatens your life and love.

A story that questions the costs of fighting for equality, and the price paid for protecting your morality when you’re facing your’s, your family’s and your people’s mortality.

A story of the drive to not only survive, but to thrive, turning survival into rebirth and revival.

We are one, but we are many, and we need to hear more stories of our sisters from other misters, and our brothers from other mothers.

Thank you Co-Curious and Belvoir St Theatre for sharing a story of my homeland, a story of my motherland, a story of our immigration nation.

And of course, congratulations @shakthidharan

Appah's pleas for defending the fundamentals of a modern democracy are at the heart of this highly recommended play.
And so this morn to my view on Counting and Cracking, the new Australian play by Shakthi Shakthidaran. I absolutely agree with this Director Eamon Flack here in saying this is not a Sri Lakan play or at least not only, a Sri Lankan play. The comparison I kept making last night, and which stands up even more for me today, is how the only Australian playwriting it can be compared with are Stephen Sewells epic socio-political dramas – The Blind Giant is Dancing comes to mind in particular. What I mean is that the play dares to have political history as integral to its story, the lives of its characters and very much in substantial parts of its inter-family dialogue. In the second Act, Ama, the matriarch of the family, continually asserts that weddings are more important than politics and that there will be not politics in her house, but it as impossible for her to hold to this as it is to her husband, his PFPE (personal friend, political enemy), their grand-daughter Radha her husband to be Thirru and VIP guests at the wedding as the first stirrings of what will in the next decades become civil war happen outside the gates of their house. Ama may as well have been saying adventure and romance in story telling comes before politics, and it would have been equally impossible to tell this story of a Tamil families sundering and making whole again without the cut and thrust of the political dialogues they engage in both in Sri Lanka and also in Australia.

The 13 person cast is exceptional, drawn from Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Australia – and speaking Tamil, Sinhalese, English and a smattering of Arabic and in the way of epic theatre each playing multiple roles. The stand out performers are Nadie Kammalaweera playing the older Radha whose last speech brought me to tears (I feel my eyes prickling as I write now) and Prakash Belawadi playing ppah, the Tamil politician Cabinet Minister and mathemetician who is the moral core of the play. But high praise also for Vaishnavi Suryaprakash who plays the young Radha. The crucial scene between the young Radha and her Appah as the Colombo riot and slaughter of Tamils in 1983 held the audience pin-dropping spellbound.

The staging takes hold of Peter Brook’s idea of the theatre as an empty stage and brilliantly populates it with minimal props brought on and taken off by the cast. This of course also puts it firmly in the tradition of Sri Lankan village drama which has to do with minimal props in an open space. It’s a huge stage which at one stage is an intimate apartment in Pendle Hill and at others a Sri Lankan bungalow and finally the entrance to Villawood Detention Centre. And what a thrill not to have surtitles detracting from the action but instead to have actors sitting at the side of the stage translating the Tamil, Sinhala and Arabic – giving lovely moments to break through the fourth wall of the stage and have the actors speak their lines directly to the interpreter and even at times correct the interpreter. 

I have to also give a big shout out to Stefan Gregory for the musical score and to Kiran Mudigonda and Janakan Raj for their performance – perched in a pavilion above the stage they produced a soundscape as cinematic as the play is epic. 

Finally, BIG UPS to Belvoir for the very welcome and very moderately priced programme whichj includes the rehearsal version of the script (there are changes in the final version I saw last night, cutting some text and shifting scenes around but the majority of the text is intact, and, in a benchmark for Australian playscripts contains the Tamil and Sinhalese lines in the appropriate character.

To return to why it is an Australian play – not just because it is set in Australia for two of its Acts, nor because it is the story of refugees and diasporas, but because of its resonances with the contemporary politics of division and far right conservatism. Appah’s pleas for defending the fundamentals of a modern democracy are at the heart of this highly recommended play.

My aunty said that every single part of this play was the Truth.
My friends parents who I call my Aunty and Uncle came to the show today. They are Sinhalese. They hid Tamils in their home during the 1983 riots and told the mob to go away when they walked up to their gates demanding every Tamil person be turned out. My aunty said that every single part of this play was the Truth. They sobbed during the performance and loved it. They were highly emotional afterwards…but they were also immensely proud that I was a part of this.
This play hit me right in the feels and I wish every Tamil and Sinhalese person could see it.
I just saw this fantastic play, it was beautifully executed and intertwined reality and fiction flawlessly. I was taken on a journey through history telling a story of life, love, politics, family and war. I cried and laughed, and walked away with a mixture of emotions ranging from sadness to gratitude. Sadness that the country I was born in and that my parents, grandparents (and their ancestors) grew up in descended into the chaos that it did. Gratitude for the sacrifices my parents made that shielded me from much of the disaster and ensuring that I did not have to live it. In short, this play hit me right in the feels and I wish every Tamil and Sinhalese person could see this play.
ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ නාට්‍ය කලාව පෝෂණය වීමටනම් එය ලෝක නාට්‍ය කලාවෙන් තමන්ට ලැබෙන්නේ මොනවාද කියලා හිතනවා වගේම අපද පෙරලා ලෝක නාට්‍ය කලාවට දායක වන්නේ හෝ විවෘත වන්නේ කෙසේද කියා කල්පනා කළ යුතුයි.

පසුගිය දවසකදී සිඩ්නි වලදී මට දකින්න අවස්ථාවක් ලැබුණා සමාන්‍යයෙන් ඕස්ට්‍රේලියාවේ නිතර නිෂ්පාදනය වෙන නැති වර්ගයේ විශේෂ එපික් නාට්‍ය නිෂ්පාදනයක්. (Counting and Cracking, written by S. Shakthidharan and directed by Eamon)

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ යුද්ධය හා දමිළ පවුලක ඔ්ස්ට්‍රේලියානු සංක්‍රමනයක් මුල්කර ගත් එම නාට්‍ය ශ්‍රී ලංකාව, ඉන්දියාව, ප්‍රංශ ආදී රටවල්වලින් ගත් විවිධ ජාතීන්ට අයත් දක්ෂ නළු නිළියන් රැසකගෙන් සමන්විත වෙලා තිබුණා. ලෝක නාට්‍ය කලාවේ මෙවැනි නාට්‍ය ධාරාවකට පීටර් බෲක් විසින් ඔහුගේ මහාභාරත නම් පැය නමයක එපික් නාට්‍යයෙන්, මෙවැනිම විවිධ ජාතීන්ට අයත් රංග කණ්ඩායමක් හරහා පසුබිම දැම්මා. මෙවැනි ‘දුරස්ථ සංස්කෘතියක’ අත්දැකීමක් විවිධ ජාතීන්ට අයත් නළුනිළි පිරිසක් සමග ප්‍රධාන ධාරාවට හඳුන්වාදීම ඕස්ට්‍රේලියානු නාට්‍ය කලාව තුළ විශේෂ අවස්ථාවක් වෙනවා.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ නාට්‍ය කලාව පෝෂණය වීමටනම් එය ලෝක නාට්‍ය කලාවෙන් තමන්ට ලැබෙන්නේ මොනවාද කියලා හිතනවා වගේම අපද පෙරලා ලෝක නාට්‍ය කලාවට දායක වන්නේ හෝ විවෘත වන්නේ කෙසේද කියා කල්පනා කළ යුතුයි…

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I opened my heart and laughed along with Radha and Siddhartha and their family.
This response is from an Australian of Chinese born parents.

When booking for Counting & Cracking, I knew it would be an interesting story, one that I was familiar with, the migrant Australian story. I also knew that it would include a story I was unfamiliar with, the Sri Lankan, Tamil story.

The production was a wonderful journey, presented beautifully in three acts. The first act, containing many joyous interactions, set the scene for the cultural adjustments across Australian migrant families. The second act, explained the history and situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The third act, displayed the heartbreaking decision for people who are forced to leave their homeland for various reasons. 

The pre-show taster meal was absolutely wonderful, and a fun and thoughtful addition to the show. Despite my disappointment at my inability to finish the last piece of lamb, I was glad that the catering team did not sacrifice dampening the spicy flavour for those of us with low chilli thresholds! The costuming and props were ingenious and made use of the talented cast, adding to the relateability of the production. I was also immensely impressed by the makeup and costuming choices, especially when representing characters at different ages. S. Shakthidharan’s ability to explain the history in such an engaging and succinct manner should be commended. 

I particularly enjoyed the conflict of cultures displayed in Act One. As an overseas-born Chinese Australian who has struggled all their life with their cultural identity, I related to the child’s frustration around a lack of understanding around their parents’ rules, culture and traditions from the homeland, often lived and abided by, but not necessarily communicated, talked about or explained. These conflict of cultures are a very common story for many of us in Australia, and have long been missing from the mainstream conversation and representation. I am glad to be seeing more and more of these stories appearing, through examples such as Michelle and Benjamin Law’s Single Asian Female and The Family Law, Ronnie Chieng’s International Student, SBS’s On The Ropes, and now S. Shakthidharan’s Counting & Cracking.

 The scenes around the escalating conflict and the sadness of the helplessness and concern were particularly emotional and moving. I am lucky that my family came to Australia from Hong Kong, not fleeing existing war or persecution, but from the fear of possible future persecution.

 Unfortunately, it was fitting that in the same week of watching this production, as a current reminder that conflict is still very much present in our society, I urged my MP and the Minister for Immigration to listen to a Tamil family’s fear of torture, and halt the deportation of Priya, Nades and their two Australian-born daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa back to Sri Lanka.

I opened my heart and laughed along with Radha and Siddhartha and their family, and also cried many tears for those who are experiencing conflict from the past, present, and future. I feel immensely privileged to have witnessed this production and thank S. Shakthidharan and all involved for bringing this story to us.

(Header image by Brett Boardman)

Have you seen the show? What was your response? Share your thoughts below.

2 Comments

  1. Kumar Pereira

    “This was an amazing, gut wrenching experience, it brought back memories, opened up some scars and was truly memorable, made me come to terms with my heritage”

    Reply

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