wed 28/09/2022

Counting and Cracking, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - ambitious, powerful, but sadly under-attended | reviews, news & interviews

Counting and Cracking, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - ambitious, powerful, but sadly under-attended

Counting and Cracking, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - ambitious, powerful, but sadly under-attended

A multi-layered, multi-generational theatrical epic is one of this year's stand-out offerings

A love story across continents and generations: Vaishnavi Suryaprakash as Radha and Kaivalya Suvarna as ThirruJassy Earl

First, a bit of housekeeping. Maybe it was the three-and-a-half-hour duration, or maybe the unfamiliar Sri Lankan subject matter, or maybe even the very un-festival-like hot weather that put people off an evening inside Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre. Or maybe (very possibly) continuing Covid concerns.

Whatever the reason, it’s dispiriting to see so few people in the audience for what must surely be one of the most ambitious and most powerful theatrical offerings taking place in Edinburgh this year.

Counting and Cracking is a multi-generational, multi-lingual, multi-locational, decades-spanning exploration of Sri Lankan emigration to Australia from Sydney’s Belvoir theatre company, told through a single family, its marriages, friendships, dramas and animosities. In the middle of it all sits feisty, no-nonsense Radha (played by a volatile Nadie Kammallaweera as her older self, a poised and principled Vaishnavi Suryaprakash as a young woman), daughter of Sri Lankan minister (a commanding Prakash Belawadi) who’s increasingly caught up in his country’s Tamil-Sinhalese tensions, and herself promised to handsome young journalist Hasa (Sukhbir Singh Walia), son of another government minister, though in truth she loves budding engineer Thirru (Kaivalya Suvarna).

Yes, there’s a lot to take in. And yes, there are further spin-off tales in several directions, from the burgeoning love story of older Radha’s student son Siddhartha (a bouncy Shiv Palekar, pictured above) in Sydney beach suburb Coogee, to the backstory of her Sydney air-conditioning fitter Ismet (a droll Rodney Afif), his two earlier wives and his life in Turkey. What emerges, however, is a tightly written, gem-like construction with reflections and references glittering back and forth across time and place, providing a deeply compassionate contemplation of family, friendship, community and identity. For, caught up in the anti-Tamil atrocities of Black July 1983, which kickstarted the 25-year Civil War, Thirru disappears, and Radha flees to Australia, pregnant with a son that Thirru doesn’t even know he has.

Co-writer/directors S Shakthidharan and Eamon Flack compress these momentous and also intimate events into a strongly defined three acts (with, yes, two intervals – they’re needed), each one with its own theatrical identity and form. Indeed, the steadily mounting tension of the final act – which attempts nothing less than a theatrical depiction of the beginnings of the war itself – is handled with breathtaking cumulative power, and the pay-off is every bit as moving and conclusive as it needs to be.

Counting and Cracking feels like a crucial work for our times, in its depiction of how easily forces can rip a society apart, how weak those voices can appear that urge it to hold together, and how individual lives are defined forever as a result. And, of course, in its celebration of the richness of the voices and identities created by both place and movement – whether (in this case) Sri Lankan, Indian, white Australian, Aboriginal, or a combination of any or all of them. By the time this review is published, there will be just three performances left in Edinburgh before the show moves to Birmingham. I urge you to see it.

It's a crucial work for our times, in its depiction of how easily forces can rip a society apart

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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