Radha played by Nadie Kammallweera) and her Australian born son Siddhartha played by Shiv Paleker. Pictures: Brett Boardman

Counting and Cracking

Birmingham Rep


This past month, though I don’t need to inform you, Birmingham played host to the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Yes there were incredible performances from athletes and spectacular opening and closing ceremonies.

 But I think if you ask the residents of our fair city what made the event so special, the answer will likely be, the celebration of Birmingham as a culturally vibrant and diverse city.

One of the centre points of this celebration being Centenary Square. Home to the colossal mechanical bull as well as the Birmingham REP Theatre, which quite frankly has struck gold with the current production from Australian theatre company Belvoir, Counting and Cracking.

A story of love, loss, identity and culture. S. Shakthidharan’s epic family saga has come along at just the right time. When our hearts and minds are open and we recognise and celebrate that our differences are what also connect us.

“On the banks of a suburban Sydney river, Radha and her son Siddhartha release the ashes of Rahda’s mother – their final connection to the past.”

And so the opening of this three Act play begins. Set in the early 2000’s Syndey, Sri Lankan Radha (Older Radha played by Nadie Kammallweera) and her Australian born son Siddhartha (Shiv Paleker) paint a familiar picture. An immigrant parent and their child trying to figure out who they are, where they belong and how much of the past informs who they are today?

Much of the first act flows like a movie reel, showing joyful and often hilarious scenes from these two character’s lives . From Siddhartha meeting his soon to be girlfriend Lily (Abbie Lee Lewis)  to Radha connecting with Ismet (Rodney Afif) the Turkish immigrant  sent to install her air-con. Along the way we, as well as Siddhartha learn that in Tamil you don’t say “goodbye,” you say “I’ll go and come back again.”

This one small lesson turns out to be the emotional crux of the play following an absolutely heart-breaking reveal by a character named Thirru (Older Thirru played by Anthonythasan Jesuthasan) part way through Act 1. Suddenly the story you think you were being told has become something quite different. There are now questions, to which the answers can only be found in the past.


Thirru played by Anthonythasan Jesuthasan

Following the reveal in Act 1, we move between past decades in Sri Lanka and present day Sydney in Act2, changes in both pace and tone. There is a lot of political exposition that after the faster moving scenes of Act 1 does make the action feel somewhat static by comparison.

But the performances of the 19 strong ensemble cast, who multi-role throughout, are enough to keep us engaged with the story of why Radha left her home and what happened to Thirru?

Once the the outline has been sketched though, director Eamon Flack does a masterful job colouring in the picture by increasing the pace to build a gripping tension, bringing the action out to into the auditorium so that you are completely immersed into the world onstage.

When the action reaches its climax you can’t help but feel as horrified and devastated as Radha, her grandfather Apah (Prakash Belawadi) and their family and friends.

With a stark but simple set design by Dale Ferguson, music provided by onstage musicians and dialogue spoken in English, Tamil and Sinhalese, to the curry being served in the interval, the creative choices are designed to immerse you in this world. And in doing so help to achieve with remarkable effect, a profound sense of human connection.

What I knew of Sri Lanka, it’s people and history beforehand was very little. Yet what this superb piece of theatre did was show us that despite our heritage wherever we come from, the bonds of love, family and home cannot be broken by politics or strife.

We may go, but we will always come back again. Counting and Cracking is a heart-rending and thought provoking epic that really is not to be missed. I sincerely hope it plays to packed audiences for the remainder of its run. To 27-08-22.

Janine Henderson


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