Counting and Cracking was Belvoir and Sydney Festival’s lead production for 2019, launching with much fervour and excited rumour. A stadium worthy theatre piece purpose-built into Sydney Town Hall. A global casting call for 17 performers playing over 50 characters. Five languages on stage. A Sri Lankan meal awaiting each audience member as they arrive. A three-and-a-half hour epic with two intervals, written by a new local writer, over a fifteen-year development in his debut full-length play.
However, none of the press hyperbole or industry talk does justice to the heart of this play. As epic as it may be, the show’s purpose is not to amaze, or dazzle, or even entertain. As predicted, Counting and Cracking has opened to much praise, sold-out audiences (save for a handful of tickets), and critical acclaim.
In a three-act script, Western Sydney writer S. Shakthidharan has weaved a tale centred around Siddharta, a young Australian with Tamil heritage, and his mother Radha, who’d fled at the height of unrest between Tamils and the Sinhalese peoples. While his mother won’t discuss her past – including what happened to his father – Siddharta now goes by ‘Sid’, has moved from his mum’s pad at Pendle Hill to Coogee and is into the Strokes. The ensuring three-and-a-half hours covers four generations, four decades and two continents, including civil unrest in Sri Lanka and migrant crises in Australia.
Essentially, Counting and Cracking is a celebration of culture and a love letter to community. It’s a discussion of what it means to inherit a culture you know little about, and how those of us born here to migrant parents reconcile and manifest our own identities. It’s about how migrants manage to forge that new identity in a new land, against odds. With close to half of Australians having at least one parent born overseas, it’s an almost universal experience.
I can only say that this is an urgent work of high importance, and the fact it exists (and to great acclaim) can only change our theatre landscape for the better. Its joy and its sorrow, its challenges and histories are far more rewarding than its (rather amazing) production values. That it essentially tells a truer Australian story – with its core in Western Sydney – while crossing a myriad of boundaries – colour, language, setting and casting – is its greatest strength.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
For tickets and more details about Counting and Cracking, which runs at the Sydney Town Hall as part of Sydney Festival until 2nd February, head HERE.
The writer attended the production on 17th January.