Counting and Cracking Review

ATYP’s reviewing program was created to give young people a platform to voice their opinions and experiences while developing skills in critical reflection. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of ATYP or its staff.

Counting and Cracking, 2024. Photo by Pia Johnson.


Counting and Cracking is a three-act theatrical epic filled with immense heart and humanity. Following a Sri Lankan Australian migrant family across four generations, the characters grapple with their complex history, identities, and notions of home. 

This internationally renowned show earns all its accolades, thanks to the strong foundation laid by playwright and associate director S. Shakthidharan, who draws from his Sri Lankan heritage to craft a story that is both personal and universally resonant. 

Beginning with a Tamil funeral ritual, there is both humour and endearment in the unconventional portrayal of this reverent tradition being performed in the Georges River by 21-year-old Siddhartha or Sid (Shiv Palenkar); who is lost in translation and berated by his mother, Radha (Nadie Kammallaweeram). We follow this mother and son who are split between two worlds. Respectively in the physical locations of Pendle Hill and Coogee, but also culturally as an immigrant who fled their home and a first-generation Australian who feels disconnected from his ancestry. This changes when the past comes ringing back, after a phone call from an old friend forces Radha to confront painful memories of her youth, reckoning with the love she has for her late grandfather Apah (Prakash Belawadi), deceased husband (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), and country. In these vividly colourful scenes set in 1950s Colombo, we learn that this humble Australian family comes from a notable political lineage that fought for a united democracy during the civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. 

While this story is filled with tension, tragedy, and drama, director Eamon Flack expertly balances it with joy and moments of levity, empowering the talented ensemble cast of 16 actors to play. Tears well up at the heartache of the refugee experience of crossing dangerous seas, represented by the cast marching forward to the beat of a drum, gathering more members as they traverse the stage like a tidal wave. Smiles widen as Coogee Beach unravels as a blue slip-and-slide tarp with actors zooming down the stage belly first. The ensemble plays a crucial role as translators, various characters, and even the set itself, coming alive as curtains and doorbells. An honourable mention of the playful synergy between the cast and direction is seen during a scene where Sid sets up an old computer, its parts—the keyboard, monitor, and mouse—dancing through the air held by the ensemble before being used for a Skype call, accompanied by traditional South Asian instruments playing the all too familiar ringtone. 

A three-hour runtime may seem daunting, but a story of this scale justifies every minute, and a production of this calibre ensures that audiences eagerly anticipate each moment. Counting and Cracking is a special cultural exchange that celebrates and reminds us of the beauty of Australia as an immigrant country—what a privilege to witness Belvoir’s return season of this masterful play.


— Maybelline