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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Counting and Cracking, at new Union Theatre, University of Melbourne - 2 hours 50 minutes, plus two intervals

Updated: Jun 7

A country in turmoil and family trauma are at the heart of a multi award-winning drama with comedic elements.


Counting and Cracking features 19 performers from six countries, playing 50 characters.


It follows the journey of four generations of a Sri Lankan/Australian clan, from 1956 to 2004.


It starts on the banks of the Georges River in Sydney’s south in 2004.


That is where Radha (Nadie Kammallaweera) and her 21-year-old son, Siddhartha (Shiv Palekar) – known as Sid – release the ashes of Radha’s mother.


Sid and his strong-willed, no-nonsense mum don’t see eye-to-eye. In fact, Sid has moved out of home.


Radha arrived in Australia without her husband, pregnant with Sid, and a strong connection to her homeland.


Brought up here, Sid has adopted Australian ways.


He is pursuing media studies when he meets Indigenous lawyer-to-be Lily (Abbie-Lee Lewis).

Photos by Brett Boardman

With Lily wedded to country, there is an instant spark between them.


She helps to broaden Sid’s horizons and enables him to fully embrace his own heritage.


A Turkish-born air conditioning installation man, Ismet (Rodney Afif), has taken a shine to feisty Radha, when a surprise phone call upends everything.


It sees the action move back to the Sri Lankan Civil War and the political rancour between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils that led up to it.

A major pivot point remains family ties, including Radha’s birth in 1956 and her subsequent courtship and marriage.


Counting and Cracking is a production of rare quality and depth, superbly crafted by S. Shakthiharan and skilfully directed by Eamon Flack.


The former also serves as associate director, while the latter was the associate writer.


A decade ago, Shakthiharan was keen to learn more about his mother’s homeland, so he read all he could on the subject.


The result is a story of resilience and grit, which explores the political machinations of a divided Sri Lanka, while never shying away from its personal impact.


It is done with dramatic flair, passion, vitriol, humour and heart.

The performances are memorable, none more so than Nadie Kammallaweera and Radhika Mudaliyar’s larger than life portrayal of the older and younger Radha.


But they are not alone in enriching and enlivening the offering, with many potent characterisations.


Whatever your cultural background, it is not hard to relate.


Among the many highlights is the staging, both in front of and amongst the audience.


Doing much with relatively little, the evocative set, props (a scene involving a makeshift water slide was my favourite) and native costuming establish the tone.


So, too, the Carnatic music that accompanies the piece, performed by three musicians on stage throughout.


At the figurative curtain fall, I found myself with a lump in my throat, having embraced the epic nature of what went down.


With a running time of 2 hours 50 minutes, plus two intervals, Counting and Cracking is on at Union Theatre at The University of Melbourne until 23rd June.


It is part of Melbourne’s 2024 RISING Festival. For more information and to buy tickets, go to


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