Posts Tagged ‘Belvoir Theatre Sydney’

I really missed Edinburgh this year, regretting my decision not to go, and this was one of the main festival shows I would have seen had it been on whilst I was there (together with Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of A Little Life). The latter went straight home to The Netherlands, but this stopped over in Birmingham en route back to Australia, so I made an impulsive day trip from London, which proved to be another great idea. It seemed particularly appropriate that it was part of the arts accompanying the Commonwealth Games.

S. Shakthidharan’s play, an extraordinary debut, is an epic tale of a Sri Lankan family and the events which led to some of them emigrating to Australia. A family story interwoven with the political turmoil of their home country in the 1970’s and 80’s. We first meet Radha and her nineteen-year-old son Siddhartha in Sydney in 2004. He’s away at University, with an indigenous Australian girlfriend, and she’s empty nesting across the city. Radha’s mother, the first of the family to emigrate there, has died and they conduct a ritual to accompany her ashes into Sydney harbour.

From here we flash back to Radha’s birth in Sri Lanka in the 1950’s, and forward to her late teens when she marries and becomes pregnant with Sid. Her father is a senior Tamil politician at a time when changes, notably moving from three official languages (Sinhala, Tamil & English) to one, just Sinhala, threaten the security situation. It leads to a division in the country, provoked by the new government it seems, resulting in a Tamil community enclave in the north centred on Jaffna. This is 1983, Radha’s husband disappears, presumed dead, and she obtains a rare and precious visa and emigrates to Australia. I visited Sri Lanka shortly after this, when tourism returned to the island, and remember vividly the aftermath.

It’s playing time of over three hours feels a lot less as it moves swiftly from scene to scene, with inventive staging and onstage musicians propelling the story and defining the time and locations, marked by signposts above and behind the playing area. Multiple languages are used without surtitles, with other actors translating or explaining when necessary. Eamon Flack’s staging – he is also associate writer, with the playwright also associate director – flows beautifully, draws you in quickly and never lets you go. There are over twenty performers from six countries, led by Nadie Kammallawera as older Radha, Shiv Palekar as Sid and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash as younger Radha; the performances are uniformly excellent.

I’ve seen other work by Belvoir theatre company, one of Australia’s finest, including at their home base in Sydney seven years ago. I’m really glad I made this journey to see them again. Plays like this are few and far between.

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