Stage Hit 'Counting and Cracking' Will Enjoy Its Long-Awaited Melbourne Premiere at RISING 2024

Featuring 19 cast members from six countries playing 50 characters, the award-winning Sri Lankan-Australian saga from S Shakthidharan is finally hitting the Victorian capital.
Sarah Ward
February 21, 2024

When a festival announces its program, numbers go flying, detailing how many shows, artists, sessions, days, premieres and the like are on offer. RISING 2024 hasn't gotten to that stage yet. So far, it has only revealed two parts of its lineup for this year. Thanks to the second, however, there's plenty of figures to note already — including the fact that 19 cast members from six countries will play 50 characters when Counting and Cracking arrives in Melbourne, and that the stage hit charts four generations over five decades.

Theatre fans in Victoria's capital can be forgiven for thinking "finally!" about Counting and Cracking's just-confirmed premiere Melbourne season, which will take place from Friday, May 31–Sunday, June 23 at Union Theatre, University of Melbourne. RISING is clearly expecting a big response to the Sri Lankan-Australian saga, with the production arriving before the broader fest kicks off on Saturday, June 1 and running after it finishes for 2024 on Sunday, June 16.

First staged in 2019 in Sydney, the play from S Shakthidharan has proven a hit overseas, too, before its RISING berth. After debuting at Sydney Festival, it's also wowed audiences at the Edinburgh International Festival and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, and collected a heap of accolades such as the Victorian Premier's Prize for Literature, the NSW Premier's Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting, and Helpmann Awards for Best Production and Best Direction. A return to Sydney and a stint in New York are in its future as well.

As co-produced by Belvoir St Theatre and Kurinji, with the former's Artistic Director Eamon Flack directing, Shakthidharan's stage favourite spans three acts, with the first starting at Sydney's Georges River. That's where ashes are being scattered by Radha and her son Siddartha, but their ties with Sri Lanka's complicated history aren't severed yet thanks to a call from Colombo.

"The stories we choose to believe in underline all our actions, thoughts and feelings. In Counting and Cracking, I hope to provide audiences with a new story to believe in: about Australia, about Sri Lanka. It's a story in which migrants are not asked to discard parts of themselves to fit in, but instead are asked to present their full selves, to expand our idea of what this country can be," explains Shakthidhidharan.

"It's a story of how the politics of division can win the battle, but never the war, around how power is gained in this world. It's a story in which love may not triumph over adversity, but through sheer persistence and resilience can eventually overcome it. And finally it's a story about reconciliation: between parents and children, between your new home and your old home, between society and its institutions."

Counting and Cracking joins Communitas on the 2024 RISING program so far, with the two events demonstrating the fest's embrace of variety. 'Love Tonight' talents SHOUSE are behind the previously announced music party that'll fill Melbourne's St Paul's Cathedral. Ed Service and Jack Madin are set to oversees hundreds of people making tunes as part of a choir, which will use not just voices but dancing and making sound vibrations. Afterwards, a single will be released.

The remainder of the RISING 2024 lineup is set to be unveiled in March — and based on past years, its pair of highlights so far are just the beginning.

RISING 2024 runs from Saturday, June 1–Sunday, June 16 across Melbourne, with Counting and Cracking's season running from Friday, May 31–Sunday, June 23 at Union Theatre, University of Melbourne (and tickets on sale from Friday, March 1). Head to the festival's website for further information — and check back here in March for the full RISING 2024 program.

Images: Brett Boardman.

Published on February 21, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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