CCA, Glasgow

Mary Brennan


Simple things, innocent things: a red balloon, a red flag, the red whistles that 10-year-old Moyo and his little brother Tupu wear around their necks so as they can always be within hailing distance of each other. But add in a red triangle – painted on their father’s house in the dead of night – and suddenly there’s nothing innocent or simple about the colour red. In Mwathirika, a puppet play about the Indonesian killings of 1965-66, red is the emblematic mark of a Communist sympathiser and as such is akin to a death warrant.

It’s 50 years since the anti-Communist purge in Indonesia that propelled the vehemently authoritarian Suharto into power, but even if those events are the keystone for this Papermoon Puppet Theatre production, there is a timeless chill in the way they choose to present them. Mwathirika means “victim”: and, indeed, as the brothers’ carefree world disintegrates around them, it’s hard not to see echoes of all the present-day victims – the children especially – who are suffering a similarly undeserved fate.

That red triangle sees the lads’ father arrested by military personnel, their hawk-like tendencies reflected by the predatory bird-beaked masks they wear. Those initially cute temper tantrums by toddler Tupu – realistically manipulated by the visible puppeteers who scoot around on mobile cubes – melt away as the children are left to fend for themselves. It’s here, in the physicality of their fading hopes and dwindling energies that the nuanced skills of the puppeteers catch us unawares, disrupt our emotions, make us see flesh-and-blood pathos in the shape of wooden dolls.

Mwathirika is part of Discover Indonesia, a short season of work presented by Cryptic. Full programme details at