Edinburgh International Festival

Counting and Cracking

Lyceum Theatre

Neil Cooper

Four stars

A baptism of fire awaits Siddhartha, the symbolically named Sri Lankan boy in S. Shakthidharan’s acclaimed multi-lingual state of the nations epic, presented by Eamon Flack’s Belvoir company.

Raised in Australia after his mother Radha fled her homeland with her new-born son following the violent uprisings of 1983, twenty-one year old Siddhartha is a cultural mongrel with a head full of secondhand theories to expound to his girlfriend Lily with the confidence only youth brings.

Siddhartha also has a baggage load of hidden history to seek out in a play that moves across decades and countries that don’t feel any closer just because they’re a phone call away.

Now 2004, and with Sidd’s father Thirru long presumed killed during the turmoil of two decades earlier, when that call comes, Siddhartha and Radha’s world is turned upside down once more. As things rewind to almost half a century earlier, when Radha and Thirru first met, this time it’s personal.

The ambition and scope of Shakthidharan’s play is brought to life by sixteen actors and three musicians in Eamon Flack’s serious but playful production. Beyond a surface naturalism that prevails during domestic scenes, more out-front storytelling techniques are utilised, as steeped in history as their subject, with live translation from actors perched at the edge of the action becoming part of the show’s aesthetic. This makes for a beautiful spectacle, played out on designer Dale Ferguson’s wide open set, and with composer Stefan Gregory’s underscore performed live onstage by three musicians.

Nadie Kammallaweera and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash give the play its heart as the older and younger versions of Radha, playing opposite Antonythasan Jesuthasan and Kaivalya Suvarna as Thirru, while Shiv Palekar’s Siddhartha seeks enlightenment with Abbie-Lee Lewis’ Lily. With Sri Lankan politics more volatile than ever, this fractured dynasty may be reconciled for now, but there are storms to come beyond this mighty tale.

Counting and Cracking, Edinburgh International Festival, 9-14 August. For details click here