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Print Version

The Mourning After
Written and performed by Ahi Karunaharan
Directed by Miria George
Tawata Productions

at Circa Two, Wellington
From 16 Oct 2012 to 27 Oct 2012

Reviewed by Helen Sims, 18 Oct 2012

The Mourning After is writer/performer Ahi Karunaharan's “re-imagining” of life in a small Sri Lankan village rocked by the Boxing Day tsunami and a family scandal.  Playing multiple characters, Karunaharan weaves a charming tale of discovery of family history and survival.

After the death of his father, New Zealand-born Shekar wishes to return to the village his father left to scatter his ashes. Overcoming the opposition of his mother and uncle, Shekar arrives at the home of Somu, a man who lives in the past, reliving a moment of glory many years before when he and his village stared as Indians in an Indiana Jones film.

Somu's house was the only building to survive the tsunami and is now guarded by the kabarakoya (a large lizard). Also inhabiting the house is a boy, Raju, and the mysterious man who digs in the backyard, Bala. Raju's daily calling of the crows, which abandoned the village, is answered instead by the visit of the poisonous Aunty Saroja every day. The noise of tinkling bells comes from a room to which Somu forbids entry.

Although most of the village was washed away, it has not wiped out this one house nor the stain of a family scandal in which Shekar's father was involved. The threads of the story gradually come together to reveal long buried past events which plunge the characters and natural world into fresh turmoil.

Director Miria George's light touch allows the characters and the story to shine. This is completed by a beautiful but simple slanted set, designed by Jaimee Warda and Wai Mihinui, and Laurie Dean's warm lighting design. Karnan Saba's sound design, with original Sri Lankan music, often adds a mystical air to the production.   

Karunaharan deftly switches between characters, often using stylised movements which appear to be based on traditional dance.  Although the story is essentially one of self discovery, it is frequently humorous and not entirely devoted to the story of Shekar and his father.  

My only criticism is that last 15 minutes or so is spent wrapping up all of the threads developed in the first hour, and the conclusion of some of the threads feels a bit neat. The character of Bala could also use some fleshing out.

The Mourning After is charming and at points spell-binding.  It could benefit from some further development, but is a highly enjoyable watch.
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See also reviews by:
 Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);
 John Smythe
 Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);