ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

25/03/2023 - 25/03/2023

Auckland Arts Festival | Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki 2023

Production Details

Written by Ahi Karunaharan
Directed by Jane Yonge

OPEN STAGE: Presented in partnership with Auckland Theatre Company

This performed reading of the latest gem from celebrated theatre-maker Ahi Karunaharan, with direction by Jane Yonge, is a stirring exploration of the annals of memory and why we hold onto the things we do.

In the year 1990, a family is forced to flee their homeland of Sri Lanka. The only remnant of the past brought to Aotearoa with them is a mixtape of obscure songs on an audio cassette. Thirty years on, the youngest in the family seeks out the stories behind each of those songs. Seventeen songs. Seventeen stories.

Featuring an ensemble of storytellers, musicians and dancers, a mixtape for maladies rewinds this magnetic heirloom of home videos, letters and artefacts back to life – to capture what we choose to hear, remember and share.

“One of New Zealand’s most exciting and visionary directors.” — The Pantograph Punch

ASB Waterfront Theatre
Sat 25 March 2023
$10 – $29
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Ahi Karunaharan

Jane Yonge and Ahi Karunaharan

Karishma Grebnoff
Ravikanth Gurunathan
Shaan Kesha
Ambika Kumar
Gemma Naidoo
Muhammad Nasir
Isha Bhatnaga-Stewert
Raj Varma

Bhuvana Kannan

Moksha Base Band

Shankar Narayanan
Aswathy Sasidharan
Dr. Vasanthan Raghuveeran

Dr. Vasanthan Raghuveeran

Prasanna Kumar

Albin Abraham

Siva Kumar
Abhishek Raj

Leo Gene Peters
Ariadne Balthazar

Theatre , Music , Play Reading ,

1hr 10 mins (no interval)

The power of the performances and the responses to them suggest a fully developed production would find an enthusiastic and appreciative audience

Review by Leigh Sykes 26th Mar 2023

A Mixtape for Maladies is described as a performed reading, and so it’s not a surprise to a band occupying about half of the stage area, and a set of chairs, music stands and microphones occupying the other half.

What is surprising is how much impact this simple format delivers, making me extremely keen to see a fully realised version of this funny and deeply moving play. 

Before the play begins, the performers are asked to introduce themselves and their whakapapa. We are also told that all performers will be using a pan-Asian accent throughout the reading, since not all are Sri Lankan – followed by a hope that one day there will be enough Sri Lankan performers to be able to perform this play. This recognises the community of performers from the Asian diaspora who call New Zealand home yet are fully connected to their whakapapa elsewhere. 

The introductions also give us a moment to ponder the connections between the performers, along with a moment of theatre magic when one performer’s introduction is interrupted by a small cry of “Mummy” as soon as she starts to speak.

This small moment is a microcosm of what is felt in the space as the reading begins. The diverse, enthusiastic and supportive audience is full of people who fully connect with the material being presented. Songs are recognised and applauded and moments of interaction between the two narrators draw chuckles of recognition.

The performance begins with an introduction by two characters in the present: Sangeetha (Ambika Kumar) and her son Deepan (Shaan Kesha). Deepan’s accent is broad New Zealand while his mother despairs of him ever being able to pronounce Tamil names correctly. This deeply intimate interaction between them sets the tone for the framework of the play, where songs and their context are explained before being performed. Each song represents a moment in time for Sangeetha and her family in Sri Lanka from the 60s through to the 80s.

We are quickly introduced to Sangeetha’s parents (Raj Varma and Karishma Grebnoff) as they ponder suitable names for their first child. Soon it becomes clear that this first child is Sangeetha (Gemma Naidoo), who is soon followed by a sister Laxmi (Isha Bhatnaga-Stewert) and brother Vishwanathan (Ravikanth Gurunathan).

The interactions between the siblings are beautifully written and performed; full of the irritations and deep loyalty and affection that all siblings recognize. As brother Vishwanathan, Gurunathan is a stand out, bringing pitch-perfect energy and a younger sibling’s ability to tease and irritate in every scene.

The early scenes (and songs) are light in tone, bringing laughter as family dynamics play out through a range of beautifully performed songs. Music is the thread that joins all aspects of the play together: we see the family rush to get to temple before all the ‘good’ music is over; Vishwanathan and his best friend Suthan (Muhammad Nasir) swoon over a new record player and songs; Sangeetha dealing with her first crush on Anton (also Nasir) who has very different musical taste, and finally the difficulty of choosing the songs that would be recorded on a cassette for each sibling, a task that is overseen by a very funny shopkeeper (Varma).

These songs are both the framework for the play and glimpses into the thoughts and feelings of the characters. The musicians – singers Shankar Narayanan and Aswathy Sasidharan; acoustic guitarist and singer Dr. Vasanthan Raghuveeran; guitarist Prasanna Kumar and keyboard Albin Abraham – are wonderfully talented, creating a wide range of songs with ease. 

As we learn more about the family and the songs move us through time, hints of political unrest start to appear in conversations, and family members show differing responses to this. It is here that writer Karunaharan shows his extraordinary skill, making us laugh out loud only to gasp with shock a moment later. This ability to move from light to dark in the blink of an eye is extremely powerful, and the performers rise to this challenge with strong and focused performances throughout.

It now becomes clear how all the memories held within the songs create a powerful way to hold onto the good and the bad as the music becomes a balm for the maladies encountered by Sangeetha and her family. By the time her story comes to a conclusion, I am crying at the events that have been shared with us, and I’m very sure that I’m not the only audience member reacting in this way.

The power of the performances delivered in this reading, and the responses to them, suggest that a fully developed production would find an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. The significance of the stories being told is evident in Karunaharan’s emotional curtain call and I fervently hope that this work is developed and produced. Seeing today’s performers reprise their roles would be a joy, and if this work does come to a theatre near you in future, I absolutely encourage you to run to get tickets to see it.


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