The Mourning After

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

16/10/2012 - 27/10/2012

THE BOX, Buick St, Petone, Wellington

30/03/2011 - 02/04/2011

Production Details

Performed in both English and Tamil, The Mourning Afteris the debut stage play by playwright and actor Ahi Karunaharan.

After the death of his father, Shekar returns to his ancestral residence in a remote village in Sri Lanka. The land that has been swept away by a tsunami. 

All that remains of the village is Uncle Somu who featured in ‘Indiana Jones’, his nephew Raju who dreams of flying away, Bala who is constantly digging, the ancient lizard Kabarakoya who guards them all and Aunty Saroja who is trying to infiltrate the house. 

The Mourning After is a story about love, family, identity and the quest to unlock a hidden past.

The Mourning Afterwill premiere at The Box, Petone, Wellington in March 2011.

THE BOX Theatre
47 Buick St (off Jackson St), Petone
Wednesday, March 30 at 7:30pmApril 2 at 8:30pm
imited Season! Book Now! 
Tickets: Full Price $25 / Concession $18
For Bookings:  or (04) 586-0396   



CIRCA Two 16 – 27 OCTOBER 2012
BOOKINGS:  04 801 7992  /  /


Charming and at points spell-binding

Review by Helen Sims 18th 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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Solo play engaging, entertaining

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 18th Oct 2012

In Ahi Karunaharan’s gentle yet compelling solo piece The Mourning After, the central character is on a journey of discovery after the death of his father.

Shekar, a Kiwi-born Sri Lankan, travels back to his ancestral village with his father’s ashes. He also has a photo of a woman his father gave him and he is curious to find out who she is and thus more about his family.

What Skekar finds on his return is that the village was wiped out by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. The only house still standing is his family home.

Once he arrives, having first got past the Kabarakoya, a giant water lizard guarding the gate, he meets Uncle Somu and his nephew Raju, who acts as cleaner /houseboy and who keeps calling for the return of the crows.  He also meets Aunty Saroja, “with the black tongue”, always trying to get into the house, and Bala, an ex-fisherman who listens to Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers and who spends his time foraging through the rubble of the village looking for family treasures.

Through these characters Shekar slowly and painfully discovers who the woman in the photo is and what connections she has with his father, uncle and the fisherman.

In a confident and consummate performance that is very physical in movement and gesture as well as being highly emotional, Karunaharan brings the characters alive as he imbues each with their own idiosyncrasies.

There is pain through the stoop of Uncle Somu and humour and delight as Raju darts about the house and in the way he calls the crows. Then, in contrast, is the snarling Aunty Saroja, who instantly turns into gentle treasure hunter Bala.

But as well as turning these characters onto real and believable people, there is also tension between the characters as he slowly identifies who the mystery women in the photo is, making this solo performance a most engaging and entertaining piece of theatre.  


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Believable characters in one-man show

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Apr 2011

Telling one’s story is an important part of any culture and using theatre as a medium f0r this is becoming increasingly popular. It is therefore interesting to see this happening with what many would consider a lesser known culture within NZ society, that of the Sri Lankans. 

Although born in the Britain and raised in Sri Lanka for the first seven years of his life writer, performer Ahi Karunaharan has spent the past 21 years in NZ, including graduating from Toi Whaakari: NZ Drama School. 

It his connection with his own people and his sense of theatricality that has inspired him to create a fascinating one man show – The Mourning After. Although the characters and incidents are fictional much of the material for the show has been garnered from the lives of real people. 

The narrator Karunaharan leaves NZ to return to the family village in Sri Lanka with the ashes of his deceased father and a photo, that of an unknown women given to him by his father before he died. What he finds on his return is heartbreaking, the village is one of many wiped out in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Little was left after the devastating waves and little has happened since. One of the characters, a fisherman, now spends his time, six years later, alone, foraging through the rumble looking for family treasures. 

As the narrator meets up with various characters looking for answers to who the women in the photo is and what relevance she has to his family the wider issues of loss, love and family frictions are canvassed. 

When Karunaharan started working on this piece 15 months ago, he would not have anticipated the disasters that were going to befall Christchurch and Japan would add poignancy. 

Unlike many other multi-character one person shows where it is difficult to differentiate between the many characters, Karunaharan has limited himself to the narrator and four main characters thus allowing himself to develop these into real believable people with their own characteristics which he portrays with confidence and feeling. The uncle, the fisherman, the old lady at the gate and the niece calling the crows are all cleverly imbued with their own idiosyncrasies through gesture, voice and movement. 

The stance, poise, bent body, turned in toes of each coupled with Karunaharan’s graceful agility to move around the stage brings the piece alive. There is also tension between the characters as the identity of the women in the photo is slowly revealed which adds depth, making it a most engaging and entertaining piece of theatre.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Poignant timing for a story of damage and healing

Review by John Smythe 31st Mar 2011

Sri Lankan-born playwright-performer Ahi Karunaharan plays out his imagined multi-charactered story of return to his “tear drop of an island” on a black rostrum stage, using nothing but a woven palm-leaf fan as a prop and a line of white sand as the setting.

Directed by Miria George, with an evocative sound design by Karnan Saba and a sensitive lighting design by Laurie Dean, Shekar’s return to the south eastern village that his late father once called ‘home’ draws us into to this place and time at is own gentle pace. I sense the support of dramaturge Hone Kouka in the confidence with which the story’s buried truths are slowly revealed, like an archaeologist sift through ruins, or the foreshore and seabed in a receding tide.

Save for Uncle Somu’s house, the village is now a desolate wasteland, devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. (It is entirely coincidental that The Mourning After – which has evolved over time through the Writers’ Block initiative, led by Kouka, and a Tawata Productions development workshop last year – premiered within three weeks of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster.)

Taking a break from his teriary studies, Shekar’s mission is to scatter his father’s ashes, according to his dying wish, and to identify the woman in the photo that his father was clutching. But first he has to get past the Kabarakoya – a giant ‘water monitor’ lizard that guards the gates – or rather get Raju, the housekeeper and general dogsbody, to call it off.

Superstitious Raju – a simple soul who became an audience favourite on opening night – keeps calling the crows, believing that if they’re not offered food before the mortals eat, the ghosts of dead ancestors will haunt them. But no crow has been heard or seen since the devastation.  

It turns out the formidable Aunty Saroja – a malevolent crone referred to as “the lady with the black tongue” – is seeking forgiveness for past misdemeanours relating to Shekar’s father and a woman called Mallikar, who has shut herself in her room to hide her shame at having been promised then abandoned …

Then there is Bala, who spends his waking hours digging in the sand for the treasures he had amassed to prove himself worthy of his beloved …

These are the cultural values and inherited concerns Shekar finds himself amid. But the modern world once touched these lives too. Part of Sri Lanka was used as a make-believe India by Stephen Spielberg for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the imperious Uncle Somu was a featured extra. But now there is no electricity, let alone a DVD player with which to relive those glory days …

Karunaharan delineates the characters with minimalist skill as he shares Shekar’s journey with us, transporting us in just one hour to this place of damaged souls and back.  As an evocation of the healing that follows mourning, it works a treat.  And being in the middle of it, as we are with Christchurch and Japan, the timing is poignant.

The Box in Buick Street Petone (just up from the bore water station) is becoming a valued venue for new work, by the way. Long may it continue.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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