The Jungle and the Sea – Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)

Writer & Director S. Shakthidharan & Eamon Flack

Reviewed by Juliana Payne

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Belvoir Theatre, Surry Hills
12 NOV – 18 DEC 22: Upstairs Theatre
Tickets: https://belvoir.com.au/productions/the-jungle-and-the-sea-2/

Photos by Sriram Jeyaraman

You can forget about virtual reality headpieces and other VR gadgets – if you want a totally immersive experience, go and see The Jungle and the Sea at Belvoir Theatre. This is a stunning realised play that will draw you into its world so cleverly that you’ll forget where you are. You’ll be completely in the moment, deeply invested in and involved with the characters, be they strong, weak, smart, stupid, or just so human. The creative team have surpassed themselves in this production, and the actors and musicians have risen to the challenge and the occasion to produce a compelling and enthralling performance.

Where to start? Even the stage floor had a part to play. The revolve that never stopped turning through the play was a powerful symbol – like TS Eliot’s, ‘and the suffering, that the wheel may turn but still be forever still’. The cycle of violence and revenge that underpins so much human tragedy seemed to be driven by the relentless turning revolve, with all the characters constantly in movement: walking, running, crawling, but never still, like refugees on an endless search for safety.

Pointedly, only the father and daughter in Australia could sit still for a moment. The set by Dale Ferguson comprised just two walls, divided into two dusty-coloured mustard and blue panels. Scattered with white holes, they became bullet-holes, stars on a night sky, or the endless sea reaching out the horizon, depending on the marvellous lighting by Veronique Benett. These elements provided the deceptively simple framework within which the epic drama of the play came to life.

Dancer Anandavalli as Gowrie (the Mother) bookended the production with stunningly perfect Sri Lankan dance moves. Graceful and evocative, I wish we could have seen more of it. Her stoic grimness in the face of ongoing tragedy was like a Buddha’s and formed a constant point of reference throughout the action. Prakash Belawadi, Emma Harvie, Jacob Rajan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan Abi Rajan Velu and Biman Wimalaratne all gave Helpmann-worthy multicharacter performances, but it was Nadie Kammallaweera who gets the gong for her Antigone-Madhu in the third act. It was a huge performance from a diminutive actor that had us on the edge of our seats.

the actors and musicians have risen to the challenge and the occasion to produce for us a compelling and enthralling performance.

For the theatre studies people, there’s plenty of meat for students to get stuck into. Two great traditional works inform and uplift this play, the Mahābhāratha and Sophocles’ Antigone. There is a conscious shift in style and language in the third act when we move from the Asian structure to that of Greek tragedy, with its poetic repetition, chorus, and declaratory rhetoric. The wilful choice of the mother Gowrie to blind herself until she sees her family again nods at both Tiresias who is blind but sees the future, and Oedipus who punishes himself. The real tragedy of Greek tragedy – which we witnessed last night – is that human history keeps repeating in its never-ending conflicts, as well as the suffering and cruelty inflicted in pride and greed on fellow humans.

If you’re not a theatre student, see this play anyway; it leaves all those dull Marvel films for dead. The Carnatic music played by Indu Balachandran and Arjunan Puveendran filled the theatre with a beautiful, eerie, moving soundtrack and was part of the magic that helped immerse the audience so fully. This performance is so cleverly staged that with just seven or eight actors it felt like we were watching Gandhi. Eat your heart out Dickie Attenborough.


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CREATIVES
S. SHAKTHIDHARAN WRITER & DIRECTOR
EAMON FLACK WRITER & DIRECTOR
ANANDAVALLI CHOREOGRAPHER & CULTURAL ADVISOR
DALE FERGUSON SET & COSTUME DESIGNER
VERONIQUE BENETT LIGHTING DESIGNER
ARJUNAN PUVEENDRAN COMPOSER
STEVE FRANCIS SOUND DESIGNER
ALAN JOHN MUSICAL SUPERVISOR
TIM DASHWOOD FIGHT DIRECTOR
NIGEL POULTON FIGHT DIRECTOR
LAURA FARRELL VOCAL & ACCENT COACH
AMY HUME VOCAL COACH
KEERTHI SUBRAMANYAM DESIGN ASSOCIATE
NITHYA NAGARAJAN ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
LUKE MCGETTIGAN STAGE MANAGER
AYAH TAYEH DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER

CAST
ANANDAVALLI GOWRIE
INDU BALACHANDRAN MUSICIAN (VEENA)
PRAKASH BELAWADI SIVA, FR JOSEPH & OTHERS
EMMA HARVIE LAKSHMI & OTHERS
NADIE KAMMALLAWEERA MADHU & DEVLA
ARJUNAN PUVEENDRAN MUSICIAN (MRIDANGAM & VOCALS)
JACOB RAJAN KISHAN & OTHERS
KALIEASWARI SRINIVASAN ABI
RAJAN VELU HIMAL & OTHERS
BIMAN WIMALARATNE AHILAN & OTHERS

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