Review

Counting down to international success

According to Indigenous actor Rarriwuy Hicks the spectacular new production Counting and Cracking “will look as lovely and amazing as it’s going to feel to be in it”. Hicks “is proud to be this beautiful play”, co-produced by Belvoir and Co-Curious, which will be staged in the Sydney Town Hall and accompanied by the serving of a delectable Sri Lankan meal.

Hicks plays the role of Lily in this epic play, written by S. Shakthidaran and directed by Eamon Flack, a role which she feels closely reflects her own life. Like her character, Lily, Hicks is a Yolgnu woman, growing up in Arnhem Land but sent to the city to be educated. Bridging both the traditional and Western urban world, both Lily and Hicks, know the importance of maintaining a cultural identity while living successfully within the broader Australian society.

When I first saw Hicks performing at the Yellamundie Festival I was immediately impressed by her engaging stage presence and positive energy. An excellent ambassador for Indigenous theatre, Hicks praised Yellamundie, a biennial celebration of national and international First Peoples’ playwriting, as a showcase for both writers and actors.

Talking about her several screen roles, Hicks saw her role as Robyn Davies (Season 3, 2015) in Redfern Now as a turning point in her career, and a turning point, also, in the place of Indigenous drama in Australian TV programming as the series commanded wide audience interest. We know her most recently as Ruby Mitchell, a young boxer and new inmate in long running series, Wentworth and as the compelling Latani of Cleverman (2016-2017), a role which she said required her to rise at 4am and spend at least three hours being made-up.

So, the provocative and colourful Cracking and Counting, while not her first stage role, is a very exciting one for her. With 16 characters (Hicks like other cast members takes more than one role including that of a Sri Lankan bride) and featuring five languages, including Sinhalese and Tamil, the play deals with ideas and themes close to Hicks’s own heart. She has a great interest in languages, “probably one of [her] most favourite things in the world” as expressive of cultural identity and willingness to accept other languages as respectful of that identity.

The themes of the play, reconciliation across cultures and across generations, the need for awareness of the struggles of another culture to remain united and the place that Australia can hold as a meeting point, are familiar. However, explored in this fabulously magnificent context – “there will be musicians on stage, traditional dances, colourful saris, delicious food (and she has already sampled it), the beauty of the whole thing” – is bound to have a huge impact, “not just nationally but internationally”.

The international perspective is important to Rarriwuy Hicks. As a respected, established actor she sees that Indigenous women are still sadly under-represented internationally. She would like to make a difference.

Counting and Cracking, January 11 – February 2, Sydney Town Hall.

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