Written by Ruwanthi Wijetunga and Malith, this absurdist musical comedy unites four international volunteer firefighters to fight a series of fires in Sri Lanka, with the almighty power of song.
The premise is a striking push back to the severe lack of Asian representation in Australian stage, film and TV. All of the actors are of South-Asian decent, yet the four protagonists are playing 'white' characters. A concept that is so often shrugged off when it's in the reverse. With thick accents from Russia, Italy, America and Australia, this is a bold reminder to white privilege that yes, people of colour CAN be born in other countries too (glares at the middle aged white woman who could not fathom this concept in the foyer). Furthermore, they can also be the heroes of the story. Not the sidekicks, not the comedic relief, the heroes. Sure, this show is absurd and at moments, hilarious, but at it's core, the show has real heart.
The overall arc of the show holds a strong political message - the issues of the third world cannot be solved by Western decisions. The actors do a fine job of working with the material, accompanied by Hayden Dun, who does a fantastic job of balancing music with acoustic voices.
The cast sound great together, singing some seriously strong harmonies. The four firefighters: Hasini Walpola (Casey, the Australian), Aurnab As-Saber (Brandon, the American), Akansha Hungenahally (Emilia, the Italian) and Tanila De Silva (Aleksiei, the Russian) come together under the guidance of a Sri Lanken parliamentarian played by Ruwanthi Wijetunga. Writer and director Malith also makes an appearance as the Sri Lanken Prime Minister. All actors bring various strengths to the show, of particular note: Hungenahally's incredible vocals, De Silva's hilariously dry delivery and Wijetunga's hysterical physical portrayal of literal fire.
Music by Syd Zygier and Hayden Dun is well written, albeit a little 'serious ballad' heavy in the second half. The main theme "The Power of Song" and it's reprise were particular highlights.
The show itself could use a little tightening in terms of structure. The ending to the show was very strong #ThePowerofSong, only to find there was still ten minutes left to go afterwards. However, overall this show is very enjoyable. There were some minor tech and pacing issues on opening night, but I have absolute confidence these will improve as the season progresses.
This show is a real triumph for representation in Australian theatre. I strongly encourage you to head on down to The Butterfly Club for one hour of laughter, cackling and rapturous applause. Congratulations to all involved.
Sri Lanken Fireteam is on at The Butterfly Club until April 18. Tickets can be purchased here