Theatre review: Mwathirika, Glasgow

STAGED AS part of a rich week-long festival of Indonesian arts curated by the Glasgow-based Cryptic company, Papermoon Puppet Theatre’s Mwathirika shook its audiences at the CCA this week with the sheer force and bleakness of its political vision, delivered through the puppet-drama of ten-year-old Moyo and his little sister Tupu, who is only four, and a little bit spoiled by her doting Dad and older brother.
Papermoon Puppet Theatre deliver a forceful and bleak visionPapermoon Puppet Theatre deliver a forceful and bleak vision
Papermoon Puppet Theatre deliver a forceful and bleak vision

Their bright, light-touch family story is unfolding, though, against a backdrop of political turmoil, conveyed through powerful filmed sequences featuring images of machine-like chaos, and through the use of the colour red – a red balloon, red flags, a fatal triangle of red paint daubed on the house.

And as Dad is marched away – and the neighbours shrink in fear, terrified to help the abandoned children – Mwathirika (the word means victim) develops into a devastatingly angry and sorrowful drama about the terrible suffering of the half million who were victims of the country’s great anti-communist purge of 1965-66.

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There’s something undeniably rough about the storytelling in Mwathirika, as if the pain of the subject had somehow overwhelmed director Maria Tri Sulistyani and her company; there are long fades to black between scenes, the pace is often very slow, and the ending is so sudden that its meaning almost escapes us.

The impact of the show is immense, though; and it suggests that we need to see more of this passionate, questioning Indonesian theatre in Scotland, as soon as possible.

• Run completed. Discover Indonesia continues at the CCA and across Glasgow until tomorrow