Mwathirika Oz Asia 2015Oz Asia Festival. Papermoon Puppet Theatre. 25 Sep 2015


53 years is quite a long wait to feel comfortable about tackling extremely dark moments in a nation’s history publically in performance. Then again, it’s only roughly two generations removed from the political violence and unrest that gripped Indonesia in 1965. For some nations, that might be considered too early.


Papermoon Puppet Theatre’s Mwathirika successfully manages the difficult task of revisiting what one historian described as the “black hole” of Indonesian history; the nation-wide massacre of PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) members, those perceived to be members, or opportunistically assumed to be members as a means of settling village scores. All this occurred as a response to allegations the PKI was involved in a coup against the military, lasting well into 1966.


Writer/performer Maria Tri Sulistyani and Visual Artist Iwan Effendi’s production balances a complex blend of puppetry, human actors and multimedia elements to express the fatal consequences for the innocent, caused by sanctioned political actions. Their intelligent, beautiful and gently developed story of two close brothers, nine-year-old Moyo, his little brother Tupu and their father, Baba, strives to discover and reclaim a deep humanity from the aftermath of the nation’s blood thirsty past.


To a child, a red balloon is an innocent thing of joy, of play. Baba gives such a balloon to Tupu after Moyo has broken his toy wooden horse. A travelling show visits not long after replete with clowns, and red flags are eagerly handed out. After the excitement, Tupu leaves the balloon outside overnight. The morning finds a red triangle painted on their home’s window shutter. What does this mean? A visit from a an armed soldier asking the neighbour who lives there makes the danger of the red triangle clear.


Mwathirika’s emphasis on crumbling communal trust between neighbours, brutal oppression of people, no matter who they are or what part of the nation they come from, and meek acceptance of this by those targeted, is writ large in Moyo and Tupu’s experiences.


Moyo and Tupu’s innocent games, the joy of the red balloon and their communication with each other using red whistles, mark some of the many bonds of unity and support they enjoy. The encroachment into their lives of fear and the gradual stripping away of support is heart breaking; made comprehendible by the simple directness in the performance of the narrative, and subtle nuances of characterisation elicited from the production’s five puppets.


Mwathirika seeks neither to offer qualified context or slant to an audience. It offers merely a series of real consequences to real events, leaving the audience entirely free to formulate their own opinions and structure their own pathway to further understanding.


David O’Brien


When: 25 and 26 Sep

Where: Rehearsal Room

Bookings: Closed

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