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Sri Lankan Fireteam at the Melbourne Comedy Festival

Q&A with the writers of Sri Lankan Fireteam: The Power of Song

Sri Lankan Fireteam: The Power of Song, an original absurdist comedy musical, debuts at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival tonight. We speak with writers Ruwanthi Wijetunga and Malith about their vision behind the show and what it has in store for us!

Malith, let’s start with you, tell us a little about the show along with where and when we can catch it.

The story follows four firefighters who come to Sri Lanka from around the world to fight a suspicious string of fires which have been plaguing the small island nation. Through the hour-long show the audience will discover a little more about these characters as they begin to question the absurdity of the situation which surrounds them. 

We’re on at The Butterfly Club, a beautiful venue just in the heart of the city off Lt Collins Street. Our season runs for a full week from the 12th to the 18th of April, with shows beginning at 7pm! Book your tickets here.

How did the idea strike you and what is the inspiration behind it?

Malith: Myself and my original co-creator were literally spitballing the most absurd premise possible. A comedy-drama about firefighters which happened to be a musical. Also, set in Sri Lanka so as to make it a bit “exotic”. But the cast would have to still somehow be white people -- because, after all, there are no Asians on TV!

Although, when bringing this show into reality I realised that I didn’t want to perpetuate the same very real issue I saw in the industry for the sake of making commentary on it (white actors often being cast in POC roles), so that’s what brought us to our fully South Asian cast!

Ruwanthi: Yeah, when Malith first came to me with this idea, I thought it was ludicrous but also very, very him. I’m genuinely awestruck of how we were able to create such a poignant piece of theatre out of such an absurd premise it is!


Ruwanthi, why does the description of the show say “brown-washed White saviours”? I often thought saviours were white-washed. Tell us about this twist!

As Malith said, we developed this new iteration of the show as a means of providing South Asian actors with an opportunity to help present a narrative that they may know all too well: Western influences come into 'third world' nations and just straight up act like Lenny from ‘Of Mice & Men’. The four main characters in this show are supposed to be anti-heroes that we still ultimately find ourselves rooting for. Why? Because theirs is the narrative presented to us. This is the case within and around the Western canon, ranging from films like ‘Paradise Road’ to James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’. We root for the ‘white saviours’ because that’s the perspective we’re given in the media.

Malith and I decided to shake it up quite unapologetically, and we ask our audience to suspend their disbelief as they watch this production, as the African and Asian diaspora have had to do rather endlessly (see Scarlett Johansson in ‘Ghost in the Shell’/Alison Brie voicing Diane Nguyen in ‘Bojack Horseman’/Mike Myers in ANYTHING).

Malith, what was the process like from pitching to gathering the crew to now finally performing?

It’s been a ride! We were originally slated to go on in March of 2020 before the entire world shut down. We auditioned people for the cast back then and we auditioned a couple more this time. It was so great to see how many people returned from last year's version of the show -- I think it really proved to me how important this show has already become to so many people (even if so far it’s only the people who have been so lucky to be involved in it). We’re so, so excited to finally be able to share it with the world!

Ruwanthi, what will the audience take back from this?


Aside from the politics behind the show and encouraging discussion about international relations, what I want more than anything is for our audience to see the sheer talent of our cast and crew! This is a truly fantastic show and we have some amazing performers up on stage, and they deserve to be celebrated.
Some of our actors were following the controversy surrounding the Rob Guest Endowment selecting all white finalists at the beginning of this year, so honestly it feels so good to have been able to create a stunning piece of musical theatre with a full POC cast. They said it couldn’t be done. They said we didn’t exist. Well here we bloody are!
We also want our audience to keep in mind that the crux of this story is that when the West chooses to tackle concerns in the third world by relying on charities over developing policies, the countries receiving a ‘helping hand’ are actually often worse off in the long term. Let the third world gain autonomy! Let sovereign states decide what is best for them and their people. The role of the West should be to make space for alternative perspectives rather than simply promote their own. Diversity in thought is what will best support our development as a global population.


Malith, do you see the Sri Lankan comedy scene changing in Australia? 

I’m not super well-versed in the stand-up scene within Australia or Melbourne more particularly, but my view on it more broadly as a creative and performing artist is that I have quite a bit of hope that we will be seeing more POC stories as we progress forward. Australians are growing increasingly hungry for stories coming from more diverse voices, voices which reflect the diversity which is true to our country and our culture. My hope is that we soon come to see the mainstream media further embrace this diversity of voices that somewhat more fringe platforms such as the MICF have been spearheading for years.

Cast and Crew of The Sri Lankan Fireteam: The Power of Song


Starring Tanila De Silva, Aurnab As-Saber, Hasini Walpola, Akansha Hungenahally and Ruwanthi Wijetunga.

Created by Patrick Schnur and Malith.

Written by Ruwanthi Wijetunga and Malith.

Music by Syd Zygier and Hayden Dun.

Choreography by Eliza Grundy.

Directed by Malith.

Musical Direction by Hayden Dun.

Logo/poster design by Michael Wilson.

Artwork by Arli Griffin Faruk.

About the author

Dilpreet is the founder of South Asian Today. More about her can be found here.




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