The Mourning After Play


NameThe Mourning After
Start Date30 March 2011
End Date20 July 2021
PlaywrightAhi Karunaharan
Writer(s)Ahi Karunaharan
Type of TextPlay


Written by playwright Ahilan Karunaharan, The Mourning After was the first full-length Sri Lankan play in Aotearoa.

Set in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the one-hander follows Shekar, who was born in Aotearoa, travelling back to his familial village in Northern Sri Lanka after his father’s death, only to find that it has been swept away by the tsunami. The solo performance requires the main actor to play Shekar as well as his many family members that live in the village. They regale each other, and the audience, with stories of their personal connections, the country’s folklore, and how the village was once the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This movie reference also influences the costuming within the play in its later iterations, with the actor wearing a costume reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s in the Indiana Jones films.

The Mourning After began as a 20-minute monologue that Karunaharan wrote and performed for his final year at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School in 2007. He then developed it into a full-length play, which he performed himself in the first full-length presentation. The only physical accompaniments that Karunaharan used were a palm-leaf fan and a line of sand. Reviewing the play, Ewen Colemen described it as “a confident and consummate performance that is very physical in movement and gesture as well as being highly emotional, Karunaharan brings the characters alive as he imbues each with their own idiosyncrasies.”

In 2015, the play was presented by Prayas Theatre Company at Basement Theatre, and was expanded to include a full cast of actors. It then returned to being a solo show in 2021, when it was presented as part of Kia Mau festival and then at Q Theatre. It was accompanied by a quartet of musicians, with Jehangir Homavazir as Shekar and Karunaharan as the Director.

The music and movement in the play references traditional Sri Lankan dance, theatre and musical traditions, culminating in a contemporary piece of theatre that traverses many elements of Sri Lankan cultural history. As Karunaharan explained, “The form and the structure of the work defies the traditional narrative structure. This is a work about memory, remembrance and nostalgia, and the fragmented, disjointed structure is reflective of it. This form of storytelling and presentation borrows heavily from Naatukoothu and Kathakalakshepa traditions.”

The script includes English, Sinhalese, and Tamil to base the play in a Sri Lankan context while allowing an English-speaking audience access to the dialogue. The play grapples with themes of loss and reconnection, and Karunaharan has stated that this play poses questions like “How does a community rebuild and move on [after a disaster]?” and “What do you hold onto and what do you take with you to move forward?”


Key works / presentations

Q Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau
July 20-25, 2021

Circa One, Circa Theatre, Pōneke
June 4-12, 2021

Basement Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau
June 30-July 3, 2015

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, Pōneke
Oct 16-27, 2012

THE BOX, Petone
Mar 30-Apr 2, 2011

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Last updated: 5 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


Man in a soldier's uniform sitting crossed legged in a sand covered surface

The Mourning After, Jehangir Homavazir as Shekarr

Photo by Roc+ Photograph

Photograph of a group of people in South Asian garments on a surface covered in sand

Cast for The Mourning After, 2021

Photo by Roc+ Photograph

Photo of two men standing together and smiling

Jehangir Homavazir and Ahilan Karunaharan