Left – Monica Sayers and Brent Hill. Cover – Mark Leonard Winter, Brent Hill, Tony Cogin and Rebecca Massey. Photos – Brett Boardman
A big black bare stage. A couple of white goods. Tables and chairs. A lot of bodies and plastic shopping bags. This is the stuff of epic theatre as presented by Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica.
Niall Ferguson coined the term ‘Chimerica’ in his book, The Ascent of Money. It refers to the symbiotic economic growth of both countries. Capitalism, Communism and Culture. East, West and wherever the twains might meet.
The play begins nearly thirty years ago, amidst the bloody oppression of the Tiananmen Square protests. Taking its cue from the unlikely hero halted a column of tanks, a body of actors, backs to the audience, clasping plastic shopping bags give defiant swing, at once a mimic of an iconic image and a metaphor for the sling used by David against Goliath
The hero became known as Tankman, which is both idiomatic and suggestive of a super hero nomenclature. Armed with shopping bags rather than a cape or a cowl, Tankman’s super power was individual courage in the face of a State Superpower.
A single man stopping a fleet of armoured vehicles is an inspiring image, one that has ignited the imagination of playwright Lucy Kirkwood. Not a masked avenger, yet he is still a mystery man, standing up against military might.
In the play, it’s an image captured by a young American photojournalist, Joe Schofield, shooting from a nearby hotel room.
Twenty three years later, Joe’s long-time friend in China, Zhang Lin, hints that the hero of that photo may have survived and relocated to New York City.
Joe launches an investigation into both his identity and his fate that threatens his career, his relationships and his personal ethics.
Kip Williams direction marshals his players with military precision. By keeping it simple he has spawned an epic, focused without sprawling, no video, no projections, the story delivered by actors, and a little bit of genuine theatrical sleight of hand.
The Westerners are led by Mark Leonard Winter as journalist Joe Schofield, brash American charmer, plagued with the dilemma of the professional photojournalist – If you record, you cannot intervene, if you intervene, you cannot record. As Nick Nolte's character says in the film Under Fire, “I take pictures not sides”. But as Winter's performance shows, its not so easy being detached.
Geraldine Hakewill as Tessa Kendrick, British corporate high flyer with a fear of flying is his match in charm and charisma. Tony Cogin gives a bristling bare knuckled turn as Joe's old-school newspaper editor and Brent Hill is so much more than second banana as Joe's journalist sidekick, Mel.
The ever versatile Rebecca Massey amasses an amazing carnival of characters from secretaries to Senators, sassy, strong, sexy and smart.
The East is led by Jason Chong as Zhang Ling, in a sage, funny and heart breaking performance. He is joined by the lustrous talents of Gabrielle Chan, Monica Sayers, Anthony Brandon Wong, Charles Wu and Jenny Wu.
The ensemble cast of seeming teeming thousands is made up of Diploma of Musical Theatre students from NIDA, an illustrative credit to their training.
Visually and physically visceral, pertinent, provocative, and precise in its performances, and a crystalline view of the pitfalls of globalisation – the international clashing with the traditional, the differences in culture (shades of Martin Scorsese’s current film, Silence) – Chimerica is a triumph of stage writing, stage craft and stage management. Every cast, crew and creative deserves the highest kudos.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
by Lucy Kirkwood
Director Kip Williams
Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay NSW
Dates: 28 February – 1 April 2017
Tickets: $105 – $77
Bookings: 02 9250 1777 | www.sydneytheatre.com.au