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Chimerica – Almeida Theatre, London

Writer: Lucy Kirkwood

Director: Lyndsey Turner

Reviewer: Elizabeth Vile


CHIMERICA by KirkwoodLucy Kirkwood’s epic yet always engaging play, ‘Chimerica’ had the whole audience gripped from its beginning right through to its end, 3 hours and 5 minutes later. This production is not for the faint hearted as the first half is 1 hour 45 minutes long but the writing, acting and staging is so minutely crafted this production is a must see for all.

The play focuses on a photograph taken of a man standing in front of a row of tanks during the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. About 20 years later its creator, Joe Schofield, decides to try to find out who the man in the photograph is.

Schofield is performed flawlessly by Stephen Campbell Moore, his passion, determination and insecurities are shown to the audience in detail and they are really able to sympathise with him even when his decisions were not always the right ones. Sean Gilder as Schofield’s long suffering friend Mel Stanwyck, Claudie Blakley as his love interest Tessa Kendrick and Trevor Cooper as his hard-nosed boss support and develop the American side of Schofield’s story. The relationship Schofield has with these characters is believable, humorous and bitter sweet throughout. Helping to create the tension within the Chinese side of the story is Benedict Wong as the intellectual but psychologically damaged Zhang Lin. His relationship with Schofield is the key to unlocking the truth about the photograph as well as forcing him to face his own inner demons. Every member of the cast performed convincingly as one or more characters and every character drove the plot forward.

The set, ingeniously designed by Es Devlin, must also be mentioned as it played a pivotal rôle in keeping the pace up and the story progressing in a clear and seamless way. The revolving stage was used effectively so that there was no wait between scenes it also meant that the audience felt that at times they were a fly on the wall, watching private moments or being given extra detail to make the transition between times and places crystal clear. The use of projection also added to the detail of the piece and really set the scenes, the red annotations and music choice also kept the mystery and tension high during the scene changes.

Chimerica is an in depth, well researched and powerful piece that is packed full of information, opinion, emotion and passion. It explores the fragile relationship between America and China through individual people and events and asked a range of questions about the past, present and future of China and the Western World. This is an absorbing, informative and sensitive piece that should be seen by all.

Photo: Johan Persson

Runs until 6th July

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One comment

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    As a journalist, I most enjoyed Lucy Kirwood’s snippets of journalist’s lives– how facing death and conflict daily breeds a sense of cynicism towards the world, but not an absence of heart.

    However, I wanted to know more about Joe’s progression from a starry eyed 18 year old taking an iconic photograph, to his final photojournalism show, showing scenes of human tragedy and justice. That vital piece of his character was missing from the story, making it less beleivable.

    And Lindsey Turner’s decision to insert a bit of Mandarin Chinese language, to make the play ‘authentic’ took a turn for the wobbly. The Chinese characters were made to speak one line of Mandarin; and then English, in very English accents. This was mildly disconcerting — especially as the other characters spoke in their character’s American accents or British accents. Then a pair of Chinese characters encountered a pair of British journalists, who also spoke English in an English accent. Suddenly, I realised that the Chinese characters were supposed to have been speaking in Mandarin this entire time! Very disconcerting!