I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
Epic, gritty and moving
A lone man stands in front of a line of military tanks in Tianamen Square, China armed with nothing but a grocery bag in each arm. This iconic image of peaceful rebellion captivated the world and the fate of the unknown man captured the imagination of British playwright Lucy Kirkwood, whose play Chimerica is a fictionalised account of a photographer who took the famous image and his quest to find and unmask the unidentified rebel.
Directed by Kip Williams, this Sydney Theatre Company production is every bit as iconic as the famous photo that inspired the work. At 3 hours long, it is an epic journey that never once feels laboured or overdone. The production is staged on a an empty Roslyn Packer Theatre stage with swarms of silhouetted cast members bringing on and off the props and set pieces to great effect. Indeed, William's use of his large cast is commendable and effective, most noticeably so in the breathtaking opening of the play where a throng of "tank men" stand and motion with their plastic bags in unison and in another involving red dresses and garbage bags which I won't spoil for you.
Mark Leonard Winter is strong as Joe, the photographer who grows more and more obsessed with the identity of the Tank Man and his visible demise throughout the production as he struggles to find some semblance of meaning in his life is well portrayed. Winter's Joe is slightly overplayed at times, particularly next to the beautiful subtle work of Jason Chong's Zhang Lin, a Chinese friend of Joe's who was in Tianamen Square at the time of the massacre. Some of the most beautiful and poignant moments of this production are the flashback scenes, narrated by Chong and acted out by Charles Wu playing a young Zhang Lin and Jenny Wu as his young love and we truly empathise with this man who still struggles to deal with such horror and sadness. Gabrielle Chan is also brilliant as Zhang Lin's 59 year old dying neighbour who incites his anger and frustration towards the party's failure to acknowledge Beijing's pollution as the cause of her sickness.
Geraldine Hakewill's turn as Tessa Kendrick is understated, genuine and heartfelt and we very readily see her transition from a young corporate minded woman, to a woman capable of more depth and empathy who watches Joe's demise. Her monologue in Act 2 deservedly garners a spontaneous round of applause from the audience.
Every element of this production excels and belies belief. It's truly an epic masterpiece that is equal parts grandiose and gritty, symbolic and painfully human. In examining one man's peaceful rebellion, Chimerica manages to tell a story of heroism and horror as well as commenting on the West's obsession with China's economics without really understanding the culture, the history or the people. Like the photo of the Tank Man, Kip Williams' production of Chimerica is iconic and deserves to be talked about for years to come.