Sometimes there is a play. There is a before the play, and there is an after the play. This particular after the play you wonder how Lucy Kirkwood managed pull all this together. An after the play when something changed.
Before it starts you sit down, the day has been long, and some serious news happened. There was also dinner and wine before you arrive at the Harold Pinter Theatre with few minutes to spare. It’s warm and you wonder why you’re spending the evening indoors when you could be in a park, frolicking with all the other Londoners.
Instead you wait for the play to begin; it seemed like the right thing to do when you booked the tickets. Then again, the English media has thrown buckets of five star reviews on it. And one of your friends had something manic in her eyes when she spoke about it after having seen it during its first stint, at the Almeida Theatre.
Chimerica, a story about a US photographer trying to find the man who faced the tanks at Tiananmen Square in 1989, is probably the most lauded play in London this year. It’s naturally about much more than just a photographer trying to find “tank man”.
During its course we get a brilliant cross cultural exposé of the US – China relationship, both politically, but also culturally, emotionally and between individuals. The interactions between the numerous characters brilliantly illustrate the many conundrums and misunderstandings that exist as these two super powers reinvent their relationship with each other. The characters include a newspaper tycoon trying to handle the demise in his profession, an anthropologist studying the Chinese consumer market on behalf of a credit card company, and a Chinese English teacher at odds with his country’s rapid change, just to name a few.
Chimerica looks awesome, the spinning centre stage reveals a number of various settings, seamlessly skipping between the US and China in a very clever and eye-catching way. As the story unfolds the portraits of the people caught up in this mix intensifies, eventually leaving me literally clutching my armrest as the play unfolds in a finale which is just as clever and gripping as you’d hoped.
It’s one of those plays. You go in, sit down, go out, and things look different. Everything that happened earlier suddenly felt miniscule, and even though they held personal importance they seemed small compared to this play. Chimerica manages to be both emotionally gripping and get the political backdrop tone just right. It also manages to be very contemporary and say something about the past.
As we went out in the balmy summer evening there was astonishment over what we had seen, and even now, a day after, it remains very close, as the claws of geopolitics and the personal drama cooked up by Lucy Kirkwood’s sharp and witty pen continues to linger in my head.
It’s one of those plays, which you really need to see if you can.