Chimerica at the Almeida
What does a photograph mean? It depends on who you are really. Chimerica explores the story and meaning behind that most iconic image of a young Chinese layman in Tiananmen Square, standing his ground in front of several tanks back in 1989 (and uses many similar pieces and indeed cast members from the recent Arrest of the Ai Weiwei at the Hampstead Theatre).
Like the play’s supporting cast of skilfully portrayed caricatures, the image in question has entered the language of modern culture and become part of Western society. The assumed acknowledgement that the Chinese people are reluctantly living under a malevolent and controlling communist party is as familiar a yarn as the play’s central storyline of a go-getting cosmopolitan reporter trying to score that big scoop. Both key elements, however, are handled with unusual depth, and yet somehow presented in a wholly palatable manner. The play’s soft touch comes from the script’s balance between flippant humour and confronting bold beauty, the cast ably travelling through the many complexities and passages of the tale.
While there are many characters written and played in a rather stereotypical manner, the very manner of these cliché’s is riffed upon within the script and engenders some of the central themes – namely the relative similarities between modern day China and America. Stephen Campbell Moore (The History Boys), Claudie Blakley (Gosford Park) and particularly Benedict Wong (The Arrest of Ai Weiwei) all propel the three-hour play along at a perfect pace in the central roles, while the staging compliments the proceedings impeccably. The stage is mostly comprised of a shape shifting revolving box, coping with breakneck set changes fluidly and overlaid with magnificently used projections.
It indeed is possible that one man’s oppression is another man’s ideology in action, and few plays are able to deal with such heady material with as much humour, skill and sensitivity.
Chimerica is at the Almeida Theatre until 6th July 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.