Chimerica at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Taking six years to write, Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica is every bit as bold, innovative and demanding as its long inception suggests. Gallantly directed by Lyndsey Turner, Chimerica makes its West End debut at the Harold Pinter Theatre following an acclaimed co-production by the Almeida Theatre and the Headlong Company in May. Set between China and America, Chimerica centres around one of the most recognised images of the 20th century: the unknown hero of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, known only as “Tank Man”.
The play begins in Beijing the same year as photojournalist Joe Schofield (Stephen Campbell Moore) captures the famous image from his hotel room window. Fast forward to 2012, and upon a visit back to Beijing Joe is moved to find the lost “Tank Man” and pitches the idea to his fast-talking, world-weary editor Frank (Trevor Cooper). What ensues is a whirling, dramatic rush between Beijing and New York covering vast political territory in relation to progress, censorship, pollution and human rights.
The cast are simply brilliant. The sharp, gritty dialogue is carried effortlessly by Moore, Cooper and Sean Gilder (Mel), as the conventionally bitter, jaded journalists who’ve seen it all. Claudie Blakely is bright and charming as the flippant, plucky market researcher whose British wit makes for some wonderfully funny banter with the all-American Joe. Benedict Wong is convincing, funny and heart-wrenchingly moving as Zhang Lin, Joe’s long-time friend and Tiananmen Square survivor.
Es Devlin’s remarkable set design plays a large part in directing the action of the play as it simultaneously shows several characters, locations and settings. A stage-to-ceiling rotating cube with four moving projector screens takes the audience seamlessly from Beijing to New York, past to present. This presentational device, the fast-paced action and the quick-witted dialogue are what keeps the audience transfixed through almost three hours of what is largely a heavy, complex storyline.
Kirkwood’s smart, envelope-pushing comedy really hits the spot. Journalists and media folk alike are treated to some industry-specific jibes as the press in the audience enjoy more than a few sniggers at split infinitives and ball-busting editors. Kirkwood’s dialogue is inescapably poignant and quotable, branding China as a nation which has gone “from famine to slim-fast in one generation”.
Gutsy, spirited and raw, Chimerica deserves every bit of the attention and acclaim it so boldly demands.
Photo: Johan Persson
Chimerica is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 19th October 2013. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Chimerica here: