In its opening moments Chimerica greets us with the back of its full cast, each in the vise of the iconic image “Tank Man”. Together they move, whipping their shopping bags in defiance. It is the precursor to the essence of this play: the enigma that is the Tank Man and his shopping bags.
It is from here that we are whipped into an extraordinary piece of storytelling. Through an incredibly strong supporting cast (which includes 20 NIDA musical theatre students), set changes, plot intrigue, and most importantly, through mesmerizing dialogue, Chimerica grasps you right where it counts and keeps you at the edge of your seat throughout its entire 3-hour duration. There’s not a moment that drags, a moment to be done without- everything is perfectly placed into this complex play.
The plot centres around photographer Joe Schofield (played by a magnificent Mark Leonard Winter) who captured the iconic Tank Man photograph and has now become obsessed with the “heroism” of the man’s act. He becomes determined to find out what happened to him, reasoning “how does a guy like that just disappear?”.
We are transported through set after set through the clever use of minimal props, a revolving stage, and cast members running on and off delivering the set changes. The speed and movement of these changes help emphasize the intensity of the play, giving the stagecraft the cinematic-trick of transporting the audience into its world. The advantage of a full cast is also used multiple times throughout the production to great effect- not just for set direction, but for reinforcing moments and creating scale.
As the plot progresses we become less certain of the validity of Joe’s goal. He resolutely believes that he is doing right, and gives in to no temptation of fame or fortune. However his tenacity leaves behind a host of damaged people as a result. “I had to” he reasons, “I make no apology for that” he argues. Perhaps the words Zhang Lin (Jason Chong) utters would be most useful for him- “a person who lies to himself is happiest”.
The play delivers with a most beautiful finale, turning everything on its head and conveying, in my opinion, most significant food for thought- that what is happening around a moment may be just as crucial to understanding as the act itself. That others are not insignificant because they “didn’t step in front of a tank”. That a person’s baggage may be far heavier than you ever thought.
Witness the great plot intrigue of Chimerica at the Roslyn Packer Theatre Sydney until the 1st April. For more information and to book visit sydneytheatre.com.au