Beginning in 1989, Chimerica brings us Joe Schofield, an American Photojournalist stationed in Beijing. Sitting in his hotel room during the Tiananmen protests, he manages to snap the all-famous photograph of Tank Man – a young student standing defiantly in the way of a line of tanks. Fast forward to 2012 and Joe, now back in New York, is faded and hungry to resurrect and rediscover himself. After a tip-off that the Tank Man may still be alive – and even living in New York – he risks everything to track him down and crack the story.
Let’s get this out of the way quickly; this play is three. Hours. Long. Even in theatre terms, it’s not for the faint. It’s grandiose, almost operatic in scale, but is so enthralling for the full run. A cast of 33, including an ensemble of 21 (huge, by Australian theatre standards) grace the stage in a wide range of guises, playing Chinese protestors one minute and American socialites the next. Set design by David Fleischer has the stage bare, with the action on a revolve, giving the play a constant, unflinching action, and seeing some clever moves turn political parties into strip clubs with only a few clicks. Sound design and music by The Sweats gives it an almost thriller-type, Flincher feel, adding to its cinematic scope, which is fitting due to its current adaptation for the screen.
Behind all the grand moves, tight changes and epic tricks, however, some excellent performances. Mark Leonard Winter is wonderfully cast as the arrogant yet naive idealist in Joe, with his journalist sidekick Mel and straight-talking editor Frank played effortlessly by Brent Hill and Tony Coghin, respectively. Jason Chong is mesmerising as Joe’s longtime Beijing-based friend Zhang Lin, bringing wonderful dynamics to his performance. The plot does have a seemingly unnecessary love story between Joe and Englishwoman Tess, a psychographics-style marketing profiler, however the role is greatly played by Geraldine Hakewill, who unravels Tess into a funny and sharp character questioning the west’s interest in China, and ultimately it’s lack of understanding of its nuances.
While some may find it a little overblown and with some unnecessary, almost Hollywood-style tropes (particularly in it’s ending), it’s a feat of both performance and technicality which was refreshing to see on a Sydney stage. As this is Kip Williams’ first show as Sydney Theatre Company’s new Artistic Director, let’s hope we see more of this.
Chimerica plays at Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre until April 1st – for more information head here.
The reviewer attended this show on March 8th.