Theatre review: Chimerica, Almeida Theatre, N1

CHIMERICA by Kirkwood, , Writer - Lucy Kirkwood, Director - Lyndsey Turner, Design - Es Devlin,

CHIMERICA by Kirkwood, , Writer - Lucy Kirkwood, Director - Lyndsey Turner, Design - Es Devlin, Almeida Theatre, London, 2013, Credit: Johan Persson/ - Credit: Archant

The Almeida and the innovative touring company, Headlong, have combined to present this amazing production, ingeniuosly directed by Lyndsey Turner.

Mysterious, fascinating, complex, uncontrollable, and perhaps ultimately disastrous, Chimerica, is the offspring of the love-hate relationship between China and America. It crashes noisily onto the stage with a speed and panache which never flags for the three or more hours of its length. The set, designed by Es Devlin, consists of a huge, revolving cube onto which a series of magnified photographic contact sheets are projected. This whirls the action through scene after scene, accompanied by sound (Carolyn Downing) and lighting (Tim Lutkin) that assaults the senses with a force that exactly matches the mood of Lucy Kirkwood’s action-packed thriller of a play.

It is unsurprising that this play took six years to write: it has been thoroughly researched and includes fascinating nuance and detail. The central story is that of a photographer, Joe Schofield, played with driven and exasperating intensity by Stephen Campbell Moore, and his troubled and sensitive Chinese friend Zhang Lin, perceptively interpreted by both Andrew Leung (as a youth) and Benedict Wong (in maturity). Early in his career, Joe photographs the frail young man, carrying a plastic bag, who stood in front of a tank in Tiannamon Square in 1989. Who was he? Why was he there? What happened to him? Twenty-three years later, after coming across a newspaper article suggesting that the Tank Man is still alive, he determines to find him. In the process, he loses his job, his British girl-friend (movingly played by Claudie Blackley), puts Zhang Ling in mortal danger and causes incomparable collateral damage. The writing, throughout the layers of sub-plots and political innuendos, is witty and insightful.

In September, Rupert Goold, current artistic director of Headlong, will take over as the new artistic director of The Almeida. This bodes well for the future programme at the Almeida.

Until 6th July.

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Box office: 020 7359 4404

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