As Barack Obama gains a second term across the other side of the world a Chinese man is crudely beaten in a police cell. Back in New York an illegal emigree, a Chinese flower seller, screams as the NYPD forces her to remove her wedding ring. Outside, a photographer cum Colombo is messing up his love life in search of a story, in search of tank man.
This is the world of Chimerica, Headlong and Almeida Theatres’ thriller about political conscience and Western-Chinese relations. From start to finish it had me utterly gripped. Despite being over three hours long I was on the edge of my seat throughout (literally but shhh b1/2 and b32/33 circle are possibly the best restricted view seats in London).
“I hate Americans – their teeth are too white”
Es Devlin`s ever revolving stage and Finn Ross` urgent video were a permanent reminder of the pace of change (40 years of development squeezed into 10, as one character suggested), creating a world where everyone seemed to be watching everyone else. A world where plain clothed, miked up security guards prevent the taking of photographs and the knock on the door seems just moments away. No surprise to read that Devlin had designed the Michael Sheen Hamlet at the Young Vic.
“All they give a shit about is growth”
It proves the perfect background to Lucy Kirkwood`s six-year-in-the-making tale of love and loss, of power, control and what we might mean by a modern day folk hero. With the help of his friend and colleague Zhang Lin (Benedict Wong) the American photographer Joe Schofield (Stephen Campbell Moore) is in search of `tank` man. The tale that results is almost Shakespearian in its sweep.
“Photos are like people. The more there are of them the less value in individual ones there are”
Under Lyndsey Turner`s direction Chimerica becomes a pacy, funny and eloquently choreographed fable for our times. Its that pace and humour which drives the production to its almost inevitable conclusion.
Ultimately the ending that Kirkwood has conjured makes total, brutal and tragic, shivering sense even if dramatically it`s the one moment that doesn’t quite fly.
That minor gripe aside this is an extraordinary production. Gripping from start to finish, brilliantly played by an ensemble cast, breath taking in its execution. A must see.