Home » Reviews » Off West End » Chimerica, Almeida Theatre

Chimerica, Almeida Theatre

Lucy Kirwood

Directed by Lyndsey Turner
Pros: An excellent script addresses some fascinating issues, with top-notch performances and a stunning set. What more could you ask for?!
Cons: At over 3 hours the play is long, but to be honest I don’t know what you could lose – I really have no complaints.
Our Verdict: I suspect this play is going to go down as one of the best new plays this year. I’d thoroughly recommend you try to beg, borrow, or steal a ticket.
Credit: Johan Persson for the Almeida
Chimerica is a new play written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Lyndsey Turner, created in collaboration with Headlong Theatre. What is perhaps most striking about it is the design of the show. Starting a review talking about this might seem like an odd approach were it not for the fact that the plot of this play is so tightly woven within it. What we see is a giant white box, on a revolve. Sides of this box unfurl to reveal scenes within, while others take place alongside it. But it is the projection of beautifully selected photography upon this literal blank canvas that makes it some of the most striking design work I have seen for a long-time. The reason for this choice becomes clear – the play revolves around a photojournalist, Joe Schofield (Stephen Campbell Moore), and his hunt for ‘Tank Man’, a man made famous by his actions of rebellion in the fallout from Tiananmen Square, and recorded photographically by Schofield.
I can’t praise Es Devlin’s design highly enough. Devlin designed the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, along with a host of other things. She is a master of her craft, and clearly the rest of the team who have interpreted and produced her vision are equally talented. The concept is excellent and the execution even better. Finn Ross’ precision in lining up the video projection with a rotating cube so that the picture is at all times directly superimposed is a joy to behold. Tim Lutkin’s lighting is beautiful, and Carolyn Downing’s sound completes the package. This show is a technical wonder – I’d pay my money just to see all that, if I was you. The excellent play is, in many ways, a bonus.
But an excellent play it is. Despite the running time, I revelled in every minute. Joe undertakes a hunt for the man immortalised in photographic form and his friend Zhang Lin (Benedict Wong) addresses his own demons surrounding the events of Tiananmen Square. The play asks many questions, from the ethics of photojournalism, to the inherent gray-scale of the actions of a capitalist society and the terrifying and amazing societal changes unfolding in China. You simply need three hours to even attempt to unwrap some of the complexity of the issues involved in this play. Kirkwood’s script is excellent, and both Campbell Moore and Wong do a superb job leading a strong cast. Claudie Blakely is great as Joe’s girlfriend, and her presentation to the audience which cuts to the core of the inherent differences between Chinese and Western society is skilfully played. 
This play feels big. I’m not sure whether it’s the excellent script complete with and expansive and complex storyline, the stunning set and design or the sheer force of the acting talent on stage, but what Lyndsey Turner has managed to produce is a play that practically overwhelms the intimate space of the Almeida. Prepare to experience theatre at its best.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Chimerica runs at the Almeida Theatre until 6th July 2013.
Box Office: 020 7359 4404 or book online at http://www.almeida.co.uk/event/chimerica

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