John Bowles is a respected tv presenter, theatre and concert performer.
Chimerica is an ambitious play. Not least because the story revolves around an iconic photograph taken during the Tiananmen Square riots and ultimately turns our assumption about it on its head.
“Chimerica” is a term used to describe the closely interlocked economies of China and the United States.
This is a thriller, and watching the drama unfold at the Harold Pinter Theatre, I felt at times that I was watching a movie. It’s not just the extensive use of photographic images projected on to the set, and the dramatic soundtrack that punctuates the scenes, but the set design itself; a revolving box in which most of the action takes place. Rooms are revealed as screens slide back, verandas, offices and living rooms all appear in a sweep of action contributing to the drama of the very fine script by Lucy Kirkwood.
This is not the first time we have seen projection of this type featured on stage. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Woman In White’ seemed to be paving a new way for theatre presentation when it premiered in 2004. But, in that case, it overwhelmed the piece. Es Devlin’s design is a feature of this play and while the box structure seems to cleverly crowd the action at times, in other moments, it provides the energy and flow from one scene to the next allowing the audience to breath with the script and ponder for a moment as the set revolves once more; everyone eagerly awaiting the next set up for the next scene, the next conversation, the next revelation.
From the moment we lay eyes on Campbell Moore, an American photographer in Beijing who is reporting on the riots in Tiananmen Square, talking to his editor while realizing that a human tragedy is unfolding below as he watches from his hotel balcony, we engage with this likeable anti-hero who’s energy kicks off the action and never stops.
The casting is superb. Claudie Blakley plays a self assured market researcher with a fear of flying who ultimately falls for our leading man. The fact that a very convincing love story is woven into this complicated, political thriller is testament to all involved. It is not surprising to find out that it took six years to write. What perhaps is surprising is that the writer is only twenty nine years of age with a great career before her.
Special mention must go to Benedict Wong, our photographers main contact in China, who sets the tone of the drama.
As in all great ensemble pieces, all these characters are pitched well and interacting with purpose. The pacey direction is by Lyndsey Turner.
I was intrigued by this play from the moment I sat in my seat and was faced with the image of a lone protestor facing off with a military tank, and if I only a criticism, it is that the running time of the performance is a little long.