Review: Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, at the Almeida theatre (a Headlong co-production)

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

From Wikipedia: Chimerica is a neologism coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick describing the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States. In truth, Lucy Kirkwood’s new play, ambitious, incisive and complex, has much in common with the legendary chimera, a creature made with parts from various animals. The play, similarly, wants to be many things (political, character driven, suspenseful, probing the big picture and the tiny details) and in a wondrous deeply moving way it succeeds.

The play spans three decades, starting at a hotel off¬†Tiananmen square in 1989. Three characters take centre stage: an american journalist, a chinese teacher, an english marketing researcher. Colleagues, bosses, relatives, acquaintances, politicians, the authorities swarm around them. At the heart of it a quest,¬† with press freedom, people’s souls and safety at stake. In fact, this is a story where the stakes are always high: whether it’s friendship, love, morals, livelihoods, nothing is trivialised. There are no perfect choices. Holding onto the moral high ground becomes a sin in its own right. Continue reading

Review: The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, by Nick Dear, at the Almeida

Pip Carter as Edward Thomas. Photo Nobby Clark

In the end it was the smell that did it. I admit it, it’s an unusual thing to praise a stage production for but it’s the first thing you notice entering the Almeida auditorium: the smell of damp earth. And for someone like me, who worries that poetic might be just another word for vague and anaemic, it was the perfect calling card. The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, written by Nick Dear and directed with extreme assurance by Richard Eyre, might be about words and art and poetry but it’s the smells and sounds that take centre stage.

The second thing that makes an impression is the space: the whole of the Almeida stage is open and uncluttered save for some balls of hay and the dark damp earth. All scenes, in people’s living rooms or the streets of London, take place upon dark soil. A few weeks back, I complained that the sand on the Donmar stage made Berenice look uncertain. Here the effect is exactly the opposite: everything is grounded, even Edward Thomas’ ghosts or flights of fancy.

The production is blessed with cracking performances: Continue reading

Review: King Lear at the Almeida

Jonathan Pryce as King Lear and Phoebe Fox as Cordelia. Photo Keith Pattison

If you are a regular theatregoer, you quickly find out you are never too far away from a new Hamlet or King Lear. And as much as I initially resist buying a ticket, more often than not I succumb to the temptation of any new production. Jonathan Pryce as King Lear is an irresistible premise, and in that sense the Almeida production doesn’t disappoint.

In fact, Jonathan Pryce is extraordinary. I don’t have the knowledge or inclination to compare him with other King Lears, but the fact remains I found him incredibly moving, his Lear full of “rage against the dying of the light” and increasingly desperate that he exhausts himself out of his sanity. In Act 2, Scene 4, when Lear confronts Regan about the treatment of Kent, his rage was so infused in sorrow that I felt myself going cold. This is only the second time seeing Jonathan Pryce on stage (the first time was in the Donmar production of Dimetos a couple of years ago, and I didn’t like that play), and his immediacy and emotional power alone are reason enough to see this production.

Jonathan Pryce is matched by Clive Wood as Gloucester and Ian Gelder as Kent. Clive Wood, a big man and a very powerful presence, makes Gloucester a faithful and unwavering subject to the king, whose fate is all the more moving because his physicality is so imposing. Ian Gelder plays Kent as if he is of the same stock as Lear and he understands him in a way that he can’t understand himself. The three of them are at the centre of the best scenes in the production. Continue reading