The standing ovation at the Harold Pinter Theatre on Friday night said it all. Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Chimerica is phenomenal. Recently transferred to the West End from the Almeida, Chimerica is a reminder of the astonishing talent that the city’s studio theatres are producing. Kirkwood’s writing is truly brilliant. The play’s dialogue is contemporary yet poetic, its narrative is complex yet accessible, and its characters are full-bodied and distinct. Even more remarkable, however, is the play’s thematic spectrum. Artistically, politically, socially, economically and intellectually, it reflects, explores, and condenses both the underlying and the palpable concerns which define our age. Again, I must stress, this is a phenomenal play.
The play’s title comes from a portmanteau first coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick. For Ferguson and Schularick, ‘Chimerica’ is an economic term. It refers to the symbiotic relationship between China and America which dominated the world economy from the mid-nineties to the late-noughties. A relationship which combined Chinese export-led development with US over-consumption. Kirkwood uses the term in a much broader sense. For her, Chimerica is not simply an economic term, it is a concept which blurs the erstwhile honesty of ideology, and therefore truth. China and America are two countries which, at least rhetorically, maintain a dogmatic adherence to the ideological principles on which they were founded. America is the land of the individual, China the land of the collective. But how can two countries whose ideological principles are diametrically opposed, exist in a symbiotic relationship which is the basis of the world’s economy?
The play explores this dilemma poignantly through its human stories, while at the same time subtly suggesting seemingly endless questions. What is truth? What is the individual? What is a hero? What is vanity? Indeed such is the thematic expansiveness of the text, it seems almost futile to try and explain “what this play is about”. For all the questions, though, there is still one thing that Kirkwood suggests we can be sure of: humanity. Chimerica is a play which speaks to the emotions as much as it does to the mind, and Lyndsay Turner’s direction brilliantly highlights the different tones of the play. Humour, sadness, hope and anger, are all wonderfully juxtaposed, creating a production which makes you sit forward absorbed in the drama on stage.
Stephen Campbell Moore, Benedict Wong and Claudie Blakley are also superb. Blakley, in particular, is brilliant bringing an apathetic naturalism to her performance which captures the general acceptance of futility at the play’s thematic core, while still hitting every emotional note. It is a real treat to be able to watch a play like Chimerica in a space like the Harold Pinter Theatre. Too often some of the great new plays on the studio circuit never make it to the West End, I would urge you not to miss the opportunity to see this particular one.
Chimerica at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton St, London SW1Y 4DN, until 19th October 2013. For more information and tickets visit the website.