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Sydney review - Chimerica: informative and well worth seeing

By Paul Kiely

Michael Booker (left), Alice Livingstone, Ciaran O’Riordan and Oliver Burton. Photo – Chris Landie


By Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by Louise Fischer

A New Theatre Production

New Theatre

542 King Street


Season: 10 August – 10 September 2022. Duration: Approx 160 minutes plus interval. Bookings:

America is obsessed with mythical superheroes. However, no one can eclipse China’s real-world superhero: Tank Man. He is the lone figure holding two shopping bags in front of a line of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. It is an iconic and enduring image celebrating non-violent protest.

Lucy Kirkwood, the author of Chimerica, has taken this extraordinary moment in history as the starting point for her story. Her main character is Joe Schofield (Oliver Burton), a photojournalist who has just captured the photo from his hotel room overlooking the Square.

Aware of the enormity of this event and under the scrutiny of the Chinese secret police, he calls his boss Frank Hadley (Les Asmussen) in New York and arranges to get the film and himself out of China as soon as possible.

Of course, the image is news all around the world and immediately puts greater focus on the human rights abuses of the Chinese government.

As the years roll by, Joe is consumed by Tank Man: who was he? Is he alive? Where is he now? In some respects, the fame of having taken the photo could be outdone if he can identify who this amazing protester is.

Joe keeps in touch with a Chinese dissident named Zhang Lin (Jon-Claire Lee). He hopes Zhang can secure more information about the mystery man but becomes careless in his phone discussions which are monitored by the secret police.

The story is told using flashback up to 2012. Joe’s preoccupation with his search becomes the bane of all around him, including Frank, his co-worker Mel (Ciaran O’Riordan) and sometimes love interest and British journalist Tessa (Jasmin Certoma). He even blackmails US Senator Maria Dubiecki (Alice Livingstone) to get some vital information.

Chimerica is a complicated political drama with dashes of humour. But the overriding themes are serious. The issues are softened by sub-plots involving characters personal lives.

In searching for Tank Man, other pertinent questions are raised. What about the man driving the tank? Was he not defying his military masters by stopping? His bravery and life story are a similar enigma.

Part of the staging was the use of a large screen backdrop. A confronting silhouette of Zhang being tortured behind the screen is contrasted with Joe and Tessa making love in front. Very effective imagery which highlights that the price for Western information is the torture of Chinese citizens. The torturer declares “I hate Americans, their teeth are too white.”

If the goal of Chimerica is to heighten awareness of the dangers of totalitarianism, it succeeds in spades. The word Chimerica refers to the political and economic relationship between China and the United States. It helps to explain the delicate trade-off we make for continued Western prosperity at the expense of human rights.

Chimerica may not be a drama for everyone, but it is topical, skilfully produced, informative and well worth seeing.


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