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Review Round-up: Kirkwood's Chimerica cheers critics

We take a look at what the critics made of Headlong's world premiere of Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica, which opened at the Almeida Theatre last night (28 May 2013).

By • London

Stephen Campbell Moore in Chimerica
Stephen Campbell Moore in Chimerica
JOHAN PERSSON

Michael Coveney
Whatsonstage.com

★★★★

The play's not impossible to follow - it's highly enjoyable, scene by scene - but nor is it impeccably constructed. Dramatic momentum is intermittent and depends on a series of sudden twists... Es Devlin's extraordinary revolving cubic design - lit up with video projections and photographic imagery by Finn Ross and Tim Lutkin, with a pulsating soundtrack by Carolyn Downing... Campbell Moore holds it together with a charming, well-focussed performance, buttressed by Wong's impassioned key contact... Karl Collins bats cleverly on both sides of the cultural divide, and there are some deft quick-change Chinese cameos from Vera Chok, Sarah Lam and Andrew Leung as a young idealist to keep the stage busy and well-populated.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

★★★★★

... Lucy Kirkwood's new play is both fluent and seductive. It's a tremendously bold piece of writing... Stephen Campbell Moore captures Joe's complexities, in a performance of bruised authenticity. Benedict Wong is immense as his friend Zhang Lin... There are 40 scene changes, made absorbing by Es Devlin's revolving cuboid design, complete with excellent projections by Finn Ross... Kirkwood mixes high seriousness and a mastery of complex issues with a fine ear for the comedy... She manages to be topical without being gimmicky and well-informed without being showily so. While this is a landmark production for everyone involved, for this 29-year-old playwright it's the culmination of six years' work - and a triumph.

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

★★★★★

...a cracking thriller... It is staged with great panache by the fast- rising director Lindsey Turner... that hurtles along with a mixture of humour, dramatic tension and terrific visual ingenuity... Es Devlin's brilliant design consists of a revolving cube...The acting is outstanding... Stephen Campbell Moore captures the dog-with-a-bone obsession of a newsman on the trail... Trevor Cooper is hilarious as the tough-talking, seen-it-all editor and there is equally fine work from Sean Gilder as the grizzled reporter... Benedict Wong gives another superb performance... Claudie Blakley is both touching and funny... Chimerica is a hugely entertaining and at times deeply affecting play performed with rare panache. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Michael Billington
Guardian

★★★★★

... this gloriously rich, mind-expanding three-hour play... it has the extravagant scale and swagger of the latter's version of Lucy Prebble's Enron... Kirkwood deals with the ethics and practice of photojournalism; and this is dazzlingly reflected in Es Devlin's design... Lyndsey Turner's astonishingly filmic production keeps the action driving forward through 39 scenes and boasts an impressive array of performances. Stephen Campbell Moore precisely captures Joe's mix of reckless idealism and self-absorption, Benedict Wong eloquently conveys Zhang Lin's private grief and public defiance, and there is exemplary work from Claudie Blakley as the sharp-tongued Tessa and Sean Gilder as a battered reporter. If we see a better new play this year, we'll be extremely lucky.

Libby Purves
The Times

★★★★

...Lucy Kirkwood's new play is ambitious, sprawling, morally fascinating, as gripping as a good novel. Co-produced with Rupert Goold's Headlong theatre company, it is a fine portent for his coming takeover of the Almeida... Ed Devlin's brilliant set is a vast revolving architectural cube covered in fluid monochrome projections (by Finn Ross)... As the back story deepens, the showbiz vanity and sexual casualness of the American contrasts with the humanity and heroism of the widowed Zhang Lin... But it is no sermon: there are emotionally dramatic twists, sharp laughs, and fine work from all the cast. Three hours flew by.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

★★★

... a clever but over-fussy story... Miss Kirkwood spins a cryptic plot full of pacy episodes which are ingeniously served by director Lyndsey Turner... Scenes and characters whizz by, aiding the narrative. But the truth of the characters suffers. More effort has gone into the organogram of the plot than into the toning of the characters and their voices... One sub-plot involving an American senator (Nancy Crane) is absurd, but Miss Crane does a couple of handy cameo turns elsewhere... I enjoyed the evening mainly for its technical expertise and a classy plot twist. But I did not once feel emotionally involved.

Tags: Chimerica


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