Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Sep 11 – Oct 18, 2014
Playwright: Sue Smith
Director: Geordie Brookman
Cast: Ursula Mills, Tim Walter
Image by Lisa Tomasetti
Through an international love story, Sue Smith’s Kryptonite examines the relationship between the personal realm and our wider circumstances. When Lian first met Dylan at an Australian University in pre-Tiananmen 1989, she was a new immigrant from China and Dylan had looked every bit the quintessential middle class Australian preoccupied with surfing and student protests. Over the years, Lian returns to Dylan for a series of brief but dramatic encounters, and by 2014, they are almost entirely different people, and we question if the countries from which they emerge, have evolved correspondingly, into virtually unrecognisable entities.
Freedom, idealism and innocence are put through the wringer in Smith’s play, in which we witness the ravages of time on the beauty of youth. Growing old is a tragedy, but not because of the inevitable deterioration of flesh. It is what happens to the heart and soul as time wears on, not just for each person, but also for the worlds in which we dwell. We cannot travel back in time, and our nations will never revert to a purer state. Indeed, the past is painted as though through rose-coloured glasses, but it is a persuasive picture that Smith creates. In Kryptonite, the loss of our innocence is certain, and sad. Smith’s work is emotional and powerful, with a perspective of our recent histories that feels accurate and is deeply perceptive.
The character Lian is particularly well-written, with an authenticity in speech and sense of humour that is quite outstanding. Performed by the brilliantly astute Ursula Mills, the role becomes thoroughly familiar, even though realistic Chinese women are rarely seen on our stages. She is surprisingly funny, and her motivations in each sequence are concise, keeping us engaged with her storytelling in a plot that can be a little convoluted at times. Mills is required to speak and sing in Chinese languages over the course of the show, but proficiency is lacking although her conviction remains strong. There is an oversimplification in some of Lian’s darker moments, but the actor never fails to bring a delicious fire to the drama when required. Also captivating is Tim Walter who is yin to Mills’ yang. Chemistry between the two are not quite exceptional, but they find a harmonious balance that brings great elucidation to the play’s themes and concepts. Walter’s work is thoughtful and confident, but the lightness in his presence, while delightful for the younger Dylan, is a hindrance in several of his graver moments. His depiction of a jaded politician in his late forties is not entirely convincing, but as a young man confused and enchanted by the object of his affections, Walter is charmingly captivating.
Geordie Brookman’s direction retains the challenging nature of the plot’s non-chronological timeline, but provides a good sense of clarity to the narrative. He succeeds in manufacturing a believable romance out of a complex framework of dramatic shifts in time and spaces, but some of the script’s political details are subsumed by his emphasis on pace and rhythms. The show is an enjoyable one. Its scenes are dynamic and unpredictable, always introducing fresh elements to ensure a gripping experience. Design aspects are not greatly ambitious, but they help tell the story with efficiency and elegance.
Kryptonite talks about how we have changed as nations of people, but its views of China are more exacting than how it sees its own country. The Australian play shows the evolution of a foreign land through its distinct junctures of transformation, but it is less brutal with its self-reflection. Yet again, we find meaning through the definition of an other, but this time, we move focus from our perverse European obsession to a place closer to home. China is a significant trading partner, with an astronomical rise in recent times that sees its influence spread across the world, not only in monetary terms, but also cultural and social. The first officially recorded Chinese migrant arrived in 1818 and today, Australians with Asian heritage number at 2.4 million. While we still seem to avoid it like a comic hero avoids a mythical adversary, the importance of finding a way to articulate that experience and relationship is impossible to overstate.