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BWW Reviews: KRYPTONITE Stunned The Audience With Its Emotional Power

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 24th October 2014

The State Theatre Company of South Australia and the Sydney Theatre Company have joined forces to present Kryptonite, a new play by Sue Smith, directed by State Theatre's Artistic Director, Geordie Brookman. It is powerful, profound, and deeply moving, and every theatre aficionado should be doing all that they can to get tickets. This production is an exceptional piece of theatre, with two magnificent performances at its core.

Two university students, Lian and Dylan, at university in Sydney, feel an attraction for one another. He is an easy going lad, more interested in surfing than studying, but naturally gifted, and she is from China, studying on a scholarship and determined to do well. He already has a girlfriend and, in the end, their budding relationship is not consummated. It is 1989 and, in a few days, in early June, Tiananmen Square will become the site of a massacre of student-led protestors, when Deng Xiaoping declares martial law and mobilises the Peoples' Liberation Army to stop protests that have now spread to 400 cities across China, sending in 300,000 troops, their tanks rolling over the protestors.

This is a memory play, the events being told by Dylan, recalling decisive moments in their relationship. Over the course of the play we see the two meeting in Australia and in China as their lives and careers cross paths over the intervening 25 years until 2014. She is now in an important position with a major Chinese mining company, and he is a left wing Senator in Canberra. The play is non-linear, since one memory triggers another to which it relates, going to and fro across time as he pieces together events that brought them to where they are now, in an effort to understand his current situation.

Through their friendship, though, we gain an understanding of the difference between the ideologies of China and Australia, and of the changes in the often strained relationships between the two countries, which now sees us as major trading partners and Chinese companies investing in Australia. Their are many levels to this play that are gradually peeled away to reveal more and more about the two of them and how they think.

The production stars Ursula Mills, as Lian, and Tim Walter, as Dylan, and no director could possibly ask for more of his cast than Geordie Brookman has coaxed out of these two. His direction is clear and incisive, and all three take considerable risks with their work, all of which pay off. Nothing whatsoever is held back in this remarkable production.

Victoria Lamb's cleverly minimalist design is a wall with a double door, a few chairs, and a pot of paint used by the performers to write dates and a draw significant images on the wall that then, over a short time, very effectively fade away. Nicholas Rayment's lighting changes scenes, adding various colours that are picked up by the back drop of walls and doors with a crumpled effect that catches the light in different ways, adding texture. Andrew Howard's sound design, including the music by DJ TR!P, subtly adds influences that are almost subliminal, then suddenly leap out at you.

Tim Walter shows us a young man who appears to have ambled his way through life, achieving without putting in any great effort, and has ended up in a position more by consequence of a trajectory that suggests that it was chosen more by chance than design or desire. One feels that he might have been just as happy as a beach bum, spending his life surfing, but he met Lian, and that changed him irrevocably. Walter brings to his character the complexity of a man who has spent a quarter of a century torn in several directions, and has never been sure about his real commitment to any of them, a man in a position of power that he never sought and, at the same time a youth who has never really grown up. All of this, and more, is in his marvellous characterisation.

Ursula Mills takes Lian from a shy, introverted and starving student, living in slum conditions and working illegally on her student visa, because the scholarship is grossly insufficient, trying to make ends meet, exist on little sleep, and still do well in her studies, through to a high-powered executive. We see her in the bad times, cleaning, in the absence of a better job, but g her adversities and setbacks as goads to try harder and succeed. Mills has the highs of the good times, but sinks to the depths of despair and breaks down on occasions, especially when watching the television and hearing of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Her emotional range is sensational and moved some to tears.

This is top quality professional theatre and everybody involved in the production has every right to feel extremely proud of what they have created. Do not miss this production, whatever you do.

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