Faustus: That Damned Woman

22nd Jan 2020 - 4th Apr 2020

Book Tickets

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In Conversation with the Company

On Wednesday 19 June, a post show dicussion was held at the Almeida with members of the Chimerica cast. Elizabeth Chan, Vera Chok, Karl Collins, Trevor Cooper, David K. S. Tse and Sarah Lam stayed to discuss the play and to answer the audience's questions. The discussion charied by assistant director Choon Ping.

Ping: So any questions burning at the tip of the tongue?

Audience Member: Can I ask first if the Chinese actors whether they actually recognise a truth in the perspective that’s been given to us, of the direction and growth of China? Do you feel that we’ve grasped the wrong end of the stick in the West, in the way in which China is being engaged with, and then the philosophy on it?

Sarah: Well, I’ll have a go first. I mean, my experience of being Chinese means I was born in London, educated in London, and the characters I play are a Chinese woman who lives in (and) has emmigrated to New York, and also a woman who is a fair bit older than me and dying of lung cancer in a small apartment in Beijing. And so therefore, I don’t actually have any personal experience of either life in China or New York, and I don’t really feel as if I can comment on their lives, because although I have a Chinese heritage, my life experience is very much of a Londoner. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful than that, but you know what you see is not necessarily the assumption that you have, is not necessarily that I am of Chinese background.

Vera: I think we’re all from different parts of England. I grew up in Malaysia, and so from that point of view I identify with the Nationalism of it, you know sort of being really loyal to the idea of the state, and to the idea that the government is working for the great good over the longer term, and so there is some collateral damage, and that’s fine. But again, I don’t know what it’s like to be from China.

Audience Member: How much is actually known about the key figure in this play, the tank man?

David: Nothing.

Trevor: Nothing at all.

Audience Member: He disappeared?

Trevor: Yes.

David: People don’t know whether he was killed, whether he’s still living in China or was smuggled out of China to Taiwan or wherever. Nobody knows. The play is pure conjecture.

Audience Member: Does working in a topical, political play like this change your personal engagement, as opposed to playing Chekhov or Shakespeare? Is there a different sense of how you react to working on something like this?

Karl: Well in my own experience as someone who is in his private life quite political, this is the sort of thing I’d love to go and see, and also it’s an aesthetic which I love. So watching Chimerica would be a perfect evening at the theatre for me. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see it, which is a real shame, because I’d really love to sit out there and see what’s going on! But I love that, and I’m drawn to that, and that makes it even more enjoyable when you’re involved in something, because the conversations that you have out there really motor and get deep. No one leaves and just goes, “It’s really nice, thanks.” People engage in a really big way with it, which is what I enjoy. When I go to the theatre I love to see things that are free and cheap and easy and humorous, but something like this would be something that really excites me. So to be involved with something like this is much more enjoyable.

Trevor: I think what I love about this play, is that there isn’t polemic in it, you know what I mean? It is also a piece of entertainment, as well as actually having a very strong political aspect to it. Which you know, I hope it is…

Audience Member: As actors do you prefer to play the political polemic, or do you like the love story, human side?

Trevor: What’s good about Chimerica is one gets to do both. I mean yes there are times when it’s lovely to do the tiny little human things, but it’s also lovely to be able to do a speech about world politics. That’s the joy of it – that it encompasses everything.

Elizabeth: Following on from what you were saying, I don’t think you can play a political character without touching on a very human side, because all political people are very passionate, and they really believe in what they’re fighting for. So, I mean, you get everything. You know what [my character] is fighting for is not just her unborn child, but for all China’s unborn children.

Trevor: I’ve been in plays when sometimes what you’re playing is a point of view, rather than a fully-fleshed-out character. But in this play, everyone is a fleshed out character, even if they’ve got a very tiny amount to do.

Audience Member: How much of the script actually dictated the set design, and the rotating view? And how as actors did you feel about moving through it? Spatially I thought it was very interesting, but I’d love to hear thoughts on working in the space?

Ping: Who moves through the box the most?

Sarah: Well, we all go through the box…

Vera: I think there was a point where, and we’ve talked about it before, you feel like the design is dominating the play, and moving you feel like dolls in a dolls house. But we were really privileged to 1) Have a mockup of the set in rehearsals, which was very unusual, and 2) Have an incredible crew who facilitated us moving through the space. I did hear that once the writer got to see the set moving – you know it has its own rhythm—that she was writing with it in mind. So I’m sure first came the text, then set, but then they started having a really symbiotic relationship. I think the idea of it having a rhythm, the way it turns, which has to match what we’re doing.

Trevor: There’s nothing in the actual script that describes the set, if you like.

Vera: No.

Trevor: But it has to be said there are also there are quite a lot of things in the script – the published script – that we’re not doing here. There are lots of things that changed during previews.

Karl: Enjoy our version, but you’ll find in the one you read… "That’s not in it!"

Sarah: And also we were very fortunate in the rehearsal room, because we knew we were going to be working on a revolve with four separate playing areas. And that by some miracle we had a revolve in the rehearsal room by day three or four or something was extraordinary for us, and now I don’t know what we would have done without it, because it is really complicated back there.

Karl: And also the writer has been working on this project for the best part of six years; I think at the point where Lyndsey the director came on board and decided that she wanted to use Es Devlin as a designer, then they started to create that working relationship, and they came up with this.

Trevor: There are 40 scenes, in 28 different locations. So you either do something very elaborate, or you do 12 actors and a chair, and they went for ‘option a’, thank goodness.

Trevor: It’s going to be very interesting, because as some of you already know, we are going on to the West End with this production, with all this cast, and it’s going to be interesting to see what this is like in a proscenium arch for example.

Vera: With a narrower stage. This is quite a wide stage.

Audience Member: Will the cube go with you?

Trevor: Oh yeah! We’re not going to go back to 12 actors and a chair!

Audience Member: When you get there, could you not build another one?

Karl: Oh no, it’ll be this one.

Vera: It’ll be a quick turnover, we have three weeks off, one week rehearsing, and then we’re on again.