Benedict Wong and Stephen Campbell Moore in Chimerica. Photo: Johan Persson.
The transfer of Chimerica to the Harold Pinter Theatre occurred with a deeply satisfying 'fusslessness' and professionalism from everyone involved.
New actors have joined the family: Rosie Armstrong, Tina Chiang, Chris Hollinshead, Wendy Kweh, Math Sams, Kevin Shen and Liz Sutherland. Wendy and Liz took over Vera Chok’s and Sarah Lam’s roles when they started rehearsals at the National Theatre for The World of Extreme Happiness. Rosie, Tina, Chris, Math, and Kevin have joined us as understudies. Unlike traditional understudies, however, they don’t sit in their dressing rooms but are integrated into the world of Chimerica: there are now more protestors in Tiananmen Square; newspaper editor Frank gets a secretary, Marcie, in 1989 whom, I imagine, by 2012, has been ousted by Doreen after a short but thrilling bout of office politics; the streets of New York and Beijing are bustling in a way they never were before.
One of the main jobs is to get the new people accustomed to the set's box and the revolve. The original cast and crew were wonderfully generous in guiding them through the labyrinth. I always think of Ben Carmichael, who mans the cables for the sliders in the box, as the Goblin King, but more helpful. Because of the revolve, there isn’t just one stage right or one stage left. If timed wrongly, an actor could find him or herself emerging downstage, instead of into the quick change room.
The unsung heroes of the production are the crew who every night man the box that spins like a neutron star. Someone once said that the production was like a swan. The audience only sees the plummaged body of the swan, calmly gliding. They never see the naked legs, paddling furiously underwater. I am reminded of one of those high-tech robotics factories we see in a sci-fi film - multiple armatures whizzing about welding together gizmos and doodads, Colin Farell and Tom Cruise blasting each other with ray guns, and then a completed hovercar pops sleekly and serenely out the other end.
Scene changes are epic. Entire beds and refrigerators are wrestled in and out of the box, so that every time it spins round, there is a whole new room. I overheard someone in the audience during the interval swear there were more than four sides to the cube, like an Escher sketch. If only you could see what happens at the back of the box, before it revolves round into the audience’s view…
In the bit that signifies time passing between act four and act five, the revolve is constantly moving: actors weaving around each other in the half dark, narrowly but deftly avoiding collision like bees in a hive; sometimes the actors are walking in place as if on a treadmill so that each emerges at the just the right time; a desk and a chair and a Frank are popped on, revolved round, then whisked off; a security camera is attached high on the side of the box; a stage crew member scurries on to wipe off the ash from Tess’s cigarette; a fire is started in a bucket then put out; Ben Carmichael lifts Sarah Hellicar - like Patrick Swayze does Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing - to reach and remove the security camera--all under the watchful eye of queen bee Maris Sharp, the Company Stage Manager.
One night, while watching all this, I was on headset as well to hear Deputy Stage Manager Charlotte Padgham calling cues, which I imagine reverberating throughout every headset like a voice out of a burning shrub. It’s like the physicalisation of a Bach polyphony.