All worth fighting for: STC & STCSA’s Kryptonite

In the early hours of June 4 1989, tanks rolled into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and declared martial law, shooting and injuring thousands of civilians and students. In the intervening twenty-five years, there has been a degree of cultural distance between China and Australia even though the fortunes of our two countries are interlinked. Across the cultural divide, Sue Smith’s Kryptonite seeks to find a common ground of understanding and compassion, and through her two characters, we slowly navigate this relationship between glimpses of personal and global exchanges of love, information and resourcefulness.

Co-produced by Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company of South Australia, Kryptonite makes the “macro micro and vice versa,” as director Geordie Brookman writes. Staged on Victoria Lamb’s simple and flexible raised stage and backdrop of (what appears to be) crumpled paper, Nicholas Rayment’s lighting is clear and simple, effective and poetic, while DJ TR!P’s music is subtle and perfectly blended with Andrew Howard’s sound design. Here, Smith’s script – indeed, Brookman’s production – takes each character as a synecdoche for their respective countries. As the play jumps backwards and forth across its twenty-five year time span, from 1989 to 2014, each moment between Dylan and Lian is situated against a socio-political backdrop which, while not essential to the scenes, further grounds the reality of the play in our own current political climate, shows the immediate consequences and repercussion of each action, and shows two “striving but flawed people [trying] to hang on to each other.”
When Dylan and Lian meet, they are at Sydney University and are filled with a youthful idealism, ready to take on the world and change it for the better. As events beyond their control sweep them away into different worlds, they are pulled further apart yet closer together by strange twists of fate. Smith’s script is sharp, and there are many beautiful moments in the writing and staging which highlight the two cultures’ differences and similarities. A two-hander, the action occasionally slips into a kind of poetic summary, whereby years’ worth of events are condensed into a heartbeat; dates are inked across the walls in water; scenes and memories from childhood are drawn on like maps or paintings, time-worn yet age-less. As the watery dates fade, what becomes apparent is the way in which personal stories are inextricably connected with national, global, cultural events, how we cannot separate one from the others. Tim Walter’s Dylan is easy-going and charming at first, but as the years pass he becomes a voice for conservation and, later, a Greens senator; quick to rise to a temper, he never loses that youthful spark of change, of the fight on the side of the underdog, even if it does eventually come at the cost of his career. Ursula Mills’ Lian is shy at first, but she has a sense of humour to match Dylan’s. Rocked to the core by the events in Tiananmen Square, she too refuses to take a back sat and fights in her own way, eventually making a name for herself as an entrepreneur and networker for the Chinese government. But for both of them, their intertwined personal history crosses paths with their professional lives and the results, while perhaps slightly predictable, are still moving. How far are we willing to (potentially) sacrifice a long-fought-for career in the name of love or friendship? How far can we go as a nation before our actions speak louder than words? Can we act with our heart rather than our head when the personal encroaches on the professional?
Political without being inyourface, personal without descending into overt sentimentality, Kryptonite is a modern love story played out against the backdrop of a global conversation of immigration, nationality, grief, contradictions between business and ingrained cultural beliefs, cultural expectations, green-and-golden bell frogs, Chinese banquets, dancing dragons, and the Olympic Games. At a time when memories and identities are fluid, when political tensions are voluble, and we could do with a little bit more love and compassion in the world, Kryptonite is a reminder to tread carefully, lest we break our bridges too soon.

Theatre playlist: 61. Shanghai Drive, Thomas Newman

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