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THEATRE: 18 SEPTEMBER 2014

By JOHN ROZENTALS

Kryptonite, by Sue Smith | Directed by Geordie Brookman

Sydney Theatre Company & State Theatre Company of South Australia | Wharf 1 Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 18 October

It’s interesting how certain events remain etched in your mind. I can remember, for instance, almost to the metre where I was in Hobart’s Salamanca Place in June 1989 when I stopped my car to listen to a news flash that the soldiers had entered Tianenmen Square to violently break up student protests, killing who knows how many.

The chill I felt wasn’t entirely coming from a snow-clad Mount Wellington.

I remember, too, being in Beijing almost exactly 18 years later, as the Chinese capital was busily preparing for the Olympics. I had dinner one night with a young Australian engineer who knew the city and the country very well.

Will everything be finished on time? Of course it will, he said. If it isn’t, those responsible will be shot. And the families will be billed for the bullets used.

Later that evening we strolled though Tianenmen Square. The guards seemed friendly enough, even to the point of posing for pictures, but at about 10pm a military van drove through the square and the message from the megaphone clearly wasn’t “we trust you’re having a pleasant evening”. Within minutes the thousand or so visitors had dispersed and the square was deserted. It was easy to imagine the tanks rolling through.

All those memories flooded back while watching Sue Smith’s Kryptonite a couple of nights ago.

Tianenmen Square forms the backdrop to the play, but really it’s about the tenuous but incredibly important relationship that Australia has with China, demonstrated through the relationship between Dylan (Tim Walter), an idealistic Australian student who moves into politics, and Lian (Ursula Mills), an impoverished Chinese student who succeeds big time in a business career.

It’s a touching, beautifully crafted piece of work, and both actors are superb throughout 90 uninterrupted minutes of intense, challenging performance.

Victoria Lamb’s set — just a floor of wooden slats backed by paper blinds — is just so simple but also so evocative. The explosion of the blinds to reveal scenes from the Tianenmen Square protests and massacre, is quite electrifying.

I won’t go quite as far as one audience member did after the opening-night performance and declare it the best piece of Sydney theatre thus far this year, but it is right up there.

I’m puzzled why it seems fashionable to knock Sydney Theatre Company. Perhaps it’s a tall-poppy thing. I feel that the company is right as the height of its powers and is presenting some stunning shows, such as this one and Children of the Sun, glowingly reviewed just a couple of days ago by my colleague Sandra Bowden [READ REVIEW].

And wait till you read the cast lists for STC’s 2015 season — Hugo Weaving and Bruce Spence in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame; Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in Chekhov’s The Present; Geoffrey Rush and Robyn Nevin in King Lear; and as always, wait and see, there’s lots more. I know there’ll be plenty of jostling for review tickets among the Oz Baby Boomers team.

Tim Walter and Ursula Mills. All images: Lisa Tomasetti.