KRYPTONITE, Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company of South Australia at Wharf 1, 11 September – 18 October, 2014. Photography by Lisa Tomasetti: above – Ursula Mills and Tim Walter; right – Tim Walter and Ursula Mills.
The year: 1989. The place: a tutorial on a sweaty afternoon at Sydney University, where two students from vastly different backgrounds meet.
He, Dylan (Tim Walter) is Collaroy-born and bred, supremely confident and more interested in surfing than hitting the books. She, Lian (Ursula Mills) is small and intense; a scholarship student from rural China working long hours to make ends meet, sharing a mattress and a scummy flat with 12 others like her. He is intrigued by her idealism; she is bemused by his apparent lack of concern for his future.
Despite their differences, the flames of romance begins to flicker between them – until Tiananmen Square happens, and after that, nothing is quite the same again.
Sue Smith’s play is a breath of fresh air for Sydney theatergoers. Small yet almost perfectly formed, it understands the best way to make people care about the political – in this case, the rapidly changing relationship between Australia and China - is to make it personal. And so we follow Dylan and Lian over the next 25 years, jumping backwards and forwards in time and across countries as their personal circumstances and politics change. Nonchalant Dylan becomes a promising Greens senator; shy Lian a Prada-clad mining magnate. They keep in touch, only to drift apart and then inexplicably find each other again.
Director Geordie Brookman (artistic director of the State Theatre Company of South Australia, with which the play is co-produced), has cast the piece superbly: Walter is boyishly charming as the clever but initially complacent Dylan, while Mills compels us to watch as she changes before our eyes from anxious university student to self-assured businesswoman. The relationship between them feels genuine and honest.
While there are a few rocky spots – the nudity feels gratuitous, and Dylan’s description of an ill-fated dinner party seems lurid and out of place amid the more serious tone of the surrounding drama – for the most part, Kryptonite does what it aims to do brilliantly.
A perceptive and compassionate script, excellent performances, an understated yet effective set by designer Victoria Lamb and good lighting by Nicholas Rayment combine to make a production that feels just right for this place, this time, this location.