Two outstanding central performances mesmerised the capacity crowd at the opening night of joint State Theatre Company of SA and Sydney Theatre Company production Kryptonite.
The political play is scripted by Australian writer Sue Smith, who recently spoke to InDaily about the story’s themes, but what is more difficult to convey in words is the incredible force of actors Ursula Mills (as Lian) and Tim Walter (Dylan), who earned standing ovations at the end of the 90-minute performance.
Lian and Dylan meet as students at Sydney University in 1989, just before the tragedy of the massacre of Chinese students in Tiananmen Square by their government. Lian is a gauche, hardworking student with high ideals of a better life for herself and her family. She has no time or room in her life for fun, but then she meets Dylan. He is smart, but lackadaisical; a surfer in whom she sees golden sunlight.
Dylan introduces Lian to Australian “culture” (beer), which she likes very much, and Lian makes Dylan take stock of himself and his lack of ideals and direction. They bring out both the best and worst in each other. Then Tiananmen happens, shattering them each in different ways, and so begins 25 years of friendship, love and “the romance of suffering”.
While the themes of this play are political, it is also the story of two people. The influence they have on one another’s lives over the course of a quarter century is moving, astounding and destructive. It casts doubt on versions of truth and begs the question: What does it mean to be equal, both individually and culturally?
Kryptonite turns a light on Australia’s strange relationship with its most important trading partner, China – a country which this nation is dependent upon and grateful to, yet also afraid of.
While both performances are outstanding, Mills has the slightly more challenging role – her character is torn apart and rebuilt several times over during the course of the play due to her country’s devastation, and to her own ego. Mills switches convincingly between the naive and sweet university student who tells Dylan “frogs aren’t ideals”, to a power-player in the mining industry who has perhaps lost her own principles.
Walter portrays a lovable larrikin whose choices in life put him on the miserable road to respectability. He is, by turns, charming, frustrating and damned.
The script itself is engrossing, and another true credit to distinguished writer Sue Smith (The Kreutzer Sonata, Mabo, Brides of Christ). It’s great this play is on now and not during festival season, so it doesn’t get lost among the proliferation of performances on offer.
Kryptonite is fun, accessible, intelligent and intense. The best dramatic production I’ve seen this year.
State Theatre Company of SA and Sydney Theatre Company are presenting Kryptonite at the Space Theatre until November 9.