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Kryptonite – Sydney Theatre Company

A window into Australia-China relations through a guy-meets-girl love story spanning 25 years.
By Catherine McNamara
September 22, 2014
By Catherine McNamara
September 22, 2014

Kryptonite gives exactly what it promises: an insight into Australia-China relations through the lens of an Aussie-guy-meets-Chinese-girl love story spanning 25 years.

The new Australian play, by Sue Smith, creates a universe with population two. Lian and Dylan (craftfully brought to life by Ursula Mills and Tim Walter) begin the play as two nameless, suit-wearing figures. Yet, after 90 minutes’ time travel through their turbulent history — their triumphs and tragedies — we are heavily invested in their intersecting lives and cultures.

The plot zooms back and forth in time, unravelling cultural complexities between Lian and Dylan and the larger relationship they stand for: China and Australia. The jump between eras in Australian history, politics and fashion is fun. Walter endears Dylan to us, in board shorts and thongs in a university tutorial in 1989. He is free-spirited, loveable, with aspirations of activism (hindered only by his own white privilege). He inevitably has to exchange his university soapbox for the all-consuming bureaucracy and doublespeak of politics, compromising his freedom and family along the way.

Mills conveys Lian’s situation as an impoverished international student who still has unshakeable personal and national pride. Her hilarious one-liners are successful due to her obliviousness while being (mis)interpreted. The audience sometimes laughs at her pronunciation, sometimes her mindset, but is equally entranced by poetic revelations like “these clouds are the souls of seven billion ancestors”.

Lian as ‘other’ permits entry into Chinese cultural values, which for many Westerners (like Dylan) are “a total mystery”. We can see some way past the stereotype of a diligent student with no social life to realise she “thinks like her country” and wants desperately to achieve success. At the same time, she is being emotionally torn apart by the increasing brutality of the totalitarian regime back home.

Excepting one slightly clunky sex sequence, this two-hander is captivating and well-directed by Geordie Brookman. The set is a marvel: vertical panels first appear as thin walls of shale but later become sandstone or crumpled paper, depending on Nicholas Rayment’s lighting. It’s wonderful to behold the set’s constant expansion and contraction, from stadiums to cockpits.

Kryptonite is a modern, multicultural Australian story. We all move away from our ideals with age, ambition and complacence, but in the case of Lian and Dylan, that drift comes with very compelling consequences.

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