Well this was a full-on start to the Fringe: the new show by theatre maker and poet Chris Thorpe – for which he’s largely jettisoned the actual poetry – wallops you like an axe to the neck. Devised in collaboration with Rachel Chavkin of New York experimentalists The TEAM, it takes its title from confirmation bias, the phenomenon by which we all view and interpret the world in a manner that reinforces our pre-existing prejudices.
In this often deeply uncomfortable hour-and-a-half, nice guy liberal Thorpe regales us with the story of his attempts to attempt to shake his own bias and objectively comprehend the viewpoint of a white supremacist called Glenn, who he extensively interviewed.
Gone is the funny, oblique, studiedly understated verse that characterised Thorpe’s previous work (‘The Oh Fuck Moment’, last year’s ‘There Has Possibly Been An Incident’). In its place comes direct documentary account, coupled with a certain unnerving ambiguity – he often slips into talking ‘as’ Glenn without indicating he has done so – delivered with a violent bellowing energy, pacing around the bare floor or flicking his mic-lead aggressively.
If Thorpe was some latee’d-up southern smoothie the whole thing might seem rather embarrassing. But it feels like he and Chavkin have played on the fact that he’s a big, blokey northerner, probably not a million miles away from how one’s bias might lead one to stereotype, say, a BNP supporter. His roaring and pacing, bunched shoulders and violent glare are genuinely intimidating, and as he relates his attempts to school himself in the dark side – to understand racists, to understand Holocaust deniers, to understand Anders Breivik – there’s a sickening sense of drama to it all, the worry that he’s got too close to the flame, that he's going to tell us he’s come to believe something awful.
Perhaps inevitably this doesn’t in fact happen, and there were points in the show where I wondered exactly what Thorpe was hoping to achieve. ‘Liberal guy hangs out with racists, tries to find common ground, doesn’t’ is an interesting story, but has been done by other people, and didn’t really change anything then, either. The very name of the show alludes to how unlikely change is. But the exploits of Louis Theroux et al didn’t have this sense of danger, the sense of Thorpe staking something of his self in his explorations. There is a fascinating conciliatory note at the end, but for the most part Chris Thorpe stares into the abyss, so you don’t have to.
By Andrzej Lukowski