Talking About the Fire, Royal Court, 2023
Photo: Andreas J Etter
  • Theatre, Experimental
  • Recommended

Review

Talking About the Fire

5 out of 5 stars

Chris Thorpe’s one-man show about nukes is disarmingly powerful

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Time Out says

Seeing a one-person show by Chris Thorpe is like sitting around a campfire, having a cup of tea while your brain is ablaze and you’re full of worry and questions. And yet, you’re punching the air because of how absolutely alive it all feels. We’re not just an audience; we’re individual faces flickering in the flames lit by a drily funny Mancunian storyteller with both feet rooted in the world.

Thorpe’s latest show ‘Talking About The Fire’ – created with its director Claire O’Reilly – taps into the same potent mix of headline and existential concerns as ‘Status’ (2018), which dealt with Brexit and nationhood, and ‘Confirmation’ (2014), which explored how dangerously easy it is it is for us to start constructing our own realities. Here, it’s the ever-present threat of nuclear war that’s on Thorpe’s mind.

It's a heavy topic, he freely admits, as he tells us about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which makes it illegal for signatories to develop or store a nuclear arsenal. He tells us about how Veronique Christory – who saw one of his previous shows – turned out to be senior arms advisor to the UN and to have negotiated the treaty. He tells us that none of the main nuclear powers have signed. He shows us footage of Beirut airport blowing up. Via the Google-style ‘Nukemap’, he shows what would happen, if a nuclear bomb was exploded on the Royal Court.

And throughout all of this, Thorpe is also proffering biscuits as prizes for a quiz about world facts. He gets to know our names and asks where we might go on a date. He asks what our choice of music is on an average morning and plays a selection on Spotify. He banters with us and threatens to sing a song. He and Reilly make sure this never feels glib or contrived. It personalises us in the room – like other rooms, Thorpe makes the point, where change can start.

But it’s not twee or neatly tied in a bow. There’s an abrasive urgency to the way Arnim Friess’s lighting design picks up tonal shifts – and in the static-y buzz of the mic Thorpe occasionally uses. Our ability to normalise potential catastrophe over a cup of tea is the greatest threat posed by nuclear weapons. Their risk doesn’t ebb and flow with the latest conflict. It’s always there as long as they exist.

It's all masterfully put together, but not in a way that feels manipulative or cringingly quirky. In many ways, Thorpe is a dressed-down showman, but he’s one who holds our attention through authenticity rather than razzle-dazzle. His artfulness is in grounding the existential in the everyday. It veers on cliché to talk about art as ‘urgent’. But this show culminates in an encounter that really puts the ‘alive’ into ‘live theatre’.

Details

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Price:
£17.50-£20. Runs 1hr 30min
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