A Family Business

You may be wondering how a show about nuclear deterrents can possibly be an entertaining night at the theatre. And the answer would be, it isn’t…and yet it is! As a child of the 80s I was acutely aware of the threat of nuclear war. The West was entrenched in a cold war with the Eastern Block and that threat hung over us like an anvil. The Cold War may feel like a distant memory; nuclear weapons, we are reminded in this production, are not.

The hope that these weapons might become a thing of the past is Chris Thorpe’s reason for writing and performing this piece. His passion is to put us all on high alert to the reality that, with the presence of the weapons, a future war in which they are used is not just a possibility, it is a certainty.

Chris is engaging from the moment we enter the space – he greets his audience, asks our names, and checks what we’re drinking. The set is a square stage surrounded by electronic paraphernalia. Above is a wire form of a mushroom cloud – the threat, literally hanging over us.

The addition of a screen showing the dialogue as the piece unfolds is a beautifully inclusive touch. It comes into its own as one of the characters speaks in German; the equivalent of subtitles for those not familiar with the language.

The drama unfolds as Chris recounts a real-life and accidental meeting with Veronique (Andrea Quirbach) in a posh hotel bar. She is a Senior Arms Advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross and was instrumental in bringing about an updated United Nations’ treaty which would declare nuclear weapons to be illegal.

Thorpe’s story is dramatised by a small and talented cast. In addition to Quirbach, Greg Barnett plays James and Efé Agwele plays Layla. They are UN delegates responsible for some of the political manoeuvrings that go on behind the scenes when such a treaty is proposed. They portray the frustrations where smaller countries have too often been pawns on the world stage, and their people’s lives seen as disposable.

Beyond the script and the story, Thorpe cleverly weaves us into the performance. With the aid of Google Maps projected on the back cloth, he zooms in on the theatre where we’re sat, and asks the audience about their local knowledge. With skill, he weaves our knowledge together in a story. The devastating punchline is, that should a nuclear warhead be dropped on us, none of the local knowledge will matter. Everything will be reduced to dust in a millisecond.

There is also an opportunity to learn the stats through, what can only be described as a pub quiz, where the prize is a packet of digestives – chocolate on this occasion – it is London after all on this leg of the tour! One thing we learn is that to date, 90 UN member states have signed up to the treaty, with 70 of them ratifying it. Crucially, not one of the 9 member states that possess nuclear weapons has signed or ratified the treaty.

I’ve never been to the theatre and been treated to a drama, a quiz and a lecture all in one. It should never work, but it does. This really is activism at its best! We get a night in the theatre, we’re engaged, we’re informed and, of course, we’re disturbed by the reality. We rarely think about how many nuclear warheads there are in the world, or how so few countries own them, or where they are kept – ready to go at a moment’s notice. But Chris Thorpe is determined that we are made aware, and he does it with great effect. He is on a mission and, I suspect, won’t be easily deterred from completing it.

This show was reviewed on the 23rd February 2024 at the Omnibus Theatre where the show runs until the 25th February 2024.  Tickets here: A FAMILY BUSINESS - Omnibus Theatre (omnibus-clapham.org)

Full tour details for this show can be found here: A Family Business - China Plate (chinaplatetheatre.com)

Review written by Ian Worsfold

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Photo credit: Andreas J Etter

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