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A Family Business at the Omnibus Theatre Clapham | Review

A potent, direct and challenging watch from Chris Thorpe in A Family Business as we face the reality of nuclear destruction. This new multimedia performance from the renowned political theatre maker confronts us with grave, complicated problems.

A Family Business by Chris Thorpe. Photography by Andreas J. Etter.
A Family Business by Chris Thorpe. Photography by Andreas J. Etter.

The evening starts, as many of his previous shows do, with a very direct monologue, exploring an interaction he had. In previous shows, it has been with members of the radical far right, or delving into the comments section of the Daily Mail. Tonight, however, he meets someone different, a nuclear disarmament campaigner. From there, we hear the story of a UN motion to declare nuclear weapons illegal and the fight to get the all-important 50 ratifications to make it law. Thorpe’s approach to this is unorthodox, we are treated to anything from quizzes, imaginary first dates and mapping out nuclear destruction starting from the very theatre we sit in. Despite Thorpe’s charisma and sharp comedic ability, the evening is utterly bleak, but perhaps that is inevitable in a show about the reality of nuclear destruction.

As the show moves, we see naturalistic depictions of the diplomatic campaign. Through this narrative Thorpe adds a layer to the problem, having established the setting of nuclear destruction, he now turns his focus to the structures maintaining the status quo. Ratification may well come from many countries, but what does it mean when we are not even close to a nuclear state signing up?

Thorpe plays the audience well, his wit and ability to work a crowd serve him well. Other performances are initially uncertain, feeling as though they are there simply to serve the narrative, rather than as whole characters but given time they find their feet and become believable individuals.

The writing does not bother with subtlety. It is unashamedly frank about the reality of our volatile, fragile existence, and the challenges that face those working for change. The writing can at times be clunky and demonstrative, but that feels justified and does not hold the piece back given the stakes and the urgency with which the piece speaks.

It’s an interesting watch. As someone who has enjoyed Chris Thorpe’s work for several years, it is quite different from his previous work both in content and form. Concerning the subject matter, it is quite radicalizing, is brutally honest and asks you to think hard about our political structures and the weapons of mass destruction at the fingertips of politicians we have increasingly less faith in.

4 stars

Review by Tom Carter

A show about how not to blow up the planet.
Award-winning theatre-maker Chris Thorpe and director Rachel Chavkin reunite for A Family Business, a powerful production that focuses on the human story of the struggle for nuclear disarmament, and the group of people whose business it is to try to stop us from blowing up the planet.

Based on conversations with activists, academics and diplomats, this timely piece of theatre from China Plate and Staatstheater Mainz, about ordinary people who make extraordinarily important decisions, examines what qualifies a person to speak on behalf of huge parts of the global population – and asks why we don’t really talk about nuclear weapons much, even though they accompany us everywhere.

Designer & Costume Designer Eleanor Field.
Lighting & Video Designer Arnim Friess
23-25 FEB 2024

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