Home » London Theatre Reviews » Talking About The Fire at the Royal Court Theatre | Review

Talking About The Fire at the Royal Court Theatre | Review

Chris Thorpe makes much of his friendship with Véronique Christory, the Senior Arms Control Adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross – she even makes an appearance in the show, via Zoom, taking questions from the audience towards the end of the performance. Christory has been instrumental in non-proliferation treaty review conferences at the United Nations for decades, and participated in the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The Nobel Peace Prize that year was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Talking About The Fire. Created by Chris Thorpe and Claire O’Reilly.
Talking About The Fire. Created by Chris Thorpe and Claire O’Reilly.

The nine nuclear powers in the world, of which Britain (quelle surprise) is one, have not signed the TPNW, and when Thorpe attended a treaty review conference, he noted more than one day out of the three days allocated to the meeting was taken up by declarative statements by each of the signatory countries to the TPNW. When Thorpe remarked to Christory what a waste of time that was, she replied that he had misunderstood the purpose of all those declarations – apparently, coarser language than that was used, but having met Christory, albeit virtually, she came across as very much the tactful diplomat who has more than earned her place in the field of international relations.

Those making statements and declarations, each one similar to one another, had overcome various obstacles to even get to the UN General Assembly. So-called ‘developing nations’ had threats from nuclear states to withdraw aid packages, for instance, but they chose to stand their ground: they do not want a future with nuclear weapons. The TPNW’s signatories have committed “not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons”. Notably, South Africa started research into weapons of mass destruction in 1967, although its stockpile was voluntarily dismantled in 1989.

Very well, but what of this production? In a word, it’s quirky, with lots of audience interaction, mostly in the form of questions (and answers). Thorpe breaks the ice before the show starts with song requests from patrons already seated, which he would play on Spotify. In broaching the difficult subject of nuclear weapons and the catastrophic impact of nuclear war, he is careful to allow room for the audience to digest what has been discussed.

There are facts and statistics, though Thorpe does his best to make it all relatable through the use of CGI (collective group imagination) and some video footage. Not all of the humour came from Thorpe – the biggest laugh and applause of the night came after a response to a request to name a problem in London today. An audience member paused for thought and then simply answered: “Parliament”.

A couple of songs are included – there’s a keyboard on stage for a reason – including a smidge of improvisation. Thorpe repeats the assertion that a nuclear disaster is ‘inevitable’, but doesn’t explain precisely why, and the ICAN website (yes, I looked them up after the show) claims “a climate-stressed world increases the danger of nuclear war”, which isn’t quite the same thing. Anyway, he enjoys a good rapport with the audience throughout, including the venue’s staff. Thorpe presents what can be a dense and intense subject in a personable and engaging manner. Oh, and he also introduced the audience to ‘Nukemap’, which I will only describe here as a free online resource. It is worth checking out, as is this show.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Very few of us have lived in a world without nuclear weapons. Not me. Probably not you. They just… exist.

Sometimes the threat slides into view. Russia invades Ukraine, maybe. But that doesn’t make the weapons more dangerous. They’re always dangerous. And one day – deliberately or accidentally – they’ll be used again. And then it’s all over.

Talking About The Fire
Written and performed by Chris Thorpe


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