Paul T Davies reviews Chris Thorpe’s Status which is presented as part of the Pulse Festival 2019 at the New Wolsey Theatre.
Pulse Festival at the New Wolsey Theatre.
Opening the Pulse Festival, Chris Thorpe’s Status, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, is a show about a man who doesn’t want his nationality or status anymore, a man who wants to run away from the national story and cultural constructions that have been given to him. Thorpe, who is an engaging storyteller, tells us this is not a Brexit play, even though it begins on the night of the referendum and questions continually the perception of Britishness, and that the character, although called Chris, is not Thorpe himself.
In a prologue to the piece, Thorpe relates a visit to Croatia, where he witnessed a man in a pub being beaten up by two policemen. Perhaps unwisely, Thorpe intervened, and he was saved from a beating solely by the fact that he is British- and white British at that. The character Chris is a man with (legally) two passports, and he scoops them up to travel the world in what is clearly a shaggy dog, or coyote, story, attempting to bury his passports in the Navajo desert, meeting a stateless man in a hideously commercial tower block in Singapore, talking to a coyote who once was an East German resident, and discovers cardboard cut puts are the spirits of migrants drowned at sea.
Interspersed are songs, which reminded me of the great Billy Bragg, and the piece is strong on exploring lost countries, our own messy history of Empire and invasion, and the graphics and video design create a superb backdrop to Thorpe’s narrative. Ultimately though, I felt the show lacked an element of danger and direct confrontation, the character watched Jeopardy the TV show, but never feels in jeopardy, and he leaves with two passports and returns with both. It does make an effective point that status is a matter of privilege not passport, but it felt an overlong exploration of a surreal tale.