Chris Thorpe's solo show for this year is about grappling with national identity as a white british man. It uses a mix of storytelling music, song, wonderful visuals and projection, to tell us the story of struggling with your national identity when your nation does something you fundamentally disagree with. Status seems to re-cover a lot of the material from his previous work Confirmation, of how you negotiate with something fundamentally alien to you. Except this time it is not a Nazi, but a part of the character Chris himself.
Status has been written from a place of grief
The whole piece practically vibrates with fury. It loosely begins with the character's response to his nation ‘shooting itself’, and follows his attempts to run away from that nation, escape it, bury it, and cut it out of himself, to a grudging realisation that this is not something you can truly exhume. It brings to mind the truth in the Neil Gaiman quote ‘Wherever you go you take yourself with you’. No matter how unreal and fictional nationality and borders are, they still have real world consequences you cannot escape.
Thorpe is a gently but forcefully charismatic performer, sometimes accompanying himself with some gloriously angry guitar. There is a truly excellent recurring motif of privilege in action, where being English saves Chris from a beating. That we return to and analyse with each new layer of soul searching. Then there were some points where the balance felt a bit off, for example when Chris goes to monument valley and has a prolonged vision quest where he speaks to a coyote. The whole irony of the white man on a vision quest was slightly played off, but it still felt like an uncomfortable choice. Where the story truly shone were the moments where Chris spoke to cardboard cutouts, or the faceless representative of Englishness. These were new, exciting, personal and interesting in ways the vision quest didn’t quite carry.
Thorpe has a talent for bringing out gut-feelings in his audience. The violent description of how to pull out your nationality really made me squirm and feel queasy. Sadly though, that was more as a surface reaction to the gore than the deeper discomfort of trying to remove your nationality.
Status has been written from a place of grief, it varies wildly between the denial, anger and bargaining stages of grief. Thorpe himself seems to be in denial, saying its ‘not a Brexit play’ and this character is not Thorpe, but just called Chris, with Thorpe saying ‘I’m not even sure if I like him’. These may be asides that I am over reacting to, but by taking that step away from the content, and making it about a character of Chris, it puts distance between Thorpe and Chris, and it calls the authenticity and truth of the story into question slightly. When to the audience it clearly seems like it is a white man’s white guilt play brought about by Brexit, and it is Thorpe’s personal story. Putting that distance in wrong-foots the audience in a way that I can’t see a reason for. It reduces the impact and power a purely autobiographical piece could have wrought.
It may be the depression talking or Thorpe may be preaching to the choir, but his statement that being English is a bad thing we should all want to be rid of, did not shock me. Being English has always been a blessing and a curse, except now we are leaning into the curse side. Had it truly taken Brexit to see that.
Status is going to win awards because it is formally interesting, political, current and good at conjuring a very instinctive gut feeling – but even character Chris himself seemed unconvinced by its conclusion. You have to take responsibility and use your privilege to enact change in the world, and to run away and to deny that is a privilege in itself.