Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Chris Thorpe: A Family Business

By | Published on Friday 16 February 2024

Currently on a national tour – and calling at the Omnibus Theatre this week – is ‘A Family Business’, produced by China Plate and Staatstheater Mainz, and created by and starring award-winning writer and performer Chris Thorpe.

The play – which is one part of a trilogy from Thorpe and co-creator Rachel Chavkin – takes a look at the people making the decisions about nuclear disarmament. To find out more about it, I spoke to Chris ahead of the show’s London dates. 

CM: Can you start by telling us what story ‘A Family Business’ tells? Where does the narrative take us?
CT: The show tells two stories.

One is about the development of a – real – nuclear disarmament treaty and what the people involved in that process are like.

The second is more of a conversation – the story of the people in the room with us wherever the show is on that particular night – and the place we’re all in.

And it’s about creating a sense of connection between those two stories as well.

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
CT: I guess a big theme is nuclear weapons – where they are, who’s got them, who’s trying to get rid of them, and what the actual impact of their use would be. It’s not necessarily about the information, though, it’s about why we don’t think about them as much as we maybe should. 

A big question is – how do we connect the remote-feeling worlds of science and diplomacy with our daily lived experience in a way that gives us agency?

There are also jokes.

CM: This is one part of a trilogy isn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about the other two parts?
CT: Yeah, it’s the third in a loose trilogy that looks at how humans process information. The first show, ‘Confirmation’, was about individual cognitive bias. The second, ‘Status’, was about what happens when those individuals have to collectively tell stories about nationality and shared history.

This one is about how we manage those stories in the world without blowing ourselves up.

CM: What was the inspiration for it? What made you want to create a work about this topic?
CT: Like a lot of my stuff, it started by accident. I met someone in a pub after a performance of ‘Status’ who worked in disarmament at a high level. We got chatting and they very kindly put me in touch with other people in that world. Then it snowballed.

CM: Did you always plan to perform this yourself?
CT: Yeah, but it’s vital that it’s the four of us. There are stories I can’t tell or represent that need this to be a team effort.

CM: Can you tell us about the creative team you have worked with on this?
CT: They’re brilliant. We’ve got Anna Clock creating and composing sound and music that encompasses the different worlds of the show; Eleanor Field’s set design that reflects the complexities of the subject in an accessible way; and Arnim Friess’s really precise and atmospheric lighting.

Plus my fellow performers Efé Agwele, Greg Barnett and Andrea Quirbach, who tell the story so beautifully.

And Claire O’Reilly bringing vision and inspiration to the whole thing as director; and of course Rob Athorn, Adam Steed and Bryn Jones who actually make it possible in the room. It feels really collaborative.

CM: And now can you tell us about yourself? What brought you to a career in the arts?
CT: Accident – I ended up doing a course I didn’t mean to at university years ago and kind of fell into theatre with some mates. And everything I’ve done since has been the result of stray thoughts or accidental conversations.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
CT:  I try not to rank things. Every time I meet a bunch of people in a room there’s the potential for it to be a highlight.

CM: What aims or ambitions do you have for the future?
CT: To keep finding and making work I see the point of, and to find the best ways for it to connect.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
CT: I’m working on a new show with Javaad Alipoor, who I have a writing collaboration with. And I’m doing some performances of ‘Talking About The Fire’, which is a more stand-up style/solo show, while also waiting for the next accident to happen.

‘A Family Business’ is on at Omnibus Theatre from 23-25 Feb. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.  

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Photo: Andreas J. Etter