Brisbane Powerhouse, Warwick Arts Centre & China Plate
Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio
February 18 – 20 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
What lies at the heart of conviction? Is it fact or a burning belief that isn’t explainable? A fiercely intelligent theatre experience, this one-man show explores the phenomenon of Confirmation Bias—our choice to look beyond the facts and see only the evidence that proves we’re right.
Multi award winning Chris Thorpe is one of the most compelling performers I’ve ever seen.
We’re up close and personal in the intimate Turbine Studio, made even smaller with rows of seats on all four sides of the brightly lit performance space. Not only is Confirmation confronting in the most deeply disturbing, challenging way, it’s probably the most provocative piece of WTF16, delivered straight up, unapologetically, exploring Confirmation Bias within the context of a white supremacist’s liberal views.
Director Rachel Chavkin had discussed with Thorpe “the narratives that liberals hold onto, particularly the belief that if someone is educated and cared for…they will naturally be liberal.”
In creating this show, Thorpe sought someone with opposing political views whose external profile matched his own: white, male, British, educated, middle class. He vanished down rabbit holes of online comments and white supremacist websites, went to conservative political meetings, and all this finally brought him to ‘Glen’…
‘Glen” is real – although ‘Glen’ is not his real name.
The most chilling thing about the content of this show is that some of the strongest points come from a real person with deeply-held beliefs, real conviction – Confirmation Bias – which is what allows each one of us to form our unique world view.
I’m full of admiration for Thorpe, who has had the balls (and the patience and persistence) to have conversations with a self-confessed Nazi and condense his world view so that we might have every opportunity to see things from his perspective.
We feel safe in the space. This is vital to the success of the show because the stuff Thorpe speaks of is important enough to consider, and threatening enough to make me head for the hills and hide in a rammed earth waterfront crystal palace. Thorpe is a warm, welcoming character, and despite the unsettling nature of the show, by being present in the space and chatting easily with the punters before the show begins, people are generally relaxed…albeit slightly wary. We can’t know exactly what’s to come but we’ve read the show brief and it reads…dangerously.
The usher tells me off for trying to pinch a program from the stash on the floor beneath a chair by the door (we’ll be offered one later) and it occurs to me that we’re too late into the space to sneak past Thorpe to the back row. We’ve come straight from Huang Yi & KUKA…via the bar. Everyone can see everyone beneath the interrogative light. There’s no hiding here tonight. As we consider where to
try to hide sit, Thorpe indicates that we should sit in front. So we sit in front. I’m terrified to be sitting in front.
In this space Thorpe challenges us to consider our own world view by sharing a classic psychological test (we select three numbers to substantiate a rule of our own making), and the incredible dialogue he sustained online for a time with ‘Glen’. As shocking as Glen’s world view is, it’s packaged so neatly and presented with such conviction by Thorpe that I realise in horror that I’m listening intently instead of of walking out. Although, I would never walk out because this is excellent, intelligent, thrilling theatre… A woman does actually walk out! More than halfway through the show after a tirade of white supremacist views about the holocaust never happening, she gets up and leaves. WTF? Thorpe finishes, lowers the mic and there she is, standing, clutching her bag, and with eyes stubbornly on the floor in front of each foot, she leaves the theatre in a few quick, short, sharp steps. Thorpe watches her go, just follows her with his eyes, and waits for the sound of the door to close behind her. He takes a breath before he continues. He’s a master, continuously shaping the craft, the show as it flows, and our responses to it. He waits just long enough, and it’s not creepy or awkward or odd. We’re able to breathe a sigh of relief, as if a weight has been lifted. A woman has reacted the way we’d all like to when confronted with a Holocaust denier. And Thorpe acknowledged her. And he acknowledged us. And we all moved on. This show – this guy – is hard core.
We hear opposing views on Minor Threat’s Guilty of Being White and an explanation – it’s the voice of Glen – about exactly why Anders Breviek was justified in killing 77 Norwegians in 2011. Sickening. Terrifying. Remember MKA’s The Economist (WTF13)? Yeah. That. Members of the audience are chosen randomly to read Thorpe’s questions to Glen and Thorpe responds as Glen. He’s calm, thoughtful, intense. The whole experience is intense.
This is theatre that makes us think and sweat and shift uncomfortably in our seats. Thorpe’s energy is electric and we’re fully charged from the performance, in shock but with lots to talk about.
At the bar over a pot of tea (he drinks tea prolifically) we hear about Thorpe’s awkward moment on the plane, flying via Dubai, seated next to a teenaged girl. We laugh and agree: there’s nothing you can say as a middle-aged man to a teenaged girl on a plane that isn’t going to come across as creepy.
A powerful, provocative writer and performer, Thorpe is boldly continuing this tour, taking the extremist views of the fictional ‘Glen’ to audiences all over the world. I’m excited, and a little bit scared for him…
The final simple moments of Thorpe’s monologue demonstrate that even if we were to trade eyeballs in an effort to see the world from somebody else’s perspective, we would still only see what we were seeing already because the mind is made up.
The power of conviction – Confirmation Bias – won’t let us have the world any other way.