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there has possibly been an incident, soho theatreWe need narrative. It is our way of making sense of events, whether a minor inconvenience reshaped into a witty anecdote, a seemingly random occurrence later understood as a pivotal turning point, or a comforting explanation for a horrifying, senseless tragedy. We strive to discover not just what happened, or how, or when, but why, and the simplest explanation will always be the most reassuring.

Chris Thorpe’s There Has Possibly Been An Incident is a brilliant distillation of and challenge to that need, taking four key events and presenting them with cold, clinical precision. They’re not fully dramatised, rather conveyed to us via monologue and brief dialogue by actors sitting at microphones, and we are in both the unflinching present and the aftermath, gradually becoming aware of the connection between fleeting emotions and apparently inconsequential decisions and the life-changing “incidents” they have become.

The lyrical reportage is initially oblique, but the scenarios gradually become clear: a mass murder committed by an Anders Breivik-like figure; the leaders of a revolution becoming the dictators they deposed; a plane crash in a fraught post-9/11 world; and the man who stepped in front of a tank after the Tiananmen Square massacre. The latter has more detailed, emotive treatment in Chimerica; here, all four undergo forensic examination in occasionally poetic language, with Thorpe trusting in the power of statement rather than relying on melodrama to reach a stirring climax.

Crucially, he never provides neat answers, rather constantly challenges us with questions. What would you do in this situation? Can we really call this person a hero or a villain? Is there such a thing as right or wrong, or can they only be found with rationalisation and the benefit of hindsight? Can motivation and moral reasoning change an action, or is momentarily succumbing to rhetoric another of those small decisions that will echo through eternity? The effect of this hour-long onslaught is unsettling and bewildering, but the approach is urgently relevant.

Perhaps most chilling is the calm, matter-of-fact explanation of the mass murderer, who sees a clear distinction between terrorism and using the language of terrorism to achieve a necessary, beneficial goal: “Acting in the present to secure the future.” His brand of fear-mongering is not UKIP hyperbole, but a crisply presented sales pitch, frightening in its clarity. In contrast, the post-revolutionary regime understands the importance of choosing which facts to reveal, and how best to present them – political spin at its most dangerous.

Thorpe’s piece intelligently cross-examines our use of carefully crafted argument and evocative imagery when grappling with such key debates as collective versus individual responsibility or the value of life. The three actors have a challenging task in delivering that thesis almost purely through the human voice; if it wasn’t for the occasional interrogatory stare, this might work just as well on radio.

Gemma Brockis is by far the most convincing, bringing quiet power and surprising depth to her performance, while Nigel Barrett fares best when interacting with the other actors and Yusra Warsama struggles to convince in parts of her tale; Signe Beckmann’s stripped-back design and Sam Pritchard’s subtle direction leave no room to hide. However, between them they find a hypnotic rhythm and effectively switch tone for the few welcome spikes of black humour.

The most compelling section is the choric ending, which shifts perspective and makes an interesting case for both interventionism and chaos triumphing over careful planning. In these uncertain times, the latter may not be something we want to consider, but this is not a place where you’ll find “And they all lived happily ever after”.

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Reviewed 27/09/13/

By Marianka Swain

24th Sep – 5th Oct 2013
Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London, W1D

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