FringeReview UK 2017
Chris Thorpe’s Victory Condition is directed by Vicky Featherstone. Chloe Lamford’s elegantly anonymous open-plan is lit by Lizzie Powell, from a sudden blue shift at the start to a neon kitchen; Gareth Fry’s sound diffuses fermatas to iPod banalities.
An unnamed Man and Woman back from holiday move around Chloe Lamford’s elegantly anonymous open-plan, white kitchen glistening in one corner, IKEA pine in the other. Lizzie Powell’s lighting spooks from a blue shift moment to a neon bleached interior; Gareth Fry’s sound diffuses fermatas to iPod banalities. The couple are ordering pizza though not talking to each other, but to us. It has little to do with pizza.
Chris Thorpe’s Victory Condition directed by Vicky Featherstone comprises two monologues, here intercut so we move from Jonjo O’Neill’s affable government sniper, hoping to enhance the life of the woman he regrets he’s about to kill, to Sharon Duncan-Brewster. She’s a designer narrating how she might never make the office but suffer a catastrophic stroke in the underground. ‘I am lying… with the pad of each finger resting delicately on the tiles as if I’m being fingerprinted delicately by the infrastructure.’
In Thorpe’s language there’s always connectivity in such apparent dislocations, fingers on pads. The Woman later imagines reaching out to an exploited girl chained in a toilet, who possesses some thought process that can access the Woman’s work station. ‘Find the connection between where you are and where I am. Open up the space between us and do something.’
Startlingly, this is what the Man’s hoping to achieve for the young woman activist he’s about to shoot; in his cross-sights he’s crossed sides. ‘ I will be giving you the change you want, but will never see.…. the people who trained me to do this think I am the last line of defence. But I’m not. I am resetting…. I have decided on the heart… Head is a closed casket. Heart is your dead face on placards.’ He ends in a ritual of apologies. Thorpe’s language is often riveting, often rather deliberate, as here, slowing O’Neill’s delivery panning to a cross-hair swivel. It’s rich though the texture’s unremitting and you occasionally long for lightness and dazzle. O’Neill’s gently skirling Northern Irish voice lends nonchalance – to ordering guns and pizzas in a homely conjunction.
There’s catastrophe all round but pulled back from. The Woman’s ‘You will queue slightly longer than usual’ seems the sum iteration of disasters Thorpe visits on cushioned economies, last to feel the brunt of whatever warms towards us. It’s in a recognizable line from Martin Crimp’s 2005 Fewer Emergencies to Caryl Churchill’s 2016 Escaped Alone, with its little apocalypses punctuating a tea party.
It’s the Woman’s monologue, at first personalised – that stroke – which fans out into the Man’s territory of bullets. She imagines the moment a child in an Indian shipyard loses a finger, thus most of his future; phosphorous dancing on skin before it burns. The concatenation of possibles isn’t always negative: ‘a neurochemical change somewhere in the brain of a teenager in Mexico City is the start of an idea that might lead a long way down a long road to our species travelling faster than light, if we survive… not everyone will be allowed to travel it.’ That’s kin to a moment in Lucy Kirkwood’s recent Mosquitoes. Thorpe taps into the same zeitgeist, but with more scenarios than dimensions in string theory. Thorpe’s statements, however suggestive though, are denotative: they’re accretions, iterations of a world, but however laser-bright they don’t make it glow.
To close your eyes as this play unspools might be to lose a flicker between the couple. Still, little else prevents this being more a fine radio drama, where language and nuance might be relished. Featherstone’s direction makes the best case, including where to intercut and splice. O’Neill and Duncan-Brewster give performances as fine as this rich if obliquely dramatic material allows. Their alienation, that very tread of words in Thorpe’s syntax, does confer a halo of otherness though, an unnerving posthumous existence. They’re like ghosts in their own machine. It’s a vision worth absorbing.