at Northern Stage, St Stephens, Thursday 8th August 2013
*Originally written for A Younger Theatre*
How best do we fight against something which we don’t agree with? Who decides who is a hero and who is a villain? What compromises do we have to make if we are to change anything? Chris Thorpe’s There Has Possibly Been An Incident doesn’t answer any of these questions, and it’s all the better for it. Rather, it throws them out into the open for debate, acting as a springboard for discussion, using a quasi-documentary tone and aesthetic in order to force an interrogation of truth.
The stage in Sam Pritchard’s production isn’t ready as we enter the auditorium. Three actors – Gemma Brockis, Nigel Barrett and Yusra Warsama – are in the process of setting up a number of microphones, plugging them in and arranging wires around the front row whilst welcoming in audience members. They are apparently Not In Character, and manage to make the stage ‘ready’ just in time for when the house lights go down.
I’m particularly fond of Signe Beckmann’s design. With a bland blue carpet and beige blinds running behind the three chairs on which the actors sit, it is reminiscent of a reception area of some kind, but also feels intensely theatrical and a little bit ‘European’. Actors hold scripts in their hand to reassure us this is a ‘performance’ and they are not playing ‘characters’, speaking into microphones whilst sat in their chairs. Jack Knowles’ lighting design has two clear states, and achieves a wonderful coup at the end of the show.
The play itself is split into three monologues. Warsama, sat on the left, tells us about a plane crash which only she manages to escape before the plane exploded. Barrett speaks from the point of view of the man who stood up to the tanks in Tienanmen Square after finding himself in the crowd and realising no one else was going to do anything to stop it. On the far right, Brockis reveals the details of a movement to try and start a new world, using a smart rhetoric to cover up the fact she is in fact a dictator. And all the way through this, using a form of interrogation where the speakers come to the front, we hear about an anti-European massacre and a man who managed to stop further killing, adamant that anyone would have done the same thing.
Thorpe’s text seems to inhabit a world almost exactly the same as ours, but with a strange hint of utopianism. Each character has a clear sense of drive and of hope, even if, like Brockis, they are clearly in the wrong. She tells the crowd: “I’m not here to tell you what should be done”, even though she is trying to enforce an opinion from a balcony. But she does utter one of the most beautiful lines in the show. “The crowd thinks. They genuinely think.” Obviously it’s not quite a utopia as Bad Things still happen and even in our own world there are ‘heroes’ who commit acts of selflessness, but putting a couple of them in the same space somehow feels hopeful.
The poetry and gorgeous images entangled in There Has Possibly Been An Incident also encourage us to think differently, to pull out important, impossible details and make them into something bigger. Before acting out the opening image in reverse, the trio then speak the final lines of the play together. Here, it becomes possible that we can go one better than these stories, taking action as a community in order to become ‘heroes’ as one.