At a certain point in
Thorpe is asking whether it’s ever possible for deeply opposing views to see eye to eye
The jumping-off point for this discomfiting show is a brief dalliance with the concept of confirmation bias, a process by which we naturally select evidence to support our own beliefs and disregard anything contradictory. Through this process we become more and more entrenched in our own principles: the question is whether we can – or should – attempt to break the pattern. What effect would it have on us if we managed to? Because we can’t examine our own minds from the inside, Thorpe says: it’s like trying to taste one’s own tongue.
Once we’re familiar with the concept – which informs everything we do, right down to the circle of like-minded folk we surround ourselves with on Twitter – Thorpe tells us about his meeting with Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, and his consequent decision to find and attempt to understand someone intelligent and completely against his liberal, tolerant values. ‘Glen’, his eventual (and real) specimen, runs a white supremacy website, but also campaigns for the disabled. He’s a socialist, but also a nationalist.
He cuts a surprisingly nuanced figure, who speaks to us directly in reconstructed conversations; these make good use of the space, which is staged in the round. Thorpe flits between us as Glen; we are given short scripts to ask Thorpe’s own questions and hear Glen’s lengthy and mostly reprehensible answers. As the play goes on it becomes more and more obvious that neither we nor Thorpe will ever change Glen’s point of view – or can we? Are we ourselves, perhaps, being affected by his hateful rhetoric? Or do we just want him to shut up out of pure, childish frustration? At points we wonder if we’re even speaking the same language.
This is the beating, vitriolic heart of the show, but it’s supplemented by other, similarly biting moments. Under Rachel Chavkin’s direction, Thorpe commands the beautifully lit space, now stalking about; now sitting on a chair (one of few props); now challenging us with psychological games; now spewing out Glen’s racist word-vomit from a microphone in the corner. The monologue is broken into segments which are effective by themselves and devastating as a whole.
There’s an inevitable and powerful dissatisfaction to the inconclusive final minutes; it will doubtless have us checking our behaviour for days as the nebulous ideas of the show all but sink in – but as the show itself will prove to you, it’s hard work to keep hold of them for very long.