Confirmation, I Promised You Sex And Violence

THEATRE
Confirmation
4 stars ****
I Promise You Sex And Violence
2 stars **
Northern Stage at King’s Hall  (Venue 73)

ON A DARK stage furnished only with a chair, the writer, performer and musician Chris Thorpe paces around, waiting for the audience to assemble, on all four sides of him in Northern Stage’s new King’s Hall venue.  Then he steps to a microphone, and begins, in an impressive opening blast to the Edinburgh Fringe of 2014; because his subject – in a show that is part lecture, part one-man drama, part storytelling – is the essential one of the rise of the far right in the UK, over the last few years, and his own effort to think his way into the minds of those who belong to the BNP, or to other far-right groupings.

The show is called Confirmation because of what Thorpe learns, on his journey, about “confirmation bias”, the tendency of all human beings to interpret evidence in ways that confirm our existing beliefs; Thorpe starts his journey from a classic liberal-left position, and has to acknowledge, as he moves deeper into his conversations with a pleasant, personable BNP man, that there are aspects of that belief-system that he has never scrutinised with any real rigour.

In the end, I was left wondering how much the “confirmation bias” idea really helps us, in trying either to understand the ideological perspective of others, or to weigh one ideological position against another; it implies a kind of moral equivalence between belief-systems that Thorpe clearly cannot accept, and yet never quite nails, for its potential slippery relativism.  What’s clear, though, is that Rachel Chavkin’s fast-moving, kinetic production offers us an absolutely compelling performance from a man who is fast becoming one of the most powerful performers in the UK; as well as a a brave, bold image of vital ideas in action, growing, evolving and shifting in front of our eyes.

There’s plenty of potential boldness, too, in David Ireland’s I Promise You Sex And Violence, the latest play from one of Northern Ireland’s most exciting writer-performers.  Like Confirmation, Ireland’s new sex comedy seeks to challenge the liberal conscience, by exposing the racism,  misogyny and/or homophobia that seethes beneath the surface of our politically-correct lives, and finds expression in an increasingly lurid pornographic sub-culture.  His story revolves around neurotic single woman Charlotte and her gay “best friend” Bunny, and their weird triangular relationship with Raymond, who is supposed to be black; Keith Fleming acts up a storm as Bunny, and Esther Mcaulay turns in an effective if slightly stereotyped comic performance as Charlotte.

In the end, though, it’s as if the potentially interesting resonances of the domestic drama are completely muffled, in Lortne Campbell’s production, by reams of oddly ugly and flat-footed dialogue, and a sitcom acting style that limits the meanings of the story rather than exploring them.  Disgust is one thing, and Ireland’s play clearly aims both to provoke and to challenge it; but boredom is another, and it’s disappointing to encounter a play that promises sex and violence, but in the end mainly offers dirty talk, unconvincing characters, and a measure of pure tedium.

Joyce McMillan
Until 23
pp. 294, 319

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