Common Ground

| by Eleanor Turney

Chris Thorpe talks to Eleanor Turney about the importance of cultural exchange, his show, Confirmation, and finding common ground.


We’re opening a show at a big festival in Portugal, via a roundabout route – this show involves none of the original people who were part of the British Council Showcase. It’s going to allow a whole load of audiences,­ who don’t necessarily know about the British Council or the Showcase, to have a conversation about the current situation in Europe, where we fit into that as people, about how human beings at an individual level see themselves fitting into a future… that’s great! That is, at its heart, cultural exchange. It’s been facilitated by this [the Showcase] in a very roundabout way.

I’m sitting here, as a British artist, getting to collaborate with some really inspiring people in new ways and meet new audiences, but if the Showcase was just a means of giving artists a good time, it would be pointless. What it does is really facilitates those relationships that allow us to have conversations about the way that the world is going. Those conversations, and the art that comes out of them, are the point of the whole thing.

If you’re the kind of person whose job involves curating a high-profile festival for one audience, you’re going to have a very particular perspective, compared to someone who runs a small venue somewhere else, who wants to put on work they their audience will find challenging and exciting. The variety of it, those possibilities and everything in between, that’s the exciting thing.

We are beyond this idea that all the stuff that’s worth the effort of taking out of Britain is high cultural or epic in scale or involves a certain scale of production values, or needs to attract a huge audience. We come back to these conversations; what many people are looking for is the work that’s going to challenge the audiences in the places they work.

I’ve just been in Denmark, and there are really live issues to do with the show we did they – There Has Possibly Been An Incident. Denmark’s a Scandinavian country, and there’s a strand of that show that deals with the Anders Brevik massacre, even though it is not about that and it doesn’t put that onstage. People found a very immediate connection with it. I’d written something that was maybe more immediately relevant to the people there than to the people in Britain where it was originally produced. It works the other way round, as well. 

With Confirmation, the differences in terms of one society being able to recognise its own specifics and another having to work harder to find an analogue for those things that are specific to British society, that’s fine. That’s how plays work all the time, documentaries work like that all the time. If you’re making a show in the country you live in, of course there’s a level of assumption about using shorthand for certain things. You don’t have to explain everything, and there are certain levels of meaning where if, for example, you’re using a place as shorthand for something, you might need to find an equivalent in the country that you’re going to, but no two places are so alien to each other that you can’t find that common ground. 

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