A Family Business – Omnibus Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Chris Thorpe

Director: Claire O’Reilly

Oppenheimer may be sweeping up at this year’s award season, but Christopher Nolan’s film hasn’t made us think any harder about nuclear weapons. Perhaps, dangerously, he even romanticised the deadly weapon; who can forget that rush of euphoria when Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer stands by to watch the first test of his atomic bomb in New Mexico? In contrast to the movie, Chris Thorpe’s A Family Business, touring the UK, is a well-timed wake-up call that another nuclear explosion is almost inevitable.

However, the problem with Thorpe’s play is that it is not theatrical enough. Too many times he stands at the front of the stage telling us facts or pointing at a screen, illustrating the impact such a nuclear weapon would have on South London. It’s like being back at school, and the imploring tone is too overdone at times. We know nuclear war is bad.

Of course, Thorpe is aware that his show lacks a narrative drive and so has dramatized the story of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), a United Nations attempt to force the nine nuclear nations to disarm. Andrea Quirbach plays the UN official who has to find at least 50 countries to ratify the treaty while Greg Barnett is an American diplomat who has to toe the traditional line and advocate that nuclear weapons are a deterrent. Efé Agwele is from an unnamed nation in the Global South and is worried that if she ratifies the treaty America will stop giving her country financial aid.

But the conversations between them go on for far too long, extending the play towards 105 minutes when it doesn’t need to be. The F-word peppers the meetings of the three diplomats so regularly that soon the swearing loses all impact; surely, there are other, more nuanced ways to show the pressure these people are under. And by the end of these rather pointless dramatizations, we learn very little about the machinations of power except that it is a game that politicians like to play.

A Family Business would be more effective if these scenes were done away with completely; they only distract from the facts and propositions that Thorpe is fully able to deliver himself in a Ted Talk format that could be wrapped up in an hour. This might help Thorpe trust his audience more; at the moment there’s too much mansplaining where simple concepts are drawn out. Of course, nuclear weapons are a complex issue but we shouldn’t be bored by them. However, A Family Business is still a gallant attempt by Thorpe to slap us out of complacency.

Runs until 25 February and then continues to tour

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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