Chris Thorpe is a master of understatement. As his audience files into a room in the Arlington restaurant, he meekly insists ‘the show hasn’t started yet’. It has. As he empties the contents of his pockets, Thorpe glibly states, ‘This is just stuff.’ It isn’t. The point of this show is that everything, no matter how insignificant, matters. High Speed Impact Test Number One is a glorious exercise in a logic – a dizzying journey between cause and effect and the swarming possibilities that lie in between.
Thorpe describes his show as ‘Jackanory with swearing’ but, again, he’s underselling himself. Despite the simple set up – the audience gathers round as Thorpe tells two supposedly real-life stories – this is a sophisticated, intelligent show. Thorpe is obsessed with the ‘what if’ and his pensive, perambulating narrative style feels both chaotically sprawling and tightly strung. Every diversion – and the story is littered with strange little riffs – takes us to extraordinary places with exceptional speed. One moves from a supposedly incidental matter to a catastrophic outcome in seconds. Each step makes perfect logical sense and, yet, the distance between the initial instant and its final impact is extraordinary.
In the first story, Thorpe relates his experience of a near plane crash. Despite heading towards a potentially devastating climax, Thorpe frequently jumps of his set path and indulges in strange flights of logical fantasy. As Thorpe describes settling down in the plane, a stray packet of peanuts prompts a spiralling rant about the snack’s potential origin. Thorpe imagines a room in the developing world, ‘so big that clouds form in it’. with eagle eyed children picking out the finest peanuts for first class. It is a nutty and totally off-topic image and yet these forays never feel irrelevant or indulgent. Instead, these abandoned imaginings make the narrator seem more human and the story, strangely, more real.
Over and over again, we are taken further away from the core of the story and yet somehow closer to its heart. In the second segment, Thorpe relates how one missed cup of coffee led to two planes clashing in the clouds. Somewhere along the way, he manages to jump from the topic of the tired flight controller, to his new girlfriend, to said girlfriend’s visiting Italian friend and, with a more leaps, to the exact words this girlfriend’s, friend’s, ex-boyfriend uttered during the point of climax. Quite how we arrived at this point is hard to recall but that doesn’t matter – the point is, we did. This rigorous connection of seemingly disparate dots is both calming and depressing. It lends the impression there might be an order to things – but try to make sense of this order at your peril.
There is an added element to these beautifully crafted tales. Occasionally, during both of the sessions, Thorpe ‘steps’ out of his story and addresses another person in the room. During the first story, he seems to be talking to a prostitute or one night stand. Throughout the second story, the extra, imaginary member of the audience, is his ex-girlfriend. I hope he incorporates these elements more conclusively since they could work brilliantly, creating weird jolts that remind us that each story has not only endless possibilities - but also limitless listeners, contexts and consequent meanings.
Part of the Ipswich fringe festival Pulse, 26 May – 11 June 2011