Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review: A Family Business at Tobacco Factory Theatres

Chris Thorpe’s investigative show is a gripping exploration of how not to blow the world up with nukes

There’s thought provoking theatre. And then there’s the kind of theatre that changes part of who you are. It shifts your perceptions, making you see things in a different way.

A Family Business is one of those second types of theatre. You can’t unsee it.

Whilst a very sobering piece, we are armed with information. It’s not designed to scare as much as to demystify and warn. Know your enemy and know what can be done to effect change. The enemy in this case is the existence of nuclear weapons. That they will at some point be used, we are warned, is an inevitability. So far we’ve been ‘lucky’.

Photography by Andreas J. Etter

The show is a blend of drama, investigative theatre and audience interaction. Written and performed by Chris Thorpe, it tells the true story of how The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came to be through the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

It’s a dynamic piece. Surtitles act both as an accessibility aid as well as a translation tool for multilingual sections. Projections are used to keep tally of how many countries are ratifying and signing. Audience interaction aids connecting people together through a shared love of different parts of Bristol. Then promptly uses the NUKEMAP website to show us what would happen to those places and those people should any one of the existing or existed nuclear weapons land on the city.

Eleanor Field’s set design echoes those connection. A twisting tangling trail of wires and plug sockets clip together, connecting everything until the inevitable happens.

Thorpe manages to take a tricky and potentially dry subject and make it not only interesting, but really accessible. He demonstrates the size and scale of the weapons, where there are and how many of them there are as well the explosions and fatalities. He shows what that means through real life tragedies – such as the 2020 Beirut explosion. It’s useful stuff for people whose sole knowledge of TNT comes from Minecraft.

Dramatisation of conversations and research shows us that any one of us could be stood in a coffee shop queue right next to the people who have the responsibility for the existence of weapons. As well as those fighting to end them.

It’s a very timely piece of theatre. Though it might have spawned from a chance encounter in a coffee shop, there is renewed interest in nuclear weapons. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought us right back to a chilling effect.

Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer last year also brought them into the public’s awareness. As well as being cinematic mastery, the film’s collision with the Barbie movie release date saw it enter the pop culture mainstream. People want to know more and Thorpe’s show will definitely have you deep-diving the facts behind the show.

After the show, there was a post-show discussion and Q and A with Chris Thorpe and Stefan Kwame Boakye of Tobacco Factory Theatres, further bringing the audience into the conversation. For people who want to know more or take action, a leaflet is handed out at the end with further information.

A Family Business provokes thought and conversation in a careful way towards a difficult, triggering and often anxiety provoking subject, making this a really important piece of theatre.

A Family Business is at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 08 February 2024

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Cast and Creatives
Writer & Performer Chris Thorpe
James – Greg Barnett
Layla – Efé Agwele
Veronique – Andrea Quirbach

Director Claire O’Reilly
Assistant Director on Production Tim Schmultzer
Dramaturg Rachel Chavkin & Jörg Vorhaben
Casting Director Christopher Worrall
Designer & Costume Designer Eleanor Field
Sound Designer Anna Clock
Lighting  and A/V Designer Arnim Friess
Production Manager Rob Athorn
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