What makes you British?

Status reunites Chris Thorpe with director Rachel Chavkin to explore the psychology of nationhood at the Battersea Arts Centre.

Abstract in Italian

Dopo l’acclamato Confirmation, premiato al Festival di Edimburgo nel 2014, Chris Thorpe torna a collaborare con la regista Rachel Chavkin in Status. Presentato al Battersea Arts Centre, Status è il secondo di quella che sarà una trilogia di spettacoli incentrata sulle intersezioni tra dimensione individuale e politica. La scrittura incisiva, realistica e poetica di Thorpe, complici le canzoni urlate alla chitarra acustica e le animazioni video di Andrzej Goulding, esplora il costrutto di identità nazionale all’indomani della Brexit. Il protagonista Chris, mosso da un impulsivo desiderio di liberarsi del significato che la sua nazionalità sembra aver acquisito, si avventura per il mondo, confrontandosi con luoghi, animali e persone. La sua domanda è sempre la stessa: cosa significa e cosa comporta provenire da un certo Paese? Esiste un modo per conservare un senso di appartenenza senza che questo comporti il tracciare rigidi confini che escludono e dividono?


After Confirmation, which won a Fringe First at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe and has toured nationally and internationally, Status is the second in a trilogy of plays examining “the intersection between our individual humanity and our politics”.

Status is inspired by UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s assertion that “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. Set during the aftermath of the Brexit vote (though careful to define itself as “not a Brexit show”), it follows the travails of a white British character called Chris who reluctantly feels the inner need to reflect on national identity and what it entails in the UK at the present time.

Reflecting on British values and nationalism is not normally such an attractive activity for white left-leaning British liberals like Thorpe. They prefer to inhabit a world supposedly unconstrained by borders. Brexit has put paid to such dreams, bringing issues of nationalism to the fore. As an artist and a British man, with the privileges that entails, Thorpe feels a responsibility to raise questions around concepts of nationhood, lest the definition be left to powerful factions who might divert and limit the meaning of being British.

Thorpe does not devote his piece to analysis of that powerful political class who uses a certain construct of nationality as a tool to manipulate and structure society. His aim is to explore the opinions of liberals like him, and being well placed to explore this perspective he tells a genuine, heartfelt tale.

As a non-British person, after Brexit I was naturally compelled to engage with understanding what British borders were to become in the post-Brexit reality. Thorpe takes an interesting perspective which comes both from his own privileged status, yet also from his need to rid himself of what being British seems to have become to mean politically and individually. “I want to get out of it. And I want it to get out of me”, says Chris, as he desperately tries to get rid of his two passports in an impulsive journey of escape around the world. Is there a way to retain a sense of belonging without the need for exclusion?

Chris firstly recalls his trip to Croatia in 2001, where his white Britishness spared him a beating from a pretty brutal police officer. Brutality that, as he sarcastically notices, would never happen in the UK (at least not in public).

Chris then travels into the American desert to the land of the Navajos in Monument Valley. There he meets a coyote who is in fact the spirit of an East German person, and who seems to have everything it takes to spiritually guide Chris through his quest to understand geographical borders. However, Chris’ Eurocentric mindset prevents him from fully grasping the coyote’s answer, which leaves him even more confused.

Chris then embarks on a hallucinatory journey to Singapore, where he meets a stateless businessman who is able to renounce nationality thanks to his ridiculous wealth.

Thorpe’s language is at once aggressive and poetic. His songs were performed, knowingly, on an electric guitar, and he acknowledges that we might expect no less from a white British man in his forties. They are allusive and humorous, often shouted, at times moving. They catalyse the experiences lived by Chris and run through with sharp lyrics which provoke and unsettle. Thorpe’s incisive writing is an endless source of ideas and questions to which no answers are given, complemented by suggestive animation by video designer Andrzej Goulding.

Some may leave the Battersea Arts Centre confused and not sure of how to collect their thoughts or how to deal with the questions aroused. However, beyond a relative lack of climax which would help content fruition and meaning-making, Status is a weighty deconstruction of the meaning of nationality and a powerful means to explore and redefine our psychology of nationhood.

At Battersea Arts Centre
Lavender Hill

London – SW11 5TN
until Saturday, May 11
Mon-Sat 20.00
Age Recommendation: 14+ (contains strong language)
running time: 80 mins

directed by Rachel Chavkin
written and performed by Chris Thorpe
music by Tanuja Amarasuriya
produced by China Plate & Staatstheater Mainz
lighting Design by Katharine Williams
video Design by Andrzej Goulding
commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre, Warwick Arts Centre and Les Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg and supported by the British Council, Goethe-Institut London, the Collaborative Touring Network and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England


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