Review: Intriguing exploration of existence at Coventry theatre

Yellowstone is written and directed by Chris Thorpe
Yellowstone is written and directed by Chris Thorpe
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Nick Le Mesurier reviews Yellowstone at the Shop Front Theatre, Coventry

Yellowstone, written and performed by Chris Thorpe at Shop Front Theatre, Coventry, is a strange beast, a post-apocalyptic tale sitting somewhere between storytelling and drama.

It starts off with Chris in the persona of an actor / narrator, seated at a table reading us a story. It is a tale set in a remote railway station where a train bound for Manchester mysteriously stops dead. Think Arnold Ridley’s The Ghost Train, only edgier, darker, more culturally aware. One of the passengers carries a large knife, another sets out to kill himself on the tracks where trains no longer run. But instead of this turning into a gore-fest the people work together, gather food and materials, try to work out ways to survive. Then they see a nearby village explode.

Suddenly a second voice from offstage interrupts the narrative, which by now has got us hooked. It asks questions of the story, subverting it, prodding our suspended disbelief. The narrative continues, only this time we’re in Yellowstone National Park where tourists stare at the sulphur pools, aware that if they should fall from the paths they will be burned alive by the hot acids. Here, amongst the awesome beauty of the landscape one cannot escape the knowledge that the earth’s crust is thin, total annihilation is but a seismic cough away. It could happen any time.

Searching for a term to describe Yellowstone I could only settle on anti-drama as an approximation. Its clever, utterly engaging structure and delivery hooks us into a tale. But are we watching a performance or listening to a story? What does it tell us about the state of our fragile existence, our humanity, our sense of what we can expect and believe? Had this been played ‘for real’, i.e with actors, a set, a plot, complete with resolution, and so on, would we have been brought closer to the point of the play, the action if you like, or taken further away from it? When the end comes, if it comes, will it be a collective experience, or an intensely personal one?

Yellowstone is the fifth of a series of nine plays at Shop Front Theatre dedicated to asking the question, are we where we are? It’s not a question for which there can be an answer, only more questions, and more intriguing ways of asking it. I’d like to see Yellowstone, and indeed the whole series, return for a longer run. It throws fresh light on urgent questions.

* The show was performed on January 25. Visit www.theatreabsolute.co.uk for information about forthcoming shows.