Confirmation left me feeling dizzyingly nauseous, like every one of my senses had been somehow assaulted, like a rifle butt had hit me repeatedly in the face. It’s 90 minutes of a man screaming like a crazed army general, sweating like Richard Nixon and aggressively co-opting the audience into participating, despite every last pore of their bodies seeping visceral discomfort and their body language screaming ‘don’t pick me’.
Chris Thorpe’s production starts out by looking at the confirmation bias – the basic idea that when we are met with information, verbal or otherwise, we deliberately select those pieces of information which already tally with our held beliefs, rather than focus in on the information that goes against these beliefs. He illustrates this point by re-staging a famous psychology experiment that, like all the most famous psychology experiments, uses a bizarrely tangential method to ‘prove’ something nobody needed proving. Anyhow, with the confirmation bias, I think he is on to a point because, after all, this practice is, for instance, at the heart of almost all academic exercise – you read a book, you highlight what fits in with your argument, you discard the rest and then you use the bit in yellow to ‘illustrate’ your point. Discard anomalies etc. And yes, I do believe people use this way of thinking on a regular basis.
But then Thorpe then goes totally off-piste, asking instead: “have you ever considered actually being able to be friends with someone with a totally different view point to you?” I hope to God this is not the stage people are still at in conference rooms in the Middle East. Of course people with different viewpoints can be friends. But now he throws the curve ball, because one second ago he was talking about people who were at marginally different positions on the political spectrum – could I be mates with a Tory? – and now he is, despite weirdly confessing that a trip to the University of New York unanimously told him he was misguided to do so and warping someone else’s theory, talking about extremists. Like Holocaust deniers and white supremacists. Could I be friends with one of these folks? Well OK, no I probably couldn’t – but is that because of the confirmation bias? No.
But Thorpe has spent quite a lot of time in the company of these people and the vast majority of the show is taken up with him adopting the persona of them and then blasting out racist/anti-Semitic/misogynistic rants at top volume. So although we know that Thorpe himself doesn’t believe these things – indeed in the few moments in between these performances he intones repeatedly that he is a ‘liberal’ (confusingly never clarifying in what exact sense he is using this word which has different connotations depending on what side of the Atlantic we stand on) – we have to spend a huge proportion of the 90 minutes listening to someone aggressively scream and shout ‘in character’ as a white supremacist or holocaust denier. One of the things Thorpe did do was confirm for me that I never want to be in a room with a scary male white supremacist shouting hysterically – yes, a belief I held both before and after the performance. He is himself quite an imposing person. He jumps and squats around the performance space like a mad rhino pacing its cage and I live in constant fear that he will literally smash out of it and into an audience member or that I will be the next one forced to participate in these weird proceedings. Contrast this with the positively Zen-like calm of Andy Smith two days before who so sweetly invited the audience to take off their shoes.
He continues screaming and I begin to feel panicky. I am trapped in this dark space until who-knows-when with one man doing bizarre and long, long-winded impressions of a holocaust denier. I wonder why this was not declared on the advertising – audiences are advised not to attend if they are likely to be upset by unrelenting references to the gas chambers. Because genuinely some people might be – and here comes me and MY ‘liberal’ bias – I think it was irresponsible. People are still alive who actually went there. People still remember those who died there.
Eventually the show concludes on an insane and circuitous ramble about how because he is so ‘liberal’ he cannot fathom that the number 6 million might be wrong when discussing numbers of Jews killed – that other historical estimates are available – and that having his knowledge of the 6 million figure challenged is, for a liberal like him, tantamount to being a holocaust denier. Or something. By this point I really have no idea what is going on in this theatre or his head or anywhere else. The doors open and I come out into the crisp evening air feeling so dumbfounded I have to go buy wine on the way home.