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Talking About the Fire review – anti-nuclear lecture is a puzzling dud

<span>Photograph: Arnim Friess</span>
Photograph: Arnim Friess

There are nine nations in the world that possess nuclear weapons, we are told by writer and performer Chris Thorpe. That two of these nations – Russia and Israel – are embroiled in wars should raise the alarm in his call for disarmament. Unfortunately, this one-man show, styled like a standup routine, does not have any dramatic intrigue, intensity or tension.

Thorpe gives us facts, snatches of wobbly song, sweariness, bants, and opaque spoken-word interludes on everything from facial recognition to small boats and “red-faced men asking female politicians if they would press the button”.

Thorpe is amicable enough, striking a rapport with the audience and inviting participation, but he is no storyteller here. Directed by Claire O’Reilly, this 90-minute show is less a deep and meaningful performance than a well-intentioned keyboard warrior’s lecture.

Eleanor Field’s set is designed as a bedroom, complete with rug, plant and a laptop connected to a back screen which follows Thorpe’s online searches.

He goes to Spotify and invites audience recommendations for songs. He briefly shows us his Manchester home on Googlemaps. There is mention of Hiroshima, but Nagasaki is not broached. We hear that the first nuclear disarmament treaty came in 1970 and jump to the UN’s 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

One wormhole takes us to “nukemaps”, a website mapping the effects of a nuclear blast on any given location with a bomb of choice. It seems like a bizarre gaming exercise as Thorpe pulls up our current location to show us what would happen if a B61 bomb were dropped, with the house lights dipped. He invites us to imagine this moment, but with two wars involving two nuclear powers ravaging the world, isn’t it more urgent to consider those civilians facing potential annihilation?

Counter-arguments remain unchallenged too, such as those broached in the recent film, Oppenheimer, or the Mutually Assured Destruction theory that suggest these weapons are the ultimate deterrent.

The show serves as an introduction to the idea of disarmament for those who might never have considered it, but it is strange that its call for activism casts no backward glance at previous organised campaigns (from CND marches and Greenham Common to protest songs and the support of Glastonbury festival). There is a brief Zoom call to an expert who is asked how we can take a stand, but no mention of this rich hinterland that could inform our actions today.

It is, in the end, utterly puzzling how this precious space for new writing came to be given over to an offering quite this scrappy and untheatrical.

• At the Royal Court theatre, London, until 16 December