In 2005, Steve Jobs famously revealed the secret to his success: “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” This sense of perspective clearly has its benefits, encouraging us to take risks and get the most out of life in the moment. There are, however, many big life choices which it renders problematic – obvious ones being getting married, having children or even embarking on a degree programme. In any case, whatever one thinks of the ‘Live each day as if it were your last’ maxim as a philosophical principle, it seems incompatible with both the demands of our daily experience, and, indeed, our own inclinations. We know, of course, that our plans can be tripped up by life’s banana skins. And we know, of course, that we are going to die sometime. But living from day to day simply requires, operationally, a working assumption of predictability and immortality. And it is this contradiction that is explored in Chris Thorpe and Jorge Andrade’s brilliant production, Your Best Guess.
The theme is that of unfulfilled futures – a study of the human impact of ‘what if?’ The central story, told beautifully by Thorpe, is how a ‘supremely average’ relationship, with its ‘average’ trajectory of marriage and kids, is blown apart by a single catastrophic event. This extended narrative is interspersed with stories from Andrade about a ghost town, a refugee camp and a rock star’s suicide. These apparently disparate tales all address the way in which assumptions of imaginary futures can be sabotaged or exploited. In one extreme example, Andrade recounts an angry letter from a 14-year old lad for whom the rock star’s gig was to be the first link in a chain of events that would lead to a projected future career (as a dental technician), marriage to the girl who would have accompanied him to the gig, and even the purchase of a ‘little grey dog’. The star’s suicide had destroyed an entire imagined universe for this young man.
The story-telling is fluent and informal and feels strikingly real and personal. Thorpe’s description of the way a relationship develops and is impacted by children is astonishingly authentic and moving. Although the stories chop and change and interrupt each other, there is a real flow to the piece, arising principally from the easy, relaxed interaction between the two performers. There are moments of lightness and humour but the predominant tone is quietly intense – inviting us to really listen and consider the implications of each story. And it feels like the use of microphones is intended to lend resonance to the story-telling rather than simply ensure audibility.
While the future may be essentially uncertain, we have a psychological imperative to speculate. This process keeps us sane, can generate financial gains and losses, break our hearts – or, occasionally, create something special. Thorpe describes how Otis Redding whistled a verse at the end of a long recording session of ‘Dock of the Bay’, not realising that he would be dead within a week and unable ever to replace it with the actual lyrics – and not realising how that casual whistle would become such a legendary feature of the song.Fittingly, the show concludes with Thorpe’s own hauntingly beautiful version. The song ends and the lights fade, but until Andrade finally closes the lid of the computer in front of him and we are plunged into full darkness, nobody claps. It feels like a reverential silence.