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A perfect future? Soho Theatre’s quest for Utopia

Posted on 28 June 2012 by Douglas Williams

“Searching for Utopia never really ends – it’s stubborn in that way.” For Josh Roche, Assistant Director of, Utopia, a new writing project at Soho Theatre, “every hell or dystopia that people arrive at is led by an urge for utopia.”

Soho Theatre’s latest new writing project brings together an eclectic mix of talented writers, including Dylan Moran, Simon Stephens and Chi Onwurah MP, in order to question the notion of a perfect future. The project is a collaboration between Soho Theatre and Live Theatre, with Artistic Directors Steve Marmion and Max Roberts at the helm.

“Max did A Walk On Part at The Arts Theatre,” says Roche. “That also played here and it’s a lot about disillusionment with New Labour – the passion at the start but the struggle to do the right thing. The idea for this show came as a response to dystopia – how do we make theatre that is aspirational and optimistic?” Utopia features visions that come from separate writers involved in the project. These visions arrive on stage as blueprints, which are then tried and tested via enactment by the six ‘fools’ who perform the many segments of the show.

“The show is two things,” explains Roche. “It started as a collaboration between different writers responding to one idea, so there’s a huge amount of variety between the narratives but then at the same time they are all present within this holding form of six fools trying to find Utopia. You can expect very separate approaches to an idea but at the same time you’re guided through the piece in a way that’s nice and honest. It’s very direct with the audience, engaging, light-hearted.”

On Sunday June 24, Soho Theatre also hosted Hub Utopia, an event in which emerging writers and artists responded to the brief set for the main Utopia production. “The Hub is our community of playwrights and theatre artists that we’re really interested in supporting and helping,” explains Dan Herd, Director of Hub Utopia and Artistic Associate at Soho Theatre. “We offer them spaces and scriptwriting consultations and many other things because we really want to develop their voices.”

Regular Hub nights allow Soho Theatre to commission its emerging artists to come up with short pieces, either around a specific theme or in relation to their current practice. Professional actors are called in and the events work as a combination platform and workshop for aspiring writers and artists. Soho Theatre Bar also functions as a space in which practitioners and spectators can meet, greet and discuss the ideas on offer.

“We put these Hub events on to give them that bit of learning that you can only get from seeing it onstage as opposed from sitting in a script consultation,” says Herd. “So because we had Utopia opening and because that came from the idea of proposing a perfect world, it made sense that the Hub responded to it. The event was conceived to see what these really exciting people could come up with for a drama set in a perfect world.”

It seems that the Hub artists responded to the brief with a variation to rival that featured in the main Utopia production. The pieces that arose ranged from dystopian comedy blues by Johnny and The Baptists,  a sombre and poetic look at the fragile bliss of love through the eyes of Briony Kimmings and two sharp, witty two-hander plays by exciting up-and-coming writers, Joe Coelho and James Graham.

“There are an awful lot of plays submitted about how we’ve ruined the world and how that will lead to our downfall,” explains Herd. “Steve (Marmion) was interested in discovering the other argument. What could we have done right? What are the options? The other interesting thing is that by its nature, utopia is free from conflict, it moves along in flat lines. The tension is actually between the impossibility of utopia, which by definition is subjective, and the practical achievability of a perfect world.”

Subjectivity is clearly a central theme in the Utopia projects. The ultimate paradox in the concept of a perfect world is that any vision of utopia can just as easily become a dystopia, either for the visionary or for those upon who the ideals are thrust. The main production of Utopia features projected quotations from, among others, Adolf Hitler, in a bid to point out the subjective nature of the very concept of utopia. As Herd puts it: “If I want everyone to ride around on horses, there’s going to be someone who doesn’t like horses. For some people, the perfect world is a one-on-one thing about love and family, and finding perfection. For others it’s about solitude and being right in your head. For others it’s about changing society. You always run up against the brick wall of subjectivity but you want to smash through that subjectivity and say, ‘Why can’t we all just live together in harmony?’”

It’s easy to wonder about the creative relationship of the Utopia projects with the current social climate. Herd talks about the sense that “every day we are getting closer and closer to the furnace and that’s because of things our parents did and things we are doing, whether those things are economic, environmental, personal or social.” Roche and Herd both stress with urgency that it is important for young artists to see Utopia. “Our theatre’s not really about safe, smug pieces,” says Herd. “Utopia is a reflection of that. It’s a big, bold, brave statement.”

“I would encourage young directors and actors to see Utopia because it’s bold and it’s different,” urges Roche. “It’s different and it’s not in a distinct mould. You won’t be able to say it’s this kind of show or it’s that kind of show. It has an individual identity. It won’t be boxed or categorised and for that reason it should be seen.”

Utopia runs until 14 July at Soho Theatre. Tickets are available from sohotheatre.com/whats-on/utopia.

For half price tickets and a free programme, exclusive to A Younger Theatre, visit our offers page!

Image credit: Soho Theatre 

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Ticket Offer: Half Price tickets to Utopia at Soho Theatre and FREE programme

Posted on 27 June 2012 by A Younger Theatre

Our friends at Soho Theatre are giving you another fantastic offer which includes half price tickets and a free programme when using the special promo code. We all love a good ticket offer and we all love a good show. Details of Utopia are below or see what we thought in our review here.

Utopia - Soho Theatre
Utopia
Until Sat 14 July

With a cast including Rufus Hound (Argumental, Celebrity Juice) & Sophia Myles (Doctor Who, Spooks), with words & songs by a team including Dylan Moran (Black Books), Simon Stephens (Three Kingdoms, Punk Rock) & Arthur Darvil (Doctor Who), Utopia is a funny, fun and dazzling new show offering bright and bold visions of a perfect world.

From spaceships and retirement homes, to political rallies and facebook, no stone has been left unturned in our quest for paradise. Come and experience a lively, daring portrait of what utopia is and could be.

‘A delightful concoction of song, dance, drama and hope… Beautiful… thought-provoking.’
A Younger Theatre

www.sohotheatre.com

_____________________________________

Offer for A Younger Theatre:
Get half-priced tickets to Utopia (normally £15-£20) and a free programme! Simply use code ‘Younger’ online and your discount will applied at the online checkout or call 020 7478 0100 and quote ‘A Younger Theatre’. Please pick up your programme at the box office when collecting your tickets. Tickets subject to availability and valid between 26 June – 14 July.

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Review: Utopia

Posted on 24 June 2012 by Veronica Aloess

Utopia - Soho Theatre

“Utopia: a place or state of things in which everything’s perfect. The opposite of Dystopia.” The brilliant irony of this sentence is that one person’s utopia is someone else’s dystopia – and it is this self-defeating concept which directors Steve Marmion and Max Roberts capture so well.

The opening of this play reminds us that past visions of utopia were always only visions, and never achieved. For example, Stalin ran away with Marx and Engel’s vision, and Northern Rock really does exemplify the failing of capitalism. So I forgive Utopia for being rough around the edges, because this concept has always been more about the idea than its history of shoddy executions.

No stone is left unturned as the cast explore different visions of utopia from a series of different people, including Chi Onwurrah MP, Hitler, Dylan Moran and Simon Stephens amongst others. Lucy Osborne’s set is a series of tattered blueprints of utopias to be tested out, and the actors all clad in white are blank canvases ready to test them. These visions range from Moran’s Who Was Ray, “inspired by every dinner party you didn’t find utopia at”, to an extra-terrestrial TV show in Onwurrah’s Humanity. And it makes me think: they’re all linked less by the concept of utopia, and more by failure. And there’s something simply very sad about that, which is captured by Michael Chaplin’s Sunnyglade, where Pamela Miles poignantly plays a politician with failed dreams to change the world.

However it’s a more ironic tone which dominates Utopia, overflowing in Arthur Darvill’s weirdly wonderful compositions and Marmion’s witty lyrics, which play comically off the drama. The persistent future tense of Stephens’s The Sun Will Come Out only highlights that utopia is an unobtainable dream. “Somehow” there will be no homophobia or racism the characters say, because of course you can’t imagine these things ever disappearing. The poetry of Stephens’s writing is beautiful and reflects the dreaminess of the concept, but drives the show towards a sentimental ending that is a little sickly sweet in comparison to the rest of the writing. In Alastair McDowall’s Propaganda, a cruel dictator suddenly sees the light. Why? Because millions of people have joined a Facebook group calling for his arrest, including Jay Z. It’s difficult to find a more fantastical image than a man who has brutally murdered people, crying “THANK YOU FACEBOOK” to the heavens, but sadly utopia is just that: a fantasy. Nothing more than a vision, an image, or a fiction written in a book. Richard Howell’s lighting subtly picks up on this, colouring the blueprint outlines of a window, a picture frame and a bookcase when acting out the series of possible utopias. And Jan Urbanowski’s video design gives these everyday objects eyes and mouths as they come to life in Rufus Hound’s amusingly animated trip (during A Deep Breath, words from Aldous Huxley’s Island).

In these short scenes, the cast very quickly reach into the humanity of their characters (particularly Sophie Myles and Pamela Miles), because that’s what this show is about. Utopia exists as a concept because human beings have always strived for more; something echoed in the quotes about utopia from famous figures. The whole ensemble show themselves to be extremely flexible and full of character in this fast-paced production, every individual excelling in their part. Laura Elphinstone injects a bright energy into every scene, and Rufus Hound (best known as a comic on our television screens) couldn’t have found a better show in which to make his stage debut. The Club of the Future (by various writers) showcases what he does best, comedy, but in other scenes he has the conviction of one of the strongest stage presences within this ensemble.

Utopia is a delightful concoction of song, dance, drama and hope. This is a thought-provoking production with its strangely charming imperfections, and executed with great attention to detail by Marmion and Roberts.

Utopia runs at the Soho Theatre until 14 July. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.

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Review: Each of Us, Tristan Bates Theatre

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Senne Vercouteren

Ben Moor Tristan Bates TheatreBen Moor stands before us, barefoot and with an ironic smile on his face, as if to reassure his audience that what they’re about to witness is not to be taken too seriously. By the end, however, it kind of is.

Moor’s full-length one-man show takes his audience to places they know very well and turns them into spaces they don’t, constantly confusing harsh reality and a dreamlike world in which human interaction is something ungraspable and uncontrollable. And so we sit on the edge of our seat, partly because it is challenging to follow the narrator’s wild twists and quick witticisms, but mainly because we absolutely want to know what comes next. In an attempt to trace ‘his narrative’, as he calls it, we go from David Lynch in charge of the screens during a football match to companies hiring someone to discourage employees and thwart productiveness. It is all highly imaginative and clearly minutely constructed, but Moor manages the weight of the piece and keeps us awake and wanting more.

The story of his affair with Radium takes centre stage in his tale, and with painful accuracy Moor recounts their meeting and leaving of each other; the description of her emptiness in the flat turns a cliché into a newly-appreciated insight. Despite his troubles, he remains optimistic as the story is told with knowledge of its final understanding about the human soul – Moor doesn’t fake it, creating no drama beyond what is in his words. Kind-hearted and calm, he lets the script do the talking, which might for some mean his delivery is a bit mechanical; however, I found it to be quite engaging and it allowed me to drift along with the dreamscapes that the narrator paints. However, when he does slip up (only once or twice), the disruption hampers the flow of the piece immediately.

When Moor introduces other characters and colourful situations, such as the woman who organises her own intervention to get the chance to talk about herself for an evening, he does so with a purpose. Even if it’s not always clear where he is heading, he is confident in his own insecurity and sooner or later we’re back on track. Ethereal music marks moments of introspection – a moment of peace before marching on to another bout of inventive monologue. Over the course of the show I found myself asking whether Moor depicts a dystopian or a utopian world, but I suppose the fact that I’m still unsure is, in this case, a good sign.

Incisive and pleasantly surreal, Each of Us is an intriguing and memorable piece of performance by a confident storyteller. More please!

Each of Us tours London and Oxford until 25 March. For more information, see the Spesh website.

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