Tag Archive | "Live Theatre"

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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

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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On the Chalet Line with playwright Lee Mattinson

Posted on 22 April 2012 by Nadia Newstead

Lee Mattinson cannot believe his luck. His play Chalet Lines is on at the Bush Theatre and his excitement is palpable. The Coronation Street writer has to find time around his full-time job to write his plays and yet still manages to find power in theatre. For him, it is about the immediacy of being in that world with those characters.

Chalet Lines is “about lots of women who go to Butlins… This family go there every single year and it jumps through time and charts three years and three big events that happened in their life, from the sixties up to modern day. It’s kind of about inheritance, emotional inheritance and how dysfunctional parenting can be passed down through generations, and whether you can not turn into your parents, or whether you’re destined to be… as they are.”

Before getting a job running an auditorium bar when he had finished his Fine Art degree, Mattinson had never set foot in a theatre before. “I went to see a play called The Filleting Machine by Tom Hadaway, which is a little North East play. The bar was in the corner of the theatre so when the show went up you just put the shutters down and watched the show. I thought, ‘this is brilliant! I get to watch a show at work.’ It was just a little 45-minute play about North East people around the kitchen table talking about unemployment and I’d not been in a theatre before - I didn’t know you could do that. I was stupid. It was a kind of Educating Rita thing. I just assumed it was for posh people or they’d talk about things that I didn’t understand or that I had no right to go; that kind of naive stupid thing. I was blown away by it because I could relate to every single word they said and I was totally moved. I was like, ‘God, this theatre thing is quite exciting’. Then, I had just started writing. I took a writing course a month before, I was writing prose and then I thought I quite want to write theatre. So I did a free playwriting course at Live Theatre and it taught me everything I needed to know, really, and then I started writing.”

Mattinson’s accent reveals his North Eastern heritage, and this has influenced both what he writes about and the way he works. “I always write about people from the North East because it’s a world that I know, that working class world and what people in that world care about. I’ve done a lot of work with Live Theatre in Newcastle, they have a really brilliant artistic statement. Their audience is predominantly working class people and they started off as a touring theatre and they would make shows about those people. They would go out in the van and just tour round and kept hold of that ethos, they commission really exciting work and it’s lush.”

The process of getting Chalet Lines ready for performance in London has been very different to what Lee is usually used to. “Well normally I love being involved in the whole process, like picking out costumes and all that kind of jazz and I love getting my face in everything because I love that whole process, but because this one is happening in London and I was in Manchester, and I work full time, it’s not been easy to be down there. I’ve only been down to rehearsals for two half-days so I’ve only seen a little bit of one of the scenes. It’s weird, but I’m just going to see it like everyone else does on Friday night but that’s kind of secretly massively exciting. It means there’s not much to worry about really, I’ll like it or I won’t like it. It’s been nice to have that distance from it as well. Normally you’re so in it that you lose that experience that everyone else is getting, so it’s, for the first time, been nice to have that.”

So what exactly is “that”? What is the power of theatre, in our digital age of immediate information and gratification? Mattinson was an art student who came to theatre via prose writing and has now chosen to make it his passion, even though his full-time job is in television. “What a question!” he exclaims. “It’s just a really intense form of storytelling because they [the characters] are right in front of your face. There’s a million magical things that you can do with that. It’s raw, it’s a raw and honest form of storytelling.”

And to make the most of this unique form of storytelling, you have to be yourself and just “write, write, write basically. It takes a long time to find your voice, find your themes, find your characters that you’re interested in, and you only get to that by trying everything out and then realising what you’re good at and what your strengths are. Writing what you know, I suppose, as well because it’s your individual take on something so it’s going to be special. Just make sure it’s your little heart on the page and then it’ll be unique because it’s yours. Just be honest, I suppose.”

For Mattinson, being a playwright in 2012 means pure excitement. “I feel like I’m being allowed into a world that when you think you’re about to get caught out at something, you’re like, ‘Oh, no they haven’t realised that I’m a bit of a fraudster yet, how have I managed to pull that off?’ I didn’t imagine that this would ever happen. The Bush is such an amazing theatre but I just can’t believe that they’d even read my work, so to be producing it is just fantastic.”

Chalet Lines plays at The Bush Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush, until 5 May. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Bush Theatre’s website.

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