Utopia at Soho Theatre
Utopia is about the constant search for perfection, the unending and doomed drive towards the unobtainable. Five child-like dreamers, or “wise fools”, play through 12 visions of Utopia, systematically deconstructing each and exposing the inherent flaws in any design for an idealistic world; an elderly ex-politician in a retirement home whose most resounding wish is for a “large, ripe peach”; three earthlings who are forced to play a cruelly objectifying alien game-show “Humanity”; a grimly familiar dinner party; a child soldier camp brought down by the persuasive power of Facebook; commuters on a train in a world where everyone is immortal. Twelve Utopian visions contributed by 12 writers including Dylan Moran, Simon Stephens and Michael Chaplin, as well as a wealth of quotations from writers such as Samuel Beckett, Aldous Huxley and Oscar Wilde.
This brilliantly expansive, enlightening and rich performance begins with a patter song, detailing “The History of the Future” – the history of mankind in minutes, from “Pre-historic, Palaeolithic, hunter gatherer, all terrific” to “Cappuccino, Smart-phone, Utopia’s not coming home…?” It is immediately apparent that this play will be the perfect mix of smart insight with a light touch. Genuinely funny moments have the audience in stitches, before leaping to something altogether more melancholic; as well as illuminating human kindness, ingenuity and progression, the play deals unflinchingly with human failings, selfishness and gullibility. Many scenes seem to be underpinned by a bleak acceptance of our mortality, even of our insignificance. As well as pulling apart the flawed plans for Utopian existences, the play questions the human need to clutch at this idealised state. Philosophical questions surrounding progress, the direction of history, human nature and memory are artfully woven into the narrative.
The play as whole is constructed based on 12 shorter blueprints, each with a separate title, by the 12 writers, but directors Steve Marmion and Max Roberts have brought the individual stories together into a beautifully cohesive whole. Many of the stories – although self-contained – have been sliced and staggered in a wonderfully paced manner, with each story or concept picked up, examined, and returned to later as the search for perfection is continued. Each piece is surprising and whimsically unpredictable; at times many characters seem to have attained a workable Utopia, only for the cracks to begin to appear as the play progresses. Very smartly, many scenes begin to deconstruct in relation to the other visions, showing the human fallibility of “the grass is always greener”.
Unwaveringly and judiciously examining every aspect of human interaction, society and mortal fears, the play draws inspirations from every direction, from Milton Keynes and dinner parties to power, possibility and the human spirit. Utopia is an incredibly warm, gloriously exploratory and brightly affirming experience.
Utopia will run until Saturday 14th July at Soho theatre, London. Find out more and book tickets here.