Ah, “Utopia”: ‘An ideal community or society’. Such a shame the performance at the Soho Theatre didn’t follow suit. Such high hopes, such disappointment.
I was desperate to see it purely because of the title. I like to think I know quite a bit about Utopias, Dystopias and even Hetrotopias. Just because I’m a bit of a geek and find the ethos behind each fascinating. So, when the performance began with a history lesson and Thomas More’s seminal book of the 1500′s “Utopia” wasn’t even mentioned, I knew we were off to a bad start.
I don’t really know which element I enjoyed the least and therefore where I should properly start. One could argue that we go to the theatre in order to be socially, morally or politically educated in some small way. That our experience in the theatre should resemble a journey similar to that of the characters in front of us – we learn and therefore we change as a result – leaving the theatre more well-rounded human beings than before.
Honestly, “Utopia” did try really hard to do this, but there were so many different characters, it was hard to follow just one. The title speaks volumes for itself in the current failing political/economic climate. I think they just missed the point somewhat. I feel like the writer just wanted to do something really current and ‘trendy’ in a ‘new’ way – make a political statement (or a never ending series of them) – in a frank and therefore sometimes awkward manner.
Personally, I think, unless you’re the likes of Robert Wilson, Complicité Theatre Company or Edward Bond, getting away with producing a 2 and a half hour play is a bit of a risk and, let’s face it, a risk worth not taking most of the time. Likelihood dictates that, unless the piece is enthralling and thoroughly engaging to the n’th degree, you’ll start losing your audience after an hour and 10 minutes. This, I must admit, is exactly what happened with “Utopia”. When the curtain pulled at the end of the first half, everyone clapped, ready to go home. I even heard several members of the audience exclaim confusion to the effect of “That was only the first half?” so I knew the slight disappointment and feeling of discomfort at the idea of sitting in those typically painful theatre chairs was universal, I wasn’t alone.
For me, the most exciting part of the evening was when I was approaching the Soho Theatre for the performance ahead and, to my surprise, a group of men bombarded me with clipboards. Confused, I stepped backwards to find the lovely Sofia Myles behind me. As a self-confessed massive Doctor Who fan, I was rather excited and desperate to say something, although nerves and the sea of middle-aged men in front got the better of me. Due to the fact I like to keep an open mind when seeing these performances, I avoid all promotional literature involving them before I get there. Therefore, I wasn’t aware Sofia Myles is actually in “Utopia” and spent the entire evening beating myself up that I didn’t give the excitable ‘Whovian’ in me the chance to say hi. Only to be utterly distracted by the thought of “Wow, the blonde actress is brilliant. She looks a lot like Sofia Myles!”
One thing I will say in praise of the performance is that the acting was to an incredibly high standard. The actors were energetic, charming and hopeful. They did the best they could with a weak script and maintaining that enthusiasm for 2 and a half hours was pretty admirable.
The production obviously had quite a bit of money spent on it – they managed to get Sofia Myles, for starters – the staging, lighting and effects were pretty impressive and created what could have been an interesting and dynamic world if the script hadn’t of been so dull and so very, very long. I felt like, as I sat through the performance, the writer had tried to explore so many different ideas and current political
taboos, he was just preaching to the choir and bashing us over the head with his views, whilst – as I mentioned earlier – missing the point!
Yes, we all know about Kony and it’s relationship to facebook, we don’t need a 15 minute satirical scene depicting it’s affect in a frankly average way. Yes, we know that Utopias ultimately fail – we only have to look at the downfall of the USSR – we don’t need an entire hour of bad comedy, painful suicide and acres of repetition to see this.
As a whole, I struggled with this performance. It swings between lightly entertaining and emotionally exhausting with no real relief. The acting was great. The songs were overly cheesy and not in a ‘knowing’ way. There were just far too many different stories swirling aimless about the ether of this world to truly grab on to anything tangable that may speak to any one member of the audience.
Performed at the Soho Theatre until the 14th July.