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Published 22 June 2012

How dangerous is it to name a show Utopia? However impressive it is, can it possibly live up to its title?

Well, no, obviously. Even an evening watching the most life-affirming, philosophically challenging, impeccably acted production would fall short of this mark of supreme perfection.

This co-production between Soho theatre and Live theatre, Newcastle makes its testing task that much more challenging with its levels of collaboration. They might well be in the spirit of a theatrical Utopia, but two directors pulling together the words of more than 14 contributors leads to a swell of ideas but not always the most cohesive of productions.

Set in an undefined nowhere room, its walls plastered with peeling blue prints, six performers, including comedian Rufus Hound and screen star Sophia Myles, play ‘wise fools’ sorting through different reflections on Utopia.

From the tottering ramshackle song and dance routine opening that feels a little like student drama, Utopia grows into its exploration of ideas, cutting swiftly between interlaced scenes like a music video eager to keep the audience on their toes, but treading a thin line between interest and distraction.

From a struggling club-circuit comedian to an awkward dinner party, misery is rarely far from perceptions of perfection.

By the second act, either the show or the audience has settled into its rhythm and the images become more powerful and thought provoking. Hitler’s rallying cry inspires before kicking you in the guts. Alastair McDowall’s tale of child soldiers reverses the trick, moving from nauseating violence to guffawing satire. Simon Stephens leaves behind all the critic-baiting confusion of recent controversial show Three Kingdoms to produce the most perfect vision of middle-class Utopia, at times beautifully poetic at others supremely practical.

Depressingly what is most clear from a show purporting to explore the brighter side of humankind and potential for global happiness, sadness lurks in the shadow of every scenario, often dancing openly in the sun with no sense of shame.

Though nothing is clearer than the fact England have more chance of winning the next 17 European Championships than we do of reaching a Utopian state, a simple act of compassion and connection leaves the audience with hope, and peaches, on their mind.


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