The intensity of Utopia begins in the corridor outside The Blue Room Theatre’s Kaos Room where Shirley Van Sanden, playing the imposing Motherland Afghanistan among other roles, invites us inside but warns us to watch out for the barbed wire and mines. Inside, the room is dark and filled with smoke, so we did genuinely have to carefully pick our way around the barbed wire that rimmed the stage. The show was lit almost entirely by three powerful torches from behind the audience, which cut through the smoke to mesmerising visual effect.
Rather than one coherent narrative Utopia is made up of snippets of scenes: a family torn apart by a Taliban solider; a woman forced to become a suicide bomber; refugees hiding in a water tank hoping to reach a better life. These scenes rattle back and forth overwhelmingly fast, sometimes repeated with a different power dynamic or dominant emotion. The main impression is one of helplessness as no story is tied up or conflict resolved, even while the characters cling onto hope of life in utopian Australia.
The powerful emotion was maintained the entire show. Indeed, sitting in the front row became quite confronting when an angry and desperate Taliban member raged and waved a finger gun around a foot from my face. The show used no musical track or sound effects, only the actors’ sounds and singing. At no point did the mimicking of gunshots or camera clicks feel silly, however, as the unrelenting action and emotion left no room for comedy. All six actors onstage, including writer Amir Musavi, displayed their talents by not letting up the breath-taking intensity for a single moment of the show’s full fifty minutes.
Experimental and confronting, Utopia bring the experiences and hardships of refugees which are usually out of sight and out of mind to the forefront, and challenges us to feel their plight.