What’s the difference between paradise and utopia? Some say that paradise is eternal – it always was, is, and will be – whereas a utopia is created, built knowing what has gone before, with the intention of making something better. So perhaps this show should be called The Utopia Project, as what it is about is starting from scratch, building a fresh new world.
Here’s our raw material: one woman (Stacey Sampsom) and one man (Jerry Killick, acclaimed Forced Entertainment performer). A white floor with checked black markings in the middle of this wide space. Galloons of water stacked stage right (in plastic bottles, which is not a very good start to a new world, but still). Some filing cabinets to each side. Wood, trestle legs, power tools.
The action is in two distinct performance modes. On the white floor, our new wave Adam and Eve spar, debating all sorts of philosophical, moral, and ethical conundrums. Is killing wrong? Lying? Stealing the other person’s water? This happens whilst they build their world, in real time, before our very eyes. They make a table, and some stools. They put walls up, and bring in a small set of stairs.
Every so often, one or other steps out of this space and goes to a filing cabinet, taking out a paper and reading. In this cabinet is the record of all that has gone before, all the history, all the mistakes made by humankind. We hear accounts of prisoners turfed out of vans, shot in the head for asking questions. Ancient trees cut down to make way for redevelopment. Demos against corrupt leaders. Pissing in fountains.
Our two prototype new humans fall out over the water allowance. How to resolve their differences? They try everything. One person one vote, first past the post. Proportional representation with a number of options as choices: rate your wishes 1, 2 or 3. ‘None of the above’ she says of choices 2 and 3, throwing a spanner in the works. All else fails, so they resort to scissors, paper, stone. Best of three, she declares when he wins. There’s always a way to get the result you need.
At one point he says ‘ I didn’t realise Paradise could be this boring’ and there lies the rub. Everything clean and bright and nice is not enough. If we have our basic needs met, we long for more. We’re willing to bite that apple in our longing for knowledge and experience and take our chances. To be thrown out into the nasty, dirty, messy, marvellously chaotic world outside. And so it goes.
The Paradise Project is created by Third Angel in collaboration with Mala Voadora – their former collaboration What I Heard About the World was shortlisted for a Total Theatre Award in 2012, and both productions boast sharp writing, great performance, and excellent scenography that goes beyond good design, making the visual landscape of the piece a crucial element of the content.
It is interesting to note that conception and design of The Paradise Project is credited jointly to both collaborating companies and the two performers, implying that the creation of the design was in intrinsic part of the devising of the piece. This is how it feels – words, physical action, and visual imagery seamlessly interweaved. Both actors are totally at home in their stage environment, a delight to watch and listen to – you really do forget they are acting a lot of the time, which is perhaps the highest compliment.
The Paradise Project is presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of Northern Stage at Summerhall.