Amarha Spence finding a place in Utopia, part of Theatre Absolute's Humanistan. Picture: Andrew Moore


Shop Front Theatre, Coventry


Utopia, written and performed by Amarha Spence, at the Shop Front Theatre kicks off the new Humanistan project of eight, newly commissioned theatre pieces under the banner of Theatre Absolute's Chris O'Connell and Julia Negus.

Utopia is only 28 minutes long yet packs a real punch that delivers a completely unique voice. Amarha Spence presents mostly as Shay, a culturally bilingual Birmingham Caribbean young woman whose experience of Windrush, zero-hours contracts and losing her job while the Home Office accuses her of being in Britain illegally and is charging her many thousands of pounds to sort, is the meat of her matter.

She has created three wonderful characters, with a little help from Deb at the the beginning, to tell the story. Shay is the main voice, quite literally as without a job, she turns to busking outside Utopia, supported by Yvonne who for me was the real star turn.

Yvonne owns and runs Utopia, a jerk chicken cafe, that is more of a community centre than a business. Her heart is as warm as toast, her motherly attentions broad and welcome. Then there's Troy, the traffic warden, the only man and 'Men are shit' says Shay.

He has his eye on Shay and his unwelcome sexual advances and immature comments make the women treat him like a child. However, during the piece, he learns a little maturity and warmth from Yvonne and Shay that delivers a useful solution to Shay's problems.

As a performer, Amarha Spence uses rich and authentic voices and even stance to differentiate her characters. There are also useful sections that use Twitter to help us engage with her thoughts which she doesn't always send. 'Save draft' ends tweets which she feels may be too radical. A semi-staged performance can lose some of the drama but I didn't feel this was the case. Her eye contact with particular audience members, including me, could be alarming but delivered an honest dialogue that intensified the drama

She explained in the question and answer session afterwards that her characters were based on real people and her plot grew out of real people.

This half-hour performance, for me, put meat on the bones of a news story that appalled me by showing the real impact of the hostile environment policy and how it has affected our closest neighbours and I thank Amarha Spence for that.

I felt I accompanied you for a mile in your moccasins. The people of the Caribbean were invited to Britain to help, expecting the streets to be paved with gold and they were actually covered in, as she put it, 'pigeon shit and cigarette ends'.

Jane Howard


Shop Front Theatre/Theatre Absolute

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