This year saw the two year closure commence of our beloved Fairfield Halls, raising many a concern for the theatrical decline in the borough that it would leave. We may have temporarily lost this space, but performance art, theatre, comedy, music and beyond is still very much alive. One of the venues leading the way with an impressive bill of every type of stage performance, is Theatre Utopia in Matthews Yard.
I caught up with Jamal Chong, one of the leading forces behind the theatre, for the lowdown on how it all started, what’s next and our top picks for the coming weeks.
Croydonist: Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you came to be involved in the arts.
Jamal: I was originally born in Mitcham and moved to Croydon when I was about 13. I later went on to study Performing Arts at Coulsdon College, and was lucky enough to be taught by a professional freelance director named Phil Young. He taught me all I needed to know, how to craft a play and piece it together, character work and how to put on a no nonsense hard hitting production. We are still in touch and he still comes to see my shows.
Croydonist: How did you come to form Theatre Utopia at Matthews Yard?
Jamal: After leaving college, I formed a film company, Average Productions, and we entered competitions and festivals, however our group missed the theatre way too much, so I started to write plays again, and in August 2015, we performed our debut piece, as our theatre company, Misprint Theatre, ‘Up The Ante’ inside the Matthews Yard studio. We had great audience numbers and received a 4 star review.
I then found out no one was in charge of the space, so I decided to go for it and take it on, and so Theatre Utopia was born.
Croydonist: Who is the team behind the theatre?
Jamal: So we are three lifelong friends who are the core team behind Utopia, however at the moment it is just myself who runs the venue full time, as the other two members have jobs elsewhere.
Croydonist: What’s next for the theatre? Do you have any plans to expand out into running more spaces?
Jamal: The dream would be of course to own and run a whole venue, with obviously a much larger performance space and audience capacity. Our main focus is to give back to the surrounding community and beyond, by bringing them top quality shows at cheap prices, a whole wide range of shows that you don’t expect to be right on your doorstep, to encourage local members of the area to write, perform and put on their own work, or even just get involved with running or taking part in a class.
I personally would love it to be in Croydon, as with the closure of the Warehouse Theatre, and the Clocktower Theatre, and with Fairfield being shut for two years, there is a void of creation and culture left, which I would love to fill.
Croydonist: How on earth do you find such a range of plays, cabaret performers and comedy acts?
Jamal: We book anything and everything, we’re not judgemental or snobby, we just want the place to be in constant use. In the downtime we have classes, from dance, yoga, hoopla and more, which are run by members of Croydon for the community.
The space is also versatile so one night we can have a cabaret, with the next followed by a musical and then followed by a film night or stand up comedy, it’s a great space and our mindset is never to limit ourselves.
And some Croydon specific questions…
Croydonist: A drink in Matthews Yard, the Oval, the Ship, or the Playground?
Jamal: Me and some friends used to go Queens Gardens and ‘break bread’, which actually involved breaking bread with hummus.
Croydonist: Shopping – Whitgift Centre, Centrale or the Purley Way?
Jamal: All three, why not. Treat yourself.
Croydonist: A film at David Lean, Grants, or Stanley Halls?
Jamal: Sad to say Grants, I should support the David Lean more.
Croydonist: Travel by train, tram, bus, bike or Uber?
In the next few weeks alone there is a diverse range of shows with a ‘something for everyone’ vibe. Here’s the Croydonist’s top picks.
Friday 4th November: Traits
A Night of contemporary Dance. It’s a triple bill of three very exciting performance and theatre companies: ‘BackStories’ by Beautiful Confusion Collective, ‘Smirk’ by Friction Dance Company and ‘Disconnection’ By Simple Dance Company. Expect themes exploring social behaviours, versions and inversions of time and space and how inner thoughts penetrate our actions.
Tickets can be found here.
Friday 18th – 20th November: Two Tongue Theatre present ‘Boys Club’
A performance to make you smile with risque jokes, high voltage dance, delivered by two testosterone fueled Frenchmen. Expect a play exploring gender in all its states.
Grab your ticket here.
Wednesday 30th November – 3rd December: Cuckoo Bang present ‘Choosers’
A new play by Holly Mallett and directed by Jaclyn Bradley. Past work from Cuckoo has received rave reviews so I’m quite excited to see their new work in action. It’s a tale of two homeless people and the friendship they create. Expect something both funny, tender and provocative.
Tickets are available here.
For the full schedule of events, info and tickets check out TicketSource.co.uk/TheatreUtopia
Thank you to Jamal for chatting to us.
Cover photo by Emma Nathan
Posted by Angela