The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Fiction from Mexico City

Utopia: A Play by Chi Onwurah

Chi Onwurah was born in 1965 and family moved from Newcastle to Awka, Nigeria when she was still a baby. Just two years later the Biafran Civil War broke out bringing famine with it, forcing her mother to bring the children back to Newcastle, whilst her father stayed on in the Biafran army.

During the depression of the 1930s, Onwurah’s maternal grandfather was a sheet metal worker in Tyneside shipyards. Her mother grew up in poverty in Garth Heads on Newcastle’s quayside. Her father, from Nigeria, was working as a dentist while he studied at Newcastle Medical School when they met and married in the 1950s. Onwurah went on to gain a degree in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College London in 1987 and prior to becoming an MP she was Head of Telecoms Technology at OFCOM, with a focus on broadband provision.

Chi Onwurah has been the  MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne since 2010. http://chionwurahmp.com/  

Published in Issue 23.

 

Utopia

ACT I

Scene 1 Int

the interior of a living room, bright coloured sofas, chairs, daybed and a table in the middle with a bottle of wine and three glasses.  walls are bright pastel polka dots with photographs of iconic scenes from the world, Houses of parliament, eiffel tower, taj mahal, statue of liberty and, in the centre, one of the milky way. overall effect is very tacky. but little can be seen right now apart from dry ice and three spotlights, out of which tumble Neil, nora and cissie. they look at each other suspiciously. nora sits down at the table, neil looks around him. cissie nervously at the table.

CISSIE                  Where this?

NEIL                     Don’t look at me.

NORA                   Bus must have crashed. This must be the new ward at the RVI. Bit posh.

NEIL                     You was at the bus stop. I was... walking past on the way to me van

NORA                   That’s what happens with crashes love.  You go a bit dolally. If you’re not that way already, like.

nora is examining the wine when a blast of trumpets almost knocks her of her seat.  cissie dives under the table and neil puts his hands over his ears. he removes them cautiously. the lights go dark

DIRECTOR            Ladies and Gentlemen. The show everyone’s talking about.   HUMANITY

The cast scramble to see who is speaking, neil SITS DOWN AT THE TABLE. CISSIE looks out from under it

DIRECTOR            [to the audience] Welcome my friends to the Gallery of Interplanetary Life’s very first exhibit. Humanity!

I know you share my wonder, and pride, that our scientists and entertainers have overcome the technological and cultural challenges...

THE LIGHTS STROBE, DRY ICE, NORA LOOKS AT THE OTHER TWO CURIOUSLY AND LEANS TOWARDS NEIL

NORA                   Do you hear him too love?

NEIL                     ‘Course I bloody hear him, he’s got fucking trumpets.

NORA                   Don’t swear there’s a good lad. It’s the first sign, hearing voices.

LIGHT FLASHES AND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM IS A DAPPER MAN IN A WHITE SUIT

DIRECTOR            So that I, I, can stand here next to ... aliens!

Awesome, isn’t it?

But we’re running ahead of ourselves.  These aliens know absolutely nothing. Let’s see how fast they learn.  [Turns to cast]

The Gallery of Interplanetary Life is a charitable institution jointly funded by the Government, academic establishments and private enterprise, to promote inter species contact from the known galaxy.  

In a ground breaking example of Public Private Partnership the Gallery has joined forces with Channel U to bring you this revolutionary experiment in audiovisual entertainment and education.   HUMANITY. 

Neil                     Fucking hell.

DIRECTOR            Quite something isn't it? I can only guess just how weirdly wonderful it must be for you, to come into contact with a higher life form!

                           But our audience are light years ahead of you, literally!  We mustn’t keep them hanging about whilst you figure it out, hey?  Not good for interplanetary boredom levels!

                           And the two not lucky enough to stay here, we don’t want to keep you too long out of your primitive environment.

NEIL                     Stay here? Where are we?

DIRECTOR            With which of the major interplanetary conurbations are you familiar? [to the audience] That may be the first inter-species joke.  A little cruel I know.

NEIL                     You're saying that you're an alien?

DIRECTOR            That was quick. [to the audience] Humans are at Key Stage Seven in the Combined Evolutionary Scale so your patience is appreciated. But remember: we adhere to the Universal Guidelines for the Treatment of Semi Sentient Beings. No humans will be hurt in the making of this program.

NORA                   Can you see him too?

NEIL                     You don’t look like an alien. You look like a posh salesman.

DIRECTOR            What greater compliment to our visual effects department could there be?

                           So, humanoids. You have one hour to choose which of you should stay here, a permanent exhibit in the Gallery of Interplanetary Life. The lucky winner will have a life of luxury and intellectual fulfilment far beyond the limits of your current understanding!

DIRECTOR            [to the audience] So, friends. In one hour one of these lucky contestants will be joining us and posterity. The question is – which one?

NORA                   Can you see him too?

Scene 2 Int

NORA IS sitting at the table. Cissie is lying on the daybed her eyes closed. NEIL is watching her.

NEIL                     We’ve got an hour to decide who stays on this piss planet and she goes to sleep?

NORA                   I’m thinking I’ve just gone a bit mad for a while...

NEIL                     But you heard what he said, and you saw what he did, the way the whole room span around and we were floating and then...

NORA                   Hearing voices and not being too steady on your feet. Going dolally. Been expecting it.

NEIL SITS DOWN

NEIL                     If you’re going dolally then you won’t mind staying...

NORA                   Well I’ve always fancied a life of luxury. But can’t go off without sorting out the house for me daughter, see. I’ve got this three bed-roomed house in Fenham, she’s in a two bedroom in Cowgate with the little’uns. But the council say she can’t have my house after I’ve gone unless she’s living there with me.

NEIL                     Why didn’t you have her move in with you then...

NORA                   Na.  I canna stand her. She’s nice enough for an hour or two but if I’m not mad now I will be after a few months with Susan and the kids...        

NEIL                     If you stayed here, you’d have real peace and quiet.

NORA                   Cheeky bugger. I’m not giving up on a house in Fenham just to help you out.

NEIL                     It should be her that stays like [he motions to the figure of Cissie]. Bet she is one of them illegals.

CISSIE SWINGS HER LEGS OVER THE SIDE OF THE DAYBED.

CISSIE                  I hear you.

NEIL                     She speaks, she moves! I didn’t think you understood English.

CISSIE                  Because I do not speak well it is not I do not understand. I understand everything. I understand this. This is a trick. This is Uuu kay bey aye.

NORA                   Uuu kay bey aye?

CISSIE                  United Kingdom Border Authority. So I will say I want to go back to Ukraine. But I say nothing.

NEIL                     You think all this is because you’re an illegal immigrant. Are you mad? You saw what they did.

CISSIE                  [shrugging shoulders] Many things done. And I’m not illegal immigrant. I am asylum seeker. Me and my children. We stay here.

NEIL                     What here? In outer space?

CISSIE                  Newcastle. We always here. They say they take us one day. But each day I make sure the children are safe. So I say nothing. Good. Best. Always say nothing.

NEIL                     But Newcastle’s not your home. You won’t miss it...

CISSIE                  My children are my home.

NEIL                     They’ll be better off without you.

NORA                   That’s a nasty thing to say.

NEIL                     It’s true. They will take care of the kids. It’s you causing the problems. And if say you’ll stay here...

CISSIE                  I am problem for my children?

CISSIE PICKS UP A WOODEN CHAIR AND MAKES AS IF TO AIM AT NEIL.

                          

NEIL                     Mister Director man! Come back, come speak to us.

CISSIE PUTS DOWN THE CHAIR.  THE DIRECTOR EMERGES                       

DIRECTOR            Well Human Number Three. What is it?

NEIL                     Looks at Cissie, is going to say something about her but changes mind. How do we know two of us are going home? How do we know you’re not going to kill us all? You aren’t some mad Al Quaida type...

DIRECTOR            Well, you’re human. I have no idea how you know anything!

NEIL                     But whoever goes back would tell everyone about all this and then...

DIRECTOR            And then...? Our preliminary research suggested that the type of humans to be found at a bus stop would be unlikely to be believed... semi sentient beings at Key Stage Seven have difficulty comprehending alien contact.

NEIL                     [Has to move round to break Director’s focus on audience] It’s not working.

DIRECTOR            I’m sorry to disagree Human Number 3 but it is working beautifully!

NEIL                     We can’t agree. I think it should be her [he points at Cissie] But she  wants to beat me brains out and grandma there won’t help me.

CISSIE LOOKS AT HIM AS IF DEFEATED, SHE LIES DOWN ON DAYBED

DIRECTOR            I, you, and an audience of billion equivalents already know that. And if you can’t decide in 27 minutes, they decide for you! In a pan galactic vote. Let me say I always wanted it to go that way. Democracy is a beautiful thing. And the sponsors love it.

NEIL                     You decide?

DIRECTOR            Yes.

NEIL                     But you said it was up to us!

DIRECTOR            If you don’t know what’s good for you, well, the show must go on! Humanity!

HE DISAPPEARS. STAGE DARK

Scene 3 Int

NORA IS sitting at the table, HAVING DRANK HALF THE BOTTLE OF WINE. Cissie is lying on the daybed her eyes closed. NEIL is LOOKING AT THE PAINTING OF The milky way. HE LIFTS IT OFF THE WALL AND TURNS IT ROUND.

NEIL                     IKEA. They fucking got this at Ikea.

NORA                   Terrible how folk go all the way to Gateshead for their shopping. Spend your money in Newcastle I say.

NEIL SITS DOWN IN THE ARMCHAIR, THEN PROPS THE PAINTING UP AGAINST THE BACK OF A CHAIR AND PUTS HIS FEET ON IT. HE LOOKS ENVIOUSLY AT CISSIE ON THE DAY BED. She seems to sense this, opens her eyes and turns towards him.

NEIL                     You look like you’ve made yourself at home.  You should stay.

CISSIE                  You keeping me here.

NEIL                     Me? What are you on about?

CISSIE                  The man in white suit, he your boss. You tell him tales and he tell you what to do to me.

NEIL                     And Grannie here?

CISSIE                  She makes sure you not rape me.

BOTH NORA AND NEIL LOOK AT EACH OTHER IN AMAZEMENT, THEN NEIL BURSTS OUT LAUGHING. CISSIE LOOKS DISCOMFORTED

NEIL                     Not my type. I mean, not to be rude or anything, but I like lasses with a smile on them.

CISSIE                  If you had seen what I seen you would not smile.

NEIl                     Maybe not, but I haven’t. Have I?

CISSIE                  No.

NORA                   Everyone’s different, that’s what I say, and if everyone smiled all the time we’d soon be sick of it!

NEIl                     Everyone’s different, and they likes different things. You like lying on your backside and pretending it’s not happening I like trying to get it sorted.

CISSIE                  [smiling] You are not them, then? You are prisoners like me.  Well that is good. And bad. Good for me, bad for you.

NEIL                     Right, now, you’re got the plot. There's            Three of us, one stays. Either we choose or they do.

CISSIE                  Then they choose.

NEIL                     No, no. If you stay your kids will be looked after, they won’t send them back to  - what’s your country?

CISSIE                  Ukraine

NEIL                     Ukraine It’d be best for them.

CISSIE                  I am not so stupid as you think. But maybe now I smile.

SMILING SHE CLOSES HER EYES.

NORA                   I suppose I could have our Susan move in with me.

NEIL                     Why can’t she get her own house? Have you thought about that?

NORA                   I told you the council...

CISSIE                  There are no houses. Everyone knows.

NORA                   Waiting list a mile long.

NEIL                     There’s you two needing houses and I’m a builder without a job. No bloody sense in the world. That world. He’s right, Mister bloody Director. We have got a long way to go.

NORA                   You said you was on a job.

NEIL                     Well, that’s what I say. No-one gives you work if you haven’t got it already.

NORA                   To them that has...

NEIL                     Me dad used to tell me ‘bout how he grew up in this street, near Whitley Bay, where all the houses had been built by the folk that lived there. The council gave them a bit of land and they all got together, plasterers, electricians, joiners, and built their own houses. He said it was great. He said he wished he’d become a plasterer instead of going on the ships. People always need houses, he said. Well he was wrong.

                           But the funny thing is that when me Mam gets the money from  his asbestosis claim, I’ll be able to get me van back.

NORA                   You said you had a van.

NEIL                     Well that’s what I say. I’ve gotta have a van. You can’t be a plasterer without a van. Gotta be white van man! [he laughs] Don’t let the bastards grind you down. That’s what me Dad said too.

NORA                   It’ll be alright pet.

CISSIE                  Yes. If they let me stay, if I get my papers then I will be British and I will go to the council[looks at Nora], we will go to the council and we will tell them to build houses.

SHE STANDS UP AND WALKS OVER TO THE TABLE AND SITS DOWN.

NORA                   It’s a deal, love.

NEIL                     Aye, well, if they let you stay.  But if you stay here they’ll definitely let your kids stay.  And they probably won’t keep you here long. Did you hear the stuff about no humans being hurt? Well they’re not going to keep you. Obviously you’d be hurting, not having your kids. But if it’s Grannie or me, then we could be here forever.

CISSIE                  But you are young. You can make a home for yourself here.  And you have no work, no van. You stay.

NEIL                     No way. I’m not letting a bunch of aliens run my life for me.

CISSIE                  Everyone runs my life. Until I have my papers.

NEIL                     That’s why I went into building. You’re your own boss.

CISSIE                  Not here. You are like me. Helpless. [smiling] You have no status.

NORA                   So that’s the problem love.  We can’t choose. You think it should be her. She thinks it should be you. I think I’ve got to get back to our Susan and I’m too old for all this. We can’t choose.

NEIL                     But we can’t let them choose. If they choose they’re in control. Don’t you see that?

CISSIE                  They are in charge. They are in control. We have no status

NORA                   We can’t choose love. I don’t think we was ever going to choose.

TRUMPETS/DISEMBODIED VOICE

                           Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

THE DIRECTOR ARRIVES IN A PUFF OF SMOKE ETC.

DIRECTOR            Well, well, well. Lesser life forms indeed! Deliberations not exactly fruitful are they?

                           [to audience] But not exactly a surprise for us. Co-operativism is not fully developed until Key Stage Nine.

                           So if you would like to reach for your red button...

NEIL                     Stop.

DIRECTOR            What is it, humanoid number three?

NEIL                     We have decided. You just didn’t follow what we said. Cos you’re not one of us.

DIRECTOR            I understand the translatator is working perfectly.

NEIL                     Not. She’s got kids. She’s too old. I’m staying. That’s what we decided.

NORA                   Love...

CISSIE                  Why?

NEIL                     You just didn’t understand.

DIRECTOR            I...Not... the vote...

NEIL                     Get with the program, Mister Director! Do they get to go straight away?

DIRECTOR            Well, I suppose. If it’s really agreed.. [he gestures to them to stand up, they stand on each side of him]

NEIL                     Hey.  Make sure you make them build houses.

CISSIE AND NORA DISAPPEAR, NODDING

DIRECTOR            So. Number Three. I don’t pretend to understand the criteria by which you chose. But....

                           Right. Your duties.

NEIL WATCHES HIM, REALISING WHAT HE HAS DONE

DIRECTOR            [seems to be reading from script] You will be here continuously for viewing. In addition your schedule will include twelve daily classes with young adults who will wish to question you on your customs and your planet.

NEIL COMES TO FRONT OF STAGE TO STARE AT AUDIENCE.

NEIL                     [HALF WHISPER] Bring it on!

DIRECTOR            I’m sorry?

NEIL                     Bring it on!

DIRECTOR            [reading badly from prompter] If you do not feel up to conversation we have direct brain monitors available which will be able to bypass your sentient function and...

NEIL PICKS UP THE PAINTING OF THE MILKY WAY.

NEIl                     You know what you said about no humans being harmed?

DIRECTOR            Yes?

NEIL                     Well this hurts!

HE SMASHES PICTURE ON TABLE AND CONTINUES HITTING IT LOOKING AT THE AUDIENCE

Stage Dark