Utopia / Dystopia / Lego


ARC is a producing theatre. This means that we commission artists to develop new work and support them as they go out on tour around the UK.

Earlier this year, we partnered with The Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter and Derby Theatre for Transit, a package of support for a ‘mid-career’ artist or company to produce a piece of theatre for small-scale spaces that is ambitious in size and content.

The recipient was Jack Dean, whose new show Nuketown is a storytelling and protest art project to build a brand new model city, equal in value to the proposed Trident submarine replacement programme. Working with town planners, architects, live feeds and enormous amounts of Lego, Jack invites you to hear an epic tale that takes place in this imaginary city. As the inhabitants carry on their adventures, they are unaware of the catastrophic power that lurks beneath the streets.

Jack says: “The scale of a Lego mini figure is 1 to 48. British homes are quite small, but the average one, if you were to faithfully represent it in Lego terms, would cover 2 square metres. People obviously don’t usually build these things to scale because a) it would take ages and b) a modest Victorian terrace would fill half your living room.

I’ve been commissioned by a group of venues as a “mid-career” artist (read: not young or exciting but hasn’t given up yet) to make a new show. The brief was to do something bigger than ever before. I took this brief very literally.

I want to make a city. A city as an alternative to the £205 billion due to be spent on the Successor programme of nuclear submarines. I am using Lego, because it is good for visualising things. But also, in practice, quite terrible. To make it fit within the studio spaces I am performing in, I have to constrain it to an area of 25 square metres – that’s 1.2 square kilometres on a Lego scale. About the size of a medium-sized shopping centre. £205 billion in a shopping centre.

A brick from the Lego store costs 18p. Assuming 200 bricks to build our generic British house, and £100,000 as the construction costs, and assuming savings from parks, roads and economies of scale, this city needs at least 2 million bricks, costing £450,000 to buy. My set and materials budget is £1500. I have literally set myself up to fail. I held a work-in-progress showing last week where I did a long spiel about the potential of democratising town planning and the built environment, and then one of the participants built a series of rope-bridges leading to a pool with a shark in. He said it was a metaphor for life.

Darren Anderson said that: “A person who inhabits a utopia, even just mentally, is changed. Imagining the future changes the future”.

Maybe the time when a series of impossible events has just happened is the perfect time to present another one? Maybe this is the time for all of us to stop, take a breath, and talk to each other about what we really want, instead of merely what we think is likely? Maybe a society that can create such wonderfully complicated death machines, can, in time, learn to also / instead house its people? Maybe, even if it can’t, visualising such a society has a certain strange power to it? Maybe I’m not wasting my life? My mum doesn’t think I am. So that’s something.”

We’re excited to see the direction Jack takes this project in – and just how he’s going to fit all that Lego into our studio space.

You can find out more about Nuketown here.