Review by Melinda Haunton
Fifteen minutes before the end of Exodus, I wrote “Is this a tragedy?” in my notes. I’m still not certain. But I am certain it’s worth seeing.
Motherlode has been touring this short four-hander, written and directed by Rachael Boulton, round venues in Wales for its premiere. It’s London’s luck that it has rocked up at Finborough Theatre next, to bring a bit of the Valleys to a part of the country that badly needs reminding not everyone has it this good. There’s more than a hint of Back in Time for the Factory in this piece, looking back to a time of prosperous economies in towns that now have almost nothing to offer the residents.
Exodus is the story of one man’s unlikely dream: to leave his crumbling hometown and start again in South America, taking only his tiny, piecemeal plane, and three carefully selected crew. He’s Ray, ex-soldier, friend to all the world, warmly played by Liam Tobin, chief fantasist of the piece, who makes almost believable that there is a plane, and he knows how to fly it.
Exodus is the story of one woman’s downfall: from corporate success to recognising her own helplessness within the heartless world of modern business, and maybe, possibly, seeking another path. She’s Mary, the vibrant, gobby mouth of the piece – by far the richest character, and whose revelatory journey drives the plot. Gwenllian Higginson relishes every syllable and wrings out the emotions.
Exodus is the story of a cowardly lion, a shiftless clown, a thoroughly likeable lad Gareth, who sees the pointlessness of late-stage capitalism and decides that the next best option is becoming cabin crew. Berwyn Pearce’s compulsive safety demo brings the house down. And, as a flight-phobic myself, it’s reassuring to see one character noting just how bonkers Ray’s plan really is.
But Exodus is not the story of Timmy, the asylum-seeking busker who Ray has taken under his wing. Timmy is speechless, and his contribution is his violin, which provides the entirety of the sound effects. Karim Bedda does a beautiful job of keeping himself deadpan, letting the music do the talking. His presence also underlines (as does Mary’s story) the privilege our three Welsh heroes casually exhibit – they are planning to become migrants, without any sense that they will be unwelcome where they land. Things may be bad in the Valleys, but they are a damn sight worse where Timmy comes from.
All this in eighty emotional, tightly-choreographed minutes. It’s a highly portable, stripped-down piece, as befits its touring nature. The lighting is simple, but enough for atmosphere and unreality. The set is a single raised platform, inhabited by all four characters throughout, fitted only with some scattered boxes which do duty as seats, cupboards and of course the plane. At Finborough, it has the effect of fitting the small venue almost too snugly, putting the characters almost in our laps. Energy positively bounces off the walls.
It’s hilarious, is the thing. Gareth’s confrontation with the ultimate pointlessness of capitalism (courtesy of “the poo in the sink”), and Mary’s description of hen night prep (ever seen a chief bridesmaid sprinting to catch the last night of the Ann Summers sale?) are going to live with me for a while. There’s heart, and hope, and a will to get on.
But it’s also tragic. Tragic in a literal sense (there are themes of suicide, be warned), but more generally tragic that these daft, funny, promising people feel that there’s so little for them in their homes that they have to leave. They have hope, on the one-way flight from Aberdare High Street to Cuba, but it’s anyone’s guess where (or if, or how) they will come to earth.
I’m choosing to believe in a soft landing.
Exodus is at Finborough Theatre 18-20 November, tickets £18.