Exodus, Motherlode Theatre, Chapter

October 18, 2018 by

Set in what appears to be a non-specific moment in the near future, in Aberdare, South Wales, Exodus dips into many familiar tropes – the group of ill-assorted people aiming to accomplish an impossible plan, the character’s parable from cynical to engrossed in a dream, the reaction to social and political pressure through a seemingly crazy act of defiance – and weaves them into the story of a war veteran named Ray that puts out an advert for people to join him on a trip to South America, by means of an airplane he’s assembled on his own and can (mostly) fly. This plot crosses paths with that of Mary, a shop manager who made a bad call due to the pressure the company has put on her, and must face the terrible consequences of it – while re-evaluating what she has always believed, or rather has always put little thought into. Just by this, the play might sound like something we have already heard and seen, and yet it has a great freshness and an ability to surprise, derived from a very tight and effective writing on the part of playwright Rachael Boulton and a series of remarkable performances from its cast members. It’s both funny and touching in turn, and animated by a spirit of defiance that is truly political. It is not an easy task to put together a convincing political play – yet Exodus is no doubt one, constantly teetering between comedy and drama in the way that the great political issues of our times always appear to do when we read about them in the news.

It is, then, a political play, but not one that is specific to Wales in its content, or even to the UK, in spite of its many references to places and things (brand names are used very pointedly throughout the text). At the core of the play there are issues that appear to be almost universal in the interconnected contemporary world. With a few tweaks Exodus could be set in the United States or almost anywhere in Europe, and this is one of its great strengths. The universality of the feeling and the issues that represent the play’s main concern are also one of the reasons why the audience can easily connect with its message. Another reason is that the writing in Exodus is never patronising, a risk that undoubtedly exists with a play that deals with topics such as the closure of factories, the ruthless ways in which companies handle their workers and shape their ethics, disability checks, and immigration. Even more so with a main character, Mary, whose opinions on these topics appear to be at the start of the play to be rather unsavoury.

The work both the writing and actress Gwenllian Higginson do on Mary as a character is a remarkable feat. The choice to present a character that comes across at first as unpleasant and hard to sympathise with as one of the main narrators is a brave one, and one that pays off. This is however only made possible by Higginson’s ability to display Mary’s development as she starts asking herself the questions she never has before, without changing her mannerisms, way of speaking, and so on. This way, her development never comes across as forced – but is convincing and believable. Another choice both brave and clever was to write the role of the immigrant musician, Timmy, as a mute one, only ‘speaking’ through violin music – cleverly conveying both the difficulties of a language barrier and the ability to communicate in ways other than words, through the universality of music and body expression.

All cast gave delightful performances, and the simplicity of the stage setting contributed to the sense of universality of the play. Only the sequences in which the crew of the plane go through the ‘training’ about possible emergencies felt at times overlong, but it was a minor glitch in a play that had otherwise a very smooth flow and a good rhythm, both comedic and dramatic. Exodus is an enjoyable experience that will elicit some very serious thought and manage to genuinely surprise its audience, demonstrating a sensitivity on the part of writer, director and cast to the deeper issues of our time that should be more often found in theatrical productions.

Leave a Reply