Writer: Uma Nada-Rajah
Director: Debbie Hannan
The royal vizier, the second-in-command, the confidant; if there is one thing to know about politics – someone else is always pulling the string.
The white cliffs of Dover, is there a finer representation of these Isle’s welcoming borders? Well, for some, the welcoming part is a detraction. And the closure of said border is also a selling point. In her bid to become the country’s leader (how remarkably topical), Home Secretary Asiya Rao’s major policy announcement campaign hits a snag – just a little one, quite literally.
As a parcelled baby washes ashore, alive, crying, and right into their photo shoot, she and advisor Phoebe are determined to secure their prize; the cost of victory is inconsequential. Even if it is a human one. A political drama which, somehow, becomes more poignant and contemporary days before release with the persistent changing of the guard in the Conservative party, Exodus is Uma Nada-Rajah’s ambitious production to make some sense of it all.
The over-the-top slapstick and lampooning of the political climate is the selling point, an explosively farcical adventure which centres around the Home Secretary and her advisor. Initially a more pleasant and vastly more human Priti Patel, Aryana Ramkhalawon grows across the production – and no, thankfully not in a redemptive way. Lumbered with the bouncing baby, Ramkhalawon engages with the humanity behind the politics, a genius moves for Nada-Rajah’s script, as rather than humanising the role, it makes their decisions all the more grotesque.
Sophie Steer’s nerve and scheming are enough to make Malcolm Tucker blush. Fidgeting, vaping, and always two-three steps ahead, the fixer advisor knows the value of the media and precisely the words to disarm any combatants. And again, her emerging character acts not to redeem, but to demonstrate the severity of decisions in the pursuit of self-gratification and status. With more than just their hand in the game, as the farcical humour ramps up across Alisa Kalyanova’s marvellously twisting stage, with bleeding nipples, baby poo, and attempted murder, Steer is front and centre with oodles of energy.
In dire political strife, humour, satire, and farce are the temporary remedy to annihilate the false bravado of the state. Director Debbie Hannan channels this into our ‘heroes’, a Scottish journalist who smells a rat at a staged interview with the Home Secretary and an immigrant actress, conned into playing the Home Secretary’s mother. Anna Russel-Martin and Habiba Saleh turn in a sterling performance of wit and measure, Saleh pushing the absurdist angle to joyful extremes, Russel-Martin a more grounded character, who makes the most recognisable and revolting turnabout.
In a world in which politics seems to already exist in the extremes – art must endeavour to push further into the depraved nature our ‘elected’ officials find relish in gorging themselves within. The irony is some may be concerned about the vicious nature of the all-female farcical lampooning of the political climate – when Exodus is remarkably adept because of its cast. But it needs that extra push. It needs that extra sense of bloodlust and refusal to take prisoners. Its villains need to be more roguish. Its message as concise and influential as the venomous tactics employed against voters.
Because in a time where capitals are stormed, advisors hold more power than leaders, and human lives are traded as commodities to ‘improve’ foreign relations, much of the grimness and horror Exodus pushes is no longer that far of a stretch.
Which is a horrifically sobering sentence to finish.
What it is though, without question, is something utterly exceptional in the making, a viscerally emerging piece which sets the precedent for future political theatre.
Runs at The Traverse Theatre until August 28 2022