Writer / Director: Rachael Boulton
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
It’s all for nothing so it seems, everything we do, every contribution we make doesn’t count, no loyalty, no trust, one day they will come for all of us. Rachael Boulton’s new play Exodus may not sound like the cheeriest 80-minutes, but this semi-absurdist comedy is an interesting examination of responsibility, community and dreams of freedom that cannot fail to raise a smile.
Set in a Welsh factory town, four people decide they have had enough of the world and plan to escape in a small light aircraft that will take them across the Atlantic Ocean en route to Cuba and eventually Argentina. As manager of a fashion retailer, Mary has been dealing with a difficult disciplinary case, Ray has been discharged from the army, Gareth wants to leave his family’s mental health issues, while Timmy… well, Timmy can’t speak English. Betrayed by the people they trusted and the institutions they relied on, they know their world is ending and as the factory prepares for demolition, it is time for them all to take flight.
Boulton’s play is an intriguing and well-staged piece that utilises the conventions of the theatre of the absurd along with the talking-head monologues of Alan Bennett. The result is a character study with charm and a subtly political piece that has much to say about the failings of modern society. The narrative combines two tracks; first the will-they-won’t-they story of flight preparations and rehearsals for imminent take-off that use a fantasy element, an almost Godot-like quest that may never be fulfilled.
A second strand runs in parallel as Mary reveals the story of her day chapter-by-chapter, painting a vivid picture of town-life and what feels like a decisive moment of change at the time of the Brexit referendum. Gwenllian Higginson brings warmth to her portrayal, luring the audience in with a chatty approach that implies secrets being disclosed to a trusted confidant, helping to build the momentum by delivering her monologues with varying vocal speeds and pitches to move from the outrage of the disciplinary hearing to the excitement of the crowded protest after work.
Boulton’s writing repeatedly wrong-foots the audience, swiftly changing the tone from the highly comic to emotional and tragic in an instant, while including unusual non-speaking sections filled with violin music played live by Karim Bedda’s Timmy as part of the plot. But it is Emma Vickery’s choreographed movement sections that are most enjoyable, replicating a series of flight-related activities as the characters “rehearse” turbulence, forced landings and the in-flight safety protocols.
All of this lends an interesting ambiguity to how the plot unfolds that emphasise its absurdist roots – are we supposed to imagine a real aeroplane that will genuinely take them away, or are the flight sequences merely a mutual delusion among a group of people who need to believe their lives are taking a turn for the better? Pleasingly with Exodus, you never quite know for sure.
Higginson’s Mary manages the transitions really well, and the audience find her unfolding story equally gripping and empathetic. Liam Tobin’s Ray is an optimistic and caring presence, keen to save his friends and start afresh, but Tobin conveys a sadness within the few details we learn about his military past that make sense of his desire to leave. Gareth is perhaps the least developed character, but his excitable personality allows Berwyn Pearce to elicit plenty of humour.
Fun and engaging, Exodus is about our need to escape. Occasionally the enthusiastic ensemble slightly overdoes the madcap chaos and some of the lines are lost in the melee, but Boulton’s new play is sharp on the overwhelming relentlessness of modern life and the powerlessness of the individual to truly fight back.
Runs Until 20 November 2018 | Image: Tom Flannery