Wed 17 Oct, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
In an age adrift in chaos and confusion, Motherlode’s latest production, Exodus, generously invites members of its audience to escape political and economic uncertainty via a bumpy, expletive-ridden 80 minute adventure. Unless, of course, ‘you’re a prick’.
Despite a thread-bare set design consisting of 10 wooden boxes and a chequered-screen backdrop of distant Welsh hills, writer and director Rachel Boulton’s engaging script never fails to keep her viewers’ attention – making up, even, for the play’s lack of bathroom breaks.
Brexit, immigration, the refugee crisis, the predicaments of the precariat and those whose jobs have been outsourced to China; all is explored with nuance through the whacky and child-like innocence of four outlandish characters from the small Welsh town of Aberdare.
Contradictory but colourful, Mary (Gwenllian Higginson), Gareth (Berwyn Pearce), Raymond (Liam Tobin) and Timmy (Karim Bedda) are unceremoniously brought together following an advert Raymond pinned up in his local Spar calling on locals to apply for his spirited re-settlement project in South America. Unemployed, facing disciplinary investigation, feckless, and seeking asylum respectively, the four have little to lose as they seek to follow in the footsteps of Y Wladfa (‘The Colony’) who settled in Patagonia, Argentina just over a century and a half ago.
Blighted by a similar sense of hopelessness, Raymond and his increasingly optimistic crew put their hopes in Karen, Ray’s light aircraft, to get them across the Atlantic. First, however, they have to practice the protocols of flying and landing a plane – as well, of course, as onboard hospitality!
Comical, tragic, fury-filled and wistful, the character’s sense of hiraeth (Welsh for homesickness) for a distant land beckons with such melancholic limerence that the audience can’t help but be taken in by their naïve hopes of escape to a world beyond the rainbow. Furthermore, Boulton’s skilful tightrope-walking script between humour and despair stops the show from tipping too far in either direction – unlike Raymond’s plane.
In addition to the main plot, three of the characters also get to tell their own personal tales of hope, nostalgia and dreams come to nothing. Meanwhile, Timmy’s voice (the busking asylum seeker) is expressed purely through his sonorous violin playing or else his dumbfounded, uncomprehending facial expressions at the madness taking place around him. Subsequently, it is his musicianship too that largely makes up the production’s score and dramatic sound effects.
In one scene, Mary, a former manager of River Island, tells a part of her own personal story, uttering a line which the play very much pivots around. Despite the company’s algorithms and technologically advanced consumerist indicators, she speaks of how the company are failing to understand what people want because the people themselves don’t know what they want. This chimes profoundly with another scene whereby she accidently finds herself beating a drum amongst a refugee-welcoming throng shouting ‘Everyone is welcome here!’. The world is indeed proved to be a confused and unsettled place. Everyone, it seems, wants to be someplace else!
Bittersweet, Exodus works its magic by encouraging optimism alongside the idea that the plot is to be taken at face value. At other times, however, it exposes that naivety through hyperbole, subtly revealing that reality is not as yielding as its audience’s willingness to suspend belief.
Exodus plays at Chapter until Sat 20 Oct, before going on to other venues. Info: www.motherlodetheatre.com/exodus/
words Oliver R. Moore-Howells