Exodus has been described as satire but it should more properly be viewed as part of the great tradition of the British farce. As Wikipedia defines it:

Aryana Ramkhalawon and Sophie Steer play the Home Secretary and her Spin Doctor. Photo credit Tim Morozzo.

“Farce is a comedy that seeks to entertain an audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, ridiculous, absurd, and improbable. Farce is also characterized by heavy use of physical humor; the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense; satire, parody, and mockery of real-life situations, people, events, and interactions; unlikely and humorous instances of miscommunication; ludicrous, improbable, and exaggerated characters; and broadly stylized performances.”

That certainly sums up Exodus to me. A Home Secretary, Asiya Rao (a caricature of Priti Patel), is at a photo shoot in Dover, standing in the water to underline her desire to prevent illegal migrants from entering the country. It’s in preparation for the launch of Operation Womb, to separate Britain from the rest of the world with the slogan “Look inward”. All starts to go wrong when a living baby is washed up between her feet, and, instead of handing the baby in to the police, she stuffs the baby into her expensive handbag. On the train back to London St. Pancras an actress paid to play her mother, and a journalist interviewing the Home Secretary create a chaotic situation full of misunderstandings and miscommunication.

The performances are great. My favourite was Sophie Steer playing the scheming amoral advisor/spin doctor Phoebe. The show is very enjoyable. If you view it as a farce and don’t consider the underlying political message too critically there are many laugh-out-loud moments. You have to either suspend disbelief and treat this as pure entertainment or look at the message behind the play analytically. If you take the second route it raises difficult questions about what our immigration rules should be, how we became a wealthy nation, and what integration means. On top of that, you would have to consider what British identity is (to me Exodus put this in an overly simplistic and negative light). Perhaps you can view it as both entertainment and consider its message too – I found that difficult.

It’s also my view that the villain should get some good lines. That didn’t happen here perhaps because it was in a farce format. Aryana Ramkhalawon playing Home Secretary Asiya Rao had few persuasive arguments in the script or even any half-way convincing points or rebuttals. It also dodges the question of how a second-generation immigrant has adopted such a hard-line stance on migration and asylum. The only answer put forward is opportunism and a lust for power but is it that simple? Real life is not so cut and dried. Sometimes the villains have good (or at least seemingly convincing or popular arguments) – that’s one of the things that makes them so dangerous.

The play ends with footage of people in Glasgow preventing the deportation of a migrant while chanting “The People united will never be defeated”. Of course, people have never been united on the subject of immigration. Perhaps Exodus will contribute to a debate where we can reach a consensus on the many thorny issues it raises. Here’s hoping!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Venue 15
Traverse Theatre – Traverse 1
Aug 23-28
1 hour 25 minutes
Group: National Theatre of Scotland

Can’t see it in Edinburgh? The check-out tour dates on the website.


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