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Finborough Theatre, London
OUTSIDERS might think there’s little to laugh about in the South Wales valleys and bugger all reason for optimism.
Yet writer and director Rachael Boulton has taken this bleak, Thatcher-knackered landscape, with its deskilled and neglected citizens, and created a soaring piece of surreal theatre. Technically, it’s magnificent, aided by some deft choreography from movement director Emma Vickery and the cast exude an unstoppable energy.
Yet another factory is set to close, condemning the good people of Aberdare to even fewer prospects, but ex-soldier Ray (Liam Tobin) has a plan. It’s bonkers, mind, but that won’t stop him recruiting others, among them Timmy (Karim Bedda). He's Kytim, from Syria, and Ray reckons that he’s a good mechanic, “having seen the underside of many a lorry.” He speaks five languages, we’re told, though none of them here.
The talented Bedda also deploys his violin perfectly, providing a pause between the belly laughs and melancholy — the fiddler on the roof, if ever there was one.
In a quixotic reach for the skies, Ray wants to fly from the Valleys to Cuba and on to Patagonia. Twp (daft) indeed but, for those who crave exodus it makes as much sense as staying. A memory from his past, exquisite in its writing and delivery, had several in the theatre blubbing.
Fellow traveller Gareth (Berwyn Pearce) seems a comic sidekick and his journey thus far is revealed as this slow-burning, layered script develops. Pearce plays this sweet boy as a quasi idiot savant, showing along the way that he represents all those kids misunderstood and overlooked who had so much to contribute.
Anyone from the Valleys and so many similar communities will recognise this death of ambition. It’s a slow one, inflicted over years but often complete by the age of 16.
For all the daftness and physical humour, Exodus is polemic, a rage against the dying of the light. At its burning heart is Mary (Gwenllian Higginson), lured by the bright lights of retail opportunities, tricked into being no more than capitalism’s stooge. “You don’t have to go to China to find bloody robots,” she spits, “We’re right yer.”
Her awakening, with its splenetic fury against the system, is perfectly played and timed — it is, after all, the point and Boulton must be delighted to witness this young actor carry her authorial voice.
Exodus is full of hwyl (passion) and it’s very tidy. I’d go further than that. It’s half-tidy.
Runs until November 20, box office: finboroughtheatre.co.uk
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