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Exodus review at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff – ‘heart-warming and lyrical’

The cast of Exodus at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

It’s unlikely that a play exploring such diverse themes as unemployment, suicide, deprivation and Brexit will ever evoke as much as joy as this new work by writer/director Rachael Boulton.

Exodus is a terrific magic-realist comedy set in the post-industrial Valleys town of Aberdare. On the surface, it’s a fun, physical adventure. Mary (Gwenllian Higginson) is, proudly, store manager at a clothes shop “that used to be River Island.” She’s roped into ex-soldier Ray’s (Liam Tobin) hare-brain scheme to attempt to fly a light plane to Argentina, following the route of pilgrims from the town 150 years earlier yearning for a new life.

They’re joined in their escapade by a refugee from an unspecified country, Timmy (Bedda), and hapless local boy Gareth (Pearce). They’re a likeable gang tightly played by the ensemble, though Higginson is our anchor and delivers a magnificent performance, slowly realising the desperation of living in a time when the crushing burden of poverty and mental health impacts on everyone in her community.

Boulton’s company Motherlode developed the show with RCT Theatres, based in Aberdare, and the lyrical yet no-nonsense Valleys humour resonates. There’s no place for mawkishness, with weighty themes threaded through in a matter-of-fact way. Pertinent political points are made often in throwaway remarks, never falling into diatribe. Each character has a history loaded with sadness and yet no-one considers themselves a figure to be pitied. The tragedy comes from their casual acceptance of what is normal. And yet this remains a play about hope.

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