How can political satire endure when the current climate feels at once disheartening and farcical? It’s a difficult question, but one that the National Theatre of Scotland’s Exodus answers by leaning fully into the farce and taking it to the extreme, a decision which leads to mixed results.
On the verge of an announcement that will hopefully bring her one step closer to becoming Prime Minister, Home Secretary Asiya Rao (Aryana Ramkhalawon) embarks on a photo shoot on the shores of Dover. Alongside her advisor Phoebe Bernays (Sophie Steer), they are interrupted by a baby washing ashore and inexplicably decide to take it with them on their train back to London. Joined by lifestyle journalist Tobi Tucker (Anna Russell-Martin) and refugee Haben Haile (Habiba Saleh) – who is roped into playing Rao’s mother for the purposes of the interview with Tucker – matters quickly unravel into pandemonium.
While Uma Nada-Rajah began work on the play in 2018, it feels timelier than ever. As such, those in attendance eat the entire thing up wholeheartedly, gladly relishing in what very much feels like an episode of The Thick of It on acid. That’s to say that Exodus is an inherently ridiculous production, and on paper the performance needs this humour so that the audience can process the horror lurking beneath the surface. However, at times it feels as though it goes too far, losing sight of the message it wants to convey in the process.
While the characters easily fit the caricatures, the cast are clearly having plenty of fun in them. Steer especially allows callous Malcolm Tucker-esque qualities to blend seamlessly with her exaggerated reactions to events. The problem is when traits are so incongruous that it becomes unbelievable. Ramkhalawon’s yassified parody belies a cold-hearted ruthlessness, but her Beyoncé obsession is a bit too cringe inducing. Likewise, Russell-Martin seemingly nods along with the ridiculousness before grasping a minor victory that feels unearned and out of left field.
This is less a problem with the cast as it is the script. Lip-service is given to deeper issues but it feels too crass when the comedy is turned back up to the maximum moments later. Similarly, the show goes off the rails, so to speak, in its final act with a moment of chaos that feels frankly amateur and a disservice to what the production is trying to achieve.
Ultimately, a greater level of restraint from Nada-Rajah would have elevated Exodus to far greater heights, but even at its current level, it remains a solid 85 minutes of fun that many will enjoy.