Uma Nada-Rajah’s dark new comedy, Exodus, is scarily topical. A Tory home secretary with more ambition than brains tries to save her career after a xenophobic photo opportunity goes horribly wrong, helped by her ruthless special adviser. It is frenetic, farcical and occasionally funny but, despite some strong performances, it is disappointingly scattergun in its targets and often misfires.
The play makes strong points about immigration policy, xenophobia, Tory politicians’ lies, citizen journalism and the role of ministers’ special advisers but the satire is blunt and meandering. Aryana Ramkhalawon is suitably villainous as the Machiavellian home secretary, Asiya Rao, who seems loosely inspired by current home secretary Priti Patel. However, it is Sophie Steer who impressively holds the show together as the amoral and manipulative special adviser, Phoebe. Anna Russell-Martin also stands out as keen young journalist Tobi although, later on, her character’s motivations appear odd and inconsistent.
Director Debbie Hannan keeps the momentum going, with an effective spinning set designed by Alisa Kalyanova. But none of the positives are enough to save the show. From the start, the premise of a dead refugee baby washed up on shore and stuffed into a designer bag strikes an unsettling note that is not matched by the production’s mostly lighter farce. The intricate plot continues to twist and turn in a way that becomes increasingly implausible, and the farcical style never quite gels with the play’s deeply serious message about Britain’s ill treatment of refugees.
Exodus runs at the Traverse Theatre as part of Edinburgh Fringe until 28 August 2022. Tickets at traverse.co.uk.