REVIEW: E x i l e
Exile has set itself a high challenge and rises to it in a way that you would be hard-pressed to see done so well again.
E x i l e is something rare in Cambridge. A student-written play that is political without being self-righteous, academic but not pretentious, and moving but not disingenuous.
This is supported by a cast who give electrifying, edge-of-the-seat performances and inventive lighting and effects to create a unique and incredibly memorable experience.
This is play about women, real and imagined, at their worst and best. Six women, from Ancient Greece to modern political conflict, have all been persecuted for their gender. They find themselves in a sandy exile: we follow them as they unravel and rebuild as a group and individually, and work to rationalise the actions that have lead them to this strange and barren place.
Niamh Curran opens with a ferocious monologue from Medea. Her portrayal of a bitter pariah is noteworthy because she is an unrepentant murderer, but Curran allows moments of softness to shine through and creates sympathy for Medea even in her darkest moments. Lola Olufemi’s Shakespearean delivery lends itself perfectly to the character of Agave. Her relative quiet through the majority of the play makes her ferocious monologue scenes all the more powerful. She portrays the grief of a mother trapped by her guilt in fantastic contrast to the denial of Medea and the scenes between Olufemi and Curran are some of the best of this production.
Elaheh, played by Emily Collinson, is the de facto narrator of this play and her understated and relatable performance is a valuable anchor to the modern audience. Claire Takami-Siljedahl brings vulnerability to the near-mute Samasti but is unafraid to embrace the anger of her character. Ruby Kwong and Beatriz Santos as Abhita and Antoinette respectively are polar opposites on the emotional spectrum. Both play this with equal success., Abhita’s fury at being held a political captive contrasts brutally and effectively against Antoinette’s (Mrs Rochester) innocence and detachment as a domestic prisoner. Their parallel narratives show how women have been silenced across cultures, and the frustration of seeing history repeat itself.
One of the essential themes of E x i le is to “read into [the women’s] silences”. This cast is a captivating one especially for how they deal with silence, some of the most moving moments of this play are when all are united in quiet solidarity. The individual monologues are all incredibly strong, but their unity as an ensemble is particularly impressive. This aids itself to the interludes of physical theatre, which flow seamlessly into the overall narrative and syncs very well with the dramatic technical elements. The original music they use is an inspired choice, deserving credit going to composer Arthur Robijns.
Rute Costa is an undeniably talented writer. She’s cast a critical eye over the “minor characters” of literature, and brought them to life in a raw and honest way, and so her writing never comes across as preachy. Her and co-director Faye Guy have woven together some of the most difficult parts of theatre – a relatively large cast in a small space (Corpus), complex tech, physical theatre – into a professional piece of art that begins as abstract and alien but swiftly becomes about the nuances of emotion and is never cliche. They clearly both know how to grip an audience, and keep them engaged throughout.
E x i l e is an astonishingly resonant piece of drama, the the sort of play that will be rebounding around your head for days. It’s also the sort of play that has to be experienced in the flesh. You will have missed out on one of the finest pieces of truly original student theatre if you don’t see it.