The strength of The Good Earth, Motherlode Theatre’s debut production, lay in the painstaking care with which it reflected rural Welsh life. The balance of tender humour and lingering melancholy matched the pulse of those displaced communities, happy in their own surroundings but often feeling forgotten and ignored. It remains a central theme in this new show too, and obviously so. Exodus is just another in countless stories about displacement across Wales. This particular story takes place in Aberdare, once a thriving industrial town now faced with the closing of its last ever factory. We find our four protagonists on the eve of the demolition, hatching a plan that will take them out of the town and into an exciting new world.
Naturally, strands of the Motherlode DNA run through both Exodus and The Good Earth. Gwenllian Higginson is once again in the lead role, giving another strong performance as put-upon retail manager Mary. As the least humorous of the three speaking characters Higginson has the deceptively difficult task of keeping the play grounded, and that gravitas allows Liam Tobin and Berwyn Pearce to give genuinely hilarious performances. There are shades of Laurel and Hardy in their relationship, and the two actors play up to that very well. At times, however, these lighter scenes drag on a little too long. There’s no doubting Rachael Boulton’s playwriting skills but, especially in the first half of the play, it felt like scenes were deliberately stretched to fill time. There was less of that in the second half, admittedly, and the play builds to a satisfying crescendo.
The best thing about Boulton’s script is the honesty with which she frames Aberdare. Calling it a subplot is perhaps an exaggeration, but the issue of immigration looms large over the play. Boulton paints the picture of a town that has united because they all feel like they don’t belong, immigrants and indigenous alike. She does it slightly though, through throwaway lines rather than grandiose statements. It’s effective in its simplicity.
It’s in her direction that Boulton really comes into her own, though. There’s a strong physical element to the production, credit for which can go to movement director Emma Vickery. Beautifully choreographed dance sequences are peppered throughout the piece, giving the production a somewhat ethereal quality. This is enhanced by a powerful performance from Karim Bedda who, as Timmy, is only able to communicate with his viola. Timmy represents the part of these stories that are often forgotten: those of misunderstood refugees and immigrants who express themselves in a different yet equally wonderful way. David Grubb’s compositions provide just the right ambience for the piece, and Bedda excels without ever saying a word.
It’s never definitively established whether the adventure these struggling characters are about to go on is real, or a figment of their imagination. There’s deep melancholy in it either way and, as the lights go down for the final time, the mood is somewhat bittersweet. It’s how these stories always go, though: never really ending, never truly satisfying. They just carry on, and the people in those stories carry on. Sadly, it’s a mood that Motherlode captures almost too well.