Exceptional Promise

Play: Exceptional Promise Theatre: Bush Theatre Playwright: Salome Wagaine Director: Emily Abound Writer: Bisola Alabi Review by Briana Carter

Applying for a UK Visa is no easy feat. Being exceptional is one way to earn yourself five years residency. Under the Home Office’s Exceptional Talent Tier 1 Visa, you must either be endorsed as a recognised leader (exceptional talent) or as an emerging leader (exceptional promise).

A creative collaboration between Bisola Alabi, Emily Aboud and Salome Wagaine, who also star in this comedy, are themselves exceptional talents. Chosen by Bush Theatre to participate in Project 2036, a three-year programme that offers BAMER artists creative space to produce work for the radically and rapidly changing world against a backdrop of Brexit. The result? Exceptional Promise, a 55 minute game show.

The premise is simple. Answer a ton of questions in front of a studio audience for the chance to win a the deed to a London house (both fictitious). There is only one rule: the audience cannot give the contestants any answers. The three contestants are expected to answer a myriad of random trivia questions (often unrelated to the housing theme) interspersed with horror stories of dodgy flatshares.

The game show setting could easily be mistaken for a 70s disco, draped with purple technicolor streamers accompanied by red, blue and green lights. Although effective, a real screen with captions acting as cue cards, to alert the audience when to applaud, laugh or clap, would be a useful addition.

Rather than get stuck with the same host, they refreshingly change for each performance. This time its the rambunctious and frazzled Brian Lobel. Following, albeit at times clumsily, playfully written prompt cards, he ably carries the game show to the finish line. But he breaks the solitary rule by allowing the audience to shout out answers.

Removing this restriction allows theatregoers to engage with an otherwise disjointed performance by the three contestants. There is a sense that they aren’t entirely comfortable on stage, which could be to do with what’s at stake, somewhere to call home.

The biggest challenge with Exceptional Promise is whether or not it makes its point well enough. The convoluted and bureaucratic process the UK government uses to determine exceptional talent, and the complications of living with unsuitable flat mates, along with the outrageous housing costs, are all present and correct. But it is hard to unpick a clear message from the mix.

These are complex issues, which are sometimes filtered well through satire, but deserve closer scrutiny and greater creative attention to do them justice.

Although fun and an original idea, my experience wasn’t exceptional.

Exceptional Promise is at Bush Theatre until 22 June 2019.