Exceptional Promise, Bush Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

1. What is ‘Exceptional Promise’?
a. Another name for a UK Tier 1 visa
b. An interactive game show-slash-performance piece
c. A critique of the cesspit that is London’s housing market
d. All of the above

If you answered ‘D’, then you win! You’re one step closer to getting the keys to your dream house. But first – you need to survive the rest of the rounds and beat your other two opponents, otherwise you’re doomed to dodgy landlords and housemates forever.

Yet, who are we kidding? It’s only the most privileged who can buy property in London, and those of us who are younger (like, under 40), work in the arts, and/or are immigrants are even less likely to reach this previously taken-for-granted life milestone no matter how hard we try. But at least this show makes us laugh, even if it’s the depressed and self-deprecating laughter that stems from knowing you’ll never be able to afford to retire, and given the rate of rent increases along with climate change, we’re more likely to be living on an inflatable life raft than in anything resembling stable bricks and mortar.

The show is hosted by a different person each night, and comedian Jodie Mitchell does a superb job leading the three contestants, Lizzie (Bisola Alabi), Sal (Salome Wagaine) and Em (Emily Aboud). The trio competing to win their dream home are friendly, amenable and driven, and all very much deserving of the prize. The sense of humour at work is dry and tongue-in-cheek, giving the entire performance a low-key, resigned mood. This contrasts nicely with the glitter that covers every possible surface of the stage and set, though in-character demonstration of the high stakes would make the performances more engaging.

Despite the title, there’s no real connection made between the British visa system and housing. A round of questions from the “Life in the UK” test and one of the contestants being an immigrant are the only inclusion of a Home Office that’s as broken and discriminatory as the housing market, but the relationship between the two is not touched on. Though this would make the show more thematically sophisticated, game shows aren’t known for having complex structures. With a different host each night, transitions can be a bit slow whilst the host figures out what to do, but the variety of each round helps to keep things moving.

It’s still a lot of fun, though. The length is bang on, and the relaxed vibe that encourages audience reaction is hugely refreshing, especially as the topic is one that unites people against a common evil. It doesn’t offer solutions to the problem, but it is still a comforting reminder that we’re all suffering together.

Exceptional Promise runs through 22 June in London.

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