Everyone has heard of the well-known phrase ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’. Unfortunately, Orwell seems to have hit the nail on the head a few too many times. What this oxymoronic sentence voices, is the reality of idealism, how it’s so easy to have a utopian plan but not so easy to execute it. Also in this line, we hear the voice of inherent prejudices and the instinct to place different values on the worth of different humans.

Incoming/Exodus, written by The Lab Collective, is a thought-provoking improvised and interactive performance that digs deep into the questions that form our society. On entering, the audience isn’t told anything except that they need to vote on a small piece of paper for a social service they think is most important such as education, health, or security. They are then assigned a part of Camden to live in: North, East, South or West. The motion is given: we have seven applicants for three places in our borough and together we need to choose whom to let in. A committee member is chosen from each part of Camden and the proceedings begin. The audience and the new ‘committee’ hear the cases of each candidate. We have Pablo a scientist who came out of prison two years ago. We have Sacha, a Russian who is looking for security for him and his children in Camden. We have neuroscientists, professors and mothers. Who shall we allow in?

Although the committee gets the final say, the audience is allowed to intervene at any time. This is something they did do, frequently, and passionately. What this process showed is the different things people pick up on about people they don’t know. Some are passionate about the case of the prisoner, some about the need for education. The big question that kept arising was: do we need these people or do they need us? Another fascinating outcome was how quick the audience was to victimise the ‘committee’ who knew no more than them and had truly been chosen at random. The Stanford prison experiment definitely comes to mind: following arbitrary rules and assuming fabricated roles for the sole reason that we had been told to.

In a time when quotas are being made for immigrants and refugees, this piece seems vital in allowing us to step back, question our values and the values of our governments. How can we really make such big decision about people we don’t even know? Are we the right people to even make these decisions? Are these decisions even necessary?

It is a heavy evening at the theatre, but one of those things that I would love to prescribe to everyone anywhere, especially those who, unfortunately, have to do this for real.

Incoming/Exodus played at the Camden People’s Theatre until October 28 2017. Find out more about The Lab Collective here.

Photo: The Lab Collective