BWW Review: PASS OVER, Kiln Theatre
After you have seen Antoinette Nwandu's Pass Over, you might give a second thought to the next street beggar you see and, probably, ignore.
Moses and Kitch are both homeless black men living on a street corner. Daily they hear about the deaths of other struggling souls at the hands of cruel, sadistic police officers. Yet the two men are trapped, held by social rules that prevent them from escaping this painful life.
Enter Mister, a young man dressed in white with a basket of food and drink. But linguistic slips and unusual behaviour soon suggest this figure's white outfit hides his true nature: he's less Red Riding Hood and more the wolf of contemporary culture.
Indhu Rubasingham gets the very best from the cast. Paapa Essiedu as Moses is filled with a cynicism that threatens to become hope and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Kitch is filled with a cautious optimism. Both bring desperation and anger with an unbridled energy and a warm sense of comedy.
Nwandu describes Pass Over as Waiting for Godot meets the biblical Book of Exodus. Robert Jones's set design emphasises this cross, depicting a realistic street kerb with a perpetually stuck stop sign the only suggestion that these two men live in a liminal space.
Essiedu and Eustache work well alongside Alexander Eliot. Entering and exiting with a "Great golly gosh" with either an unflinching saccharine energy as Mister or a despicable malice as Offiser, Eliot delivers his unusual lines with a threateningly earnest quality. It's a rightly unnerving performance that in its caricatured nature makes the abuse these black men receive achingly real.
That Pass Over feels so relevant offers a disappointing comment on society today, yet it is vital viewing. It would be naive for British audiences to feel a distance from the play's American setting: whether they be black or homeless, the challenges that await these men are given a disarmingly serene face. There's danger not only around every corner, but also on the corners themselves.
Nwandu explains, of the play's development, how "once an armed white man in uniform stepped on stage, we'd instinctively know where the play would end up". Yet the work impressively balances comedy with these social themes, and the combined effect is an affective 80 minutes of theatre in which the characters achieve both everything and nothing at once.
This searing play demands to be seen and astounds in its simplicity and humour; underneath the work is a strong social message that we would all benefit from hearing. If ever there was a play that audiences should listen to, this is it.
Photograph credit: Marc Brenner.