‘Pass Over’ review

Theatre
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
Pass Over, Kiln Theatre 2020
Photograph: Marc Brenner Paapa Essiedu and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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‘Waiting for Godot’ is updated for the Black Lives Matter era in this excellent play from Antoinette Nwandu

Antoinette Nwandu’s ‘Pass Over’ is like a radical rewriting of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, with the aged homeless men, Estragon and Vladimir, switched for two young black men, Moses and Kitch, who pass repetitive days on a street corner under an elevated train track. But while Nwandu echoes Beckett’s blend of sharp, crackling comedy and utter despair, there is one major, crucial difference to her play. Beckett’s tramps existed inside an anywhere, anytime vacuum; Nwandu’s young men are grounded in a reality that’s horrifically recognisable.

Paapa Essiedu’s Moses and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr’s Kitch kill time through ritualised jokes, routines and daydreams. They tease and playfight; get angry at each other’s presence; and share their imagined versions of heaven, listing its rewards like kids writing to Santa Claus. There’s a beautiful tenderness to their exchanges, the way there often is just below the bantering, back-chatting surface of guys’ friendship. And, as the sun comes up each day, they discuss how they’re going to leave this spot, get up from this kerb and ‘fulfil their potential’.

Yet the thing keeping them on the kerb isn’t their motivational skills or a ride out of there, but the lurking presence of the white police officers who keep shooting men like them.

Eustache Jnr’s Kitch is the softer of the pair, the one who is more willing to keep playing their childish games each day and who is more instinctively trusting of the bizarre, hyper-American stranger (Alexander Eliot’s Mister) who intrudes into their space brandishing a wicker picnic basket en route to ‘Mother’s house’, like an eccentric variant on Little Red Riding Hood. Essiedu (who, while we’re on the topic, is superb in every role he takes – let’s give him all the awards now) is angrier and less naïve. He’s also patently traumatised by the death of his brother, his sleep disturbed by the violent shudders of bad dreams.

If there’s a weakness it’s that it feels a bit overlong, with the Biblical references and stories, in particular, jutting out a little awkwardly within Nwandu’s script and the voices of the characters. But it’s a painful, intense and clever piece of theatre that, unlike the ‘nothing to be done’ refrain repeated in ‘Godot’, provides a crystal-clear directive: stop killing black men.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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