Kitch (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) and Moses (Paapa Essiedu) want to ‘pass over’, by which they mean they want to move past their present circumstances and stations in life and go on to something better, more palatable, more comfortable. Perhaps they might settle for the dictionary definition of ‘pass over’ instead – ‘to take no notice of; disregard’ – instead, they find themselves on the streets of an unspecified American city, living in fear of what might happen to them at least in part because of the colour of their skin.
Pass Over is, in the Kiln Theatre’s production, set in the round (technically, ‘in the rectangle’ but either way it is an unusual arrangement for this venue). The scene is sufficiently set even before the show proper begins, with sounds of road traffic and trains rumbling past. From the opening minute, Kitch and Moses prove to be gregarious characters, such that I wondered if they were going to sustain such a high level of intensity and activity to the end. As it happens, there were ebbs and flows along the way: a good thing, as eighty minutes of purely high-octane dynamism might have proved exhausting for both cast and audience alike.
Some early talk of ‘the promised land’ was reminiscent of those ‘I wish’ songs at a similar point in the narrative of a musical. But for reasons that become clear as the play goes on, their pursuit of the American Dream has only resulted in ‘the American Nightmare’. And these are not people who have resorted to violence or direct action just so their voices could be heard. Mister (Alexander Eliot), appears after a while, a well-off young man who somehow got lost on the way to his mother’s house: had he not been there before? And why doesn’t he have Google Maps or any other online map app on his phone?
But – without giving it all away – he has his reasons for befriending Kitch and Moses and plying them with slightly eccentric expressions such as “salutations” and “gosh golly gee”, and dinner that he apparently originally intended to share with his mum, though these reasons aren’t made explicitly clear until the final moments of the play. Meanwhile, there was an interesting discussion about the use of the ‘n-word’, which remains a point of contention, even if some black people, like Kitch and Moses, say it in everyday conversation between themselves about as often as they inhale.
Kitch and Moses are essentially younger versions of Vladimir and Estragon in the Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) play Waiting For Godot, though they talk so much about wanting to ‘pass over’ that I also drew a parallel between this duo and the main trio in the Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) play Three Sisters – will they actually ever get to where they want to go, or do they have to accept defeat and come to terms with their lot in life, just as the three sisters had to admit they will never ‘go to Moscow’ after all (and escape their current lives for something superior).
Some of the humour, granted, is rather dark, highlighting the sheer extent of these characters’ despair and exasperation. Things are so amusing at one point that it almost became inevitable that the story would become darker – and sure enough, within a short timeframe, the same members of the audience who were chortling away were audibly gasping. In its portrayal of a bleak and unforgiving society in which ‘trust no one’ appears to be the best maxim to live by, this electrifying, energetic and hard-hitting production is worth seeing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
“Deez streets uh violence. Streets uh anger. Lead deez boys on to dat promised land.”
A lamppost. A street corner. But also a plantation. But also a city built from slaves.
Moses and Kitch wake every morning. Stuck. Hoping to escape. Hoping to move on. Hoping for a promised land. Hoping to pass over.
An epic mash up of Waiting for Godot, the Exodus and stories ripped from the daily headlines, Antoinette Nwandu’s fierce and politically charged new play exposes the experiences of young black men in a world that refuses to see them.
ALEXANDER ELIOT – MISTER/OSSIFER
PAAPA ESSIEDU – MOSES
GERSHWYN EUSTACHE JNR – KITCH
ANTOINETTE NWANDU – PLAYWRIGHT
INDHU RUBASINGHAM – DIRECTOR
ROBERT JONES – DESIGNER
OLIVER FENWICK – LIGHTING DESIGNER
BEN & MAX RINGHAM – COMPOSERS AND SOUND DESIGNERS
LANRE MALAOLU – MOVEMENT DIRECTOR
JULIA HORAN CDG – CASTING DIRECTOR
HAZEL HOLDER – VOICE AND DIALECT COACH
KEVIN MCCURDY – FIGHT DIRECTOR
ANTHONY SIMPSON-PIKE – ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
CYNTHIA DUBERRY – COMPANY STAGE MANAGER
HELEN FLETCHER – DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER
KATE KENAH – ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
13 Feb – 21 Mar 2020