Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 20 February 2020

Review: Pass Over at Kiln Theatre

13th February - 21st March

Waiting for transcendence: Frey Kwa Hawking writes on Antoinette Nwandu’s play racist police violence and structural discrimination in America.

Frey Kwa Hawking
Pass Over at Kiln Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Pass Over at Kiln Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over has had an impassioned history so far in its relatively short life. Its first and highly-praised production by Steppenwolf in 2017 evinced some interesting responses from the Chicago critical scene, and it’s this version which was filmed by Spike Lee, before a new production opened in 2018 at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater. That’s enough to make you go huh, I need to see this play.

ANYWAY

Two men are on a street corner; it seems like they’re homeless, or that there’s not much difference if they’re aren’t. Moses (Paapa Essiedu) is the more assured of the two. Kitch (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) is more grasping. He needs Moses to tell him they’re going to get up off this block. That’s what they’re going to do. They go over this again and again.

ANYWAY

The ‘how’ of this escape doesn’t figure at all, because the possibility of somewhere and something different for these two isn’t real. And what Moses and Kitch put in their “Promised Land Top Ten” lists (fishtank with two sharks in it. Jordans, new new, not thrift new. A girl. Moses’ brother and Kitch’s mother back from the dead) may as well not be real too, because there’s no chance of them getting it. Still, they try and get on with it.

ANYWAY

Nwandu’s script takes for its subject two entwined horrors facing black people in America today: brutal violence at the hands of police, and limited potential for “transcending” anything, as Kitch and Moses put it. Everything else around the two characters is made to feel unreal, compared to these two realities. A sign, hanging from their corner’s lamp post in Robert Jones’ dirty-anonymous design, at one point brightly shows orders both to stop and to walk at the same time.

ANYWAY

Both of the white men who come to the corner are unreal, but perfectly truthful depictions of grotesque white domination. Ossifer is a fetishistic parody of burly cop antagonism. Mister (pronounced “Master”, briefly) has the cleanest white Converse, a creaseless linen suit, snappy movements, a wide-eyed uprightness. He produces an unreal amount of food from a picnic basket – he “grows it”, he says. This sinister vagueness makes sense – he wants for nothing and controls everything. Alexander Eliot plays both Ossifer and Mister.

ANYWAY

The casting of Indhu Rubasingham’s production has Moses and Kitch feeling older than the Steppenwolf production, and more run down. By the time their world changes a little – gloriously, but doomed already – when Moses shows something of his name’s power, this sudden visual lyricism could benefit from some further contrast from earlier in the production. Whenever they break off suddenly from their affectionate, desperate sparrings with each other to listen and look out, the lighting change (Oliver Fenwick) and slight ringing sound (Ben and Max Ringham) feels too little and late as a stand-in for whatever it is that’s terrifying them.

ANYWAY

Anything whiteness offers is, at best, an insult. At worst, it’s a trick.

ANYWAY

Essiedu and Eustache Jnr are both magnificent here; sometimes Essiedu’s voice as Moses goes so high, making him sound very young. He’s mercurial and has a rolling physicality; his face as he weighs up whether or not to take Mister’s food is so painful. Eustache Jnr’s Kitch is more childish, his belief and need for Moses to show him how they “pass over” bare.

ANYWAY

Nwandu’s writing is beautiful, her influences and reference points well balanced against each other and the rhythm of dialogue completely consuming. Pass Over is sometimes funny, but it’s hard to really feel its humour, because of its bleakness, and as you’re so on your guard for Moses and Kitch. The two wonder if adapting their language might afford them some kind of protection, but it’s not language or even guns which provide that.

ANYWAY

I’m glad I got the chance to see this play, though it’s worth paying attention to criticisms of how it fits into the pattern of major British theatres programming non-British (particularly American) playwrights when it comes to plays at least partially about racism (for more on this, see J.N. Benjamin’s review of Death of England by Roy Williams). How does anti-black racism in this country relate to that facing Moses and Kitch? What do theatres seem to say about racism with this programming?

ANYWAY

Pass Over ends on a conversational, complicity-confirming address from Mister, set against a huge sunrise that’s promising nothing new. In the majority non-black press night audience of the Kiln, it works. It’s a businesslike, nothing quite to be done sort of speech, and he keeps trailing off before he can get the word “happening” out, as in it’s really a shame, what keeps happening. Murder of black people by the police isn’t a passive phenomenon, but it’s often remarked upon like it’s immutable. He turns away from Moses and Kitch unceremoniously, as if moving the subject away from the weather. He says

ANYWAY

Pass Over is on at Kiln Theatre till 21st March. More info here

Advertisement


Frey Kwa Hawking

Frey Kwa Hawking works as a dramaturg in London. He likes to go to the theatre and the cinema. Sometimes they let him in. He is trans and Malaysian-Chinese. He always orders xiao long bao. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @absentobject

Review: Pass Over at Kiln Theatre Show Info


Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Written by Antoinette Nwandu

Cast includes Paapa Essiedu, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Alexander Eliot

Advertisement


the
Exeunt
newsletter


Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.


Advertisement