FringeReview UK 2023
A mesmerising play, one that won’t fade and whose topicality will only reverberate more. The dialogue’s consummate and touching, the gradual reveals of blindness – and blandness – to racism on a memory-trip with a disastrous family album, releases a slow detonation of all that’s wrong still, and what we might be blind to, wherever we are. One of my comedies of the year. Pretty outstanding.
Writer and Producer Dan Sareen, Directed by Imy Wyatt Corner, CSM & Assistant Director Cassia Thakkar, Lighting Design Catia Hamilton, Producer Ellen Harris, Marketing Cup of Ambition, PR Chloe Nelkin Consulting, Image Design Laura Whitehouse, Photography Matt Martin, Initial Artwork Chloe Bridge, Photoshoot Set Dressing Maud Fleminger Thomson, Image Editing Tabby Thompson
Till November 25th
Rachel Singh (Amy-Leigh Hickman) is organising her family’s first celebration of Diwali, festival of light. Light is thrown, uncomfortably. And quite a few shadows. Dan Sareen’s Passing directed by Imy Wyatt Corner comes to Park Theatre till November 25th.
The problem is neither Rachel’s Indian father Yash (Bhasker Patel) remembers much from his Anglophone father’s comments, and her well-meaning British mother Ruth (Catherine Cusack) has to be ruled out of knowledge, however much she tries to learn. At least Rachel thinks so. Added to which they’re Hindu Singhs Rachel always has to point out. At school one teacher made something unpleasant out of “Singh”.
With added board game, music, singing and simultaneous conversations masterfully controlled here, food, drink and a variety of exits and entrances on the small living-room stage (sofa and turntable, featuring an extensive record-collection, design unattributed but probably Sareen’s) this is a beautifully-detailed drama. It sets off the magnificently detailed – and naturalist – dialogue. It’s also absolutely authentic as family, dynamics tuned to how all families differently interact, but from whom something very recognizable emerges.
Catia Hamilton’s lighting too plays with these corners and sudden joys of a small living room, with some surprises as you’d expect with a Diwali
Because though this is a family united in amity and warmth, and Rachel’s boyfriend Matt (Jack Flammiger) is someone she’s known since primary school there are fissures too, and they reach back to school years and gape for all three younger people here. Not least in Rachel herself: over-determined sometimes, frightened her Indian heritage is vanishing. Her British one’s taken for granted. Rightly, this probing comedy focuses on what’s in peril.
“I’m scared that I’m missing out on things, losing things that were supposed to be passed down.” With the death of her father’s father not imminent but not far away, there’s a chance everything will be forgotten.
Not that larky younger brother David (Kishore Walker) is much of a help, usually siding with anyone being emollient: Matt, for instance. Charged with lack of seriousness he quips late on “I always try to be” and despite donning the right dress he’s clearly less engaged. But when finally truths are revealed too uncomfortable for sone, David firsts shrugs it off, then importantly, chimes in. Walker navigates the slightly stereotypical irritating kid brother with a measure of aplomb and detail, the way his loyalties shift being revelatory in the final part of the play.
Hickman is front and. centre the complex, self-appointed culture guardian, thus both sanctimonious and not wrong, irritating but passionate and vulnerable. And right in that Flammiger’s sympathetic Matt, who’s learned all the words that others don’t even remember, has a blind spot. In Flammiger’s hands Matt’s beautifully observed, a warm sympathetic young man just short of comprehension. Familiar with the Singhs since childhood, he claims he doesn’t see racism. The gulf of his fundamental lack of understanding, not sympathy but empathy, is cleverly exploited in the great set-scene and exposition of what constitutes ‘passing’ in the last stages of the play.
Hickman’s plea as Rachel is powerful, and she makes various ones: “That’s what we have to show for Grandma’s life… We just remember the fact that she embraced gin rummy?” Hickman pushes Rachel out of immediate sympathy in several shocking moments, the greatest of which is with her mother. There, though it’s not stated, she herself breaks a larger tradition. Hickman somehow maintains the sheer priggishness edging Rachel’s assertions, but shows them grounded in love, even compassion for what’s falling asway from her family. And she’s not wrong, Hickman portraying a 25-year-old shows too a sudden teenage lurch when everything seems to collapse. It’s then, as Sareen subtly shows, that she needs her mother in as traditional a role as can be imagined.
Cusack’s bright Ruth is both young enough to feel she can dance wildly, showing sexual warmth in a private moment with Yash, and always sure of her emotional ground. What she doesn’t always see is the minefields of cultural boundaries Rachel’s been busily erecting recently. And at one point she literally upends the tables on everyone else’s constructed boundaries. It’s a delicious symbolic moment. Yet again she shames her daughter in total acceptance. Cusack makes of Ruth almost an empathic saint.
Patel’s Yash is a figure grounded in love of 1960s-0s pop, and there’s a shocking moment when Rachel reacts to this. Yet his forgiving gesture – the parents here are almost unbelievably understanding t a human level – is beautifully handled. “I haven’t; grown wise… But.. logic, rationality and social morality that mean nothing when you’re dealing with loved ones. You ned your own set of rules for family.” Here Patel’s Yash sounds a gravitas you feel you’ve been waiting for, for all his cheery evasions and sudden shafts of hurt, muted to keep the peace. It chimes with Ruth’s actions earlier, and gives both liberal parents some agency.
This is a mesmerising play, one that won’t fade and whose topicality will only reverberate more. The dialogue’s consummate and touching, the gradual reveals of blindness – and blandness – to racism on a memory-trip with a disastrous family album that Matt too is figured in, releases a slow detonation of all that’s wrong still, and what we might be blind to, wherever we are. It’s worth not revealing how that unfolds. One of my comedies of the year. Pretty outstanding.