Also published on A Younger Theatre
Nowadays, no festival programme is complete without a LGBTQ production, so engrained as they are in modern day society. For me, that’s a wonderful thing, highlighting and debating previously taboo issues with new vigour and fervour. Passing By however, whilst focussing around two gay men, is not in and of itself about homosexual affairs – Martin Sherman’s script could easily be about any two lovers, ships that pass in the night and form an instant connection. This production is the theatrical dating app, Happn.
Chris Davis directs Martin Sherman’s Passing By as part of the Stomping Ground Festival, a Young Director’s training programme set up by StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Simon (Adrian Quinton) and Toby (Mike Evans) hook up one evening at a time when homosexuality was still unacceptable and met with ignorant anger. Not wanting to part from each other’s company, but similarly not knowing how to express themselves after being stifled for so long, they are thrown together again by illness and love inevitably blossoms. Davis’ directing talent here is in accentuating the little things, micro-reactions that send sparks flying between the two characters. Toby (Evans) is the stronger of the two in this regard, a twitch of an eyebrow or the flair of a nostril conveying more than words could. It’s these touches that give the production its heart, drawing the audience to buy in to these two lovebirds.
Both actors complement each other in their mannerisms, all serving to add to the affability of the situation. Davis accentuates the space between dialogue, awkward pauses and silences not detracting from the pace but rather adding to the atmosphere in a show that is allowed to breathe and grow. There are points at which the script turns into something of a melodrama, a soap opera that the characters participate in whilst ironically watching on TV. Even they admit that to discuss such fictional action is banal, yet unwittingly invoke a self-fulfilling situation by transforming into two soap actors themselves. There is a point halfway through the show that strays into the fantastical, a point that Davis can benefit from swiftly bringing back on track.
Passing By ends on a bitter sweet note, a reminder that endings aren’t always happy. The simplicity in the ending, and indeed throughout the play, is the strength of both the script and the direction. Davis lets the situation play itself out in an effectively simple finale to a well-paced production.