'Passing' review – this beautifully acted play about an Anglo-Indian family feels like a slice of life
Read our four-star review of Dan Sareen's comedy-drama Passing, tackling loss and heritage, now in performances at the Park Theatre to 25 November.
It’s worth lingering for a while on Passing, the layered, beautifully acted play from Dan Sareen, a mixed-race dramatist who makes biracialism his subject in this Park Theatre premiere.
Telling of a UK-based Anglo-Indian family whose celebration of Diwali doesn’t quite go to plan, Sareen captures the shifting tensions and heightened emotions within a volatile household that can’t get through a game of Cluedo without calamity ensuing.
You might question some of the plot points, several of which seem as if they would be old news to a family this voluble and unafraid of making its various members heard.
But the director Imy Wyatt Corner ensures that each of the five characters is given their due, and the result is that rare domestic drama that seems entirely inhabited from within; at times, the overlapping dialogue and sense of life caught on the wing put me unexpectedly in mind of a Robert Altman movie – which is high praise indeed.
The emotional fulcrum of the piece is Rachel (Amy-Leigh Hickman, in a standout performance), who at the show’s start is busy preparing the family living room for the Hindu festival of lights – as yet unaware of the fallout that awaits.
An unseen grandfather is in poor health, a reality that not everyone feels able to confront. Facing facts is a challenge for Rachel in other areas as well. Born to an Indian father with a passion for the Beatles and a white mother keen to keep the peace, Rachel bristles in the presence of her apparently well-meaning boyfriend Matt (a touchingly tentative Jack Flammiger), who is also white and seems forever to be walking on the most fragile of eggshells.
A neutral (or so one might think) scan through a photo album unleashes memories that won’t be laid to rest, alongside furious recall of the mistreatment Rachel suffered in school – her surname, Singh, being a primary reason why. Matt’s attempted empathy has scant effect, nor can Rachel fathom her father Yash’s apparent disconnect from a heritage that she herself is keen to understand and embrace.
His eyes alive with concern lest a household he holds dear starts to deteriorate, Bhasker Patel’s Yash communicates affection and exasperation in equal measure. The veteran actor is beautifully matched by Catherine Cusack, whose keenly observed Ruth is compassionate but watchful and wary, too.
Comedy arises when least expected – a character’s hankering for samosas, for instance – and from the wry presence of Rachel’s brother David (Kishore Walker), who exhibits a gift for the well-aimed zinger that Addison Dewitt might envy.
Some will argue that too much is reported rather than shown and that the play is essentially saving itself for a climactic broadside. To that extent, Passing is of a piece with Anoushka Lucas’s more formally audacious Elephant, another recent play on comparable themes to build toward a defining release of psychic distress.
But Passing throughout remains its own nuanced animal and benefits from a lead performance from Hickman who makes something instantly commanding out of self-contradiction. One minute, she wants only to engage with the here and now, only to be pulled back toward abrasions from the past that refuse to heal.
What remains of us may indeed be love, Passing suggests, as the characters feel their way toward an ever-evolving rapport. But that primary emotion walks a tricky tightrope as the play evokes a time of festivity located on the very faultline of loss.
Passing is at the Park Theatre through 25 November.
Photo credit: Passing (Photo by Matt Martin)
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