17th April – 5th May
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Passing Places is twenty-one years old this year. It says much for the play-writing skill of Stephen Greenhorn that this ‘road movie for the stage’ which first entertained Generation X also had the Millennials laughing out loud at its comic sparkle throughout the opening night at the Dundee Rep. This wee gem of a play retains not only its wit but the power to engage audiences with issues of Scottish identity, the Scottish experience of class divisions and the clash of the rural and the urban. At heart, though, Passing Places speaks of the divide in each of us between what we have become and what we could be, if we have the courage to take the road less traveled.
Small-town boys Brian and Alex embark on a road trip from Motherwell to Thurso in a broken-down Lada, with a stolen surfboard tied to the roof rack. They encounter on the road an assortment of characters who have tumbled their own way north, among them the beautiful and free-spirited Mirren (Eleanor House), who becomes the catalyst for a series of changes for the two callow youth. In pursuit is Brian’s boss, the owner of the surfboard, the psychopathic Binks, hot for some revenge to extract on thepair’s kneecaps.
Dundee Rep’s revival of this much-loved play evokes the thrill of travelling in a landscape at once strange and yet familiar. Reading from a map the place names of the west coast, Alex enthuses about the magnificence of the Scottish hinterland to an aesthetically illiterate Brian, more intent on the destination than the journey. Actors Ewan Donald and Martin Quinn are physically and comedically effervescent as Brian and Alex. They delightfully riff off each other at points in the dialogue, making for some cracking comedy that hasn’t dated one bit in twenty-one years.
The image of a leather-clad biker rolling into town on a pouffe displayed real comic inventiveness and still makes me laugh to remember
A counterpoint to the sympathetic portrayal of the main characters is provided by Binks, played with real comedic relish by Barrie Hunter. Binks takes the Scottish ‘hard-man’ trope to its absurd (and literally insane) fulfillment, raining down total destruction in his quest for retribution. The image of a leather-clad biker rolling into town on a pouffe displayed real comic inventiveness and still makes me laugh to remember.
How well does a twenty-one year old comedy about nineteen-nineties Scots youth finding their futures on the road speak to the present day? Well, they don’t use Google maps to get to where they want to be. I dare say that’s something Generation X still does better – reading a map. But you don’t need a map or even google maps to know when you’re lost. Passing Places still charms because we all feel lost sometimes and there’s no map for that journey. There’s just going further where the road takes you. As a road movie for the stage Passing Places puts a charming Scottish thrill on a well loved genre. Time’s passing hasn’t aged it. There’s not a mobile phone in sight. But hey, who ever gets a decent signal that far out anyway, right?