PASSING at the Park Theatre
“Under the direction of Imy Wyatt Corner, Passing delivers an impressively authentic portrayal of nuclear family dynamics”
Your twenties are a time for self-discovery. A time when the world and its opportunities feel open and endless, and it’s up to you to choose, to decide, who and how to be. It can feel like a dislocation from the rigid structure and linear progression of your childhood and teenage years, and the feeling becomes all the more acute when you look, as well as feel, apart from the ordinary.
In Dan Sareen’s new work, Passing, he explores some of these feelings, and how they manifest through Rachel Singh and her family. Rachel (Amy-Leigh Hickman) is a twenty-something living with her parents in an undisclosed, predominantly white area of England searching for identity or sense of belonging. Flung into crisis through the deterioration of her grandfather’s health, she realises that she knows or has experienced little North-Indian culture that is part of her heritage and so seeks to throw her family’s first, and perhaps her Grandfather’s final, Diwali celebration.
The play follows the Singh family and Rachel’s boyfriend Matt, along for the ride, on this day almost in real time, functioning almost as a sort of socratic dialogue between the family members, exploring what it means to be British-Indian. The play naturally cycles characters on and off stage, allowing each combination of characters to have their own in depth discussion and show the depth of their character and emotions. Each combination of characters has a moment together. All set in the Singh’s living room, the set could be any living room in middle England, all pine wood furniture, inoffensive landscape prints adorning the walls and the Steve Jobs biography in the bookcase. Under the direction of Imy Wyatt Corner, Passing delivers an impressively authentic portrayal of nuclear family dynamics, instantly familiar through their quick shifts between jibes and supportive warmth.
“an intelligently written, passionately performed work”
Yash (Bhasker Patel) is the patriarch who emigrated to the UK at six years old and is more interested in Led Zeppelin than Ravi Shankar. Ruth (Catherine Cusack) is the white British mother who just wants everyone to get along and clearly feels guilty for having deprived her children of their Indian heritage that they now desire. David (Kishore Walker) is the disaffected son who is intent on challenging his father and who says himself his only role in the family is to be flippant – receiving a few knowing laughs from the audience. Matt (Jack Flamminger) is the too sweet boyfriend going out of his way to make a good impression for his girlfriend’s parents and for Rachel herself, providing plenty of light relief.
Amy-Leigh Hickman is brash and headstrong as Rachel, the central figure of the play. However, to a degree this demeanour, which verges on petulance at times, belies her inner turmoil and confusion over who she is and how she should be in the world. As a daddy’s girl – she is eager to learn more about her father’s upbringing in India, but her dogged pursuit of the missing link between the way she is perceived by others as Indian, as ‘other’, and her own cultural touchstones which are more British than Indian, often comes at the expense of her empathy towards her mother and partner. It’s intentionally uncomfortable theatre – with the collision between generational and racial views cringe inducing at times. But it’s authentic; there’s no dramatic plot twists, no real events of note. Just the conversations between a relatively ordinary family that could be replicated 100-fold all across the country.
In trying to replicate that family gathering feeling there are some directorial choices that don’t quite land. For such a small studio theatre, the choice to have overlapping conversations at once doesn’t quite work as no one conversation predominates – all we get is hubub. Similarly playing the records Yash likes and dislikes, means it’s a strain to hear the dialogue over it.
That being said, Passing is an intelligently written, passionately performed work that fairly and in a nuanced way reflects experiences of mixed-race families in Britain today.
PASSING at the Park Theatre
Reviewed on 6th November 2023
by Amber Woodward
Photography by Matt Martin
Previously reviewed at this venue: