Arts Review: Passing Places

Dir. Andrew Panton, Citizens Theatre, 8th – 12th May,

Motherwell, Scotland – “nought but shoe shops and burger bars.” That alone would make you leave the place, but being fired after the shoe shop you work in gets robbed, and having drunkenly stolen your boss’s beloved surfboard afterwards, is even more of a reason. Especially if your best mate spends most of his time in the library without a job. Thus starts the spectacular road trip of Alex (Ewan Donald) and Brian (Martin Quinn), that will take them from Motherwell past Rest And Be Thankful, Skye, Ullapool, and many other Scottish landmarks and finally to Thurso, the northernmost town on the British mainland, in an old Lada.

Considering the theme, I had imagined the set in the Citizens Theatre auditorium to include photography or film fragments of Scotland, but instead the landscape is evoked by Brian. Having him as your travel partner is “like being on the road with the Guinness book of records” – he tells basic information about every place the guys drive past, the Gaelic names of towns turning into a melody of road, hill, glen, loch. The set is instead mainly formed of one enormous vertical road, which cleverly functions as a small second stage too, and a sofa turned car turned bar.

In contrast to this slightly disappointing décor is the phenomenal acting. The depth of character that Donald and Quinn bring to the stage takes the whole performance to another level. The interaction between the geeky, innocent, yet anxious Brian and snarky, sarcastic Alex hiding his fear of feeling like an outsider forever is poignant. The other Dundee Rep performers play live music at the side of the stage while also jumping in as additional characters, including a Harry Potter-esque Mr Olivander occupied with surfboards rather than wands, to provide comedy or add to the narrative.  

The road trip is often employed in media to symbolize the growth of a character, and the metaphor of the map to show the importance of choosing your own journey and destination is a common one too. Although Passing Places brings a new image into the mix, “Zen aka the art of single track roads,” the whole theme is perhaps slightly overdone. Whilst the narrative is slightly weak at points, the comedy and music, hauntingly real characters, and excellent writing touching on belonging, working-class roots, and trauma ensure Passing Places is turned into something more than the sum of its parts. A fast-paced laugh-out-loud, yet touching story of Scotland.

[Aike Jansen]

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