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Passing By, Finborough Theatre

Martin Sherman
Directed by Andrew Keates
★★★★

Pros: Top class writing and charming performances make for a very enjoyable evening.

Cons: A few rough bits but nothing too bad.

Our Verdict: Another great production from the Finborough.

Courtesy of the Finborough Theatre

We have a certain fondness for the Finborough here at Everything Theatre. It has produced some truly remarkable work in recent years and as a result this cozy fringe venue regularly sells out faster than many big name West End shows. This very enjoyable and timely revival of Martin Sherman’s 1970s romcom Passing By is no different. Sherman is probably best known for his Pulitzer and Tony award nominated play Bent, a drama exploring the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. Passing By was also written around the same time and although it explores comparatively lighter themes, it still remains revolutionary, even by today’s standards.

Passing By is the story of Toby (Steven Webb) and Simon (Alex Felton) who have a one night stand which turns out not to be a one night stand, if you follow. The chemistry is immediately palpable and the many coy, loving glances woven in and around Sherman’s witty, romantic dialogue work very well indeed. Alex Felton brings real warmth to the character of Simon, turning his flaws into sweet foibles, and the scene where he drunkenly describes his unsuccessful and oddly hilarious suicide attempt garnered some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Steven Webb is a solid comedic actor and his innate timing is quite remarkable. He adds a number of very interesting little nuances to Toby making the slightly neurotic hypochondriac very lovable indeed. An American audience member told me in the bar after the show that his US accent was spot on (I believe the approval of a native is always the true test of such things). Webb delivers big laughs aplenty but also brings great depth to the more serious moments, particularly towards the end.

The costumes were perfect for the characters and very convincing for the time period. How the costume department managed to get a bunch of authentic-looking 1970s costumes together without making the actors look like modern day hipsters I’ll never know but they succeed wonderfully. The set was very credible too. I felt like I was looking in on a real studio apartment in 1970s New York. The occasional sound of 70s TV talk-show hosts both in the background and in between scenes added to this authenticity and cleverly allowed for smooth transitions from scene to scene. Some very smart direction from Andrew Keates allows this production to really come together nicely allowing the audience to slip easily into their world.

My one real quibble is that during the climactic scene, I could barely hear what the actors were saying as a song was blasting out from the vinyl player behind them, almost completely drowning them out. I understood why the song was playing and its importance to the scene but I couldn’t understand why it was overpowering Sherman’s fantastic dialogue during the most moving part of the show. However, apart than this one thing and a couple of very minor line fluffs (to be expected so early in a show’s run), it really is hard to find fault with this production.

Plays which explore gay relationships in a realistic and unclichéd way can be surprisingly hard to find. Passing By is an exception. There is not one single Judy Garland reference in here. In fact, the words gay or homosexual are never even mentioned. Considering the recent developments surrounding civil partnerships and gay marriage, there is no better time to highlight love stories such as this one. I can’t help but wonder why there isn’t more of this kind of thing on stage nowadays. Perhaps this is the start of a change. I do hope so.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Passing By runs at the Finborough Theatre until 25th September 2012.
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or book online at http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2012/production-passing-by.php

About Everything Theatre

Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.