A road movie, according to Wikipedia, is “a film genre in which the main characters leave home on a road trip,” during which “the hero changes, grows or improves over the course of the story”. While its literary roots can be traced back to epics as old as The Odyssey and The Aeneid, it’s not the most common theatrical form, not least because multiple locations are more challenging to create within a singular performance space.
Potentially Scotland’s greatest as-yet-undiscovered Dame
It’s certainly not impossible, however, as this lively Dundee Rep revival of Stephen Greenhorn's “road movie for the stage” proves. Originally premiered at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in 1997, Passing Places reaches its 21st birthday (once upon a time, the age of adult responsibility) in fine form. Yes, it occasionally betrays itself as a period piece, with references to Safeway supermarkets and Kate Adie (but with absolutely nothing said about the strength, or otherwise, of WiFi across the Scottish Highlands and islands). Yet in its focus on two young men trying to find somewhere they feel they belong, it’s timeless.
Alex (Ewan Donald) and Brian (Martin Quinn) are our central characters here; desperate to escape from their hometown of Motherwell – “nothing but shoe shops and Burger Kings,” according to Alex – they do a runner with a state-of-the-art surfboard and head north in a clapped out Lada. Unfortunately, the board belongs to Binks (Barrie Hunter), Alex’s psychopathic gangster boss, who’s soon hot on their heels as the lads head north for Thurso, where the surf is up all year round. En route they’re joined by free-spirit Mirren (Eleanor House), and encounter a succession of life-changing experiences.
These provide the ensemble cast numerous opportunities to outline some broad comedy; Greenhorn is no slouch when it comes to one-liners. This is particularly so for John Kielty, who on this evidence is potentially Scotland’s greatest as-yet-undiscovered Dame. Taqi Nazeer and Emily Winter skilfully delineate their succession of characters with some surprisingly subtle physical and vocal mannerisms – when not aiding Kielty in providing the live musical soundscape, off-stage. Meantime, Becky Minto’s set – fundamentally a false perspective road rising into the darkness – offers an expansive backdrop for a succession of locations conjured up in words and lighting.
Though difficult to feel any tension in Binks’s on-off pursuit, director Andrew Panton nevertheless ensures a lively pace, and has cast extremely well. House imbues Mirren with a genuine sense of humour, while Hunter – though dangerously funny – never completely breaks the tone. Quinn and Donald successfully take on the challenges of their characters, ensuring that when the lights go down, we’re genuinely pleased that both have gained some understanding of where they belong.