Sometimes it takes a while for the title of a play to register its significance, but this was not the case for Martin Sherman’s Passing By. The nature of Toby and Simon’s relationship was immediately exposed, as they found themselves ill with hepatitis together in Toby’s apartment. A chance encounter where they slept together led to an inter-dependent friendship and relationship between the two, where they spent their time wallowing in their weaknesses and succumbing to their temporary ill-fates.
In a world of plays that are often too clever for their own good, the element of plain honesty was a refreshing touch. It is a shame that some directors seem to be forgetting the audience in the process on their work; after all, theatre is a form of entertainment – it must seek to entertain and inspire. Having said that, when it comes to Passing By, I adored every minute. It wasn’t a story of romanticised passion, nor did it attempt to challenge our understanding of love: rather, it re-affirmed it. It was realistic and didn’t force any opinion upon the audience. By producing this play in 2012, this creative team have fulfilled playwright’s Martin Sherman’s desire for the play to be received in a “healthier atmosphere in which it can be properly received.” Homosexuality, after all, was still illegal in 1975 when the notorious Gay Sweatshop Company originally performed it.
The two actors were Alex Felton who played Simon and Steven Webb who played Toby. The ease with which they fell in love on stage strongly suggests a fantastic creative working relationship with their director, Andrew Keates, who has revived the play after it has lain dormant since 1983. Steven Webb was poignantly pathetic and yet managed to concurrently exude a sense of stability for the ever pampered Simon. While Felton was flawless in his performance of Simon, Webb’s character moved the audience in a way that Felton’s character didn’t allow him too. It was Toby who made us laugh and cry, while Simon was a canvas for Toby’s affections to be laid upon.
The set, designed by Phillip Lindley, along with the lighting, costume and sound (Miguel Vicente, Philippa Batt and Fred Riding) didn’t try to show off or say too much, just like the performance. It represented their lives and circumstances for what they were – deliciously normal.
Sherman’s intentions were to create a “gentle, romantic and loving encounter between two men”, and under Keates’ direction, this play has certainly achieved this. It casts homosexuality in a sublimely soft light, in which judgement doesn’t even come in to play. The fact is, it’s not a problem and should never have been. With the added advantage of the Finborough’s upstairs theatre, this play is a real success with masses of insight to offer as well as an enjoyable evening.
Passing By is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 25 September. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.