As with any road trip the journey is more important than the destination. In Stephen Greenhorn’s 1997 play, the journey of two underachieving lads from Motherwell to the highlands has a transformative effect.
Alex has a dead-end job working for local gangster Binks, selling sports gear to neds. His best mate Brian is a clever but unemployed Mummy’s Boy. When Binks unfairly sacks Alex, the boys take revenge by stealing his surfboard from the shop and heading to the ‘Honolulu of the North’, Thurso. It’s a journey neither would have taken were it not for Binks’ threats against Alex’s kneecaps. On the run, Brian soaks up the history and beauty of the highlands, but Alex is resistant, until they meet beautiful free-spirit Mirren and her hippy friends…
Director Andrew Panton’s 21st Anniversary revival of Passing Places is an energetic and hilarious romp, but he successfully draws out the more poignant contrasts: the streetwise characters are at a loss in the countryside, while naive Brian and idealist Mirren feel at home there; when Mirren argues with her estranged father, Alex notes that, having finally got home, she can’t wait to leave; insane Binks’ meets his match in a pseudo-mystic surfer dude.
The cast are uniformly good (and do a fine job doubling-up as the house band) but it is John Kielty who has the most fun, playing the succession of eccentric characters Binks encounters (and insults) as he races to Thurso in hot pursuit of his surfboard. The script is peppered with great one-liners that illustrate more poetic truths: stunned by the beauty of the scenery, cynical Alex says “if this beach had bouncers, they wouldn’t let me in”.
The comedy is broad – Binks regularly seeks guidance from the ghost of his twin brother Ron, for instance – but is interspersed with homespun wisdom that gives the play depth. This mix of cartoonish and spiritual is embodied by Becky Minto’s deceptively simple set – a great tsunami of tarmac curving way up and out, constantly on the verge of crashing over the audience.
By the play’s end our protagonists have literally broadened their horizons. Reaching their destination was only the start of their journey.
Photos courtesy of Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
Passing Places runs at Dundee Rep until 5 May, and then at Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, from 8-12 May