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Theatre Review Black lives matter little

That's the conclusion to be drawn from Antoinette Nwandu's blistering assault on US racism, says MAYER WAKEFIELD

Pass Over
Kiln Theatre, London

“IT COULD be worse. We could be dead.”

There is little to cling onto in the world that Moses and Kitch, the central characters in Antoinette Nwandu’s startling diatribe, reside.

Whether the street corner they inhabit is in Chicago, Atlanta or possibly Ferguson, Missouri, is not exactly clear. But Pass Over's almighty message most definitely is.

Nwandu’s text is a riff on Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in which the two poor and isolated young black men trade barbs and share dreams of getting “off the block.”

Where Moses (Paapa Essiedu) has plans, Kitch (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) follows. But, with no means to fulfil those dreams, they have little more to do than perform overly elaborate handshake routines and reel off their “promised land top tens” – fantasy lists of consumer products.

Yet every moment of childish playfulness has the looming, omnipresent threat of police brutality hanging over it. Just the night before, Dread Ed “got smoked by the po-po.”

So when Mister (Alexander Eliot) arrives “all turned around” with an all-American picnic hamper and highfalutin “golly gee” expressions they are not sure how to respond to him. Is he a cop or a Mormon?

The exchange that follows is a microcosm for the long history of injustice suffered by black Americans, including a compelling discussion on the use of the n-word, which must be uttered over 200 times during the evening.

When Eliot returns as Ossifer, a cop very much in the mould of those who murdered Michael Brown, Tamir Rice or countless other black men, the logical conclusion seems all too predictable. Luckily, the heavens intervene. But not for eternity.

There is something slightly prosaic about the heavy symbolism – apple pie, guns and WWE wrestling – and biblical references, not least in the heavily referenced title, but Indhu Rubasingham’s production nevertheless packs a brutal punch.

The Kiln’s artistic director gives just the right amount of space to every individual moment, allowing the three performers to flourish without drifting into cliche. Eustache Jnr delivers a particularly astounding performance as Kitch, managing to seamlessly flip between wistful and impulsive.

With distant echoes of Marita Bonner and Gil Scott-Heron sounding through Nwandu’s poetic prose, Pass Over is a righteous cry of anger against the age-old tradition of state-sanctioned violence against black Americans.

Runs until March 21, box office: kilntheatre.com

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