Review: Adam – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 9 2017

Three Stars

So much happens in this new show from the National Theatre of Scotland that it seems impossible that it only runs for 75 minutes. A loose companion piece to Jo Clifford’s Eve, which also debuts as part of this year’s Traverse festival programme, Adam charts an Egyptian transgender man’s early life, including his experience of homelessness, abuse, mental illness and self-harm, before he is reborn – in every sense – at the age of nineteen, in Scotland.

In Cora Bissett’s assured, fluid production, the title character is played both by the real-life Adam Kashmiry (on whose story the piece is based) and Neshla Caplan. The attractive, emotionally open youth buttonholes us and invites our confidence in the show’s intimate opening moments. Can the soul of a man live in the body of a woman and vice versa? As Adam notes: in Arabic, words are either masculine or feminine, precluding nuance. “It is a language that likes things to be one thing or another,” he says.

1. Adam Kashmiry and Neshla Caplan. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge

Pic: Dan Monteith-Hodge

The script, written by Frances Poet, sets Adam’s transition from girl to boy and from one continent to another alongside key events from the Egyptian Revolution, which, watched by the young man up close and from afar, has the effect of heightening and compounding his personal torment.

8 Neshla Caplan and Adam Kashmiry. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge

Pic: Dan Monteith-Hodge

Despite the harrowing nature of some of its content, Bissett’s delicate handling of the material, and the engaging performances, means that we are never left to wallow in misery. The multifaceted story wears its themes of change, regeneration and survival against the odds lightly, even if it is let down at times by Poet’s script: a frustrating mix of lyricism with clichés and platitudes. The action seems to peter out towards the end, falling back a little on sentimentality, but the final moments, in which a 120-strong chorus of trans people from around the world affirms Adam’s journey of self-discovery supplies the piece with a truly transcendent denouement.

 

Box office: 0131 228 1404, to August 28

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