Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“If you are born in a country where being yourself can get you killed, exile is your only choice. Adam is the remarkable, true story of a young trans man having to make that choice and begin his journey. From Egypt to Scotland, it charts Adam’s fight across borders and genders to find a place to call home. In a world first, Adam features a 120-strong international world choir of trans individuals from across the globe which has been uniquely integrated into this remarkable multimedia production.”
A haunting Arabic lament plays at the beginning of Adam, a new play by Frances Poet based on the real-life experiences of Adam Kashmiry who also makes his debut theatrical performance in this production. As the music plays, his co-performer Neshla Caplan, playing one facet of Adam, holds a knife to her breast.
This dramatic opening introduces us to the story of Adam and the binary nature of this non-binary story. Dual themes both duel with, and compliment, each other – the Egyptian Adam versus the Glasgow Adam raising questions of cultural identity for those forced to leave home, the female bodied Adam and the male bodied Adam debating gender identity, and the scripted Adam versus the “real” Adam both present before us inviting us to wonder how much of voice of this play is Poet’s and how much is Kashmiry’s.
Kashmiry and Caplan play a range of characters as they tell the story of an Egyptian childhood – mummy’s little “princess” who hated wearing dresses and tried to pee standing up becomes a teenager whose tentative encounter with first love has terrible consequences in a society where homosexual acts in public are illegal. Knowing that they cannot live as themselves in Egypt, Adam moves to Scotland and claims asylum – a long, drawn out process which highlights the shameful lack of support for asylum seekers in this country. The claustrophobia, paranoia and boredom of being confined to a tiny flat in Glasgow with only £35 to live on per week as well as the unsympathetic Home Office Representative and GP are painful to watch. Complicating this already difficult situation are the elation and then distress over news from home of the failed revolution.
Cora Bissett’s beautifully directed production employs a clever use of projection (thanks to designer Jack Henry James) to support the narrative. The huge projection screen is made good use of throughout, particularly to feature the Adam World Choir, a digital choir of transgender and non-binary people located throughout the world. The introduction of this choir is a much-needed reminder that neither Adam nor indeed any of the rest of us is truly alone in our experiences, as well as the fact that the internet can indeed be host to positive message and communities.
The performances are strong and engaging, and the writing clever, with recurring motifs relating to the construction of language itself. However, the production is almost too well crafted, losing some of the raw authenticity that no doubt informed Kashmiry’s first telling of his story at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow. Knowing this is a true story is what gives it such enormous impact, and the neat tying up of the tale in a bow doesn’t quite align with what we know real life is like, even though it is theatrically satisfying to have a happy ending.
That being said, this is still a powerful, gorgeous retelling of Kashmiri’s fascinating and troubling young life. If you have missed it this Fringe, hopefully this highly recommended production will tour.