Since its inception in 2006, the National Theatre for Scotland has produced some extraordinary plays, winning worldwide acclaim for the likes of Black Watch by Gregory Burke and Rona Munro’s James trilogy. Now, with Frances Poet’s Adam, it appears to have another gem on its hands.

The play tells the story of Adam, who grew up in Egypt as a girl, knowing from a very young age that he had been born into the wrong gender. It opens with a shocking image of a knife held against a naked breast and then unspools back through the years to show us the struggle that has led to this act of desperation.

Any deviation from strictly enforced norms is dangerous in a conservative society, and as Adam begins to realise who he is, he is forced out of his job; worse is being shunned by his family. Soon, though, with his life at risk, fleeing the country is the only option. It’s only as an asylum seeker in Scotland, and inspired by the Arab Spring revolution, that he finally finds salvation.

Adam Kashmiry (whose remarkable true story this is) and Neshla Caplan play Glasgow Adam and Egyptian Adam respectively – before and after. They make a superb double act, mirroring one another physically and emotionally, recalling events from different perspectives, arguing the toss and reminding each other of uncomfortable truths. The script is witty and profound, as it should be in a play where the power of language – to define, to condemn, to tell the truth – is a key theme.

It’s all played out on Emily James’s ingenious set, whose seemingly straightforward surface conceals plenty of secrets, with a haunting score that captures all the pain and joy of Adam’s journey.

Words: Judy Diamond

Picture: Monteith Hodge

Adam, Traverse Theatre, 6–27 August (not 14, 21), times vary

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