One of the most powerful and boldest pieces of trans theatre to date, Adam leaves you gloriously punchdrunk and winded.
Adam was born a girl in Egypt. After trying to come to terms with who they are, they realise that they could be killed for being themselves or loving the wrong person. Fleeing to the UK as a refugee and finding themselves stuck in a small bedsit, Adam has to find a way to prove he’s a man.
That National Theatre of Scotland bring a double bill of trans theatre to the Edinburgh Fringe, with FTM (female to male) story Adam and MTF (male to female) show Eve. I think it’s incredible that theatres as so willing to tell trans stories to audiences these day. They are stories about humanity that need to be heard, not just because they challenge perceptions of trans and transitioning in a world still rife with rank transphobia, but because they are also powerful. Adam is an incredibly powerful show that not just demands your attention but grabs it.
Being trans is tough as it is already. I have trans friends and colleagues and stand with them completely, constantly listening to their stories and supporting their struggles. Whilst I can never fully empathise (my curse/privilege as a cis male) I’m fully aware of the shitshow trans people have to put up with. But what if trans wasn’t the only thing you have to deal with? What if fleeing your home country and throwing yourself at the mercy of an asylum claim that hinged on your gender was also something you had to do?
Adam, though written by Frances Poet, is based on the true events of Adam Kashmiry. As well as coming to terms with their gender, Kashmiry also had to be put through the mill of fleeing persecution in Egypt and claiming asylum in the UK as a trans man. Kashmiry’s true life story is intense and full of rightful anger and ignominy as their ordeal is, frankly, hellish. Yet, Adam is the gritful and triumphant epic that deserves to be bellowed out into the world as a death-note to injustice and transphobia.
Poet’s treatment of Kashmiry’s plight is not just a revel in the sound and fury of such indignity, fear, and humiliation, but provides an incredibly intelligent exploration that seeps into the very foundations of Adam. There are insightful and ingenious devices and imagery that Poet uses throughout Adam that really pulls you into Kashmiry’s world and struggle. There’s beautiful narrative arcs such as: the ancient Egyptian idea of the soul having two parts, the really clever play with English, and the Arab Spring uprising being used a parallel Kashmiry’s struggle in the UK. It’s all incredibly deft and vastly edifying as a piece of theatre.
My only criticism is that sometimes these devices are just a tad too theatrical. That’s by no means to say that they don’t work and/or labour the play. But it’s that it because of these Adam sometimes doesn’t quite tap into the detail and depth that is as straightforward and human that you desperately want at some points. It’s such a conundrum. Poets’ approach makes us deeply care about Kashmiry by leading us down very clever avenues to help us understand and connect with the story. But at the same time this distances us from a more personal and deeper exploration. It’s such an odd criticism to make, and even odder that because of this I’ve made the decision to take a star off the rating. But despite being moved to utter tears at several points in Adam and being so involved in the play throughout, I can’t quite ignore the frustration that I wanted to know Kashmiry deeper as a person rather than becoming too immersed in the very clever writing that frames Adam.
Direction & Production
The one thing I really want to mention about this area is the use of the Adam World Choir singing music especially written by Jocelyn Pook. The inclusion of this global choir of trans and no-binary individuals really garnishes the enormity of Kashmiry’s story. It also packs one hell of an emotive punch.
I can’t quite get over that Kashmiry is performing their own story. I can’t fathom the courage it takes to do this, although it’s clearly spurred by the desire to share such a phenomenal tale. But Adam is all the better for it because it is Kashmiry’s story after all, and who better to tell it with sincerity and truth than Kashmiry themselves. Regardless, Kashmiry also gives a blinding performance. It’s captivating, entrancing, and alluring, made all the more so because it’s so true. Furthermore, the fact Kashmiry’s actual mother has incredibly agreed to be a part of Adam makes the show all the more barnstorming. This is a real, living story, and this is absolutely how real, living stories should be performed.
I dare you not to be bowled over by the enormous power of Adam. A truly landmark and monolithic piece of trans theatre.