Edinburgh Festival Fringe: There are many stories about the politics of identity on this year’s Fringe, from reflections on black power and rage to powerful attempts to understand new, violent identities shaped by internet imagery.
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
Northern Stage@Summerhall (Venue 26)
No part of our identity, though, lies deeper than gender; and as the young Egyptian-born Glaswegian Adam Kashmiry points out, the idea that everyone is either a he or a she is often embedded in the very texture of language, not least in his own Arabic mother tongue.
It’s therefore hardly surprising that transgender experience is one of the key themes of this year’s Fringe, as this most ostracised of minorities finally raises its voice; and the National Theatre of Scotland celebrates two of those journeys in its twin shows Adam and Eve, at the Traverse.
For Adam, in the big space of Traverse 1, director Cora Bissett whips Adam Kashmiry’s story into 80 minutes of high-energy and often spectacular theatre, following his life from a troubled childhood in Alexandria to the lonely hell of his first 18 months in Glasgow, constantly rejected for refugee status, and starving himself to afford expensive testosterone ordered over the internet.
Performed by Adam Kashmiry himself with a superb Neshla Caplan – who sometimes plays his mother, and most often the other half of Adam himself – the show plays out against a whirlwind backdrop of images, not least the climactic moment when, as a miserable, desperately conflicted teenager in Alexandria, Adam first types his feelings into his laptop search engine, and suddenly hears the voices of transgender people from across the world, like a great choir singing out to affirm his identity, and urge him on.
All of this is captured with terrific power and pace in Jack Henry James’s projections, Garry Boyle’s sound design, and Jocelyn Pook’s heart-stirring score; but in the end, the great roar of applause is for Adam Kashmiry himself, for the mighty journey he has made in his first 25 years, and for all that lies ahead of him now.
In Traverse 2, meanwhile, leading Scottish playwright Jo Clifford tells in Eve of a journey much longer and perhaps even more complex; but does so in a quieter theatrical style, more like a passionate illustrated lecture than a piece of solo drama.
In a surging, sometimes angry sequence of projected photographs and powerful language, with haunting music and sound by Chris Goode and Matt Padden, Clifford delivers the 70-minute story of a life that has lasted almost as many years, looping around, in what she calls the “vertical time” of theatre, from her birth into a profoundly undemonstrative upper-middle class English family in the early 1950s, through miserable years at boarding school, to an adult life lived as a husband, father, and playwright, until in middle age she felt able to move decisively towards her inner female identity.
It’s a story that is gradually becoming more familiar in this decade; but Jo Clifford is one of its great trail-blazers, and to hear her own history, in her own voice, is a privilege, as well as a tremendously moving experience.
And at Summerhall, finally, in You’ve Changed Kate O’Donnell tells the tale of her transition over the last 14 years, with the easy humour of an entertainer who was once, for a while, the drag queen Angel Valentine.
Dressed in the tailcoat and white tie of an Edwardian female impersonator, O’Donnell pays visual tribute to the long history of transgender longings, while telling the story of an apparently gay northern lad who finally realised he wanted to be a woman.
And if the text is marred by wildly inaccurate assertions about the history of trans experience in Britain, and by some unprocessed high-camp fantasy awkwardly brought to life, it still reflects the same passion for freedom that makes the journey of trans-gender people an inspiration to all those who strive to be what they were born to be, and who will never take “impossible” for an answer.
Adam until 27 August, today 10pm. Eve until 27 August, today 3:45pm. You’ve Changed until 26 August, today 8:30pm.