Dis­con­cert­ing prophe­cies and trans­gen­der jour­neys

Sunday Herald Life - - THEATRE REVIEWS - Cor­rec­tion: Last week’s re­view of the play Nas­sim stated in­cor­rectly that play­wright Nas­sim Soleiman­pour is liv­ing in ex­ile. While he does cur­rently live in Berlin, the drama­tist is free to re­turn home to Iran, and does so of­ten. Re­viewed by Mark Brown

EUROPE Pit­lochry Fes­ti­val Theatre Var­i­ous dates un­til Oc­to­ber 13

ADAM Seen at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh; trans­fer­ring to Mac­robert Arts Cen­tre, Stir­ling, September 5-6, and Cit­i­zens Theatre, Glas­gow, September 13-16

EVE Seen at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh; trans­fer­ring to Cit­i­zens Theatre, Glas­gow, September 14-16

SOME of the re­cent pro­gram­ming in Scot­tish theatre has been distinctly counter-in­tu­itive. Last month, Edinburgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Fer­gus Line­han (who has fur­nished us with outré works by the likes of Forced Entertainment and Martin Creed) raised eye­brows by pre­sent­ing the world pre­miere of the pre­dictably dull two-parter The Di­vide, by the high priest of English nat­u­ral­ism Alan Ay­ck­bourn.

Now, equally sur­pris­ingly, Pit­lochry Fes­ti­val Theatre (which has long pro­vided a Scot­tish home to the dra­mas of Ay­ck­bourn and his the­atri­cal fore­bears) is stag­ing Scots play­wright David Greig’s early work, Europe. True, PFT staged Greig’s play Pyre­nees a cou­ple of years back, but some of the char­ac­ters in Europe use an “in­dus­trial” lan­guage that is never heard in the draw­ing room come­dies and mu­si­cals for which the Perthshire play­house is best known.

Set in a sym­bol­i­cally de­funct rail­way sta­tion in post-Soviet Mit­teleu­ropa, Greig’s 1994 piece is dis­con­cert­ingly prophetic. Refugees (pre­sum­ably from the wars in for­mer Yu­goslavia) be­come the light­ning con­duc­tor for the re­sent­ments of dis­grun­tled, newly un­em­ployed young men who are ripe for fas­cism.

As re­cently job­less Berlin and Horse em­brace the mind­less cer­tain­ties of vi­o­lent xeno­pho­bia, Adele (Berlin’s bit­terly es­tranged wife) seeks sal­va­tion in the per­ceived cos­mopoli­tanism of young refugee Ka­tia.

Europe is a thought­ful play of ideas by a young play­wright. It is se­ri­ous, hu­mane and chal­leng­ingly slow-burn­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, di­rec­tor John Durnin never quite finds the spark needed to bring it to life.

Partly, this is down to the con­sid­er­able vari­able­ness of the cast. There are strong per­for­mances from Joanna Lu­cas as the trauma-hard­ened Ka­tia and the ever ex­cel­lent Alan Steele, who plays bereft sta­tion mas­ter Fret with depth and soul.

How­ever, other per­for­mances dis­ap­point. Cameron John­son, in par­tic­u­lar, is sim­ply mis­cast as the town’s favourite son, Morocco, a man who has en­riched him­self in the “im­port-ex­port” pos­si­bil­i­ties pro­vided by the new bor­ders of Europe. The ac­tor lacks the char­ac­ter’s cut-throat Thatcherism and his sin­is­ter sex­ual op­por­tunism.

Designer Becky Minto’s hy­per-re­al­is­tic rail sta­tion set is con­vinc­ing and de­cep­tively util­i­tar­ian. How­ever, it is not built to with­stand the im­pact of John­son fall­ing against it, which he did dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s mati­nee.

Ray­mond Short, cred­ited in the pro­gramme as “fight di­rec­tor”, has cre­ated a woe­ful ren­der­ing of what should be a sick­en­ing racist at­tack. It is sim­ply one of the sil­li­est pieces of stage vi­o­lence I have ever seen.

From a play about a con­ti­nent in change to a pair of dra­mas, pre­miered on the Edinburgh Fringe by the Na­tional Theatre of Scot­land, about much more per­sonal forms of tran­si­tion. Adam by Frances Poet tells the true story of Adam Kash­miry, a young trans­sex­ual man from Egypt who has made his home here in Scot­land.

The drama traces two ar­du­ous jour­neys, one from fe­male to male, the other across con­ti­nents and through the un­remit­tingly se­vere Bri­tish im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem. Di­rec­tor Cora Bis­sett’s pro­duc­tion is made even more com­pelling by the fact the ti­tle char­ac­ter is played, in large part, by Kash­miry him­self (with as­sis­tance from the ex­cel­lent Neshla Ca­plan). In­deed, so in­trigu­ing is the play that rock star Nick Cave turned up in the au­di­ence to­wards the end of the Edinburgh run.

Al­though it is os­ten­si­bly a piece of au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal sto­ry­telling, Poet’s sharp, clean script is peo­pled with char­ac­ters who re­quire per­for­mance by Kash­miry (who is mak­ing his pro­fes­sional de­but as an ac­tor) and Ca­plan. The tale is, by turns, dis­tress­ing, en­rag­ing and deeply mov­ing; not least in Kash­miry’s in­ter­ac­tion with his mother (played by Myr­iam Achkari), as if in an on­line video link to Egypt.

The in­te­gra­tion of video with live theatre is an area in which Bis­sett is un­usu­ally skilled. Work­ing with pro­jec­tion designer Jack Henry James, she of­fers truly re­mark­able video of the in­ter­na­tional trans­gen­der and non-bi­nary singers of the Adam World Choir.

Eve, Adam’s com­pan­ion piece, is a more mod­est work of au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal nar­ra­tion. Scot­land-based drama­tist Jo Clif­ford has worked in theatre as both a male author, John Clif­ford, and, lat­terly, as a trans woman. Here, in a text she has writ­ten with play­wright Chris Goode, Clif­ford delves into her past, from be­ing sent away to board­ing school as a young boy, through a lov­ing mar­riage to Susie, who loved John and strug­gled with his un­de­ni­able sense of him­self as a woman.

The piece is ad­mirable in its emo­tional frank­ness. Clif­ford talks af­fect­ingly about the few school friends who helped boy who knew he was a girl, avoid sui­cide, and about the kind­ness, in more re­cent times, of the waiter who, shortly af­ter she tran­si­tioned to wo­man­hood, called her “madam”.

Ac­com­pa­nied by oc­ca­sional, emo­tive mu­sic and il­lus­tra­tive pho­to­graphs from Clif­ford’s past, Eve is sim­ple, emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing sto­ry­telling. As in the past, Clif­ford’s per­for­mance in­volves a gen­tle, lulling tone that is rem­i­nis­cent of a lib­eral Angli­can vicar. I can’t help but wish she would vary it some­what.

Along with the ex­e­crable Wild Bore (a self-sat­is­fied and shal­low at­tack on crit­ics with fem­i­nist and trans con­cerns clum­sily tagged on), Adam and Eve com­pleted a trio of plays at the Traverse dur­ing last month’s Fringe which in­cluded trans per­form­ers. We will know we’ve re­ally made progress when trans artists can come to the Fes­ti­val sim­ply as artists, with­out the need to fore­ground the strug­gle against trans op­pres­sion.

Pho­to­graph: Dou­glas McBride

Pit­lochry Theatre’s stag­ing of Europe, a thought­ful and prophetic play by David Greig

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