Disconcerting prophecies and transgender journeys
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.
Pitlochry Theatre’s staging of Europe, a thoughtful and prophetic play by David Greig