Adam at the Battersea Arts Centre : ‘a truthful simplicity’

Alberto Tondello reviews this true story of a young trans man as part of the Battersea Arts Centre’s Phoenix Season.

After a sold-out performance at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, Adam Kashmiry’s story arrives at Battersea Arts Centre, to be performed for eleven days only in the recently re-opened Grand Hall. Produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and directed by Cora Bissett, the performance retraces an incredible journey from Egypt to Glasgow, from being a woman to being a man. Put in these terms, the process of self-exile and gender transition might seem linear and straightforward, setting the two terms —Egypt/Glasgow, man/woman — at the opposite end of a spectrum. “Adam”asksthe audienceto go beyond a simple polarity of terms, as it shows how the journey from one own’s country and birth-sex can be far more intricate and nuanced.

Adam Kashmiry and Rehanna MacDonald in Adam. Photograph: Eoin Carey

From the very beginning, Adam admits to be fascinated by words such as “screen”, or “bound”, or “finish”.Words in which different and often contrasting meanings co-exist, much in the same way as Egypt and Glasgow, male and female character, private and public struggles share a space in Adam’s journey. While following the chronological unfolding of events, Adam’s story keeps jumping from his life in Egypt to the present moment, from a girl who feels that her soul is trapped in the wrong body, to a man who can confidently assert himself and feel right in his skin.

The character of Adam is simultaneously played by Adam Kashmiry himself and by Rehanna MacDonald, the only other actor on stage during the eightyminutes of the performance. At timesslightly confusing, the sharing of a character by two actors beautifully portrays the complexities of an individual, and allowsthemto embody intimate doubts and inner conversations on stage. The public and the private spheres also coexist in the play. As he is trapped for 700 days in a claustrophobic room in Glasgow, Adam follows the developments of the Arab Spring, bringing together the individual struggle of gaining asylumwith the collective struggle of apeople.

Rehanna MacDonald in Adam. Photograph: Eoin Carey

The show gains its power from such nuances, regrettably mixed with too overtly emotional or dramatic moments. While the eagerness with which Adam’s experience wants to be told is understandable and laudable, some overused statements clash with the intimate sincerity of the story. The vehemence of spoken words could sometimes have been replaced by the powerful physicality of the body. The symmetrical movements of Adam and Rehanna, the eyes of Adam’s father, projected at one point on the background screen, or Adam’s slow walk to the front of the stage felt particularly authentic, and much more poignant than the cliched mosaic of pictures representing different transgender people zooming out in the background.

Overall, the performance manages to maintain a truthful simplicity. Props and settings appear and disappear from the grey panels which composed the stage, supporting the narration of the story without being of any hindrance to it. Moving swiftly from touching childhood memories with his mum, to the first period of a teenage girl; from being mistakenly labeled a lesbian to be beaten in the streets of Alexandria and rejected from his own house for dressing like a man,  Adam’s story manages to have pervasive resonances. While it might not amaze as a piece of theatrical performance – the piece sometimes falls into unoriginal scenes one has the impression of having seen before – such a remarkable human tale deserves to be heard. Adamgives occasions to reflect on a wide range of timely issues spanning from abuse to the difficulties faced by transgender people, to the absurdity of bureaucracy in dealing with refugees. One cannot but feel grateful that a story like Adam’s is being shared.


Adam will play at the Battersea Arts Centre until the 29th September, 2018.

Feature photograph: Eoin Carey

Alberto Tondello arrived in the UK in 2010 to undertake his studies in English Literature. He graduated from Queen Mary, University of London in 2013, and was awarded his MA from Oxford University in 2014 with a comparative project on Samuel Beckett and Italo Calvino. After teaching English in Switzerland for three years, Alberto is back in the UK to work on James Joyce and inanimate matter at UCL.

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