The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.
Adam (Drama, Edinburgh Festival) 28.08.17
This was a slick, creative piece of theatre, inventive in its use of characterisation, stage and language. The duality of particular words is turned into a key recurring theme, and language itself – English compared with Arabic – is explored in relation to gender. As I left the theatre, having been part of the standing ovation in a steep, darkly lit auditorium, I reflected on how the mechanics of the play were its brilliant strength. Its actors too throw themselves into their parts, the former asylum seeker Adam Kashmiry immersing himself into his life story, while Neshla Caplan brings the professional versatility to allow the many character switches to work.
So why do I feel like this wasn't quite as good as it could have been? A moment arises towards the end of Adam, when a transitioned Adam talks to his real-life mother via skype. This felt like the first genuine dramatic conflict to me: the tears in the mother's eyes on seeing the person she knew and loved as her daughter speaking with a stubble and a deeper voice. The mother asks: what have you done to yourself? The shock is palpable, and suddenly this drama is no one-sided exposure of the challenges of being a transitioning asylum seeker. There are suddenly other voices involved, ones you empathise with.
How I wish this production or any of the ones I've seen in Edinburgh this summer did more of this. At the end of Adam, we get a video chorus of what looks like a hundred or more trans people online. It is the political zenith of the play's message: that trans people exist and are many. As one reviewer says, it packs 'one hell of a punch.'
But not for me, not this politicized ending of We Are Many. Perhaps because I am trans, and am looking for something more than the political vindication, I wanted the complex mess that I've experienced. I wanted to see the perspectives of others, those who are hurt and damaged by the transition. Why? Because those voices mean so much when you're transitioning, and it's wrong to imagine they don't matter. They fuck you up, and rip you apart in a clash of loyalties between yourself and those who love you. It is this traumatic tearing apart that is most painful of all when being trans, and that minute-long skype conversation apart, it's what's been missing in all the plays I've seen this summer. The agony of being trans is not the medical aspect or the public toilets: it's the loving voices that beg you to stop.Adam, to conclude, has come closest to exploring those alternative voices, and it is courageous theatre-making all round. But I hope it's the tip of the ice-berg in dramatic explorations of what it is to be trans, and the ambiguities and inner-conflict that come with it.