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Edinburgh review: Adam (Traverse Theatre)

Adam Kashmiry uses his life story to highlight the difficulties of trans experiences

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Adam Kashmiry and Neshla Caplan in Adam at the Traverse Theatre
© David Monteith-Hodge

In Arabic, you cannot say "I love you" without referencing the gender of the object of affection. Adam tells the real story of Adam Kashmiry, who plays himself: a young transgender man, he fled Egypt for Glasgow, wanting to live as a man instead of a woman. It is not an easy journey, but this is a big-hearted, moving show that explores both the human urgency of living your truth and the cost of that transformation. Will his mother ever be able to say "I love you?" to him again?

Based on Kashmiry's experiences, Adam is directed by Cora Bissett and smartly scripted by Frances Poet. The series-of-scenes-from-my-life format at first seem a little simplistic, the actors quite exposed on a mirror-covered Traverse main stage (Kashmiry is making his professional debut here). Having another performer, Neshla Caplan, helps, adding a literal gender fluidity to the retelling of his tomboy youth, a ‘corrective' sexual assault, forbidden same-sex love, and of realising you can never be accepted for who you really are in your home country.

And Adam gains in power as it goes on – his struggles to claim asylum in the UK, and the personal huge cost of overhauling change, are mirrored by the explosive political upheavals back home in Egypt during the Arab Spring. There's also an emotional opening up and widening out, when Adam googles "can the soul of a man be trapped inside the body of a woman?", and is met with a wave of trans voices from around the whole world. Video clips are projected, and so although it focuses on one man's story, Adam also becomes a polyphonic chorus of trans experience. It's moving – as is a final Skype chat between Adam and his mother, which prompted a rustle of hankie-reaching...

There's also a lovely, looping line of enquiry into language – how it can be gendered but also how it can contain a multiplicity of meanings, how words can allow opposites to hang in suspense. "Salim", we're told, means both one who has been bitten by a snake, and one who has been cured. Later, when Adam takes testosterone he's bought off the internet, desperately, it becomes both poison and cure. Very apt for a story that nods to Genesis... And Poet rounds the play off beautifully when Adam meets a young woman, and shares with her a series of optimistic contronyms – to wind up, to seed – that reveal this ending is, for Adam, just the beginning.

Adam is at the Traverse until 27 August.

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