Until 6th December 2021,
The National Theatre of Scotland (now streaming on BBC iPlayer)
Adam is the true story of Adam Kashmiry, a young transgender man born in Alexandria, Egypt, who sought asylum in Glasgow to live safely as his authentic self. Adam has existed in various forms, including a Fringe production with only two actors. The version streaming on iPlayer, directed by Cora Bissett and Louise Lockwood, has been adapted from a stage play to a “theatrical on-screen drama”. Over the course of an hour, we watch Adam’s agonising search for a resolution to the trap in which he has been placed: no gender clinic will help him transition until he has been granted asylum, but he will not be granted asylum unless he can “prove” he is a trans man. Warm, uncompromising, funny, heart-breaking and above all human, Adam is an emotional tour-de-force.
Kashmiry himself stars in a compelling performance, at once brilliant and vulnerable from the very moment of his introduction as he philosophises on the transitive nature of language itself. This is a topic on which he has an elevated perspective, being a speaker of English and Arabic. Immediately the show’s other major theme is established: immigration.
Matching Kashmiry’s talent is Yasmin Al-Khudhairi, credited as “Egyptian Adam”. Cuts, pans and other cinematic perspective tricks are used to seamlessly swap out Kashmiry and Al-Khudhairi. This brilliantly illustrates for the audience the frustrating dichotomy between Adam’s true self, and how he was perceived by others (though I admit part of me would have loved to see how this was achieved using stagecraft in earlier productions).
In the second act, an increasingly isolated Adam begins hallucinating “Egyptian Adam”. No longer confined to flashbacks or point of view shots belonging to other characters, Al-Khudhairi’s Adam is emblematic of Adam’s doubts, his guilt over leaving home and his fear that transitioning will mean becoming a different person, rejected by his family, his past and his heritage cut off or destroyed. It is an ingenious portrayal, once again, of an inner turmoil that can be hard to put into words.
At other times, The Adam World Choir – a virtual choir of trans and non-binary individuals originally created for the show – chime in with a haunting score to express other feelings: of relief, euphoria and connection, when Adam first begins speaking online with other transgender people.
Amongst these powerful themes of gender, sexuality, race, immigration, politics, abuse and mental health, the play manages to stay grounded. It achieves this best by focusing on the relationship between Adam and his mother, played by Myriam Acharki. Her interactions with both Adams are the heart of the show. And it is a scene with her that provides the catharsis of the story, as Adam seeks to finally reconcile his new life in Glasgow with his Egyptian background.
I cannot discuss Adam in full without mentioning that I myself am transgender. There is no universal transgender experience. I am privileged enough to have never experienced many of the hardships depicted in Adam. And of course, this play is as much about emigration as it is gender, a passage I have never undertaken.
But all the same, the greatest quality of Adam for me was how it resonated with my own experiences. The fear that self-discovery might mean losing or giving up yourself. The tension between not wanting to lie to your loved ones, and not wanting to hurt – or be hurt by – them. The feeling of being an imposter in your own skin. The desperation to be recognised, to be loved, as yourself. None of this is to imply that a cisgender individual cannot appreciate Adam. It is a masterpiece of a play. There will be much of it, I’m sure, that would resonate with other audiences that I completely missed. All I do know is, once it was over, I wept for longer than the runtime of the play itself.