The lights go up in the Traverse on a stage tilted to the back – an uneven tiled surface of perspex or something similar that hides many drawers full of props and trapdoors. There are mannequins woven around the bottom of the stage, ‘supporting’ the stage in contorted shapes looking tormented and tortured. The overall image is that of a hostile environment – it prepares the audience for the story of Adam. This is not a pleasant story, it is a warning, the portrayal of someone’s hardships through their life as they struggled to be recognized for who they were.
The play, written by Frances Poet, follows the true story of Adam Kashmiry (who plays himself), in his journey of discovery as he begins to identify as transgender (born in a female body but truly male) and fights for reassignment surgery. This was always going to be an emotional and difficult story to watch – when the audience is aware that these are true events and actually happened to this ‘actor’ on stage there is no possibility for them to be left unaffected or unmoved by the story. Neshla Caplan plays Adam’s female body and various roles and deserves a special mention for taking on the part playing opposite the story’s true subject as it must have been a difficult role to perform. She is extremely convincing and moving and the relationship between Adam and Neshla is remarkable. Adam playing himself is extremely moving and honest. He has such an open genuine nature that it is interesting to watch whenever he performs a monologue as Adam. It feels a little like he is breaking the fourth wall when we know his words are likely to be close to what he would have said at the time and so the show occasionally transitions from a play to a narrative of his life as he speaks to the audience. Adam is competent when he plays other parts in the play but it is when he is recounting his own life that he is most effective. His story is truly inspirational and heartbreaking and I felt honoured, that evening, that he was choosing to share it with us.
Cora Bisset, the director, recognized how inspiring and moving Adam’s story was when witnessing him perform a short monologue in the production Here We Stay by the Citizens Theatre Community Company and Scottish Refugee Council. She has been working over the last couple of years to bring his story to the stage whilst attempting to find ways to make his story, moving as it is, even more relatable and accessible. She fell on the idea of a digital global choir and recruited Leonie Rae Gasson and together the Adam Vocal Choir was created. The moment the Choir came to life on stage through projection and sound was humbling, it was at this moment that I was remembered how theatre really can be a vehicle of change and also of expression. I learned more about the transgender and non-binary community and had my eyes opened to the reality of the difficulties they face during that hour of Adam then I had ever before. It was an incredible experience and truly captivating. Whether the standing ovation at the end was for the play or for Adam and his story I won’t know, but then, I don’t think we can ever separate the two. This play is Adam and Adam is his story.