Friday, 13 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Red Dust Road - HOME, Manchester

Based on the original autobiographical novel by Jackie Kay, this poignant adaptation for the stage by Tanika Gupta, is a memoir of Kay’s own upbringing in Scotland as an adopted child of mixed heritage. Red Dust Road follows the journey of its protagonist in her voyage of self-discovery from Scotland with her adoptive parents to the red Dust Roads of Nigeria, home to her biological father.

The main theme which runs throughout the play is one of identity and whether we are a product of how and where we are brought up, or is our cultural identity inherent in our biological make up?
The play is written in a non-linear structure and moves backwards and forwards in the stages of Kay’s discovery of her biological parents and her Nigerian heritage. I have to confess that I haven’t read Jackie Kay‘s original novel but a lot of this story rang very true to me, having grown up in Ireland in the 1980s, being the only child with mixed heritage, in a very white community. I felt that the subject matter was handled with real believability and compassion, whilst maintaining a gentle sense of humour through lively characterisations and energetic performances.

As with any professional production, the National Theatre for Scotland did not disappoint with acting prowess. One thing which struck me was the rapport between them all and this was clearly evident in the relationships onstage between Jacqui‘s parents, played beautifully by Lewis Howden and Irene Allan and Jackie’s friends, played energetically by Elicia Daley and Serica Davies. These skilled performers were perfect and were particularly adept and playing multiple roles as a story progressed from Scotland to Lagos, London and beyond.

Sasha Frost’s portrayal of Jackie was subtle but you couldn’t help but be attracted to the warmth of her happiness when she was with family and friends, the anguish of her frustration with racial hatred and the sadness of her rejection from her biological parents. Stefan Adegbola, brought a lively depiction to the role of Jackie’s biological father and maintained an extremely entertaining light heartedness to the tragic reality of the situation.

Simon Kenny’s design concept was sophisticated yet minimalist. With an enormous backdrop of a wooden picture frame, centre stage and simple projections helping to guide the audience through the nonlinear structure of the play to display the dates and times through her life. Costume design also played a pivotal role in the multiple characterisations of the performers. It effectively created the huge contrast in the cultures of Jackie’s different worlds, from Scotland to Nigeria and her very British life after university. The dull, nylon British fashion juxtaposed with the colourful, cotton prints of Nigeria, were just one of the many ways of demonstrating how far apart her worlds really were.

This play handled hugely controversial topics which littered Jackie’s childhood and teenage years, from racism and sexuality to communism, religion and fertility, with a respect and dignity in what I can only describe as a really powerful piece of scriptwriting. This was a highly entertaining evening of theatre, whilst still tackling the harsh realities of the protagonist’s journey; something which I feel theatre can lack these days, but this production did not! The performance captivated the audience for more than two hours and had a truly uplifting sense that we, like Jackie, can be whoever we want to be.

The National Theatre of Scotland sells itself as theatre ‘without walls’. . .they literally have no walls as they have no base! The company are Scottish born and bred, founded in 2006 but have no ‘official residence’ to call ‘home’. What they pride themselves on is creating a platform for theatre making in Scotland and then taking their productions to the rest of the world, thus giving Scotland a voice. Home in Manchester was an ideal venue choice for this production as it is so lively and eclectic with its audiences of young and old and provides quality arts for Manchester’s hugely mixed cultures.

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 12/9/19

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