Festival Hot Seat: Adam
Adam is National Theatre of Scotland’s remarkable production about one trans man’s powerful true story - and the winner of a clutch of awards. We caught up with Director Cora Bissett to find out more about the incredible true story behind the show.
Firstly, can you introduce your show and tell us what it is about?
Adam is the real-life story of a young man named Adam, who was born biologically female in Egypt but who, from a young age, knew himself to be male. In a society that is deeply conservative, he knew that it wouldn’t be safe to live as himself there, so he escaped.
The play charts his journey from Egypt to Glasgow, the struggles he goes through to be accepted as the man he knows himself to be. Adam himself stars in the show, alongside the excellent Rehanna MacDonald, each portraying the two sides to Adam’s psyche.. It also features a 120 strong digital choir made up of trans and non binary people from all over the world, singing a beautiful score by the world-renowned composer Jocelyn Pook.
How and where will the work be staged?
The show is playing at the Brighton Theatre Royal from the 9th to the 12th of May.
Why should someone come and see your show?
I think people are genuinely becoming more curious about trans experiences; they may not necessarily understand the difference between transvestite and transgender, non-binary, 3rd sex, androgyny and the myriad of ways in which people are formed, and are really eager to learn about these things. I hope Adam's story really helps in the evolution of understanding
Where did the idea and inspiration come from?
I first met Adam after seeing him perform a very short monologue about his life back in 2013, as part of a Scottish Refugee Council event called Here We Stay at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre. I was incredibly moved by his story, his honesty and his strength, so I approached him straight afterwards and asked if he would like to meet me to tell me more, as I had a strong sense that I would like to turn his story into a full production. We began working with the brilliant writer Frances Poet to spend time understanding Adam's story, and then adapting it in a fittingly exciting way. Five years later here we are!
Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?
Despite great progress being made on gay rights, it seems as though we are still eons away from really understanding and granting the same level of understanding to trans and non-binary individuals. I think a lot of people feel they can't ask the questions, they don't want to appear ignorant, but actually opening up dialogue is urgently necessary. Gender clinics around the world have seen a marked rise in young people presenting as trans individuals.
I think the groundswell of documentary coverage is helping to open that up, but this is just the beginning. Theatre can speak directly, you can actually see that human being on stage; not an oddity, not some exoticised character in a reality TV sensation. A normal human being, who was just born with a different brain and soul from the gender they were assigned at birth. Even that idea is a little mind blowing if no one has presented it to you before.
What sort of person is going to love this show?
Anyone with a love of exciting theatre! When the show opened at the Edinburgh Fringe last year we were all overwhelmed by the responses we had from our audiences. All kinds of different people, young and old, from all over the world, came along and found something beautiful in Adam’s story, because it’s one that is both personal and universal.
I had aunts and uncles in their 80's whom I wasn't sure would connect with it, but they were blown away. They said they had really learnt something new. Adam received emails from people who had come from Spain, Germany, all over and would gush 'this is MY story too!' I was delighted to see a huge turn out of young people, who told me they really identified with the feelings of isolation Adam experienced, and also a large amount of trans and non binary individuals came to the show. I hope that trans and non-binary people watching if feel that it is their story too, since it is not a documentary style expose of Adam's life. We were all very clear it is Adam’s journey, but it is also reflective of thousands of trans people's struggles in the world. I hope they can watch it and feel strengthened and represented.
What’s going to surprise people about this show?
Hopefully all sorts of things, the fact that Adam on whom the story is based, does actually play himself alongside another actress. Despite this being said in marketing material last Fringe, I was amazed how many people came out and only then discovered 'Oh wow, that was THE ACTUAL GUY!!' also one to highlight is our designer Emily James’s beautiful set, which may look straightforward on the surface but is full of ingenious little secrets!
The choral music, which is sung by 120 trans and non binary people from around the world, is created by the wonderful composer Jocelyn Pook, who has created film scores for the likes of Stanley Kubrik's Eyes Wide Shut. All the people you see singing recorded their own parts in various countries of the world, through their laptops, and so have never actually met any of the other choir members in the flesh. A truly virtual choir.
What does Brighton Festival mean to you?
I love Brighton. I performed here about 7 years ago in David Grieg's romcom Midsummer. We had a ball, I remember loving the whole vibe, the openness, the relaxed nature of the place. I remember meeting a particularly butch looking Rottweiler in a bar who came up and placed a paw on my lap... only to reveal his fabulous pink neon painted nails. It was very Brighton!
What are you most looking forward to in this year’s Brighton Festival programme?
The line up is fantastic, but I am particularly interested in catching Palmyra, Joan, The Enormous Room and The Journeys.