Red Dust Road
Written by Jackie Kay and adapted by Tanika Gupta
HOME and the National Theatre of Scotland
HOME, 12 September 2019
A portrait of a poet who is always on pilgrimage.
This play is a heartwarming, sometimes humorous adaptation of Jackie Kay’s fine memoir. At the close, you come away happy, though you feel that Kay’s life wasn’t always like that. She has had a lot to contend with. There was the racism of ’70s Scotland and, as a black child adopted by white parents, her identity was always going to be conflicted. Mind, it is clear here that she could always depend on the love of her parents. Later, at university, she came out as a lesbian (cue disco music).
There are strong performances throughout the play. From Sasha Frost as Kay herself, even though she isn’t quite able to capture the full-throated warmth of Kay’s own voice, and from Elaine C. Smith and Lewis Howden as Kay’s parents. Irene Allan plays Elizabeth, Kay’s birth mother, and there is a moment where she sings a harrowing, heartfelt Scots ballad (during a sequence where the play quotes from The Adoption Papers, and we hear the voices of the two mothers). It is the still, standout moment in the play.
If Red Dust Road has a flaw it is that there is a slightly precious, over-reverential attitude to Africa and Kay’s Ibo identity. As though this might offer a final answer, a true key to unlocking what makes her who she is. An authentic end to all her searching. Yet even this notion is undercut. In modern Nigeria, on the journey to her ‘ancestral village’, Kay is pestered by policemen demanding kickbacks.
Red Dust Road is a multi-layered play about a woman with a multi-layered identity. It is showing at HOME until 21 September, details here.