Monthly Archives: September 2019
Ever since it was published nearly ten years ago, Jackie Kay’s memoir Red Dust Road has been in on-off development as a stage play. As a project, it’s a big ask. The book follows Kay’s journey of discovery as an adopted child from Scotland to Nigeria, taking in a whole host of different times, places and people along the way. Now the stage version, adapted by Tanika Gupta and directed by Dawn Walton, arrives at HOME in Manchester after several Scottish dates. In the event it’s very easy to like, but harder to adore.
It’s extremely ambitious, using a minimum of devices and trickery to conjure up Kay’s tale. The achievements of the cast vary, but as Kay’s adoptive parents, Lewis Howden and the mighty Elaine C. Smith loom large, proving to be the life and soul of the piece, appropriately enough. As Kay herself, Sasha Frost is an appealing presence, all the more impressive because she doesn’t have a great deal to go on. It’s an oddly slight, underwritten part. As events unfold, Jackie remains simply, unremittingly nice, with no edge and hence no depth to her, emerging almost as a bystander to proceedings rather than the protagonist.
The shape of the narrative has a similar problem in terms of drawing in the audience. Kay’s story is by no means a conventional quest, but one key destination point – meeting her birth father Jonathan (Stefan Adegbola) – is thrown in almost at the start, pulling away any sense of anticipation or dramatic tension. Frustratingly, the scene even begins after the first moment of meeting, so we never get to see it.
To be fair, Red Dust Road is aiming to create a subtle, lyrical tapestry, leaping back and forth in terms of time and place. In that respect though it’s an uphill struggle, not helped by the curious lack of enveloping intimacy in the HOME theatre space. It’s hard to feel engaged by Jackie’s tusslings with her roots and identity when they meander so, never settling in one setting for long enough to resolve in a satisfying way. That said, individual scenes often feel long and woolly and overall the piece, which runs at two and a half hours, lacks a concerted sense of pace and snap.
The second half coalesces a little better than the first, and it’s never less than enjoyable, with some great lines and decent laughs. Along the way there are some elegant, beguiling moments but for all the boldness and ambition on show here, it remains pleasant but underwhelming. There might be a much better play in there somewhere, or possibly Kay’s wide-ranging, highly personal memoir just poses insurmountable hurdles where staging is concerned.
Red Dust Road is at HOME, Manchester until September 21, 2019. For more information, click here.
To read Andy’s interview with Jackie Kay, click here.
Dear Mummy and Daddy,
I’m not quite sure what to make of my first term here at Malory Towers. It is very big and some of us whose desks are at the side can’t see everything that happens in the classroom. And it does seem odd that they didn’t finish painting the wood round the swimming pool before term started. The girls in the dorm are all SUPER, apart from one who is very snooty and a bully and none of us like her, at least we didn’t at the beginning. We spent a lot of the first half of term singing and jumping on our beds, but it got a bit boring as nothing much really happened for AGES.
There’s a really super person called Wilhelmina who likes to be called Bill and has a horse called Thunder. Bill saved the day, actually, when Gwendoline, the bully, behaved really badly to Mary Lou, and something terrible nearly occurred. I’m not sure what it was that happened – it was high up and I couldn’t see.
Then we put on the school play. We chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. It was OK. It had music especially written by Mirabelle, who is AMAZING. She sings and plays instruments and is “vraiment Francaise”. Alicia is the oldest and tells terrible jokes. The bossiest girl is Sally. She’s probably the cleverest and she makes everyone laugh all the time without telling any jokes at all. Darrell is the bravest and tries to protect Mary Lou, who is the wettest, and I like them all very much.
But then another thing happened. Our headmistress, Miss Grayling, whom I have never met but sounds exactly like a famous actress you like called Sheila Hancock, summoned Gwendoline to her study, and when Gwen came out she was crying, because she’d had BAD NEWS and then we all understood why she had been so nasty.
So Mummy and Daddy, just to say that I’ve been a bit bored some of the time, but the other girls, who are all A LOT younger than me, absolutely love it. And the school songs are REALLY GOOD.
Lots of love
PS Please send me some chocolate and an apple for Thunder.
For more info, click here.
Photo by Steve Tanner
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Jackie Kay’s 2010 acclaimed memoir Red Dust Road is the story of a journey as Kay comes to terms with the fact that she’s adopted and gradually wends her way from Scotland to Nigeria in search of her birth parents. But the book has since gone on a journey of its own.Read the full story..
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