Red Dust Road review – Jackie Kay adaptation loses its way

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Sasha Frost sparkles as a curious and vulnerable Kay searching for her birth parents, but this unfocused production fails to capture the intimacy of the soul-searching memoir

Part of the appeal of Jackie Kay’s memoir is the way it loops through time. It’s called Red Dust Road, but the poet’s path to discovering her birth parents is anything but straight. In chapters that jump backwards and forwards, from her first adult encounter with her birth mother to her childhood experience of racist taunting, the book takes a circuitous route. It has the impressionistic quality of a collage, as if to reflect the nebulous nature of identity.

The structure is such an integral feature of the book that playwright Tanika Gupta has good reason to hold on to it in this adaptation for the National Theatre of Scotland and Home, Manchester. Thus, Sasha Frost, playing Kay with a sense of curiosity, humour and vulnerability, goes through a nonlinear sequence of scenes that feels dreamy and elliptical. One minute, she’s standing alone beneath a spotlight in Lizzie Powell’s brooding lighting design, the next she’ll be surrounded by black feminist activists, meeting long-lost family in Nairn, discovering her birth father in Nigeria or getting involved with her adoptive parents’ communist campaigning.

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