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Festival Review: Red Dust Road ***

Joy Watters reviews a theatrical staging 'that stumbles in making the journey from original memoir to play'.

Scotland’s National Poet, Jackie Kay, wrote her poetic, lyrical, moving and witty account of her long search for her birth parents nearly a decade ago. Now it has been adapted for the stage in a version that stumbles in making the journey from original memoir to play.

A National Theatre of Scotland and HOME Manchester co-production, sadly this has the feel of a work written at a distance rather than one which embeds itself in Kay’s journey into her past, trying to find out who she is.

The search for birth relatives lost long ago is one that fascinates with several popular TV programmes currently trying to make the links. Kay had a Nigerian father and mother originally from the Highlands and meeting them was far from auspicious; something she overcame thanks to her sense of humour and resilience.

Sasha Frost is strangely low key as Jackie, first leaving her beloved adoptive parents to meet her birth father in Nigeria. He is a born again Christian who on first meeting sings and dances round her for hours, trying to get her to repent her sins. Her birth mother is a Mormon with mental health issues living in Milton Keynes.

Frost often lingers on the fringes of the action rather than fully taking on the role of the daughter, running the gamut of emotions as she meets her parents and discovers that neither of them want people to know about her.

Tanika Gupta’s stage adaptation follows Kay’s memoir which moves backwards and forwards in time. While this works in the memoir, it is confusing on stage. Director Dawn Walton has gone for a larger than life approach to the characters that people Jackie’s life.

Lyceum and Macrobert Centre runs ended. At Eden Court, Inverness September 4-7.

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