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Red Dust Road review at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘sensitive and accessible’

Elaine C Smith, Lewis Howden and Sasha Frost in Red Dust Road. Photo: Richard Davenport
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One of the many strengths of Scots Makar Jackie Kay’s poetry is its accessibility, and that’s a quality Tanika Gupta borrows in abundance in her adaptation of Kay’s 2010 memoir.

Adopted by two white Scottish communists in 1960s Glasgow, mixed-race Kay turned her quest to find her birth parents into a gorgeously warm and funny book.

It’s an incredible story of multiple identities, of roots that grow from both nature and nurture. But despite intermittent poems from Kay’s collection The Adoption Papers, it’s a strangely unpoetic adaptation. Many scenes are simply dialogue, with two actors sitting at a table, unmoving.

Under director Dawn Walton, the whole production is very still, and quite minimal. Fussiness with props – cups of tea and wine – works against that minimalism, though. Scenes of dance and song, from Cole Porter to Rabbie Burns, enliven the show but also jar with the otherwise sedate tone.

Still, Gupta’s script covers a great deal and with complexity: multiple identities, the need to belong, race and sexuality. The warm heart of the production is Sasha Frost’s smiling, gentle performance as Kay. Elaine C Smith and Lewis Howden as her mother and father are wonderful, too. A standout in minor roles is Seroca Davis.

Above all, this slightly underwhelming show about roots has been planted in the wrong place. It’s too small and quiet and sensitive a production for the Lyceum. It may fare better on tour; in a smaller space, it might bloom.

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Sensitive and accessible but slightly underwhelming adaptation of Jackie Kay’s memoir