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20th September 2019

Review: Red Dust Road

Patience Kanjira reviews Red Dust Road, the stage adaptation of Scots Makar Jackie Kay’s memoir
Review: Red Dust Road
Photo: Richard Davenport (The Other Richard).

On 12th September, I had the pleasure of watching Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road at Home. Tanika Gupta adapted Kay’s memoir for the stage, but it felt as if her memoirs had literally jumped off the page.

As we walked into the theatre, we were met with a large golden brown frame that was combined with a twisted large branch that overtook the corner of the frame. It became apparent to me that the large frame/branch was symbolic of Jackie’s mixed heritage – which is one of western influences and one of tribal and traditional cultures.

A key scene in which the traditional influence of her African ancestry was shown was the scene where she meets her biological father, who is from Nigeria. His sole purpose is to assert his religious righteousness upon his daughter.

However, there was humour created through this scene by Stefan Adegbola as Jackie’s father highlights the contradictions made by his character. He claims to be holier than Jackie, now that he is on the right path. Yet, he decides it is best to lie to his family about Jackie’s existence.

In addition, the constant outbursts of prayer in which Jonathan roughly lays hands upon Jackie created the perfect level of slapstick within the play. They didn’t take away from the poignant moment of Jackie’s self-realisation that her identity is not linked through her biological father, but the beauty of Nigeria itself.

Sasha Frost (Jackie) showcased the complex emotions of creating a hero of someone and being let down by the reality.

Photo: Richard Davenport (The Other Richard).

There were often striking juxtapositions of scenes. The following scene, for example, saw Jackie going through photos of her adopted (white, Scottish) parents. She is visibly more at ease with them.

Jackie’s parents (Lewis Howden and Elaine C Smith) created a loving and warm atmosphere. This drew the audience into the scene.

Jackie’s parents were communists, and some may describe them as mavericks, constantly going against the norm. One example of that maverick streak is their decision to adopt not one, but two mixed-race children at a time of ignorance. Moments of song and dance helped show the strength of the love they had for their children.

The character of Jackie’s brother, Maxwell (Declan Spaine), highlighted the issue of self-hatred within the black community. In one scene, he defends his sister from racial abuse, but then refuses to see himself as even a little bit black. This shocks Jackie and leaves a sour taste; it is a very real issue and provokes deep thought.

Arguably one of the most heartwarming moments of the play is when Jackie, even with the resistance of her father, finds the ancestral village in which her father is from. It is such a lovely moment of unity, in which the community welcome and bless Jackie. In particular, it allows Jackie to be able to piece one part of her identity together. Frost’s emotional response almost brought me to tears.

Dawn Walton did an amazing job of bringing two different cultures and identities together. The use of authentic African instruments and traditional Scottish lullabies gave us an overwhelming taste of the deeply rich and cultured life of Jackie Kay.

Red Dust Road runs at Home until 21st September.

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