CURRENT Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan has, since taking over in 2015, sought to lift the “curse of the Scottish theatre production”. Instead of insisting, as did his predecessors, that Scottish theatre have only one production on the Festival programme, and that it be a world premiere, he has allowed tried-and-tested Caledonian shows to strut their stuff alongside the EIF’s celebrated international work.

However, Scottish world premieres are still a part of the mix, and, as we find with this disappointing, new adaptation of our Makar Jackie Kay’s memoir Red Dust Road, failure remains as painful as ever.

A co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and Manchester company HOME, the play is the work of adapter Tanika Gupta and director Dawn Walton. Moving back-and-forward in time, it tells the story of Kay’s search for her birth parents: a Scottish mother (a Mormon convert now living in Milton Keynes) and a Nigerian father (whose youthful enthusiasm for wine, women and song has since transferred to evangelical Christianity, in which he has become a pastor in his homeland).

The journeys made by Kay (who is played with care and affection by Sasha Frost) into her roots overflow with emotional implications, not only for her and her birth families, but also for her loving, adoptive parents. As the play unfolds, however, one becomes increasingly dismayed by how little real feeling and, given Kay’s profession, how little poetry the piece has.

Between them, Gupta and Walton have contrived to create a dry-as-a-bone, woefully untheatrical re-telling of what should be a fascinating and captivating tale. Little blame attaches to a talented cast who are required to play a succession of two-dimensional caricatures, such as Kay’s adoptive parents, played by Elaine C Smith and Lewis Howden, whose quaint couthiness sits uncomfortably alongside their avowed communism.

By stark contrast, the startlingly titled Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!, by English theatre company Ridiculusmus, is a gloriously imaginative, darkly comic consideration of ageing and death. Imagine a collaboration between the master of absurdist theatre Eugene Ionesco and the comic genius of Charlie Chaplin and you will have something approximating this exceptional piece, which is written and performed by Jon Haynes and David Woods.

The show is darkly hilarious in its brilliantly realised physical comedy (not least in the opening scene, in which a well-dressed, very frail elderly couple take an eternity to walk to a table). Dangerously funny, scatological, surreal, clever and, ultimately, powerfully humane, it is the finest show I have seen on this year’s Fringe.

Back at the EIF, the Nigerian production Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True opens a wide window onto the depressing condition of women in Africa’s most populous nation. A work of openly declared agitational propaganda, the piece employs a series of sketches, accompanied by live music, to exhort Nigeria’s 100 million women to stand up for their rights.

It exposes the men who rape, physically assault, grope and oppress women, confident that the law will turn a blind, misogynistic eye to their crimes. However, it also puts in the metaphorical dock the Nigerian women who collude in that oppression through an adherence to “traditional”, conservative social mores. At its most powerful (a girl on an errand is subjected to the attentions of a predatory paedophile; a young, female student screams in anguish after being raped by her boyfriend), the piece speaks to an experience that is appallingly universal.

Praise should be given to Mythos (Festival Theatre, ends today), the trilogy in which Stephen Fry proves himself the most skilful and captivating of storytellers. From the famous tales of Prometheus and Helen of Troy, to Fry’s splendidly accessible-yet-learned re-telling of The Odyssey, it is a delightful celebration of both the narrative imagination of the ancient Greeks and the possibilities of the English language.

More than praise is due for Eugene Onegin (Festival Theatre, run ended). Director Barrie Kosky’s production of Tchaikovsky’s great opera for the Komische Oper Berlin is outstanding in all departments.

However, it is the performance of the romantic heroine Tatyana that is most memorable. In years to come I will, I suspect, tell my grandchildren that I witnessed the great Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian in the early years of her glittering career.

Finally, a few words about Ningali Lawford-Wolf, the excellent indigenous Australian actor, and star of the hit EIF production The Secret River, who has, sadly, died in Edinburgh at the age of just 52. Lawford-Wolf fell ill while playing, and brilliantly, the pivotal role of the narrator in the Sydney Theatre Company’s superb, and deeply significant, production.

I was fortunate to see her one-woman show, Ningali, at the Traverse Theatre in the mid-1990s (a production which has remained vivid in my memory). Australian drama has lost one of its most important actors.

For tour dates for Red Dust Road, visit:

Red Dust Road

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Two stars

Run ended

Touring until September 21

Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!


Five stars

Ends today

Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Three stars

Ends today